The story of the UC-Calvary lawsuit has been all over the atheosphere in the last few days. I’m not going to get into it in much detail (good pieces about it on Daylight Atheism and Dispatches from the Culture Wars), but to give you a quick summary so you know what I’m ranting about: A federal judge recently issued a preliminary ruling saying that UC Berkeley could, in fact, refuse to give college credit in biology for courses that taught young-earth creationism. (Calvary Chapel Christian School was trying to argue religious freedom; UC Berkeley was arguing that Calvary could have all the religious freedom they wanted, but they shouldn’t expect UC to drop its academic standards and recognize non-science as science.)
So the Daylight Atheism piece on this had an excerpt from one of the textbooks in question. The textbook is Biology for Christian Schools, and the excerpt is as follows and begins now:
(1) “‘Whatever the Bible says is so; whatever man says may or may not be so,’ is the only [position] a Christian can take…”
(2) “If [scientific] conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong, no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them.”
(3) “Christians must disregard [scientific hypotheses or theories] that contradict the Bible.”
After the top of my head had finished blowing off, I finally figured out why exactly this bothers me so much. Apart from all the obvious reasons, of course: the arrogance, the close-mindedness, the complete missing of the point of what science is about, etc.
What bothers me so much about it is how grotesquely disrespectful it is to their own God.
Let’s say you’re a theist. Let’s say you believe in God, a creator god who made the world and the universe in all its beautiful and astonishing complexity.
Wouldn’t you want to understand that universe, as well and as thoroughly as you could?
To me, the idea that scientific evidence is always trumped by the Bible is one of the most disrespectful attitudes you could possibly have about God. Even if you believe that the Bible was written by God (and you ignore all the evidence to the contrary), wouldn’t you believe that the universe was also written by God? And in a much more direct way than the Bible was written, without having to be dictated through human secretaries? Wouldn’t you put the universe, at the very least, on equal footing with the Bible? In fact, shouldn’t you really be seeing the universe as much higher, much more important than the Bible, because the Bible is just one small part of God’s creation and the universe is so much more vast?
It seems to me that setting your human religion above the enormous and awe-inspiring majesty of God’s creation is blasphemy of the worst kind. To say that the Bible is always more real than the reality of the universe seems to me to be spitting on God and his creation. And it’s not just spitting on the universe: it’s spitting on that part of God’s creation that is your brain and your mind, your capacity to perceive the universe and use reason and logic to understand it.
Of course, this sort of thinking is a perfect example of what Daniel Dennet was talking about in “Breaking the Spell”: the ways that religion functions as a self-perpetuating meme, one that has built up an impressive array of armor and weaponry to defend itself against being seriously questioned. The idea that sacred texts can’t be questioned; the idea that letting go of doubts and questions about your faith will make your life easier; the idea that holding onto faith in the face of evidence contradicting it makes you a good person… all of these function as an immune system that stops questions from breaking down the belief, or even from penetrating it in the first place.
But I think that’s awfully sad. To think that your faith — not just a general faith in the existence of God, but your particular version of the specific details of how God does and does not work — is more real than the reality of the universe…. that’s just sad. It’s isolating. It’s cutting yourself off from reality, from the enormous, majestic, unutterably complex, constantly- surprising reality of the physical universe. And if you believe in God, a god who created all this majesty and whatnot, it’s cutting yourself off from God.
It’s saying that, given a choice between trying to understand the reality of God’s creation, and convincing yourself that you and your sect are right, it’s more important to be right. And that really is placing yourself above God… in a way that I think is more blasphemous than anything any atheist could ever come up with.
(Photo of Synchiropus splendidus by Luc Viatour.)