So, I recently finished Death By Black Hole by Neil deGrasse Tyson. It is a wonderful book, and I highly recommend it. I wrote a short review of its audio version here.
The last chapter concerned itself with Science vs. Religion (of course), and he brought up a lot of good points that I think are worth bringing up here.
(Disclaimer: The post will be filled with religious and scientific talk. I figure that’s allowed here since this is a blog on science fiction and I happen to be a deeply religious and spiritual person. If the topic makes you uncomfortable, feel free to stop reading now. I have strong feelings on the subject and I know how unsettling that can sometimes be.)
The Danger of “God of the Gaps”.
Mr. Tyson made an excellent point about how religious scientific people frequently treat God in their work. When there is something they don’t know or understand, they think God did it and this is proof of how wonderful, mysterious, and powerful God is. (He cited many examples throughout history that I won’t go into here.) But when there’s a new discovery, they seem to forget God completely. It’s not God who “did it” but gravity, but the centrifugal force, but quantum mechanics, and so on. God, in this attitude, can only exist in the areas of science we don’t yet understand.
From here, the attitude often becomes “we’ll never find out, it’s beyond our capacity to understand, we should stop asking questions, it’s one of God’s ‘mysteries'” and so on and so forth.
He then expressed his deep concern that whenever people adopt this attitude, one of the main consequences is that they discourage people from asking questions, from seeking answers. How many potential discoverers don’t even try because they are told not to, that it’s a fruitless effort? We are inquisitive creatures who are meant to understand and we have that power in our grasp–if we are simply willing to try. Look how far we’ve already come, Mr. Tyson says.
I agree whole-heartedly, but more on that later. (Questions are one of the most powerful tools we have.)
Big Bang Theory vs. “Creationism” Taught In Schools.
The Bible’s Creation story has nothing of science in it. The Bible, actually, is not a textbook for science, and therefore has no place being taught in a science classroom, Mr. Tyson says. He goes on to explain that nowhere in the Bible is the operations of the world or nature around us taught. The Bible instead is a book on how to live and why, it’s meant as a moral compass–not as one you hold in your hand that has a little magnetic needle that goes around.
I agree. It doesn’t make sense to treat science and religion as the same thing, the answers to the same questions–on many levels. It wouldn’t make sense to teach economics or music in a science class. Those topics belong in an economics or music classroom. Many people fear that “science is somehow rooting out religion” and that we must put religion into the science classroom in order to staunch the bleeding war-wounds of this epic and frightening battle. Having attended a privately-funded, religious university, I can tell you that this is simply not so. It is possible to marvel at God’s works while studying genetics, for example, the same way it is possible while playing scales or watching the social history of the world unfold.
The only reason why people claim it makes sense to teach creationism in a science classroom is if they think the creation account in Genesis was a literal, scientific telling of the event. But let me get to that in a moment.
Before I leave this topic, as stated in the bold heading above, I want to address a matter regarding the religious community’s concerns and confusion regarding what is known famously as the Big Bang Theory. One of the main reasons for the vast confusion surrounding this theory comes from science teachers at the grass-roots level not fully understanding how the theory works when they teach it. Or perhaps I am giving them not enough credit and it is simply that at the junior high, high school level there’s neither the time nor the capacity to fully explain how and why this theory works.
For example, this theory has never made any lick of sense to me before I read this book. Then suddenly, explained at the highly-thorough scientific level (rather than the science teacher’s classroom two-sentence handwave), the theory makes perfect sense. Now I understand why so many scientists are backing the theory and putting it forward for the general un-scientific masses to learn.
In other words, do your homework. Now, onward ho!
Treating The Bible’s Creation Story as Literal.
Let’s pretend for a moment that the statement “God does not lie” can only mean “Every word God says must be taken literally in order to be true”.
We’re going to ignore what literalness does to
- baptism (Greek for “to immerse”, symbolic of death and rebirth: if taken literally we would need to actually drown in order to be washed of our sins),
- the holy sacrament of the bread and water (would literally turn to flesh and blood in our mouths; would God ask for cannibalism in order for us to partake of the power of Christ’s Atonement?)
- the parables of the New Testament (ex, ten virgins at the marriage feast–did five really refuse to share their oil? if not figurative/symbolic for something else, they surely were bratty women and why are they our role-models?)
- symbolism of the book of Revelation, everyone’s favorite “book of mysteries” (four horsemen of the Apocalypse, “the 144,000”, etc.)
