A speech by our new governor general, Julie Payette, has clearly underlined a grave deficiency in our political culture. That is the more or less complete failure of socially conservative politicians (mostly: Christians) to defend the intellectual roots of their position, including and especially the religious component.
In fact, even to put “religion” in the same sentence with “intellectual” is now a controversial act, as Payette’s comments to a group of scientists demonstrate. She expressed incredulity that some people in “learned society” continue to deny climate change and man’s role in causing it, while at the same time holding to unscientific belief in astrology and the origin of life through “divine intervention.”
These three things don`t really go together. Far from it: a belief in a conservative Christianity—such as that which informs Evangelical Protestants—is an antidote to belief in astrology, UFOs etc. It is true that Evangelicals are climate change sceptics, but it is not because they are anti-science but because they oppose immoral or harmful public policies “justified” by invoking “Science” with a capital “S,” like climate change, embryonic stem cell research, and transgenderism.<
Tellingly, opposition criticism of Payette’s comments have focused on what the critics see as a breach of the governor general’s traditional role of unifying Canadians. Instead she has heaped elitist contempt on the beliefs of some. But both conservative politicians and Canada`s only conservative newspaper, the National Post, have defended only the right of Canadians to hold those beliefs, not the beliefs themselves.
Payette`s putdowns and these lame defences therefore blur over the fact that both a belief in God the Creator and scepticism about climate change are intellectually defensible. They are also held by a segment of the population that is quite distinct from believers in astrology and other pseudo-sciences.
Payette’s glib putdowns will prevail, if Canadian politicians of faith such a Conservative leader Andrew Scheer will not volunteer a rational defence of their beliefs, but continue to explain them away as family heirlooms. They are contributing to the relegation of such beliefs to the church sanctuary and the home. The consequences of this are there to be seen in the attack by Canada`s biggest law societies on the very existence of the Evangelical Christian law school proposed by Trinity Western University.
It behooves all of us to have a rational explanation for our faith, because we should believe and profess there to be no conflict between reason and faith and science and faith. God is the author of all. That is what Isaac Newton believed, for example. He believed the universe was governed by discoverable rational laws because the Maker is supremely rational.
Personally, I still believe in the faith of my childhood because the world I empirically observe as an adult accords with it. While science offers no explanation for selfless love, honour, sacrifice honesty and forgiveness, my faith acknowledges their existence and explains them as virtues. I observe a world where both good and evil are displayed in the actions of people, but nowhere find them described or explained by science or scientists. And these things are far more important to me and to the world than climate change.
Moreover, I maintain that it is empirically demonstrable and universally acknowledged that good and evil not only exist in the world as described in the Bible, but they do so in the relationship described in the Bible: That is: we live in a Fallen world and we ourselves are Fallen in a way the other living creatures ae not. The world and we ourselves bear the evidence of benign design which we have wilfully, sinfully thwarted.
I once attended a speech by anthropologist Helen Fisher, the leading exponent of the theory, growingly supported by neuroscience, that romantic love is not a cultural artefact ( a product perhaps of medieval French troubadors) but is biologically wired into our brains. Fisher explained that romantic love amounted to the production in one part of our brain a certain mix of chemicals causing another part of our brain to experience pleasure over the contemplation and proximity of a certain person.
This mix causes the production of a different set of chemicals that generated sexual desire. This sequence also acts in reverse. Love leads to desire but sexual desire leads to romantic love.
Then the romantic chemical cocktail goes out of production, giving way to chemicals that give us a less manic pleasure simply from being in the company of our spouses.
According to Fisher, this must have evolved because it enhanced the survivability of the human race. But of course, this idea is completely compatible with the idea of a Creator God who built these capacities into our brains so that we would survive and, I speculate, so that we could, when procreating, enjoy some of the pleasure He enjoys creating.
But Fisher had a problem. We scientists cannot see any reason, she told us, for the person who now has a spouse and children, to still have the capacity to fall into love or lust with a third person, since the resulting breakup surely endangers the survival of the children.
I wanted to put my hand up and say, “Teacher, teacher, I know why it happens. It’s the Fall.” Or as Shakespeare put into Hamlet’s mouth: “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
I bet that Andrew Scheer has worked things out too in his own way and does not believe there is a conflict between science and his faith. But his political advisors assuredly have told him he should never speak of the content of his beliefs, except to defend his right to hold them privately. This is bad thing in both the short and long terms.
The compatibility of science and faith has been established empirically. For example, in his study titled “Are Religious Americans Opposed to Science?” University of California, San Diego academic John H. Evans, reported the opposite. His comparative survey of conservative Christians and other Americans showed that the first group were just as likely as other Americans to hold scientific jobs.
However, they definitely had a bone to pick with “Science” but it is over “values not facts” said Evans. This “bone” has arisen over issues such as abortion, or the use of fetal stem cells obtained by abortion for research of medical treatment.It has spilled over, says Evans, so that Evangelical Christians are willing to dispute and oppose many public policy recommendations made by scientists.
“Differences over global warming, for example, do not seem to be similarly grounded in theology or passages found in the Bible. In that instance, conservative religious people may simply believe that scientists should not have authority in the public sphere– on any issue,” Evans writes.
There is more. The book, What Americans Really Believe by researchers at Baylor University, based on polling by Gallup, shows that Evangelical Christians are the least likely Americans to answer yes to questions such as: “Do dreams foretell the future? Did ancient advanced civilizations such as Atlantis exist? Can places be haunted? Is it possible to communicate with the dead? Will creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster someday be discovered by science?”
Fully 31 per cent of people who never worship expressed strong belief in these notions but only eight per cent of those who attend a place of worship more than once a week did. Of course, the huge majority of such people are Evangelicals.
Setting aside attendance levels, there were significant differences in terms of how liberal was the denomination: only 14 per cent of those in the conservative Assemblies of God (Sarah Palin’s church) believed in the superstitious potpourri served up by Gallup. However, 36 per cent of those in the liberal United Church of Christ—Barack Obama’s fellowship– believed in these absurdities.
Sadly Catholics are about average in credulity, though I do wonder if the pollsters broke them into orthodox and liberals what the results would show.
Other social science to be found on the site of the Washington D.C.-based Marriage and Religion Research Institute shows a strong positive correlation between religious attendance and school success, lawfulness and post-graduate income.
Science is more than an ordered way of studying nature based on empirical testing of propositions. It is an ideology that is complex and aimed at gaining power. Also, in its heart it believes that all human problems are reducible to testable characteristics and solvable by discoverable techniques. Payette speaks for this overweening and prideful ideology of Science and Reason, as does Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
We Christians believe that the world’s woes cannot be solved at a technical level because they reside in the souls of humankind.