Philip Ellis of the Huffington Post recently addressed a comment from Ricky Gervais following Felix Baumgartner’s supersonic free fall to Earth. Gervais wrote: “Dear Religion, This week I safely dropped a human being from space while you shot a child in the head for wanting to go to school. Yours, Science.” Ellis was rattled by the statement: “Not because I’m particularly religious (if anything I sway more towards the atheist end of the spectrum), but because the joke itself suggests a level of ignorance as damaging as that which so many religious people are accused of … By making Baumgautner and science the ‘winners’ of the joke, Gervais … only succeeded in trivializing the acts of the Taliban and the fact that a young woman very nearly died” (Huffington Post Blog, Oct. 22, 2012). Ellis goes on to say that the same level of ignorance that blames religion for travesties such as the attempted assassination of Malala Yousafzai, would blame science for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Of course, blaming science for the atomic bomb is ridiculous and foolish; and yet, to say such a thing of religion is hilarious and not the least bit closed minded.
Gervais’s “joke” gave me pause: what makes a person so antagonistic toward a value system that is different from theirs? While I may not be an atheist or Sikh or Baha’i, I certainly do not seek out ways to further isolate myself from their beliefs. It’s the attitude of Us vs. Them that startles me the most about Gervais’s comment; and whether or not it was said just to rattle people, betrays the truism that all jokes are funny only because they are bounded in some kind of reality. That is, Gervais made the “joke” because he actually believes that science and religion are completely opposed. Dear Ricky, I am a religious person and I agree with the paradigms of science, even evolutionary theory. Yours, A Critically Thinking Human Being.
Indeed, since the scientific revolution, people have been pitting science and faith against each other. Just last week in class my professor spoke of Darwin’s Origin of Species having to “crash through so many ivory towers,” mentioning also that the Judeo-Christian Bible was at odds with Darwin’s ideas. I have to disagree. Of course there are many religious folks (and not just Judeo-Christians) that do not agree that Darwin’s view of the world is the correct one, but there are also atheists and scientists in that pool as well. The schism between science and faith is a false dichotomy. I like to think of them as complementary.
Many think that because religion entails a set of values and a particular way of viewing the world, and science entails a set of values (methods) and a particular way of viewing the world, that these two ways of seeing cannot coalesce.
But science to most is not a religion. It is a way to conduct your life, but not all of life can be explained by science (or by religion for that matter). We humans always want lists. We want things to be yes or no, black or white, Ford or Chevy. We thrive on dichotomies. The problem is, while we may love a good dichotomy, that is not how, much of the time, our world works. Science or faith? Yes.
I have dear friends that completely disagree with me. They believe the earth is 6000 years old and that it was created in six days by a supreme Being that designed each creature individually. They believe the first few chapters of Genesis in the Jewish Pentateuch (or the Old Testament) explains this. From what I have studied and understood of Genesis in particular, and the trajectory of the biblical narrative in general, I am not convinced by the “Young Earth Hypothesis.” Not because I am dismissive of the Bible, but because I believe in asking questions when I’m not satisfied with an answer. After six years of studying religion, I’m here at VIU studying science. Both religion and science have taught me the beauty and elegance of the other. It is through the study of religion that I came to agree with evolutionary theory, and it is through studying science that I’ve come to admire the incredible vast beauty that is our observable world, from micro algae to Pacific salmon—a world that I believe was planned.
I would never claim to have all the answers to the world’s mysteries, nor would I claim to have the corner on religious truth because I wield science like a weapon. My dear friends who believe that the Earth is young, or flat, or was carried here by a raven have my respect, because they too have thought through their beliefs, don’t attack others that are different from them, and continue to ask questions.
At the end of the day science and faith are both important. Both are needed to arrive at a complete picture of the world. To expect everyone to agree with me would be condescending and naive, not to mention fairly bleak considering what a world full of drones we would be. As Ellis said in closing regarding science and faith: “It is incredibly unimaginative to believe that we can only reap the benefits of one at the expense of the other.”