I have not been posting to my religion blog in recent weeks because, frankly, I have been disappointed in my inability to make any headway in convincing others of the virtues of reliance on the scientific method, objective evidence, and rational analysis in arriving at beliefs.
Actually I had a number of goals when I started my blog. One was simply to create an outlet for me to express myself philosophically. Another was to refine and to sharpen my point of view, based on the simple act of writing my thoughts and on the responses that others, both religious and nonreligious, might make to what I write. And I feel I have made progress on both of those goals. It is the third goal--of persuasion--where I have come up short. I’m not sure why I would think that anyone would be “converted” by my essays, but that was my (I now realize, naive) hope.
I had initially thought my failure was due to my lack of skill in persuasive writing, and that may have been a contributing factor. However, now I am convinced that the bulk of the problem lies with the fact that, generally speaking, religious belief is simply not amenable to change through rational discourse. An old friend of mine once told me that a belief that has not been arrived at through logic cannot be changed by logic. He was talking about politics, but I believe the statement holds true also--and perhaps even more so--for religious belief. It is logic-tight.
For most people of faith, religious belief trumps objective evidence and rational analysis every time. A statement based on faith can be illogical, self-contradictory, clearly rebutted by scientific fact. It can be shown to be comically absurd, even frightening in its implications. Doesn’t matter. In his debate with Bill Nye on the question of science vs. creationism, Ken Ham was asked what evidence would change his belief in creationism. His response was, “I’m a Christian.” In other words, nothing. And for once, he was right. The faithful are simply not interested in changing their minds.
Yet here I am again getting up on my soapbox. And the reason is a recent poll conducted jointly by AP and GfK. The poll asked a cross-section of Americans to indicate their confidence in each of a number of statements expressing well established scientific principles, such as “Inside our cells, there is a complex genetic code that helps determine who we are” and “Childhood vaccines are safe and effective.” This poll differed from some others in that the respondents were not asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statements; rather, they were asked to state their level of confidence in whether each statement was correct.
What caught my attention were the responses to the following statement: “The universe began 13.8 billion years ago with a big bang.” On whether the statement was correct, 51 percent responded “Not too confident” or “Not at all confident”--essentially, that they did not believe the statement was correct. Only 21 percent were “extremely” or “very” confident that the statement was correct.
It could be argued that most respondents were doubtful of the big bang because it was simply too far removed from their daily lives. And maybe there’s some truth in that. But I think a more important reason is that the idea that the universe began 13.8 billion years ago is incompatible with creationism. In a Gallop poll conducted a few years ago, 66 percent of the respondents believed that “Creationism, that is, the idea that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years” was “Definitely true” or “Probably true.”
In other words, lack of acceptance of the big bang theory is largely based, not on questions about the adequacy of the scientific evidence, but simply because the theory contradicts creationism.
In all truth, my guess is that most of those doubting the reality of the big bang have little if any understanding of the astronomical evidence that supports it, evidence that is consistent, corroborative, and overwhelming. And most of those don’t really care. They would rather remain ignorant of that evidence to the extent that it might contradict their religious beliefs. Or, perhaps worse, they would only review such evidence for the purpose of trying to dispute it.
As I said, for the devout, faith trumps fact every time. The comforts of faith are more important than the reality of the truth. And therein lies my frustration.
© 2014 John M. Phillips