Sunday, February 21, 2010

The New Middle Ages

Today's London Sunday Observer includes a short article about the recent criticisms of climate scientists caught cooking the books about global warming data. The article relays complaints from scientists in other disciplines that science, in general, has come under attack because of the 'climategate' affair leading up to this year's Copenhagen Climate Summit.

As I have said, I don't know whether the earth is really warming because of human activity and carbon emissions. Frankly, I don't think it is the real issue. I believe the real issue relates to air polution and stripping the earth of it's resources at a rate that is unsustainable for future generations. But, that's not my concern with this posting.

It seems to me that the global warming debate is being set up as a debate pitting faith against reason, as much as an economic debate. When I talk to skeptics about global warming, I quickly discover that many of them come from a strong faith perspective, who believe that God has set us in dominion over Earth's resources. Since the end times are certain and nie upon us, it doesn't matter how quickly we use our resources or how filthy we make our air. That should be troublesome to anyone who plans to live to a ripe old age.

Perhaps they are right, but I begin to worry anytime someone resorts to God or the Bible to refute the latest scientific evidence. Too many people argue their case not on evidence, but on trying to convert you to their faith. Apparently, they believe that if you cast doubt on any of their beliefs, you are denigrating their entire faith. Either every jot and tittle of the Bible must be taken as true, or every jot and tittle can be called into question. That's why arguing from a perspective of faith - rather than science - is so troubling: You must either concur from a perspective of faith, or you are refuting the very existance of God. Nonsense.

New medical and scientific evidence is starting to show that some people's brains are, indeed, 'hardwired' for faith. That isn't me. I'll be the first to admit that I was not one blessed with the gift of faith. I recall a question I asked a nun in second grade: Who did Cane marry after being expelled from the Garden of Eden, since only Adam and Eve remained in the world after he killed his brother. I will never forget the nun's answer: 'We don't ask that kind of question, Richard.' That exchange - in second grade, mind you - taught me more about seeking answers through science than any single argument or discussion I have had since. I don't blame Sister Mary Gregory. I loved that woman and have never forgotten her. Over the 45 years since, I have struggled with how she should/could have answered in a way that wouldn't have turned the tide so dramatically in my faith life. The truth is, from a perspective of pure faith, she had no other answer available to her. Whether I was seven or seventy years old didn't matter. If you ask one simple question like that, you are calling the entire foundation. And therein lies the problem.

Science isn't the enemy of faith. I don't want to live in a culture that doesn't place a high value on the presence of God in our lives. But, all things considered, I would rather see our laws and society based on scientific evidence - as flawed and incomplete as the data might be. Keep people's faith out of our legislature. Too many people are insecure and feel that their personal beliefs are under attack unless everyone believe - and behave - as they do. I don't understand that level of insecurity, unless it stems from being afraid to admit that they don't really believe much of it, either.

I believe there is a God. But I don't have faith that God has much power in our lives. As a friend once said, 'God doesn't do weather.' If God can't turn the path of a tornado, what is the value of all that omnipotence we assign Him. My problem, I think, is that I have never been afraid to admit that I don't necessarily love God. Someday, I hope we meet. First, I want to give Him a good, respectful, well-deserved hug and thank you for the many blessings in my life. Immediately after, though, I want to give Him a good, respectful, equally-well-deserved punch in the nose.

Let's keep our faith in perspective. Whether I believe as you do doesn't mean I don't respect your faith. By the same token, let's admit that we live in a natural world and we leave it in the hands of scientists to explain it and help us understand it. If they don't always get the fact right straight away, we can count on other scientists to straighten things out. In the climate debate, it is already happening, less than two months following the e-mail scandal. As we pursue scientific understanding, we can all decide how God fits into the facts; rather than denying science in order to justify God.

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