A Simple Desultory Philippic: Science and Religion

Galileo Facing the Roman Inquisition, Cristiano Banti, 1857

Galileo Facing the Roman Inquisition, Cristiano Banti, 1857

Philippic –  a fiery, damning speech, or tirade, delivered to condemn a particular political actor.

One of the troubling aspects about current American culture is its ambiguous relationship with science. It’s all too easy to slip back into a theocracy, a repressive system in which scientific advance is once again throttled by religious dictates. At a time when the issues like climate change are presenting humanity with grave challenges, a problem that science and only science can hope to resolve, a substantial percentage of Americans and their leaders seem to be turning away from science. Sometimes, in the name of religion.

It’s a characteristic of religion: anything that is inconsistent with its avowed values is rejected as heresy, as anathema, and not tolerated.

Galileo spent that last nine years of his life under house arrest because his proof that the earth rotated around the sun, not the other way around, was inconsistent with Roman Catholic theology. Logic, proof and the scientific method didn’t enter into it; it was inconsistent, so it was wrong. The Catholic Church did not retract its condemnation of Galileo and apologize until 1992.

Darwinian evolution was deemed contradictory to biblical doctrine by fundamentalist Christians, so they’ve made an effort to root it out of the classroom and culture ever since. Never mind that it is proven a thousand times over; logic, reason and the scientific method don’t enter into it; it’s contradictory to belief so it is anathema, heresy, and must be rejected. The Scopes Monkey Trials, so-called “creationism” and “intelligent design” are all results of religion’s attempt to deny the science of evolution. It doesn’t matter that evolution is established by thousands of lines of evidence.

For a century, the nascent science of geology was burdened and hampered by Wernerism, the claim that all geology on the planet was the result of the Noachian Flood described in the Old Testament. Neptunism, as the claim was called, denied the evidence of glaciation, volcanism and erosion. Pioneers of geology, men like James Hutton and Charles Lyell, were ridiculed by the Church, because they argued the Earth was older than 4004 BC. In fact, science has established the Earth is 4.6 billion years old.

Religions fought and still fight vaccinations. At a time when smallpox was a scourge on humanity, anti-vaccination proponents fought against smallpox vaccinations in Protestant countries. The objections often came from minority religious movements outside of mainstream Protestantism, including Quakers in England and Baptists in Sweden. Even in its early, primitive form, cowpox vaccine was successful in 90-95% of applications. But biblical literalists saw it as interfering with God’s will, and therefore wrong.

There are even Christianists today who deny climate change because it would contravene “God’s will,” and therefore cannot be happening. Some of those Christianists are even powerful figures in the U.S. Senate. They read a self-contradictory book of dubious provenance, written by stone age sheepherders, as authority for how to vote in the U.S. Senate in the 21st Century. When they can, those Congresspersons break away from watching television, navigating with a GPS, using high-speed computers and flying by jet aircraft, technologies beyond the wildest imagination of the putative biblical authors, technologies that contradict their infallible Bible.

And don’t get WC started on other religions.

Biblical literalism has been a prfound obstacle to humankind’s development. It has held us back. It has killed uncounted millions. The religious defend it for its dubious morality, but anyone who critically read the Bible can’t be anything but appalled and disgusted by the amorality and immorality shown there. Including the title character.

People criticize Sir Richard Dawkins for The God Illusion and the late Christopher Hitchens over God Is Not Great. For WC’s money, Dawkins and Hitchens were too kind.

UPDATED to include omitted author and title in final paragraph. Thanks to Paul Eaglin for catching the error.


2 thoughts on “A Simple Desultory Philippic: Science and Religion

  1. I was supremely disappointed with a recent conversation I had with my Uncle, a retired radiologist, and a Mensa member, but is so steeped in Southern Ideology and suspicion (he’s not even a church goer), that he truly believes that there is no such thing as Global Climate Change and our rising temperatures have nothing to do with any kind of anthropomorphic input. “It’s all a government conspiracy so the Corporations can control the masses.” I can only blame it on his age?

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