How one goes to heaven, not how the heavens — or biology — go

The Texas Board of Education made its ruling on the science curriculum last week. Evolution supporters won a battle in removing the phrase “strengths and weaknesses,” but lost the broader conflict as more doubts of evolution, and even the Big Bang, were inserted.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Chairman Don McLeroy is a dentist who believes the Earth is several thousand years old. Which is fine for him to believe personally, just not when his beliefs put millions of students at an educational disadvantage in virtually every science I can think of, except, possibly, dentistry.

The difficulty of this debate has never been especially clear to me, from either side. From the side of science, it’s fairly obvious why evolution is taught and not alternatives: rebuttals are long, and time is short.

The principle isn’t true of just science.

Imagine having to teach the 9/11 attacks and address every conspiracist’s alternate theory. Whatever details may seem incorrect, there is a preponderance of evidence that terrorists took over and flew commercial airliners into several buildings. Until sufficient evidence to the contrary appears, all attempts to expand this “close-minded” history curriculum must be rejected, and that’s all there is to it.

But it’s even more confusing to me why the religious fundamentalists even care.

Science attempts to answer many important questions, but not the most important questions. Inventing a new weapon doesn’t help answer when it should be used. X-Raying an ancient painting can reveal the hidden brushstrokes, but it can’t tell us whether the art is beautiful.

When Jesus tells us the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds, he’s flatly wrong; there are many smaller seeds. But Christ is speaking to an immediate audience, using a familiar object and contemporary knowledge, to address more important, useful, timeless things.

Anyone who confuses this with a botany lesson is a fool, a swine trampling pearls, whoever cast them.

The Bible is not a history textbook or a science manual any more than a botany lesson. It was never intended so, should never be used so. But some do, falsely thinking science and religion are at odds otherwise.

Science enriches religion, as knowledge enriches faith. Claiming to be made from dust is more insulting than descending from apes, really. Or would be, at least, until one considers the Earth and everything in it is made up of heavy elements forged when massive stars exploded and scattered themselves everywhere, billions of years ago.

We are star dust with the breath of life. How divine!

Science didn’t frighten religious people until they started making ultimatums. If the human eye really isn’t all that complicated after all, will God disappear? Or did He disappear the day Newton was proved wrong and He wasn’t nudging the planets back into their proper orbits with His divine pinkie? Or the day someone put a ring in the leviathan’s nose?

Out of pride we continue to draw arbitrary lines in the sand and say, “You cannot cross here; this is the Kingdom of Heaven,” just because we don’t know something yet. Then the knowledge of man advances and God is not in His heaven, or at least what was called His heaven is revealed to be only more sand.

We’ve numbered the clouds by wisdom, after all. Does knowing the weather, or the date of the universe or the mechanics of speciation, get us any closer to answering the fundamental problems of humanity?

I frankly say it doesn’t, and the religious are better served by doing the work of God and letting God prove Himself than trying to prove God and leaving the work undone.

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