Some prejudice occurs with little effort and no personal engagement. If a person is prejudiced against people of color or short people, it is fairly easy to spot targets. If you are prejudiced against people because of their religious beliefs or lack of beliefs, you need to engage them for a while to determine what they believe. In the process of engagement, you may learn many things about a person that you like or even admire. There have been many occasions when, in the midst of a conversation, the person I was talking to performs a quiet double take and says, “You mean you don’t believe in God?” or some such similar statement.
It is much the same with public figures. The public is surprised to learn of a media star or author who acknowledges atheistic or agnostic beliefs.
Most politicians adopt an religious-appearance strategy knowing they may be unelectable if they do not appear to be a person of faith.
Although there are many scientists who profess to believe, it would appear that the majority have applied the ideas of science to religion and found it wanting. I would find it difficult to spend five or six days a week being skeptical about ideas and events, then go to church on Sunday to profess a belief in magic and miracles.
In the November 4, 2011, Sioux Falls Argus Leader, Billy Graham is asked about this phenomenon. Billy’s reader says, “I was shocked recently by a comment from a well-known scientist I’ve always respected, saying he didn’t believe there was any evidence for God. How could anyone study the universe and think it all came about by chance? I’m a research scientist myself, and I’ve never had any doubt about God’s existence.”
The first comment I would like to make is that the “research scientist” [RS] doesn’t go beyond saying that he or she does not doubt the existence of God. This is an extremely broad statement. RS could be simply a deist, a person who believes that God exists but nothing more than that. At the other end of the religion spectrum, RS may be studying the effects of poison on the human body on weekdays and snake handling on Sunday. We have no way to determine this from the short statement Billy provides.
Second, without being condescending, doing research may not involve the same level of scientific inquiry as other scientific endeavors. RS may be doing something as mundane as counting events or inputting data into computer files. RS may have had training in science, is working in a scientific field, but may not be using science on a day-to-day basis. Again, trying to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings, an analogy might be a stenographer working at a publishing house. The stenographer is “working in publishing”, but may not be making editorial decisions on a daily basis.
Billy, as usual, is not above making assumptions. He thanks the RS for having faith and then goes on, “Over the years, I’ve been privileged to meet many outstanding scientists and engineers who had a strong faith in Christ.” I will not comment on the distinction between scientist and engineer. Over the years, many of my best friends have been engineers.
Billy then explains that some of these scientists believed because they had studied the universe and decided that it must have been God who created it all. I have previously commented on Marilyn Adamson’s and Billy’s use of this argument for the existence of God.
Even if the existence of the universe was an argument for the existence of God, it does not necessarily point at the God of the Bible. It most definitely does not point to Jesus being God and all the other magic most Christians profess.
Billy then considers why so many scientists choose disbelief rather than belief. Billy says the scientist’s pride keeps them from humbly following Jesus.
Are there scientists who are proud? Certainly. Many scientists have accomplished great and wonderful things in the process of doing science.
However, the approach that scientists generally take to science is not the “know-it-all” approach. Scientists observe the world around them, admitting that they don’t know how some things happen. They formulate ideas, educated guesses, or hypotheses that might explain the occurrence in question.
A proud person would quit after making a hypothesis, believing in his or her ability to explain the world. This is what most religious people do. They stop after stating their hypothesis.
The classic example of this was Aristotle’s explanation of how things fall. Aristotle (384 BCE – 322 BCE) stated that objects fall at speeds proportional to their weight. Thus, a three-pound rock would fall three times as fast as a one-pound rock. Aristotle was so confident in his mental abilities he never tested his explanation. For fifteen cents, returnable, you can test his 2400-year-old idea. A dime weighs 0.05 ounce and a nickel weighs 0.15 ounce, three times as much. Stand over a hard surface such as a vinyl or tile floor. Hold the coins at the same height and release them at the same time. If the nickel falls faster, you will hear, “click – click”; two district clicks as the coins hit, one after the other. If Aristotle was wrong, you will hear one click as the coins hit at the same time. This test has been performed perhaps millions of times in high school physics classes, and always yields the same result: one click.
Scientists doubt their own ideas and test their hypothesis to determine if they are valid. Even after they have performed many tests, they open up the process to other scientists to critique and verify. Science and non-science differ because of what happens after the explanation is created. The non-scientist stops with the explanation; the scientist goes on to test the explanation.
Billy, like most preachers, has a weak concept of what science is or what science does. He projects his own ideas of the way the world works onto others. Billy needs to take a good course in the theory of science, or just read books by scientists talking about science.
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