On this 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, I am amazed that there is still the ongoing conflict between science and religion. A couple of years ago the president of Harvard wrote an editorial for USA Today saying that religion and science should go their separate ways. Politicians used to talk like that too. Not anymore. Gandhi once observed that “he who says religion and politics don’t mix, understands neither one.” Science ignoring religion is like a biologist ignoring the ocean. Thank God, religion didn’t feel that way or science and yes, even Harvard, which was born in the midst of a religious revival, would not exist.
What is especially intriguing to me is the hostility towards religion. I can understand the reverse. Most scientists are telling us that the person we know and regularly interact with does not exist. But why should science be so personally involved in this? So angry? They say it is a waste of time but we waste time on sports on dogs on art on love, which is after all, only an emotional reflection of the biological urge to reproduce. What is the big deal about wasting time on God? Why should they care? And there is no real proof that religious government leaders are any more maniacal than atheists, most famously Stalin, or Darwinians, most famously Hitler. And now we know, after all the elections are over and he can come clean, George W. Bush does not believe the Bible is literally true anyway, he has said so. Thus they have lost that convenient punching bag.
If God and religion are the products of evolution, as in a necessary social invention to keep us from the despair of knowing that life ends with death, or as in keeping us from murdering each other, so the species survives, then why would scientists get so angry about people being religious? They might as well be upset that we have hands and fingers instead of wings. Why look at a Jerry Falwell and cringe. Isn’t he and his ideas only the product of evolution? And, in fact, even a higher form, not a lower form of evolution. And how much of religion is genetic and beyond our control? Look at some of the former Soviet Republics turning to Islam after years of atheist teaching from infancy? Is it in the blood? It is a stunning thing to witness first hand and meet the people and hear their stories as I have. Like the multi-millionaire from Kazakhstan, who was drafted into the Soviet army and saw his first television at age 19, his first tree at age 21, and who now prays five times a day in his Mosque.
There is very little curiosity about this. No courses on modern sermons and how they fit with evolution and survival. How are Kenneth Copeland’s teachings advancing the species, what instincts are at work here? No analysis and comparisons of ancient sacred script, the Bible and others and how what was written to fit the evolutionary needs of mankind. The Hebrew laws about not murdering, respecting marriage, honoring parents, even not wasting sperm. And there is the Sinno-Japanese Taoist traditions respecting elders, how do they fit so nicely, working toward survival of the species.
I think you will agree with me that science needs some help in explaining God and why people believe in Him. Why God Won’t Go Away by Andrew Newberg, Victor Rause and Eugene D’Aquili was a good start but the Richard Dawkins books are insufficient explanations, at least IMHO. They tell people why not to believe but most religious people aren’t so stupid. They all have seen the same inconsistencies in the doctrines and histories of their own particular faith and have all asked the same questions.
The real issue is that we all know everything that Dawkins says and still believe anyway. What science doesn’t do adequately is offer an explanation for that belief. What is it? This was what nagged at Francis Schaeffer for so many years. “Isn’t that evidence of something?” he asked and wouldn’t a true scientist want to know what it means? This will take someone from the inside. And someone inside deeper than Richard Dawkins was apparently willing to go. And how can they get in far enough to understand it and get out to tell us rationally what’s going on? Is this what Franky Shaeffer is trying to do?
For many years now I have been traveling the world as a corporate speaker and off stage I have been asking Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and atheists of every stripe if and when they believe they have experienced God’s presence? Now, of course, there are differences dictated by their religion. For example, a Buddhist will tell me there is no personal God but there is a “Buddha” within, but even so, the whole day is built around the meditation experience. One of my young 24 year old business associates in Bangkok gave a $200,000 gift to the Buddhist center in that city, the so-called Vatican of Buddhism, providing much needed air conditioning. Obviously, he believes very strongly in something.
My Catholic friends talk about their feelings during mass but sometimes even more powerful, their feelings after leaving a confessional. They have a powerful sense of God’s forgiveness, a feeling of a clean slate, of starting over, an exhilaration accompanied by the release of endorphins and an adrenalin rush.
