08 May 2007

Power, Poltics, Science & Religion

In last week’s Republican debate, three candidates rejected the idea of evolution. They would likely point to particular verses to buttress their opposition, but there are verses that clearly oppose the scientific claim that the earth orbits and verses that prohibit charging or collecting interest on loans (usury). (See Psalms 93:1 and 104:5 for examples of verses about the earth not orbiting or Romans 13:8 or Ezekiel 18:13 for prohibitions against usury.)

I would say that the rejection of evolution is based in something other than a literal interpretation of the Bible. Rather, it seems to me, it reflects a belief in the power of pronouncements. “God said, ‘Let there be light,” and there was light,’” has great appeal to politicians who love the idea of going into a foreign country and saying “Let there be democracy!” or going into a classroom and saying, “Abstain from sex!” Life is so much simpler if all that stands between us and our ideals are simple pronouncements.

One reason that the Catholic Church rejected Copernicus’s ideas was that accepting these ideas would mean that scientists with data could challenge church officials with scripture. They were perfectly right to see Copernicus’s ideas about revolution as, well, revolutionary. In 1514, Copernicus published his first explanation of his heliocentric view. In 1517, Martin Luther wrote his 95 Theses, the first salvo in the Protestant Revolution. After Copernicus and Luther, the Catholic Church never again wielded so much power.

Political conservatives who reject evolution are the intellectual grandchildren of those who rejected Copernicus’s ideas. They have similar motivations. If evolution suggests that reality changes gradually and through trial and error, it suggests a world less predictable and certain, suggests strategies more tentative and exploratory than their personality would embrace. More importantly, accepting evolution suggests giving up power, admitting that the answer to questions may lie “out there” with millions of scientists rather than here in my personal interpretation of God’s will. As it was with the Catholic Church in the 16th century, the real issue is power.


Chrlane said...

Good post. I have no issue with the survival of the Church as an institution. I do, however, think this resistance to change is futile. If anything, they have more to lose from being obstinate than they do from changing in areas which have long stagnated.

Many of my values stem from the Catholicism which formed my earliest impressions of the World. But I am always innovating on the stuff that didn't work, because I want the good parts to live on.

I believe I am objective enough to discern universal issues from my personal challenges. I see where my own flaws end, and the institutional ones begin.

I would prefer if the Catholics respected that, because many of the ideals they taught me which enrich my life, are dying, and the World is a sadder place for it. Daily, I mourn the loss of Catholic ideals. I see so clearly that it is the implementation of these ideals which we must renew.

Ron Davison said...

Even churches evolve.
I still hold to the faith I was raised in and it sounds like you and me share this determination to keep what is so valuable in that without dismissing the progress of science and society. Thus far, I've not seen the need to reject science or religion, only to rethink them both. It would be sad to think that I'd ever have to make it an OR rather than an AND between the two.

Chrlane said...

This passion for preserving the spiritual, while enabling progress, is the thing that binds us.