Saturday, September 10, 2005

Science, Christianity, Atheism

So I had a discussion with a friend of mine a while back about most things Christian in America. My friend is a doubter of evolution. I can't remember where the conversation started, but any time anyone doubts evolution, it really sets off my incredulity. One thing I asked him is how he thought science, Christianity, and atheism are related. He answered saying that atheism is the opposite of Chrisianity, and that science is the agenda of atheism (or words to that effect).

Now here's where a little semantics comes into play. I think the most popular definition/concept for "atheism" is a positive belief in the lack of a deity or deities. I don't think that's really the true spirit of atheism. For me, it's really the lack of belief in a deity of deities. I think I'm justified in that definition, though, because, etymologically speaking, I think that's really what it should mean anyway, agnosticism be damned.

At any rate, I think his response really set things straight as far as biases go. Reasonably, I think it can only be said that science is the pursuit of knowledge. Optimally, there'd be a lack of bias in any sense, not only religious, but political, personal, etc... Beyond a lack of belief in any religion, science and atheism really are separate and distinct.

As for atheism being the opposite of Christianity, by definition, I suppose the only true opposite of Christianity would have to be some kind of anti-Christianity, perhaps Satanism. If there were a Venn diagram of beliefs, atheism would have its own separate little circle away from the world's religions.

Another important topic we talked about was abiogenesis as distinguished from evolution. But that's for another time :)


Katie said...

Howdy - got here through a comment you left on another blog, you work in DC and that caught my attention.

Not to get in a big conversation on this post, lots of things jump to my mind but this one is the easiest to say quickly especially without really upsetting this person whose site I am new to.

Actually satanism would not be the opposite of Christianity because Satan is a part of Christianity. So to be a satanist is to participate in Christianity.

Now the satanist may be on the opposite side of the aisle from the Christian but they are in the same room.

Just a thought.

Gabe said...

We agree actually. I haven't reread my post, but I believe the spirit should be the same. As you've said, Christianity and Satanism are in the same room, but on opposite sides. But Christianity and Atheism aren't in the same room. A lot of it comes down to semantics, but it's also the words that define ideas, so they're worth hashing out.

The point I was trying to make was that my friend believed Christianity and Atheism were polar opposites. Looking at the words, the opposite of a Christian would have to be an Anti-Christian, i.e., a follower of the anti-Christ (which could be Satan, or the son of Satan... I'm no Christian scholar). The opposite of a religious person would have to be an antitheist. This is how I would categorize some "militant" atheists.

So then, the opposite of an atheist is...? That's my other point. Atheism (as I view it, and as I've defined in another post) shouldn't be defined by what it believes, but only by what it doesn't believe; namely religion. That's all it is: a lack of belief. It has nothing to do with anything else.

My friend was unable to see it from that angle, and so believed that evolution should not be taught in schools, as evolution clashed with his Christian beliefs. He believed that science and atheism were in cahoots, and so, took a dim view of teachings that he felt were tainted by beliefs opposite his own.

Some things I get offended about, but what bothers me most is ignorance and closed minds. I've talked (and argued) about religion at length with friends of various faiths and we're still friends :)

Katie said...

Gabe - thanks for the response. You never know what can of worms you might open when talking religion, science, and what not.

As to your friends view on teaching evolution. I'm a Christian, hold to Christian beliefs, and believe in creation, but I also think that evolution should be taught in schools (along with creation). I've gone back and forth on this with many people and my point always ends up that if we want children to be able to make informed decisions, to learn how to evaluate and think about issues, then we need to provide them with the oppotunities to do that. I can believe in creation and still understand the workings of evolution. For me it confirms my beliefs. I think the opposite is also true for someone who believes in evolution. To study and evaluate creation would either strenghten their resolve in evolution or change thier mind. That is learning and that is what children in school are supposed to do.

Just my two cents. Not worth all that much.

Thanks for the conversation.

Gabe said...

It's always interesting talking about religion and such.

Now about creationism and evolution being taught in schools, I may be wiling to concede that both should be taught in schools, but not that both should be taught in a science class. There is a huge difference between religious beliefs and scientific thought. But please understand that the only way I think religion of any form may be permitted in schools is if religion of ALL forms is permitted in school. And the only reason I think religion should be allowed in school at all is to teach tolerance and facilitate understanding of different peoples. But again, this would not be in a scientific frame of understanding, but under a social science, if anything.

As far as thinking about and evaluating ideas in general, I believe that children are provided ample opportunity to do just that in already existing non-religious curriculums on various subjects. Beginning with "compare and contrast" in elementary school on to any particular book in English or things like proofs in math in high school.

As for changing someone's mind about evolution, science itself already teaches (in addition to whatever thought processes are taught in the other parts of a child's education) about thought and evaluation, not only regarding this topic, but all scientific topics (and beyond if you wish to apply it in that way). This is called the scientific method ( The importance of this method to all science, and not just evolution, cannot be understated. One of the cornerstones of science is doubt, whereas one of the cornerstones of religion is faith. You can see these two facets are in opposition.

Finally, creation and evolution are not only not necessarily conflicting, they aren't even necessarily in the same room, either. Creation speaks of beginnings. Evolution speaks of change. In Christianity, creation begins with Genesis. In science, life ultimately begins with abiogenesis. If there is a place for creation in science, it might be here. The material I've read over abiogenesis, while promising, doesn't sound very concrete just yet. If there were a deity (or deities), this would probably be its/their role in creation. But this would probably be more of a Deist point of view, to which I also don't subscribe.

And thank you for your comments :)

Gabe said...

Err... that should be "overstated" not "understated"... I'm sure you figured that out :)