Evangelical Christians, now 42% of the American population, talk of being “born again.” Talk about experience! You are on the fringe when music or a movie or a romantic moment makes you weep but you would not really describe it as being “born again.” The very language gives you an idea of the intensity of religious experience. I have atheist friends who live in Christian communities and they tell me that there are times of corporate worship when they “have” to believe, that the spiritual power is so intense that there is no choice, even though their rational mind has already rejected what they are experiencing.
Scientists often ask for physical discernable proof of the spiritual world and actually, something physical does happen when people believe they encounter God. The brain chemistry changes, there is the release of endorphins and an adrenalin rush, there is often an emotional response.
Now assume for a moment that it is only physical, that there is no God. Still, there is something happening in the brain that is as real as if someone touched you on the shoulder, only more so, because I am touched many times on the shoulder without weeping or feeling high for hours afterward, or seeing a radical change in my lifestyle or overcoming drugs or alcohol.
Now, like it or not, I am finding something similar among my Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic friends. And it is this “feeling” that convinces them that there is a personal God and this “feeling” binds them to their faith. While tradition and upbringing and suggestion may help bring them to an experiential moment, and peer pressure has a role in maintaining it, IMHO, it is this “experience” that keeps them believing when they encounter contradictions outside their home community or when they encounter rival religions. It is much more than tradition and peer pressure. They believe they have met God.
It is stunning to see rationalizations of religion outside your own particular faith. I have asked my Hindu friends if they really believe in the god of success, Ganesha, and if he exists do the veins of the elephant head work with the human body and does he have a human brain and other such questions and they chuckle and say something along the lines of “it is only spiritually discerned.” But then they add quite sincerely, “But you would be surprised how many stockbrokers on Wall Street have the little god of Ganesha on their desks and what it does for their business.” Hmmm. One of these friends is an intelligent man, worth millions of dollars, who has a mansion in India, a condo in Orlando and multiple degrees. He tells me that he “experienced” something when he lit a candle at the little shrine in his home as a young person and he cannot shake it. Doesn’t this provoke any scientific curiosity?
There is so much more. Christians and other groups can describe moments when the Holy Spirit manifests Himself in a public event, like say the altar call of a Billy Graham crusade and they claim to feel, as a group, the same thing at the same time. Pentecostals and Charismatics have this happen regularly. And if you polled them, which would be a pretty irreverent thing to do, 99% of them would pick the same exact moment when it happened. What is that?
You can rule out simple explanations for this, like the contagion of emotion or group psychology, although they likely play a part, the blind and deaf sense the same thing at the same time. An undercover reporter for a major network had a camera on her when she was prayed for by an evangelist. We know because the footage was discoverable and became evidence in a lawsuit. And, the comical thing is that the reporter fell over when the evangelist prayed for her. And she was surprised by this, muttering “Oh shit, wow!” as she was falling. In spite of her unbelief and her confidence that she would not be influenced she fell like all the others around her, people that she saw as gullible “dopes.”
There is something very profound going on, something akin to the swarm dynamic that ants and bees, with their little brains, have working for them, something that should make a scientist curious.
And yet, after such experiences, religious people will encounter scientists who not only have no explanation or interest, they sometimes tell them that their experiences didn’t even happen. No wonder we have graduate students in science who still believe in creation. Meanwhile, after such experiences, a newborn religious person encounters his or her respective, sacred texts, which are sometimes thousands of years old but speak with so much understanding of their “spiritual” experiences, so much more than science, that they accept everything else the text has to say about homosexuality, women or any other subject. And by the way, those subjects too may have some explanation from an evolutionist’s viewpoint.
Let us assume for a moment that this brain chemistry, which affirms the beliefs of a person, is all physical and developed out of some evolutionary, societal need. Then this too, is wonderfully complex. It means that man evolved to the point that he developed a belief in God and furthermore, knowing that God did not really exist, and was an invention for evolutionary purposes, has hidden that fact from himself. That is, man had to lie to himself about God and it had to be so good, so convincing, so deep, so personally affirmed by internal evidence, that even a Harvard science professor couldn’t kill it. So, if this is so, why should science reject what evolution itself has done? Does it not have a purpose?
Hmmm, it is so exhausting. It is so much easier to believe in God.