Science, Like Gravity, Cannot Be Denied

Education, in its broadest sense, is the key element in most of life’s challenges in the real world. Superstition and religious dogma are the greatest enemies of education.

Religion can be a great force for social good. All the great religions promote compassion, charity, and justice. But religion is not necessary for compassion, charity, and justice. These are choices an individual must make, religious or not. Religious observance does not automatically bring them about, and plenty of supposedly religious people profess adherence to these ideals, but fail to follow them in their personal lives. In fact, the world has always been awash in evils and intolerance that are the direct result of religious dogma, from the Inquisition and Crusades to today’s violent jihadis and nutcase Christian fundamentalists.

Religion can be a great force for social good.

Understanding science and the ability to think critically are important outcomes of a liberal education. The failure to understand scientific proof and critical thought leaves a person at the mercy of superstitious and magical beliefs about things that simply do not exist.

We know because of science that illness is caused by germs, not the “evil eye”. The science of Galileo showed us that the sun, planets, and stars do not revolve around the Earth, no matter how obvious it appears that they do. But do remember that Galileo was punished by the Church when he presented his undeniable evidence, and the Church denied the validity of his work for a couple of centuries. He was pardoned for his sin only recently.

The failure to understand science
leaves a person at the mercy of superstition.

The point has been made that it is not religion itself that is responsible for dogmatic evils, but fundamentalism. Fundamentalists believe that every word of their sacred book is unalterably true, and must be obeyed. They are unswayed by the hundreds of contradictions and morally repugnant barbarisms therein. One might say they are short on logical thinking.

It is very difficult for a believer who doesn’t “accept” science to function in the modern world, because science allows the modern world, with its jet planes, smartphones, and televisions, to function. Although there are lots of occupations that don’t require much thought, practically everything that surrounds us depends on science that fundamentalists don’t “accept”. One thinks of Michelle Bachman, who has definite proof that evolution is false because her dog is not evolving. Many of our most common devices could not have been built at all if science hadn’t shown us the physical laws under which they operate.

We can’t see the electrons that flow through electrical wires and electronic components to make these devices work. But we can measure the results, because electrons follow certain laws without fail, and that allows us to design fabulous machines that put their predictable behaviors to use. These are not laws we have invented. They are laws we have discovered through science. God’s laws, if you wish. They tell us how long it takes for carbon isotopes to decay after an organism dies. They tell us how fast sound and light travel. That’s what science is, and what dogma isn’t.

The laws we discover through science
can be thought of as “God’s laws”.

The Abrahamic religions believe in the primacy of human life in the universe, and the place of humankind at its unchanging central point. This is the real reason that fundamentalists don’t accept science, particularly the findings of evolution, as well as of astronomy. Evolution and astronomy clearly show that everything changes constantly, and that not only are humans not the reason for the universe, but people, our beloved planet, in fact, our entire galaxy, are a minuscule part of a universe whose scope is so immense it is very difficult to comprehend. And, oh yes, the earth became a planet about 4.54 billion years ago, not 4,000 years. We know this without question, but those who believe in religious dogma don’t care about irrefutable reality.

There are hundreds of ways to easily demonstrate that Earth’s age is far greater than 4,000 years, or 6,000 years, which are guesses made by people a few thousand years ago, based on what they knew and believed, but long before science found ways to measure such things. But all such understanding requires at least some fundamental appreciation of the realities of science, and to not “accept” them means to not “accept” reality. To not “accept” science means to not accept the scientific findings that make every bit of the modern technology in our lives possible. Yet everyone who switches on a TV, uses a smartphone, or drives a car accepts these technologies without question, even as they tell us that the science that made them possible is a hoax.

Counting the annual rings of recently living trees and linking the patterns formed by varying weather over the years to patterns seen in long dead trees takes you back to trees that lived more than 4,000 years ago. All living things absorb the isotope carbon-14 from the environment. But at the instant of death C-14 is no longer absorbed from the environment, and begins an accurately predictable decay. Measuring the ratio of remaining C-14 gives us the age since death. Improvements in carbon dating technique, based on the rate of decay of radioactive carbon-14 can accurately determine dates to beyond 50,000 years. Religious belief or dogma has nothing to do with it.

To be poor and ignorant
because of religious dogma
dooms one to a stunted life.

Calculations of the speed of light and the red shift of retreating galaxies takes us back close to the beginning of time. All observed light was generated before we saw it, even the light from your lamp. But it moves at 187,000 miles per second, so we have no sense in daily life that it moves through space. The most distant light we can observe was generated some 13.77 billion years ago. We know this because it appears as dark red, which is how we calculate how far away it was. And because we know that, and how fast it travels, we know how long it took to get here. Light that is retreating because of the expanding universe shows us the same effect we hear when a fire siren passes and its pitch falls, the Doppler effect. With light, we see it as longer wave lengths. This most distant light was generated so long ago that it allows us to estimate the age of the universe, which began with an explosion of unimaginable force. These are facts that simply cannot be denied, but they mean nothing to someone who accepts as the last and immutable word what the Bible says, words that were written at a time of crude understanding of the physical universe, long before science.

To be poor is bad enough, but to be poor and ignorant because of religious dogma dooms one to a life stunted by failure to understand the nature of reality and the forces that control and determine our lives. You can believe that God will heal all, but many untreated diseases will kill you regardless of what you believe, or whether you believe in the science that made it possible. One can pass through life without understanding these things—after all, people have, for hundreds of millennia—but such gross ignorance in our time leaves a person susceptible to avoidable miseries that no one deserves.

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