The cooption of Science & Religion

In a challenging article, ‘Science and politics stand off’ Peter Boyer argues for scientists to participate in public policy debate without fear.

Our scientists need to feel confident about discussing their work freely and publicly without setting off a political vendetta seeking to trash their reputations. Is that too much to ask?

Sadly, it too often has been “too much to ask”.

Scientists are rightly concerned at being intimidated for their views and for having their scientific research coopted by power elites. Exhibit ‘A’ is the extension of Charles Darwin’s research to eugenics and Hitler’s misuse of it to justify the sterilization of people with disabilities, including the deaf and blind, and the horrendous extension of this barbarity to the extermination of these and other groups, such as the Roma and Jews.

I feel sorry for Charles Darwin. The ideological use of Darwin’s scientific research has been used to justify communism (Engel at Marx’s funeral), capitalism (J.D.Rockefeller), racism and (today) atheism (Richard Dawkins).

Religious leaders share with scientists in their deep concern at the (mis)use of their knowledge and name (in the former party’s case, religion) in the public square.

Exhibit ‘A’ in today’s news is Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann who claimed that God was speaking to US politicians via the earthquake and hurricane that struck the US east coast.

“I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians.  We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start  listening to me here?’

“Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right  now. Because they know what has to be done. They know government is on a morbid  obesity diet and we’ve got to rein in the spending,” she said.

God, of course, is ‘on message’ with her: ‘we’ve got to rein in the spending’!

One of the take away messages for me from last weekend’s Conference on Science and Christianity was the way in which both science and Christianity have been coopted over the centuries and in various ways by power elites. This cooption diminishes the standing and hence contribution that both science and religious belief make to society’s well-being.

I finish quoting COSAC speaker, Dr Denis Alexander,

Christians are in a strong position to critique the uses and abuses of biology that lie beyond science since the justification of their own faith does not depend on the status of any particular scientific theory. Their understanding of human sinfulness and the perils of human arrogance should also make them quick to discern the distinction between science and those philosophies and ideologies that are parasitic upon science, but not part of science. Scientific theories should be left to do good scientific work in the laboratory and not extrapolated into other realms in ways that eventually lead to disenchantment with the science itself and, even worse, further human tragedies.

The critic of our Christianity is Christ through his Spirit, Scripture, community and the quest for knowledge in humility and truth.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5)

It does seem somewhat pretentious to interpret a natural disaster on the East Coast of the USA as God supporting reduced Government expenditure. As I think of the 40 reported dead in the hurricane the Spirit speaks to me more of Christ’s call to exercise compassion than to make a judgment on government financial policy.

In Anselm’s famous words the follower of Christ exercises, “faith seeking understanding”.

Read more, Science and politics stand off and Disasters a message from God: Bachmann and Conference: Science and Christianity(COSAC) 2011.

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