Worse, perhaps, is the fact that quite frequently–because of the religious beliefs they may hold–they often don’t want to know any better. They are perfectly content to remain taken by the myths of old, and this shows the power of myth’s hold over the human imagination.
Religious myths give easy to digest answers about the world–the wrong answers–but easy to grasp answers nonetheless. Science and genuine understand are rather difficult in terms of acquiring the correct answers–answers that truly explain the world and the way it all works. Science involves real world measurement, observation, testing, and finally more testing. Only, even then one’s work is not done, because you have to check your answers against the answers of others who have done the same, and compare findings, thereby weeding out the erroneous data and keeping what can be demonstrated and revising or jettisoning that which cannot.
Needless to say, well educated and well informed persons know how to recognize the features of a myth and distinguish it from the features of reality. This, I feel, is the first step to fending off the silly superstitious of an uncritical bygone age–one which hangs on by tooth and nail in the 21st century, threatening to drag us all back into the dark ages if we do nothing to combat this appalling scientific ignorance prevalent in highly religious cultures and societies.
Maybe, during your next Bible study share the interesting things you learned from a science book. While you’re fasting on Ramadan, with no need to prepare large meals for the whole family, use that extra time to read a good science book! Why not have a Ramadan book club where you read and talk about interesting science books?
In fact, it doesn’t need be specifically a science book, per se. Although, the challenge to match reading religious material with scientific material still stands, however, there are lots of great books out there that can open your eyes to new perspectives, new ways of thinking.
In the end, it was my personal challenge to read a full science book for every bit of religious writing that I read, whether it be scripture or second rate apologetics, and this science reading, whether it be a university text book or a popular work, was the challenge I gave to myself that eventually eroded my credulousness and gullibility in religious superstitions and replaced it with genuine understanding and knowledge about the world. In fact, after a time I came to realize I was less inclined simply to believe for believing’s sake because I had come to desire understanding and genuine knowledge over that of simple belief for belief’s sake.
In my mind, being satisfied with your beliefs without understanding them, or why you hold them, is simply not to question them. You cannot grow in who you are as a person because you never question, you never challenge your beliefs, and you never risk being wrong perchance to correct those beliefs should they be mistaken.
My hope here, in issuing this challenge, is to help cultivate a desire to gain real knowledge and understanding over simply being contented with any old belief. It’s to cultivate an attitude of learning, reflection, and quality thinking verses taking things on faith.
You may say, but not all religious people are scientifically ignorant! I never said they all were. But I was raised in a highly religious community by religious parents and I bought into it all. In high school I learned how rain, like a liquid prism, fractures the wavelengths of light and splits them into the visible colors of the light spectrum thereby giving us a rainbow. But for years afterward I still thought God had invented the rainbow.
Why was this?
Simple. I took rainbows for granted. I already had a myth which explained the why of rainbows, and so the how just seemed trivial.
It wasn’t until later that I learned that asking why a rainbow exists is in many cases the same asking how a rainbow exists. The why and how, at least, are part of the same equation. Not always, but a lot of the time. At the time, I felt I knew the why, because when I was a child I was told that God had made the rainbow, and the myth was convincing. You would be surprised at how many religious people, even adults, believe the rainbow is still a creation of God the Creator.
It was only through my complacency in terms of how rainbows worked, my taking for granted the real science behind the rainbow, and my satisfaction in the answer of why rainbows–because God–that I never took the time to truly understand or appreciate the how of rainbows.
Not until I read Richard Dawkins’ masterpiece Unweaving the Rainbow, that is. Then I felt something shift deep down inside me, because that’s when I realized the how often supplants the why by showing that there is, often times, no why to begin with. Why assumes a agent, a mover, a designer, a will for there to be this rather than that. How often shows that things just are, often because of random consequences of fixed laws of nature, and these consequences do away with the “why” questions altogether.
My understanding of the world has evolved in such a way. In learning better science, in gaining a better scientific understanding, the why questions evaporate, as most of the why questions prove to be poorly constructed (or rather, malformed versions of how questions, to be precise). Once you know how, well, all I can say is things are much improved–and it is the why that becomes trivial.
Never being satisfied with the little knowledge we have, continually asking both why and how, to strive to seek out the answers wherever they may lead us is how we grow–mind, body, and soul.
I challenge everyone to do that–to grow. But especially challenge religious people who have become too accustomed to, too comfortable with, the beliefs they already hold.
Speaking from experience, as someone who was entrenched deep within his spiritual faith to having moved beyond an absence of faith, I have found that the scientific method, or the spirit of the scientific inquiry and discovery, is one of the best ways ever devised for holding one’s beliefs up to scrutiny and seeing whether or not these beliefs align with what is known about reality–or whether they simply align with fancies of the imagination–the hopes and wishes that the beliefs be true–not because they appear to be true–but simply because you desire them to be true.
Feel free to remain open to the rest, of course, but let’s not think for a moment that our beliefs are justified simply because we like believing them or because we’d like them to be true in the face of not knowing any better. Let’s get comfortable with the unknown, and let’s cultivate our desire to fill this void with genuine understanding so that we can calm our fears by growing more knowledgeable and wise.
A short reading list of my favorite science related books:
- Unweaving the Rainbow by Richard Dawkins is so beautiful, so moving, so inspirational.
- The Serpent and the Rainbow by Wade Davis is exceptional, especially if you want to learn about real zombies!
- I loved Brian Greene’s The Hidden Reality, because it explains extremely difficult physics in very easy to understand analogies but never feels dumbed down.
- I love Lawrence Krauss’ book Hiding in the Mirror which critiques and criticizes all of the theories talked about in Brian Greene’s book (except that it was written first)!
- I love Kayt Sukel’s Dirty Minds (aka This is Your Brain on Sex), very insightful in how sex and love are interconnected at the level of the brain.
- Mary Roache’s book on the afterlife Spook, where she shows a lot of the science behind notions of the afterlife such as OBEs and NDEs.
- Michael Shermers The Believing Brain, which looks at how the brain can be so easily tricked into believing things, such as the aforementioned OBEs, NDEs, etc.
- Antonio Damasio’s Self Comes to Mind, which explains the perception of the self and how it’s creates the mind/body dualism which is, essentially, an illusion of the brain.
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, shows how our thinking is broken into two systems, one intuitive and one analytical.
- Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained, where he demonstrates that religious beliefs all have common origins and so share similar theological templates–and are therefore, in all likelihood, entirely manmade.
- Paleofantasy by Marlene Zuk where she completely annihilates the notion that the Paleo-diet is at all healthy or beneficial in any way–cuz it’s soooo not.
And many, many others.