Why Is This So Hard to Understand?

There is a gubernatorial race going on in Alabama right now.  I don’t live in Alabama, and likely you don’t either, so the race itself is of little consequence to me or most of you.  That said, there is something of which I think we should take note in terms of how the race is being run.  There are those who don’t like Bradley Byrne, who is running as a Republican in the election.  They do not think Byrne is conservative enough, and they offer up evidence of this in the video to the right.  The website of the group behind the video can be found at http://www.therealbradleybyrne.com

First, let me say that I don’t care at all who becomes governor in Alabama, nor do I care about Byrne.  I only care about this issue as it highlights in a powerful way something that many want to deny.  This issue is not merely the fact that there is a vocal group out there who wants to destroy science education.  It is the further fact that this group recognizes that they are simply not the small minority that we are constantly told they are.  Were that the case, an ad such as this would have no power.  It only works if it finds traction with some large group of voters out there who share this anti-science sentiment.

The ad says that “Byrne supported the teaching of evolution, said evolution best explains the origin of life.”  At the end of that quote, the narrator’s voice goes up in pitch as if this were a question, suggesting that he thinks this is so incredible as to be absurd.  That’s right, this group is presenting an ad to sway voters away from Byrne by saying that he is a proponent of the apparently nutty idea that evolution explains the origin of species better than other explanations, and this is tied to his supposed claim that “parts of the Bible are…true and parts that are not.”  That is, Byrne’s endorsement of the teaching of evolution in the science classroom is seen by these people as a rejection of Christianity.

Of course, evolution does not actually explain the origins of life at all, regardless of what Byrne might have said, but I’ll be charitable here and suggest that he meant something like the origin of species instead.  Also, a point that might be noteworthy here is that, according the the website behind this very video, Byrne did not actually suggest that parts of the Bible were not true.  Rather, the word left out of the ellipses that matters is ‘literally’, and there is quite a big difference between saying that some parts of the Bible are literally true while others are not and saying that some parts of the Bible are true and some are not.  No believer, no matter how devout, can deny the former without looking like a complete fool.  After all, Jesus Christ was called the Lamb of God in the Bible, yet I seriously doubt anyone would claim that Christ was a literal lamb.  That’s just silly.  John 1:29, then, is clearly not meant to be taken literally, yet that has little to do with whether or not it is true nonetheless.  This shows that even fundamentalists think that some parts of the Bible are not literally true, so that in and of itself is no big issue.

That out of the way, the point here is that the anti-Byrne camp here is attempting to use Byrne’s apparent endorsement of the teaching of a radically successful scientific theory for the purpose of condemning him and showing him to be ungodly in the eyes of conservative Alabamians.  This would only work, though, if there already exists in the minds of these people a clear link between endorsing the teaching of evolution and abandoning Christianity.  And, of course, such a link does exist in their minds.  It is simply the case that a number of Christians believe that accepting evolutionary biology as a legitimate explanation of anything involves an explicit rejection of Christianity.  They believe it’s an either/or kind of situation, where, in this case, being pro-science is to be anti-God.

That’s the point that so many on the science side of the debate seem to miss, and it’s baffling to me that they miss it.  The tension between religion and science is not the result of a bunch of strident new atheists running around yelling that they hate the baby Jesus.  Rather, it is a result of these religious groups who are simply continuing the long tradition of rejecting science when it contradicts their favored interpretation of their holy text.  These people get to define what their religious beliefs are, not anyone else, and they say accepting science is rejecting their God.  And they are right.  They are right because their beliefs are theirs, so they get to say what they are.  The tension here is real, and it is real because of the religious folk, not a bunch of loud-mouthed atheists.

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5 Responses to “Why Is This So Hard to Understand?”

  1. Joey Frantz Says:

    How excellent that I found this blog. Another insightful post!

    I have been irritated for some time at the suggestion that “abrasive” atheists like Richard Dawkins are creating an unnecessary conflict between science and religion. The conflict is fundamental.

  2. James Gray Says:

    I live in California and there used to be a commercial that said “If you believe in Evolution, then you belong in a Zoo.”

  3. Mintman Says:

    Well argued; I also frequently wonder why this is so hard to understand. I mean, I (biologist) know a bunch of colleagues who are Muslim, Catholic, Esoteric, etc., and they all believe stuff that they would have to drop instantly if they only took the state of science in neurology, cognitive psychology, history, theoretical physics etc. as seriously as they would expect their own research results to be taken by the colleagues over there in those fields. The moment you point that out, they whip out arguments on the level of but-I-feel-it-in-my-heart, which again they would laugh at if presented with in their own area. Science that ain’t. The dissonance is palatable to everybody not immersed in the doublethink they have grown accustomed to. It is less compatibility than a consistency failure!

    Well, enough venting. Seems like I found another nice blog. I like how you concentrate on careful, thoughtful argumentation instead of firing off short comments to some link. Great work!

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