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Faith vs. Fact: Saying No To Science Because The Bible Tells Me So?

I’ve noticed a disquieting trend on a number of important issues with regards to those on the right. In summary form, the trend is to discount scientific evidence while promoting faith based biblical theories in order to advance a narrow ideological agenda.

The most recent example is the response to a report to be issued by the United Nations in which the organization will lower its’ estimates on the size and scope of the AIDS epidemic. Pouncing quickly, many on the right wasted little time in using the revelation to conclude that the UN’s data on global warming must therefore also be inaccurate…o r fabricated.

Let me be clear. I’m not suggesting that the United Nations is beyond reproach or that they should be excused if, in fact, they chose to inflate their estimates in order to draw more attention and more funding to the AIDS crisis. Such actions are not justifiable and they only serve to undermine the organization ’s credibility and the severity of the problem.

At the same time, the UN’s actions aren’t any more egregious than the efforts of the Bush administrati on to convince Americans that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Frankly, with the latter, the outcome wasn’t to revise the number of WMD’s found downward…t he outcome revealed that the WMD’s didn’t actually exist and new justificatio ns were hastily pulled from thin air.

As such, why would those who doubt the UN’s data, and seek to use one reevaluation of a decades long problem as the means to discredit all of the organization ’s other opinions, still hold firm and fast to supporting a President and his many policies which have been proven to be blatantly wrong on numerous occasions? My own answer to this question is premised upon the notion that many people of faith would rather defend those amongst us who have been discredited or found to have been deceitful than to admit that their reliance upon faith, and their belief in those who espouse it as fact, may be a suspect construct.

It seems to me that, all too often, people of faith adopt an all or nothing perspective on issues, which simply precludes the possibility of rational debate and reasoned dialogue. While the AIDS crisis and global warming may eventually be determined to be less dire than once thought; why should this action, on the part of the United Nations, to correct a misconceptio n lead us to conclude that we can’t or shouldn’t continue to acknowledge the seriousness and severity that does exist? Should a revision from 40 million infected to 33 million infected lead us to conclude that AIDS isn’t an epidemic in need of immediate and significant attention and funding?

Let’s look at a comparison. We’re currently spending over 10 billion dollars a month on the war in Iraq…a war that was initiated with reliance upon questionable data. On the other hand, the United States just recently committed to spend 15 billion dollars over five years to combat AIDS in Africa. Here’s the issue. AIDS has been a known killer of millions for over twenty years. Now that the UN has concluded its data may be inaccurate, are we also supposed to halt our funding? If so, then why do we continue to support funding for the war in Iraq?

And why the need to use the revised AIDS statistics as the impetus to assail the United Nations warnings about global warming? Is global warming a secular issue? Will rising sea levels only impact the non-believer s? Are we to believe that faith will be sufficient to combat our disregard for the planet? Did god give us this domain to do with as we wished without regard for preserving and protecting it? Where in the bible can I find these seemingly inconsistent values?

Sadly, the battle isn’t limited to these two high profile situations. We’ve witnessed the same dynamic with regards to evolution and intelligent design; with regards to abstinence programs and sex education which includes information about contraceptio n and the distribution of condoms; with regards to abortion and the administrati on of Plan B contraceptiv es to victims of rape; with regards to teen promiscuity and the new vaccination for the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) to prevent cervical cancer; with regards to Terri Schiavo and end of life issues; with regards to stem cell research and the need to treat life threatening diseases and illnesses.

In the end, faith is not fact and while everyone is entitled to the faith of his or her choice; the choices of the citizenry should not be precluded by the faith of the few. Science needn’t be challenged simply because it fails to support one’s faith. In truth, as I understand it, acts of faith, by their nature, are not predicated upon fact…they are acts of belief premised upon religious values which can and should withstand the challenges of our imperfect human condition.

At the same time, because faith cannot be factually infallible, this nation established a separation between church and state, which afforded each individual the right to adopt the faith they preferred while preventing and protecting the individual from the narrow imposition of the precepts of any particular religious ideology. As such, our forefathers chose to establish governance based upon an adherence to that which could be determined factually while being careful to allow the individual to adopt and abide by their elected, and often disparate, religious beliefs.

Until this nation recommits to this formative construct, we will continue to indiscrimina tely attach ourselves to each news report that affords us the opportunity to advance narrow and nescient belief systems. At some point, faith must again become a bond of belief between the individual and his or her god…one that actually offers the comfort that is promised to come from a true act of faith. If this cannot be achieved, then perhaps its time we admit that we have abandoned true faith for that which can be falsely forced upon others in order to convince us that it must be fact. In the end, if one’s god exists, then putting forth the former while succumbing to the latter will do little more than sever us from the salvation we’re purportedly seeking.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

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5 Responses to “Faith vs. Fact: Saying No To Science Because The Bible Tells Me So?”

  1. Welcome to the Dark Ages, where belief in invisible and undemonstrab le things trump empirical and testable claims. Faith and science are only compatible where their domains are disjoint.

