I am one of those skeptics who get their panties in a bunch about religion. But, in the infamous words of Sheryl Crow, a change might do me good.
Itâ€™s hard to resist. When there is so much evidence that flatly contradicts literal â€œtruthsâ€ of religion juxtaposed with condescension from zealots, most of whom have never studied any religion outside the one into which they happened to be born, my gut reaction is that itâ€™s Critical Thinking vs. Magical Thinking, Evidence vs. Faith â€¦ Science vs. Religion. My logical fallacy (one of them, anyway) is that I think there exists a finite amount of logic that will make a believerÂ come around. And so I keep investing, hoping to reach that end.
So, admittedly Iâ€™m agnostic and regardless of being told otherwise, Iâ€™ve always felt that religion was not only incompatible with science, but with critical thinking in general. Iâ€™ve heard many skeptics as well as scientists say that science and religion can peacefully co-exist, but deep down Iâ€™ve always wondered â€“ how is that really possible when science says that (1) Itâ€™s not reasonable to accept something as true when no evidence is presented, and (2) It is reasonable to not accept something as true when evidence against it is provided and/or no evidence is provided over a long period of time. Both are true of religion, so how can science and religion truly be compatible? Can a person compartmentalize the facets of their lives so that they apply critical thinking in some areas and not others? Are the facets of our lives that are dominated by emotions and spirituality somehow exempt from proper examination?
My conclusion has been that those who thought science and religion could peacefully co-exist were scientists who just couldnâ€™t let go of their religion (and were highly skilled at apology). After all, Michael Shermer explained this by saying, â€œSmart people are good at rationalizing things they came to believe for non-smart reasonsâ€. So the October issue of Scientific American came as a slap in the face. Michael Shermer writes a column for Scientific American called Skeptic. In the October issue, he wrote a piece called Darwin On the Right (which parallels his book Why Darwin Matters), a request for Christian conservatives to accept Evolution. He offers six appeals, which are explained in greater detail in the article:
1. â€œEvolution fits well with good theologyâ€
2. â€œCreationism is bad theologyâ€
3. â€œEvolution explains original sin and the Christian model of human natureâ€
4. â€œEvolution explains family valuesâ€
5. â€œEvolution accounts for specific Christian moral preceptsâ€
6. â€œEvolution explains conservative free-market economicsâ€
(Scientific American, October 2006, p. 38)
I was both moved and humbled by this agnostic man whose research, writings, and views I have cherished, as he explained to me how Evolution is compatible with Creationism â€“ as one theory instead of two. So Iâ€™ve been on my high-horse about the way religious activism is disrespecting science, destroying critical thinking skills, and damaging our future, while Michael Shermer is trying to build a bridge.
My first instinct was â€“ wow, thatâ€™s smart. He understands that Christians will never acquiesce to the assertion that Creationism is false and Evolution is true. He proposes that the best way to bring Evolution, critical thinking, and science into the classroom and to the mainstream is to build a bridge between science and religion; to show how they are similar instead of different, not how one is right and the other is wrong. If this approach were successful, evolution would be taught in classrooms, teachers would explain that the theory neither confirms nor negates the existence of a creator, and that belief would become a personal choice. Sounds like a good compromise, no?
On the other hand, the approach indirectly (if not directly) condonesÂ religion, which, at the very least, requires a creative license with critical thinking, and at most, involves faith in the supernatural.Â Â If we were to build this bridge, would it be for the right reasons? Or are we just acquiescing to the popularity of religion? And most importantly, if theists and skeptics agree to a mum-truce, are we in some way defaulting on our responsibility to teach critical thinking?
When it comes to science and religion, how much tolerance (on either side) is beneficial?