As I burn around cyber space reading bits of this and that about science and religion many of the blog posts I come across are very critical of religious faith (1, 2,3). Many of these blogs are posted by atheists who are especially verbal about their distaste for religious faith and people who hold religious views. These new atheists feel that people of faith are on a mission to subvert our political system, take over our schools, and convert our government into a theocracy.
Now most of the people posting on these other blogs are considerable smarter than I and have far more impressive academic credentials. Nonetheless, I think they are barking up the wrong tree. It is not the religiously faithful we need to be concerned with, but the religiously fundamental.
I agree with the new atheists completely when they take a stand against fundamentalists who try to insert religion into public school and government. This is clearly wrong and I am glad they do it. However, I don’t think it is appropriate to deride everyone who holds some sort of spiritual faith-based belief. It is entirely possible to have faith in a higher power and not be a fundie.
There are several fundamentalist “think” tanks that need to be exposed. The Discovery Institute comes to mind immediately as an insidious group that is attempting to inject religion into government and public education. Every thinking person needs to be familiar with this bunch of whack-jobs and spread the word about their insidious and un-american agenda.
Most people in America are not fundies. According to the Pew forum on religion and public life, most Americans are not biblical literalists. About 33% believe the bible is the literally true word of god. The remaining 77% don’t belive the bible is literally true. The rub is that a large portion of the 77% is also apathetic and unable (perhaps unwilling) to think.
So perhaps fundamentalism isn’t even the real enemy of science (though it is admittedly silly), but apathy and indolence on the part of most americans is the real problem. Who is to blame for American apathy and indolence? Ourselves. Parents, teachers, scientists, friends, everyone needs to hold everyone else to a higher standard. I admit, it’s easier to not think about who we’re voting for (Hell, it’s easier to not vote!) or make a big deal out of someone thumbing their nose at the constitution (that what everyone who tries to get creationism into schools is doing!).
We need to engage each other in conversation while we simultaneously recognize that not everyone has the same beliefs and points of view. Prof. Massimo Pigliucci’s blog has a quote (I belive from David Hume) in the header that I think summarizes the situation perfectly, “Truth springs from argument amongst friends.” Teachers need to engage students, parents need to engage their children, and pastors need to engage their congregants on issues facing our society. Why does the US constitution have a provision for freedom of religion? How does a scientific understanding of our world match up with our theological understanding of the world? Why do I belive there is a God that cares for and loves me? How can I live a moral and “good” life without a belief in God? (Yes! It is possible)
These are the things we need to be talking about, over coffee or a pint of ale. In ecology we know that diversity begets stability, surely a diversity of beliefs and opinions among humans in a culture can do the same.