It’s good to be flexible physically, mentally, and especially, spiritually. This is why science should be embraced and religion rejected. For religion promotes a truth-denying rigidity while science emphasizes the need to be open to reality in all of its guises.
The current controversy about the teaching of intelligent design, which is creationism in new clothes, illustrates this difference between open-minded science and don’t-bother-me-with-facts religion.
Science is founded on the scientific method, a process for revealing the truth about how things work in the physical universe. Whatever demonstrable truths this process ends up finding are added to science’s fund of knowledge. The scientific method isn’t out to prove a predetermined outcome. Surprises are common in science. Well-established theories get overturned all the time.
Religion, by contrast, is founded on faith, a firm belief in unproven future outcomes: personal salvation, divine revelation, a second coming, and so on. Like George Bush’s faith that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the unfactual core around which his war plans were built up, religions try to fix the facts about physical reality to match preconceived notions.
There is absolutely no factual basis for creationism or intelligent design. None whatsoever. But Christian fundamentalists are unable to loosen their faith in the Bible’s inerrancy even in the face of overwhelming evidence that evolution has guided the universe since the big bang banged fourteen billion years ago: stars evolved, galaxies evolved, solar systems evolved, planets evolved, and here on Earth life evolved.
I’ve argued before that creationism is blasphemy. For whether you believe in God or not, the universe came into being somehow. If a conscious Creator created the universe, then science is revealing the Creator’s artistry. If unconscious laws of nature created the universe, then it still is a secular sort of blasphemy to deny objective physical reality in favor of an all-too-human subjective creation myth.
Rigid religious beliefs keep us from recognizing scientific truths. It doesn’t much matter whether these beliefs are those of a major world religion such as Christianity to which billions belong, or an entirely individualistic religion—the Religion of Me. In either case, faith in the reality of things unseen serves to blind us to what is right before our eyes. Namely, our own experience. Or, lack of experience.
If we haven’t directly experienced the metaphysical truths that we have faith in, then our faith is groundless. And this is the case with 99.999999% (more nines probably are justified) of the world’s faithful believers. We all are agnostics, really. We don’t know whether any metaphysical reality exists, or, if it does, the nature of that non-physical realm of existence.
Yet, we rigidly cling to our irrational religious beliefs with a fierce tenacity. Our backbones stiffen with someone challenges our unfounded faith. Our psyche tenses when a skeptic probes the foundation of our convictions with a “That makes no sense to me; how can you believe that it is true?”
I know whereof I speak, for I have been such a religiously rigid person. After my wife and I got married fifteen years ago, we’d spend many hours talking about our spiritual beliefs. A conversation would go along pleasantly enough until Laurel hit a nerve. I’d feel myself tightening up when she asked a question such as, “Why are you so sure your spiritual master has special powers and knowledge? He just seems like a normal person to me.”
I’d get defensive. Then, irritated. I couldn’t roll with her inquiring psychological punches because her doubts echoed my own, but I was unable to admit this to myself. So instead of openly acknowledging the huge gaps between (1) what I believed to be true, and (2) what I knew for sure to be true, I covered that honest vacuous hole of unknowing with a hypocritical solid sheet of surety. “Oh, you’re wrong, Laurel! You’re so wrong! So, so, so wrong!”
Since then I’ve learned quite a bit about myself. I’ve learned that when I can’t calmly listen to someone else’s criticism of my spiritual beliefs with a sincere feeling of “They may be right and I could be wrong,” I’m failing to practice the scientific flexibility that I espouse. I should be ready and willing to change my beliefs when new information indicates that a cherished article of faith isn’t founded in reality.
My goal is to hang onto just a single absolute: Don’t cling to absolutism. I want to be able to flow wherever the currents of truth lead and not get hung up on any damn religious rocks.