The United States is considered the “most religious” country in the world. That is good and bad. It is good if religion aligns one’s moral compass, and it is bad because religion interferes with education in some areas.
In the Bible, Adam eats the fruit of the “forbidden tree” and sins. What is the forbidden tree? The tree of knowledge.
The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.
Genesis 2: 15 -17.
Now why should man not eat from the tree of knowledge? Because knowledge was the province of the priests and elders who were more educated than the average man. If man were allowed to eat from the tree of knowledge, he could form his own opinions, and understand how the world worked. That would threaten the priests and elders.
Well before the Bible, the priests in Greece invented a cleaver device that used steam pressure to open the doors of the temple when they made a hand motion. This highly impressed those worshipping in the temple, and showed the power of that god. But if the people knew how the device worked, they would know that it was not the god that opened the doors, but a device that a man had built. That would not be good, because the temple priest (and the god of that temple) would not be seen as powerful.
For centuries, the Catholic Church was the final authority not just on moral issues, but on issues of how the world was created and how it worked. Any challenge to that authority was blasphemy and heresy.
Then along came this radical Galileo Galilei and his telescope. He claimed the radical idea that the earth moved around the sun rather than vice versa. Such an idea was completely contrary to the teachings of the church, which was the final authority on all such matters. While some in the church agreed with Galileo and confirmed the observations that he made with his telescope, others in the church refused to even look through it.
The controversy resulted in Galileo’s trial for heresy for teaching what he had actually observed. At the end of the trial,
“it was decided at the Holy Congregation […] on 25 Feb 1616 that […] the Holy Office would give you an injunction to abandon this doctrine, not to teach it to others, not to defend it, and not to treat of it; and that if you did not acquiesce in this injunction, you should be imprisoned”
While the Catholic Church lacks this kind of power in today’s world, doesn’t the decision sound a bit like the debate over evolution? Not only does it sound like it, there was actually a trial in the civil courts over the teaching of evolution – the famous “Scopes Monkey Trial.”
Evolution remains a hot topic in the U.S. Science dealt the non-evolutionists a major blow when the entire human genome was mapped. It seems that the first 30 percent of the human genes are exactly the same as those of a daffodil, and you get to 99.5 percent of the human genome before hmans are differentiated from monkeys!
Christian conservatives claim that can’t be right, because man was created by God, and not evolved from monkeys. These same conservatives, however, have no problem having amniosentesis to check for birth defects – which is based on exactly the same science!
A conservative friend also does not believe that the earth is more than 8,000 years old, and that carbon dating does not work. First, the notion that the earth is only 8,000 years old is not in the Bible. It was calculated by Scottish preacher in the mid 1800’s based on the number of generations from Adam to Jesus! The same friend, however, has no problem with using radiation to treat cancer, which is based on the same science – the half life of radioisotopes!
The Bible is based on what people believed at the time. Science, and the scientific method of investigation, was not created until about the time of Galileo. His observations shook the church to its foundations because it challenged the authority of the church. Likewise, new advancements in science challenge the biblical view of the world and the authority of those that teach it. No surprise, they are fighting to retain their power (and relevance) just like the Catholic Church did.
The amazing thing is that the sequence of evolution (but not the one day timing) follows the Bible nearly exactly. First the heavens and earth, then water, then plants, then animals, then man. What they are actually fighting about is whether each item was created in one day or over millions of years. At the time that Genesis was written, man had a limited knowledge to explain the world. Science has changed that.
As we know, Adam ate the forbidden fruit, and he did not die. And Genesis 5:5 tells us that he lived for 930 years! This is not the only inconsistency in Genesis. For example, Genesis 1:3-5 tells us that God created the light and the darkness on the first day, while Genesis 1:14-19 tells us that He created it on the fourth day.
This is not offered to denigrate the Bible, it is cited to show the difference between a book written to explain natural phenomena as they were then understood, and science, whcih explains them only when they are capable of being replicated every time.
So why does this make a difference? Science threatens the religious community because it threatens their beliefs, and ultimately the power of that community. It is also much easier to believe in the Bible and watch football on Sunday afternoon than it is to delve into the significance of decoding the human genome or the half life of radio isotopes.
An example of where this debate has cost the United States is the area of stem cell research. For religious reasons, federal tax dollars were not allowed to be used for this research. Other countries that do not share the U.S. religious view have advanced far ahead of our country in the next great area of medical research. As that research is commercialized, we will lose out on the opportunity to grow that sector of our economy.
No less than George Washington spoke directly to this issue:
Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than thsoe which spring from any other cause. [George Washington, letter to Sir Edward Newenham, June 22, 1792]
There is nothing which can better deserve our patronage than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness. [George Washington, address to Congress, 8 January, 1790]
If Washington were alive today, he would be appalled with the religion vs. science debate.