    Where they are overlap and conflict (and they do whether you like it or not) is where true believers choose to cling to their childish ways; and the rest of us grown ups choose to accept reality by embracing the findings of modern science.

  2. The farthest I’d be willing to go on this matter is to say that this shows that the UN is not above using inflated numbers and rhetoric for the sake of what they view as the greater good. Does that mean that the UN might inflate its rhetoric on global climate change? You bet. Do they? I don’t know. That doesn’t mean that they fudge the actual science but it leaves them open to the suspicion that they aren’t above doing that, which does neither the organization nor the cause any good.

    I do, however, have to call bs on this part:

    t he outcome revealed that the WMD’s didn’t actually exist and new justificatio ns were hastily pulled from thin air.

    No sir. Such justificatio ns as removing Saddam and Democratizin g Iraq were featured in speeches prior to the invasion as well as being featured in the Authorizatio n for the Use of Force in Iraq, passed by Congress prior to the invasion. They were not “hastily pulled from thin air” subsequent to the failure to find WMD. There are nearly two dozen distinct justificatio ns mentioned in the AUMF.

    Some justificatio ns for continuing presence in Iraq were not mentioned prior to the invasion, that is true, but they only became situations justifying our continued presence in Iraq after the invasion and, therefore, they were naturally not given prior to the invasion. They were not, however, pulled out of thin air; they were responses to the realities on the ground in the country and justified themselves as being (at least within the administrati on’s view) in the best interest of the US, of Iraq, and of the region. Naturally, such are open to criticism because not everyone sees America’s and the world’s interests as being served in the same way. My only complaint is with describing them as being pulled from thin air, not with disagreement s with whether one thinks that such reasons do justify our continued presence in Iraq.

    And LesserFool,

    From this episode, it is perfectly clear that belief in visible and demonstrable things (HIV virus and AIDS) is not above letting that belief trump empirical and testable claims. Critics spent a long time trying to get the “grown ups” at the UN to accept reality. It is possible that their revised numbers are still inflated.

    Craig R. Harmon

  3. Craig,

    I appreciate your position though I find it to be inadequate. We went to war because the Bush administrati on told us we couldn’t risk waiting any longer for proof the Iraqi’s didn’t have WMD’s. Had one asked anyone at the time why we were invading Iraq, I suspect well over 90 percent would have stated WMD’s. Further, the rationale was likely accepted because of the proximity to 9/11…the actual precipitatin g factor in the entire cascade of events by which we were manipulated to accept the invasion of Iraq.

    And I haven’t even covered the information which suggests that the Bush administrati on had its sights on Saddam before 9/11. Call it what you will…but I suspect that few individuals would feel that they hadn’t been manipulated by “thin air” fabrications if they had been similarly convinced to act accordingly with regard to a matter in their own personal life. Perhaps everyone you know is far more “forgiving” than in the circles I inhabit? I won’t be holding my breath on that one.

    If, as you say, all of the other reasons were there, then why aren’t we acting in numerous other countries based upon those same reasons? You may want to justify the bait and switch, but please don’t ask us to recreate history. If so, then all the accusations of Democrats triangulatin g the issues should soon subside…and nuance will suddenly emerge as thoughtful consideratio n.

    Lastly, if you haven’t noticed, two of the President’s “friends”, Putin and Musharraf have steadily moved away from democratic principles and we haven’t seen fit to physically insert ourselves into the fray…yet. Should your logic lead me to expect as much?

    Thanks for the exchange. I appreciate the dialogue.


  4. Daniel,

    Well, if the existence of regime change/democ ratization in speeches given before the invasion and in the AUMF don’t prove that they were not pulled out of thin air after the invasion failed to find WMD, then I can’t imagine what would count as proof that WMD was never the sole justificatio n before hand so I guess I’m going to have to let it go and agree to disagree with you on that matter.

    Craig R. Harmon

  5. The change in AIDS estimates has little to do with intentional inflation and everything to do with the pleasant surprise that AIDS is not another Black Plague. AIDS fatality numbers were not so much overinflated  (I remember numbers flying around in the late eigthies that were stellerly beyond the actual numbers today), as were the scientific concensus at the time. And human behavior, being as unpredictabl e as it is, altered in the face of AIDS to lower the numbers in real terms. Smack heads started snorting, gay men happened to be coming out and people started being more careful in gerenal. It was a confluence of happenstance .

    And Craig, if anything, the “overinflati on” only lent to the lessening of the problem, whereas the sleazy scum in the Bush Administrati on have only made things worse.

    Science proceeds and progresses and is oft surprised with end results. Accurate predictions are always tough to come by - just ask your average gambler. The good thing about science, though, is that the handicap justs get better and better all the time, whereas the Bible just gets more and more dated.

    As for Iraq, plenty of people, myself included, said “Don’t go in, don’t go in light, don’t force the square peg of of a rightwing-id ealized American democracy into the round hole of a theocratic Middle East, don’t contract out the effort, and don’t think it’s going to make anything better for anyone.” All the excuses and rationalizat ions for the utterly and completely failed GWOT just look like cognitive dissonance.


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