- Christ’s marrying the Church in the Book of Isaiah and elsewhere, (taken literally: married to everyone, really? )
- etc.** (**Note: The above is only meant to provide a striking contrast by way of an alternate view in order to make my main point.)
and focus just on what a literal reading of the Genesis’ account of creation does. So the creation taken literally would be the following:
- 6 days (what about nights, are those included?),
- something about water coming first (vs.2), something about multiple gods involved (we, let us) but one God seemingly in charge (vs.26) – but everything in this bullet-point is largely overlooked, so let’s continue
- then God said, “Light”, so that comes next.
- Ocean, dry land.
- Grass, plants, seeds.
- Stars & the sun. Moon.
- Creatures from the waters. Birds. (vs.20)
- Many more creatures, lots of variety.
- Adam & Eve.
If you take just the first chapter of Genesis by itself, you don’t even get the famous ‘rib’ story–I mean, not story–“literal scientific account”. There’s nothing mentioned about “a day being a thousand years in God’s time” or any of that in this first chapter–story–thing, either. That comes later through Biblical cross-referencing, (and possibly taken out of context, even if both “day” and “thousand years” are meant literally in their respective verses). Also cross-referenced is the account of Adam being formed from the dust of the earth and given the breath of life–
I can’t keep continuing with this, I must point out here that–there are no explanations. We could extrapolate and say, in our literal-creationism account, that “the dust of the earth” is chemistry (atoms, molecules found on Earth = earth-dust) and biology in action. But it’s just that: an extrapolation. God never said dust = chemistry in the Bible. He didn’t say “one creation day” = “a thousand years, actually”, either.
The more we look at this account the more we must call it a story. What would you do, were you God, to tell your children where they came from? Would you tell your four-year-old child a decades-long report about quantum mechanics, physics, astronomy, astrophysics, chemistry, biology, geology–it takes so long just to list all the names of all the different aspects of science involved in the creation of the dear little world we live on, and I’m sure I missed a few in my ignorance.
Or, were you God, would you rather tell a short story? Something that includes all these familiar things (light, darkness, the moon, the stars, the sun, creatures of the sea, the land, the air?) and puts them into a simple, easy-to-follow story. And what does this story mean, if it is not a literal “this is exactly the way it happened” scientific account?
The story of God’s creation means simply this, “I God have created the world. I made it a beautiful place to live on and a fully functional, practical world for its purposes, as well. This is not the place or the time for me to go into all the details on how I did it or what my role is in cosmology, but I want you to know how much I love you.”
Isn’t that beautiful? God is capable of telling us simple, non-literal stories in order to teach us, to show us profound truths. In the New Testament, we refer to these as “parables”, such as the famous “parable of the prodigal son”.
That to me is one of the most inspiring things about the Biblical story of the Creation. God is the Master Storyteller. Stories can teach, inspire us, lift us up, bring us happiness and joy. Stories have power. Stories mean something.
Taken a step further, then –
Maybe my stories can mean something, too. Maybe they can give someone courage, joy, happiness, or inspire them to be better or show them how to solve a problem or how to understand something or someone they never understood before. Maybe my stories can provoke a sense of wonder or appreciation for the world around us.
Maybe my stories can incite men and women to think, to ask questions.
Maybe, too, I can learn by writing, by telling stories. Maybe I can dissect the world I see around me, explore in it, learn something new–simple and profound. Maybe my own stories can make me a better, wiser, kinder person.
Stories are integral to the way we live our lives. Stories can motivate us, make us better–or in the form of gossip born of an unslaked need for good stories, they can hurt us, tear us down.
I have more to say on the subject, but since this is getting mighty long, that will come a different day. Instead, I’ll wrap up here with the following summary –
The Biblical account of the creation is not intended to stop mankind from asking questions of the universe. Any time someone says, “You are wrong, God did it and that’s that, stop poking at the universe–it doesn’t belong to you” or something like it, I think the individual is missing the point of the story. It is not arrogance to assume that God will answer those who ask questions. It is a confidence born of trust in self, trust in humankind, and/or a trust in God who loves us and will answer.
Some of the greatest answers to our questions and pleas for God’s aid, for example, come to us in the realm of medical science. Just think of all we can do now that we couldn’t do before.
Why shouldn’t a God who loves us help our knowledge of the working universe expand and grow? This, my friends, is science. And why shouldn’t God be able to teach us profound truth through stories? Answer: He already has.