Somehow when there’s discussion of the conflict between science and religion, the blame seems to get laid at the feet of religion. Science is (supposedly) pure and spotless; religion is unthinking, unwilling to face facts and evidence, and of course highly self-interested. Science is based on knowledge; religion is ignorance in action.
I just posted on science’s disinterest, or rather the distressing lack thereof. Moments later I noticed this at Scientific American’s website: “Queer notions: How Christian homophobes misuse my “gay gene” report” by John Horgan. Based on the headline, one might expect the article to tell us just how we “homophobes” misuse his research. That would be interesting to know. How have we misconstrued it? Where have we erred, specifically? But instead of explaining that, he regales us with the great fun he has had with us, and with his own depth of theological insight:
When Christian radio talk show hosts had me on their programs, I had fun setting them straight. I told them that the only theology I find compelling is one in which God suffers from multiple personality disorder...
I can think of no dumber reason for doing or not doing something than what the Bible supposedly says...
Twice he refers to “Christian homophobes.”
How can Horgan get away with ignorant calumny like this? Easy. He’s writing to an audience that considers the matter settled: science, when it claims to have an answer, is always right; Christianity, when it disagrees, is always wrong. (When Christianity agrees with science it is at best redundant.) God and the Bible are objects of ridicule, as are those who believe in them. Horgan is writing to an audience, in other words, that is generally ignorant of Christianity, for example its influence on science itself through the centuries, not to mention contemporary apologetics and philosophy of religion. Familiarity with these topics obviously does not guarantee agreement with Christian conclusions, but only ignorance could breed such rank disrespect.
Let me frame this differently. Try googling “America science ignorance.” Then try the search again, replacing “science” with “philosophy” and again with “religion.” All three searches return millions of hits, but not of the same sort. The first delivers site after site on Americans’ ignorance of science. The second returns nothing at all comparable, at least not in Google’s first several pages. If there’s any discussion out there about our ignorance of philosophy, it’s hard to find. As for religion, my search on that term yielded a few mentions of Americans’ ignorance of the topic, outnumbered, however, by websites proclaiming religion to be ignorance.
Apparently we must all know science. We must know how things work, and we must of course agree with neo-Darwinian evolution (try the Google search: to disagree with that is ipso facto to be ignorant). Apparently it is not important for us to understand the history of ideas, or anything at all about the Western world’s most enduringly significant cultural shaping force. We don’t need to know much about the why questions, or questions of meaning, life, purpose, eternity, virtue, or ultimate realities.
Horgan himself provides us a good example. He cites anecdotal evidence supporting his view that a certain set of sexual behaviors is “clearly a genuine phenomenon.” I suppose “clearly a genuine phenomenon” could be a scientific statement, though one hopes for better than anecdotal evidence (I’m confident Horgan provide better in another context). But how does one get from “a genuine phenomenon” to something good, or something that it is evil to oppose? Science won’t get you there. It takes something else: something like philosophy or religion.
My suspicion: Horgan can get away with mocking what he doesn’t understand just because he doesn’t understand it, and neither does most of his audience. Moreover, they’re just fine with not understanding it. It works well for them. Being ignorant among a peer group that doesn’t mind being ignorant provides great cover for acting ignorant. Furthermore, that which we least understand, we find easiest to ridicule. A wise mother rabbit once said, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” We need not always be that cautious, but it would be good to adopt the policy, If you can’t say something nice and you don’t know what you’re talking about, don’t say anything at all.
If scientists and Christian believers took that to heart, it would go a long way toward ending this science-religion dispute. Which group, now, do you suppose has more to learn—greater ignorance to recover from—concerning the other group’s body of knowledge? I’m sure you can guess my own answer to the question.