There once was a man who was caught in a horrible flood who climbed onto the roof of his house. Being a person of deep faith he prayed to God to save him and was absolutely certain that his prayer would be answered. While he was waiting, a neighbor floated by with a boat and called to the man: "Get in and I will take you to shore," to which the man replied, "No, I prayed to God who I am sure will come to save me."
Some hours later as the water continued to rise, some engineers extended a piece of equipment out to reach the man on his rooftop. But the man refused to grab hold, saying: "No, I prayed to God and I have faith that God will save me." As the water began to come up to the top of the house, a helicopter came hovering over the man, and the people inside begged him to come aboard. But the man refused saying: "No, no, no! I have faith that the Lord will provide -- this is a test! I will wait upon the Lord."
Finally, the water came and swept the man away to his death. The man was upset and reprimanding God, he said: "I had faith that you would save me, and here I am dead because I believed in you." And God, frustrated beyond belief said: "But I sent you a boat, engineers and a helicopter ... what more do you want?"
The science and religion debate has hit the news again as Gov. Rick Perry proclaimed that the scientific evidence of global warming, agreed upon by an overwhelming number of scientists, is unproven. He coupled this with a critique of evolution, also overwhelmingly accepted by scientists, as a theory that's "out there." Rep. Michelle Bachmann has also expressed her skepticism on evolution and supports the religiously based 'intelligent design' being taught in schools as an alternative. That two deeply religious front runners for the United States presidency are using their pulpit (literally) to undermine the validity and importance of science is deeply problematic not only for science, but also for religion.
Religious attempts to influence, denigrate, or undermine science is a cause for serious concern. Good science is good because it is based on results and evidence, not because it supports a pre-existing belief -- theological or any other. You cannot start with the Biblically inspired idea that the sun revolves around the earth, or that the earth was formed in six days, or that there is a Creator and use science merely as a foil to back up your claims. Science is not structured this way and such pseudo-science only embarrasses the pseudo-scientist, religious person or tradition that employs it.
Religion does have an important conversation to have with science when it comes to the moral implications and applications of scientific discovery. At their best, religion and science share a sense of wonder and awe at the beauty and complexity of this world. The religious and scientific minds are best joined by a sense of honest humility about what we don't know, an excitement about what is yet to be revealed through deep examination, and an abiding hope in the potential of these discoveries for making life on this earth better for all.
The ability to think rationally, to examine critically, to doubt and to test should be understood by the religious as a God-given endowment that can, should, and is being put to use in the realm of science. As the Sunday school parable above teaches -- you can be a person of faith and still value the role that science plays as a blessing from God. If we consider the story from the view of the believer, it was through the advances in science that God sent the boat, the engineers, and the helicopter -- science was the means for God to act.
Similarly, we have been given the tools to learn how our environment is being degraded, and more about how we evolved as human beings. If we ignore or ridicule this knowledge, and don't act to save the planet, we are not only making a mockery of science, but also of the Divine. Gov. Perry and Rep. Bachmann should stop their misguided rhetoric as it is unbecoming to serious politicians, poor science, bad faith, and counter-productive to the continued health and prosperity of the United States of America.
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