We live at a disturbing time in history as Americans. The last 100 years we have been the largest country of scientific advancement and literacy, providing a productive environment of education, creativity, and technological advancement; however, the last 50 years has seen a decline in the American literacy of scientific understanding, as well as educational superiority in whole. Although America still dominates the output of journal articles, the last two decades has seen a drop in the rate of growth in comparison to other countries. Most Americans turn their attention to the educational system, deeming public education flawed or needing change; I have a different view that religious belief systems, specifically Christianity, has done far more damage intellectually to its body of believers than it has helped.
Religion and Science as competitive adversaries go back farther than most people place it, most focusing on the middle ages, and the two have rather always been at odds in accordance to the Church; however, the early Christian Church was also highly anti-science from the start which we see in Augustine and other church fathers who demanded a theological science derived only from scripture. Andrew Dickson White’s History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, which details early church father’s issues and problems with adapting theology to a physical understanding & science at the time; John Draper also writes a pretty heavy polemic against the Church in his Conflict between Religion and Science. Today’s views between science and religions is still at odds – although as a global scale, Christianity, or Catholicism anyways, has been more willing to concede to scientific understandings the last 50 years, specifically conforming to a Theistic Evolution – only took 100 years of scholarly shame to get there. Although science has had the church conform on some issues, there are still a host of other issues that are cause for alarm, but more importantly even with a somewhat-concession to modern understanding by mainstream Christianity has not been without controversy within its own belief system. Fundamentalist Christians still aggressively pervert or reject scientific understanding as we know it today, but why?
Inerrancy is a commonly held belief by most Fundamentalist Christians. Unfortunately, this belief of inerrancy puts any who take this position as, essentially, screaming at the top of their lungs that their current view will have no errors or contradictory elements. By the very core of this belief there is no objectivity, but an automatic authoritative sub-text that anything outside said text that may be interpreted to contradict is directly opposed; this of course is heightened by Christians who believe that any doubt is wrong or confusion towards theology is of the devil. It are the psychological defenses against new information, especially potentially conflicting information, that causes willful ignorance within Church members. The stereotype threat is something that drastically lowers the willingness for a Christian to engage in being scientifically literate; most in today’s society are familiar with the stereotype that the conservative religious are poor performers of scientific literacy, including those who are conservatively religious.
Example Study 1 – Abstract
This study examines how commitment to sectarian Protestant religious groups and fundamentalist beliefs in the inerrancy of the Bible influence basic scientific literacy.
I analyze data from the 2006 General Social Survey (N = 1,780), which included a 13-point examination of scientific facts and reasoning. Ordinary least squares regression models are estimated to determine the impact of religious affiliations and beliefs net of other control variables such as race, gender, education, income, region, and rural residence.
Analyses show that sectarian Protestants, Catholics, and people with fundamentalist beliefs in the inerrancy of the Bible have significantly lower levels of scientific literacy when compared with secular Americans. Religious differences are identifiable in multivariate analyses controlling for other demographic factors.
Religion plays a sizeable role in the low levels of scientific literacy found in the United States, and the negative impact of religious factors is more substantial than gender, race, or income.
Study Two: Rios Cheng Trotton Shariff
The studies do an excellent job at examining religious belief systems and the reactions to expected behavior. Coming from a highly evangelical background, I can safely attest to the accuracy of the findings. In fact, it isn’t really the science that largely contradicts doctrines, but the interpretation of scripture and refusal to reexamine that theological interpretation that is the problem. Young Earth Creationists such as Ken Ham are a perfect example of this – the whole body of mainstream Christianity no longer follows the doctrine, only inerrants. Why? Because their belief system cannot lend credence to outside authority, the focus is so heavily on opposing external things that internal considerations are never made. An example for the latter would be Theistic Evolution that has at least taken an understanding of scientific evolution, and perverted it to somewhat adapt to their belief with God creating the ancestral human that we derive from today. This is at least a positive step towards garnering understanding in the body of believers. Changing traditional theological beliefs within the church is almost impossible though; this again goes back to the mechanisms that keep objectivity from being held, but I did not mention the flaws of group think that prey upon the church. The formation of both beliefs and disbeliefs are pieced together over time through exchanges with in-group members, learning arguments and thoughts that confirm to your existing ideology that are given credence to because it supports the existing belief – thus why we have multiple denominations people theologically identify to. The same goes for opposing beliefs; being a part of a certain in-group means you also understand the beliefs that are directly opposed as well as a direct understanding of in-group views/attitudes towards out-group members. This understanding is critical, as this provides another reason to never question one’s beliefs and maintain willful ignorance in the face of alternative explanations.
