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The “Good Book” is seriously flawed. Which book am I talking about? It could be any book. No single book contains the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. They all contain errors, and should be read skeptically. The older the book and the more it asserts about the universe, the more skeptical we should be. This includes science books.
Paul Erdos, one of the finest mathematicians of the 20th century, once claimed to be 2.5billion years old. His reasoning? When he was a child, he was told that the Earth was 2 billion years old. But many years later in 1970, scientists said the Earth was 4.5 billion years old. That was Erdos’ humorous way of saying we don’t have all the answers and, in light of new evidence, we must discard some beliefs learned in childhood.
Creationists would say that Erdos couldn’t have lived billions of years because the Earth is only 6,000 years old—and that Methuselah lived for 969 of them. I wish such irreconcilable differences between a worldview based on faith and a worldview based on science didn’t matter. Unfortunately, it does because we live in a world where the views of politicians deeply matter.
Anti-science arguments from politicians is nothing new, like this one from Rep. Paul Broun: “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell.” He added, ” as your congressman I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I’ll continue to do that.” Broun just happens to chair the panel on investigations and oversight, House Science Committee. Yes, the Science Committee!
Many Christians in this country expect the Rapture in their lifetime. Not surprisingly, because of Jesus’ imminent return, they are less likely to support long-term governmental policies such as those designed to curb global warming.
It’s easy to wave a Bible or most other holy books to justify political or social positions, though I’m troubled when seemingly rational people also feel the need to give biblical justifications for their positions. For instance, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) recently gave a fine speech about how carbon pollution is seriously affecting our planet. But to counter an unnamed senator who said “God won’t allow us to ruin our planet,” Whitehouse responded, “We are warned in the Bible not to plow iniquity, not to eat the fruit of lies.” He then went on to quote from Galatians, Job, Luke, Proverbs, Jeremiah, Samuel, Thessalonians and Revelations.
I understand that Whitehouse wanted to fight Bible with Bible, but I can’t say who won this theological debate about where God stands on global warming. The more disturbing question is: Why should it matter in determining public policy?
I’ve heard many theological debates about whether God supports gay rights, women’s rights and evolution. I find it a lot easier to take the homophobic, misogynistic, anti-science side when the Bible is our evidence. Liberal religionists often try to interpret as metaphor passages about stoning homosexuals and blasphemers, man being created 6,000 years ago, man being the head of woman (or even men beheading women), and countless other passages that should either be ignored or laughed at.
Fortunately, there’s a much better approach, though it requires more profiles in courage than most politicians are willing to display. Here’s a speech I’d like to hear on the floor of Congress.
But perhaps I should be a bit careful about what I call “superstition.” In a recent article that questioned whether Pope Francis had performed an exorcism, Rev. Robert Gahl expressed concern for what he called an upswing in the devil’s malicious activity. He blamed this in part on worldwide secularization, to which he also attributes a surge in drug use, pornography and superstition.
Why does the reverend believe that secularists are superstitious? Perhaps because we accept the DNA evidence that a cup of wine does not turn into the blood of a deity when a priest recites some magic words over it.
Here’s a bit of ancient wisdom for Rev. Gahl: He who lives in a glass house should not throw stones.
Herb Silverman is founder and President Emeritus of the Secular Coalition for America, author of “Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt,” and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of Charleston.