The Great Divide that Science and Religion Cannot Bridge

              Have you seen the new “Cosmos” yet?  If not, you need to check it out.  It’s based on the series that Carl Sagan developed and used to introduce a whole generation to the wonders of science back in 1980.  In its reincarnated state, it is hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who, if he isn’t as captivating as Dr. Sagan, benefits greatly from the kind of special effects, graphic designs, and on-location film-making that were unavailable to the lower-budgeted earlier show.  And if the first two episodes (the show airs on Sunday nights on your local Fox channel) are any indication, the depth of the current series will be geared more to middle school students than to their college-bound high school predecessors.

              But comparisons aren’t as significant as is the fact that the show is being aired at all, let alone that Fox (the entertainment sibling of Fox News) is the network airing it or that the wildly ribald comedian Seth MacFarlane is exec producing it.  And while the science in the first two episodes was actually pretty basic stuff (the human species has only been around for a few seconds if the age of the universe is viewed as a calendar year; humans are made of the same genetic stuff that all living things are made up of; evolution is the result of natural selection in a survival-of-the-fittest world), it is being presented by Dr. Tyson without any sense of a need to give “opposing views.”

              In fact, Tyson is unapologetic in his effort to present science as fact.  Midway through last Sunday’s episode, he digressed slightly from his primary subject (evolution) to describe Darwin’s “theory” as fact, using as the definition of “fact” that which cannot be refuted by any observationally- or experimentally-based study.  It is perhaps a sign of how much science has been denigrated by those with distinct political agendas that Tyson would even have to make such a declarative statement, but it is to his credit that he did.  And it is more to his (and the show’s producers and the network’s executives) credit that he is making his show a re-introduction to the real world in which we live.

              I thoroughly anticipate that before the series concludes its initial 13-episode run (and here’s hoping it is renewed for many more seasons), Dr. Tyson will explore the fate of the earth and the impact of human activity on its future.

              And then, on very much the other hand, we have the pending theatrical premier of “Noah,” which is director Darren Aronofsky’s attempt to tell the Biblical story of the man who, purportedly under directions from God, built an ark on which he then loaded two of every living species so as to preserve their existence and allow for their propagation after a massive flood killed all other living things.  The tale of Noah and his ark can be found in the Book of Genesis (chapters 6 through 9).

              It’s a remarkable tale, that of a man who at the age of 500 (as in five centuries) managed to construct this gigantic sailing vessel, after which he somehow loaded onto it a male and female of all the species then known to exist, whereupon it rained for 40 straight days and nights with the result that a massive flood covered the entire earth killing all living things (save those on Noah’s ark).

              Now here’s the rub.  Many people actually believe the tale to be true, completely true, without any question or doubt.   How many?  A recent ABC News poll found that 60 percent of Americans believe the story to be true.  That would be almost 200 million people.

              Okay.  So let’s think about this for a minute in light of Dr. Tyson’s attempt to educate (maybe enlighten would be the better word) his viewers.  How many parts of the Noah tale are absolutely preposterous from a scientific perspective?  Here are just a half dozen: that Noah was 500 years old;  that he had access to all the species in order to be able to load them on his ark; that he was able to identify and then coax a male and female of each to get on the ark; that the ark was big enough to contain all of the species then on it; that the species there assembled did not then begin to attack each other, as the meat-eaters of the world then, as now, would have been wont to do when they got hungry; and that Noah was otherwise somehow able to feed all of them even though his ark was afloat in a massive flood that covered the entire earth (thereby making access to plants presumably impossible).

              Bill Maher, the stand-up comedian whose Friday night HBO show, Real Time, should be must viewing for anyone looking for intelligent and funny political discourse, took the absurdity of the Noah tale one step further last week when he pointed out that the central character in the story isn’t really Noah.  Rather, it’s the God who, while saving all those species on the ark, also killed every other living thing.  Maher describes that God as a mass murderer, and you don’t have to be a disciple of Neil Tyson to acknowledge the validity of that charge, since the great flood was truly an “act of God” and was, according to the Biblical tale, absolutely intentional.

              The battle between science and religion is an old one.  Galileo was excommunicated by the Catholic Church for claiming that science pre-empted religious belief.  The specific dispute then was over the discovery by Copernicus that planet Earth was not the center of the universe.  Presumably few dispute that fact now, but many would probably still hold that placing science over religious dogma is heresy.

              And it isn’t just the stars in the sky that are the subject of potential ongoing dispute.  Sadly, the scientifically ignorant are largely in control of much of the political debate in the country, over matters like abortion rights, marital freedom, and climate change.

              Maybe Dr. Tyson can change a few minds.  In that regard, it will be interesting to gauge the reaction to Aronofsky’s film.

  • Tom

    I’ve always found it amusing that liberals tout evolution but can’t stomach natural selection.

  • Mark

    In response to Tom’s comment: Don’t they augment each other? For myself I would use the magnetic theory as an example: Like charges repel (and not mentioning that unlike charges attract). Using evolution as a theory alone, would be the same thing.

    Our science is made up of many theories (too many to count) As we discover or reason each one, many others are reasoned, later to be proven when ideas and technology find common ground or working within “our collective means” .

    I’m not agreeing or disagreeing, but it’s those generalizations (and I make plenty of them too) that are creating the divide. My wife often brings this to my attention, and she is correct in doing so.

    In conclusion:

    If the “liberals” are only repeating facts without understanding the science, let alone ramifications, then they are practicing “Faith based Science!” and must be burned at the stake! NOW!