Religion and Science: Middle Ground

I recently wrote (here) about Man vs. GodKaren Armstrong and Richard Dawkinseach wrote an essay, but it seemed to me that Armstrong was closer to understanding the larger context that would allow a middle view.  Dawkins is one of the New Atheists and these extreme atheists can seem as literal in their thinking as some religious types.  These New Atheists and Christian Fundamentalists agree on the literalism of religion. The former believes it’s literally false and the latter believes it’s literally true.  Armstrong, on the other hand, is arguing that literalism isn’t a helpful mindset to understand religion.

I came across something on RichardDawkins.net (here).  The comments below the article are mostly the typical hardcore atheist knee-jerk misunderstandings (for the atheists that pride themselves on being intellectuals some of them can be pathetically ignorant).  The article is Darwinists for Jesus by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee (The New York Times).  The author is writing about Michael Dowd (who wrote the book Thank God for Evolution).  Dowd’s view seems akin to that of Armstrong which is interesting as Dowd said that he personally knew Dawkins (Dawkins allowed a letter he wrote to his daughter to be republished in Dowd’s book, but Dawkins wouldn’t publicly endorse the book because of his public role as a hostile atheist).  Like Robert M. Price, Dowd started off as a biblical literalist and once he started questioning (instead of turning to atheism) he turned to agnosticism (or weak atheism if you prefer).  A commenter at RichardDakins.net linked to a video of Dowd being interviewed on the Infidel Guy Show. 

I haven’t read Dowd’s book, but this interview gave me a basic understanding of his view.  Dowd talked about the universe as a nested reality with ultimate explanations being unknowable.  He differentiated between private and public revelations which he connected with religion as night language and science as day language.  We do things in our dreams that would seem bizarre if it happened while awake and yet these night events are completely normal within the context of dreaming.  He spoke of myths in the Campbellian sense of not lies but deeper truths, archetypal realities.  This is what Armstrong writes about.  The silly part of this debate about creationism vs. Darwinism is that the earliest Christians themselves didn’t tend to take Old Testament stories literally.  The interviewer was an atheist, but semed to have some understanding of this unnecessary division as he said that he supported the view of Kenneth Miller.

A famous Christian who tried to find a middle ground between the two was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.  Dowd briefly mentions Teilhard de Chardin in he interview which made me happy because this opens a connection to Integral Movement theorists such as Ken Wilber.  Open-minded Christian intellectuals like Dowd are serving a role parallel to that of the Integral theorists.  Many Integral theorists are focused on complex analysis and of application to society in general, but Dowd is more narrowly focused.  Dowd is mainly writing to a specific sector of Christians.  At present, he said that he has spoken mostly to Unitarian Universalists, but he wants to focus more on Evangelicals who lean towards Progressive Christianity.

He referenced diffusion theoryin explaining his sense of purpose.  He realizes that he isn’t going to reach the extreme Christian fundamentalists, but he recognizes that there are millions of Christians who are willing to question and who accept scientific theories.  Even though these liberal Christians may seem like a minority, Dowd points out the media focuses on the extremes and yet change is most likely to happen in the middle.  Ideas introduced into Progressive Evangelical churches will filter down into the Evangelical mainstream.  The present generation of fundamentalists won’t change, but Thomas Kuhn points out (in The Structure of Scentific Revolutions) that ideas change (paradigm shift) when new generations come to power.

As an example, demographics show that the new generation is less overtly religious and more liberal, and also the new generation has a changing relationship to religion.  Religious and social attitudes are changing immensely and this change will become very clear in the next few decades.

Secular or ‘unaffiliated’? Findings escalate debate

The 2006 Baylor religion in the USA survey delves into the beliefs of the 10.8% of respondents who claim no religious preference or identification:

Belief in God

• Believe in higher power or cosmic force: 44.5%

• Don’t believe in anything beyond the physical world: 37.1%

• Believe in God with no doubts: 11.6%

• Believe in God with some doubts: 4.8%

• Sometimes believe in God: 2.1%

Source: Baylor survey

American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population

  • The 1990s was the decade when the “secular boom” occurred – each year 1.3 million more adult Americans joined the ranks of the Nones. Since 2001 the annual increase has halved to 660,000 a year. (Fig.3.1)
  • Whereas Nones are presently 15% of the total adult U.S. population, 22% of Americans aged 18-29 years self-identify as Nones. (Fig.1.2)
  • In terms of Belonging (self-identification) 1 in 6 Americans is presently of No Religion, while in terms of Belief and Behavior the ratio is higher around 1 in 4. (Fig. 1.17)
  • Regarding belief in the divine, most Nones are neither atheists nor theists but rather agnostics and deists (59%) and perhaps best described as skeptics. (Fig.1.17)
  • The most significant difference between the religious and non-religious populations is a gender gap. (Fig. 1.17)
    • Whereas 19% of American men are Nones only 12% of American women are Nones. (Fig. 2.1)
    • The gender ratio among Nones is 60 males for every 40 females. (Fig.1.1)
    • Women are less likely to switch out of religion than men.
    • Women are also less likely to stay non-religious when they are born and raised in a non-religious family.
  • Most Nones are 1st generation – only 32% of “current” Nones report they were None at age 12. (Fig.1.10)
  • 24% of current Nones (and 35% of 1st generation or “new” Nones) are former Catholics. (Fig. 1.10)
  • Geography remains a factor – more than 1 in 5 people in certain regions (the West, New England) are Nones.
  • Class is not a distinguishing characteristic: Nones are not different from the generalpopulation by education or income. (Figs 1.6 & 1.7)
  • Race is a declining factor in differentiating Nones. Latinos have tripled their proportion among Nones from 1990-2008 from 4% to 12%. (Fig.1.4)
  • The ethnic/racial profile of Nones shows Asians, Irish and Jews are the most secularized ethnic origin groups. One-third of the Nones claim Irish ancestry. (Figs 1.4 & 1.5)
  • Nones are much more likely to believe in human evolution (61%) than the general American public (38%). (Fig. 1.15)
  • Politically, 21% of the nation’s independents are Nones, as are 16% of Democrats and 8% of Republicans. In 1990, 12% of independents were Nones, as were 6% of Democrats and 6% of Republicans. (Fig. 2.1)
  • Young adults aren’t sticking with church

    Seventy percent of Protestants age 18 to 30 drop out of church before age 23 and give multiple reasons for their departure.

