In place of the post I was going to write about my fantastic weekend I decided to write one about (go figure) evolution, religion, and my mom. The idea about this post came about through a conversation I had with my parents over dinner and the ride to the bus station.
A reoccurring theme in my time since college has been a low-intensity war between me and my mother over our disagreements in the science vs. religion wars. This current episode was sparked by an article in my parent’s local newspaper by an old scientist with “fifty years experience” whatever the hell that means (couldn’t find it online, but I’ll add a link if I do in the future). I read his opinion piece and much of it made perfect sense. He correctly, if simply, described what science is and then went off the deep end. Huge jumps of logic were made by describing biological features and then, with no explanation given, attributing those features to his idea of God (which happens to be the standard Christian one). This gentleman then finishes his article by calling evolution an “invalid theory” and attributing everything to God.
I think my mother thought she had me cornered when she had me read this op-ed. I mean, here is a guy who apparently has some credentials (but so do these people, and they’re all nutjobs) and is arguing against what she believes to be my position. Largely, she was correct in that assumption, but when it comes to something as complex as science and religion the devil is in the details. Through the conversation I had with my parents (though mostly my evangelical mother) I had to continually correct a number of false ideas about their understanding of science. Namely, science never does, and never can, PROVE something. This is a subtle, yet critical point about science that is often overlooked by those not intimately involved in the process. Over and over I had to correct my mother when she said the word “prove” because science doesn’t “prove” anything (at least in the strict definition of the word). The word “prove” can be, and often is, used colloquially within certain circles out of simplicity. If I find, through rigorous scientific trials, that there is less of a certain protein in cell A I will often tell other scientists that I “proved” it because I know they understand what I mean. However, outside of those circles syntax and semantics become increasingly important and slip-ups need to be corrected.
(I swear this rambling is going somewhere. This is getting to the crux of my argument with my mother.)
While most people are taught about the scientific method at some point very few are taught about the basic premises of the philosophy of science. One premise essentially states that natural processes have natural causes (go figure). This is called methodological naturalism and is the basis of scientific thought. My mother has a problem with this premise because it leaves no place for a god to exert it’s will upon the natural world. Now, this is a very important distinction that I am going to explain. Gods are, by definition, SUPERnatural (OUTSIDE/ABOVE nature) while methodological naturalism (science) is based only upon nature. Therefore, if you add the premise of a SUPERnatural being in a scientific argument you invalidating it due to one of your premises being inherently flawed. Science has no preconceived notion about the existence of a supernatural being (one may or may not exist), but it acts as through all natural processes have natural causes.
That was my mother’s main problem (though she had many others), but I was able to get through to her. I made her honest as a Christian by admitting that her problems with science, and particularly evolution, were not scientifically based, but were instead based only on theology. Science didn’t back her story up, so she decided to believe what she wanted to in order to continue believing in her idea of God. I showed her what science has proven beyond a reasonable doubt (but not an unreasonable doubt) and she has decided to reject it based on her understanding of the Christian God.
It was a very difficult two hours explaining this to my parents, but in the end it was all worth it. My mother is no longer delusional about science and I am happy with my efforts to defend what I have come to know and love, but I can’t help but feel a bit sad at my mother’s dismissal of the only way of truly knowing what goes on in this world around us. It’s sad really, and I hope other Christians (and all other followers of religions) can one day be as truthful as my mother and admit that they don’t “believe” in evolution based solely on theological principles and stop hiding behind pseudoscience in order to sound more legitimate.