Within Christianity though, there does exist a large number of individuals who recognize this problem; however, the individuals I reference again have created a solution that does more to promote scientific confusion than producing an actual scientific understanding. Intelligent Design is a belief system that is now commonly held by most moderate Christians who recognize the need to have some sense of modernized faith in light of scientific progress the last 150 years; however, at it’s core is still a theological belief that has no bearing in science, but rather it enjoys the position of simply interpreting science to support their Biblical exegesis/theology. Is ID a science? I suppose there are minimal thought experiments one could attempt to create for logical validity, but as far as empirical data to be collected or observed there are no experiments to create; however, I will concede that there are interesting views outside the mainstream norm of Intelligent Design; however, I will not discuss those in detail today.
Proponents of ID are encapsulated by the idea of this existence being chaos, and results of random events; this world-view makes sense as the natural world in the eyes of a Christian would demand such a view for it is God that brings order, peace, and design to the natural world in the Bible (1 Cor 14:33). This view however, is in contradiction to biological understanding of evolutionary mechanisms. Because natural selection can produce amazing adaptations, it’s tempting to think of it as an all-powerful force, urging organisms on, constantly pushing them in the direction of progress — but this is not what natural selection is like at all.
First, natural selection is not all-powerful; it does not produce perfection. If your genes are “good enough,” you’ll get some offspring into the next generation — you don’t have to be perfect. This should be pretty clear just by looking at the populations around us: people may have genes for genetic diseases, plants may not have the genes to survive a drought, a predator may not be quite fast enough to catch her prey every time she is hungry. No population or organism is perfectly adapted.
Second, it’s more accurate to think of natural selection as a process rather than as a guiding hand. Natural selection is the simple result of variation, differential reproduction, and heredity — it is mindless and mechanistic. It has no goals; it’s not striving to produce “progress” or a balanced ecosystem.
This is why “need,” “try,” and “want” are not very accurate words when it comes to explaining evolution. The population or individual does not “want” or “try” to evolve, and natural selection cannot try to supply what an organism “needs.” Natural selection just selects among whatever variations exist in the population. The result is evolution.
At the opposite end of the scale, natural selection is sometimes interpreted as a random process. This is also a misconception. The genetic variation that occurs in a population because of mutation is random [Unpredictable in some way. Mutations are “random” in the sense that the sort of mutation that occurs cannot generally be predicted based upon the needs of the organism. However, this does not imply that all mutations are equally likely to occur or that mutations happen without any physical cause. Indeed, some regions of the genome are more likely to sustain mutations than others, and various physical causes (e.g., radiation) are known to cause particular types of mutations.] — but selection acts on that variation in a very non-random way: genetic variants that aid survival and reproduction are much more likely to become common than variants that don’t. Natural selection is NOT random!
Back to topic, the anti-science agenda of Christianity stems largely from psychological defense mechanisms, and a lack of authentic understanding towards science – rather the problem lies in a rejection as a whole or biased interpretations that pervert science. A final perversion of science is the thought that science is often wrong; however, the peer review process, although certainly with flaws, has provided the greatest attempt thus far in human history to create an objective process of understanding information/scholarly debate. The self-policing of this system has been under attack for being both easy to pass by, and having too many retractions to garner credibility; however, these are unfair. As far as manipulation to bypass a system goes, any system is subject to being compromised; it depends on the process in which the peer review is going through, but what I would consider the most authentic (open peer review) has too many sociological concerns to have gathered any mainstream support. Turning attention to the retraction argument – I have often heard this one quoted. “Well there were …… papers retracted last year, how is that possibly a good system with so many needing retracted in the first place?”
Well, a substantial increase in the rate of retracted scientific articles has been observed. The present study analyzed several hypotheses that might account for this increase, with an emphasis on the time interval between publication and retraction. Evidence supports contributions from the following factors:
- The rate of publication has increased, with a concomitant increase in the rate of retraction.
- Editors are retracting articles significantly faster now than in the past.
- The reasons for retraction have expanded to include plagiarism and duplicate publication.
- Journals are reaching further back in time to retract flawed work.
- There has been an increase in the number and proportion of retractions by authors with a single retraction.
- Discovery of fraud by an author prompts reevaluation of an author’s entire body of work.
- Greater scrutiny of high-profile publications has had a modest impact on retractions
I want to conclude with the thought that science and religion do not necessarily have to compete; it simply depends on how bold the religious ideology is attempting to be. Attempting to make supernatural claims that are testable within natural reality are open for critique! I grew up without any chance of having a pro-science mindset, being taught to bring evolution books home so my parents could object that the school had them. Or having Kent Hovind come to my private Christian school I attended to further indoctrinate our minds with a science-like appeal with unscientific information. It was only natural I grew up hostile to mainstream science, as I had all the defense mechanisms I discussed implanted within me. Outside sources weren’t inspired by God to me, so why would I waste my time reading them? – Sure science had ideas, but it couldn’t explain everything like my Bible; even when I did look into evolution at 16 and started leaning to adapt Theistic evolution I was worried how my parents would take it, as well as my youth group. It wasn’t until becoming an Atheist that I was able to finally objectively fit theology to modern science and appreciate the non-Fundamentalist approach.