    Why they leave

    • Wanted a break from church: 27%

    • Found church members judgmental or hypocritical: 26%

    • Moved to college: 25%

    • Tied up with work: 23%

    • Moved too far away from home church: 22%

    • Too busy: 22%

    • Felt disconnected to people at church: 20%

    • Disagreed with church’s stance on political/social issues: 18%

    • Spent more time with friends outside church: 17%

    • Only went before to please others: 17%

    Reasons cited by the 30% who kept attending church:

    • It’s vital to my relationship with God: 65%

    • It helps guide my decision in everyday life: 58%

    • It helps me become a better person: 50%

    • I am following a family member’s example: 43%

    • Church activities were a big part of my life: 35%

    • It helps in getting through a difficult time: 30%

    • I fear living without spiritual guidance: 24%

    Source: LifeWay Research survey of 1,023 Protestants, conducted April and May 2007. Margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points

    In Evangelicals Debate the Meaning of ‘Evangelical’

    Meet the next generation of Christian leaders

    Jonathan Merritt: A New Generation of Religion and Politics (PBS interview)

    Emphasis Shifts for New Breed of Evangelicals

    Evangelicals at a Crossroads As Falwell’s Generation Fades

    In evangelical politics, a generation gap

    American Relgious Identification Survey (ARIS 2008)

    Most religious groups in USA have lost ground, survey finds

    Generation Y embraces choice, redefines religion

     Shifting religious identities

    Trends in Attitudes Toward Religion and Social Issues: 1987-2007

    Science in America: Religious Belief and Public Attitudes

    The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey Reveals a Fluid and Diverse Pattern of Faith

    Many Americans Say Other Faiths Can Lead to Eternal Life

    Religion in America: Non-Dogmatic, Diverse and Politically Relevant

    Public Support Falls for Religion’s Role in Politics

    Despite Pastors’ Protest, Most Americans Are Wary of Church Involvement in Partisan Politics

    More Americans Question Religion’s Role in Politics

    How the Public Resolves Conflicts Between Faith and Science

    An Evolving Debate about Evolution

    Religious Differences on the Question of Evolution

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    5 Responses

    1. Creationism, as currently taught, cannot be reconciled to evolutionism any more than a geocentric universe can be reconciled to celestial mechanics. However, the Bible does support evolution, as shown in my post “Galileo Event” on the Toward Common Ground blog.

      • I went to your blog, but I couldn’t find any post titled “Galileo Event”. Oddly, I did notice many websites and articles about Mormonism and “Galileo Event”.

        As for creationism, I have no real opinion. It’s just a pretty theory to me and I could care less if anyone wishes to believe in it as long as they don’t force it onto others. I grew up in a very liberal Christian church and so such theories never were a part of my world nor were they a part of my understanding of Christianity.

        The Bible could be argued to support many scientific theories, but it’s of no concern to me. The proof of a scientific theory isn’t dependent on the Bible. However, if the Bible could be shown beyond a doubt to support evolution, then more power to it.

        I came across this disussion and following it is someone’s comment:

        http://insidecatholic.com/Joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4259&Itemid=48

        (9) The conflict is being misidentified.
        August 13th, 2008 | 9:36am

        The conflict between faith and reason was not a conflict between atheism and theism. I think you’re making the same mistake here as your critic.

        Many of the thinkers and scientists who helped create the Scientific Revolution were theists of one sort or another. This is absolutely true. And most of the early “humanists” were actually churchmen.

        But that does not provide a defense for the churches. What was the conflict between faith and reason about, if it wasn’t about atheism vs. theism? It was about the use of evidence vs. the use of revelation and authority. It was a basic epistemological conflict – one that was so basic it can often escape us today. It was a conflict between men who thought the way to gain knowledge about the world was by examining the world, and men who thought the way to gain knowledge about the world was either through revelation or through the study of approved authoritative sources.

        This conflict took place not only in the scientific world, but in the religious world – the core aspect of Protestantism relative to Catholicism is its insistence on the individual’s right to form his own interpretation of scripture. While this still kept in place an authoritative source [the Bible itself] it was still a step away from Authority in general, since it moved the right to interpret that source away from a central church hierarchy.

        This is why Galileo is the hero and the Catholic Church is the villain in this story. It really has nothing to do with atheism, but with Galileo’s method. He pointed a telescope at the sky and then stood by what he saw there. The Church, as you note, “hesitated to reinterpret biblical verses along heliocentric lines” – and then tried to use force to make sure no one else would, either. But this is hardly the “one stock argument” or instance of the Church behaving this way: it’s the same impulse the Church demonstrated in the Albigensian Crusade or in its attempts to suppress Protestantism – applied to a scientific field.

    2. [...] These New Atheists and Christian Fundamentalists agree on the literalism of religion . The former believes it’s literally false and the latter believes it’s literally true. Armstrong, on the other hand, is arguing that literalism isn’t a …More [...]

    3. [...] Find and Ye Shall Seek, Prometheus Unbound, Slow Muse, March Fourth Blog, Run Motherfucker Run, Marmalade, Randall Butisingh’s Weblog, Empowered [...]

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