Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Geocentricism: alive and well in America!

In a recent Washington Post article (February 17, 2008), The Dumbing of America, author Susan Jacoby laments the rise of anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism in America today. This is a major theme in Ms. Jacoby’s writings, and she approaches it from her own atheistic assumptions. Nevertheless, some of the data she reports is alarming. For example, she writes that “according to a 2006 survey by National Geographic-Roper, nearly half of Americans between ages 18 and 24 do not think it necessary to know the location of other countries in which important news is being made.” Americans' understanding of galactic geography gets a similar score: “Consider the one in five American adults who, according to the National Science Foundation, thinks the sun revolves around the Earth.” One in five Americans are geocentric!

Ms. Jacoby is mainly concerned about the geo-political consequences of the America’s dumbing; and she identifies her culprit:
video! While I share her outrage at the dumbing of America, I am concerned about other consequences, and I would identify a different set of causes. From my observations, the rise of anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism which is so evident today stems from two sources:

The postmodern rejection of science in general. Josh McDowell has aptly defined postmodernism as “a worldview characterized by the belief that truth doesn’t exist in any objective sense but is created rather than discovered.” (Wikipedia article on Postmodernism). From the same Wikipedia article, Noam Chomsky comments that postmodernism is meaningless because it adds nothing to analytical or empirical knowledge. He asks why postmodernist intellectuals won't respond as "people in physics, math, biology, linguistics, and other fields are happy to do when someone asks them, seriously, what are the principles of their theories, on what evidence are they based, what do they explain that wasn't already obvious etc? These are fair requests for anyone to make. If they can't be met, then I'd suggest recourse to Hume's advice in similar circumstances: to the flames."

The rejection of science by the fundamentalist church. Fundamental Christianity turned its back on science during the last 100+ years, largely a reaction to the perceived threat of Darwinism. The leading fundamental theologian of his day, Charles Hodge, concluded that Darwinism and Christianity were completely incompatible. In 1874 he wrote, “Religion has to fight for its life against a large class of scientific men” (What is Darwinism page 142). And thus were the terms set for the ensuing fundamentalist warfare with science. The general distrust of science which now permeates much of our culture percolated out of this warfare. Sadly, I place much of the blame for 20% of Americans being cosmological cretins at the feet of the church.

I have outlined my view of the role of science in Christian epistemology in an
earlier post on general revelation. I have been criticized by some friends for my attempts to give rationalism a stronger role in my theology. The fact that I find allies in the likes of Susan Jacoby and Noam Chomsky may not help the perception that I lean too heavily upon science and rationalism. But unless we inside the church are willing to view ourselves and our culture through the eyes of unbelievers like Jacoby and Chomsky, we will remain ignorant of how conservative Christianity has marginalized itself. (This is why I am currently reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Most of Dawkins arguments are built upon a faulty caricature of Christianity. But it is a caricature which has been fostered by the church itself.)

Many Christians today are choosing to fight back. They are striving to restore rational belief, and to weave the undeniable findings of science into our Biblical understandings. I happily count myself as part of this movement. I hope and pray that it finds traction within the evangelical church. Steve Martin recently set off an interesting exchange of comments with his post (which you can read
here) on how various church groups are responding to believers who embrace evolutionary science. Judging from the experiences of the respondents, we are fighting an uphill battle.

Hodge had it wrong. I would restate his challenge in this way: “Religion has to fight for its life against a large class of anti-scientific Christians.”

Agree or disagree, I’d love to hear your comments.


Steve said...

Agree. The church's abdication of science is chief on my list of scandals of the evangelical mind, as Mark Noll put it.

IMO, creationism is no less scandalous than geocentrism, and no better supported by Scripture, either!

Speaking of dumbing down America, you should get a kick out of my next blog post. Holy mackerel.

Cliff Martin said...

Thanks for weighing in, Steve. You can find the blog post Steve refers to here, together with his link to an Oklahoma newspaper article. Make's my head spin. This is the kind of thing the fuels the fires of non-believers' ridicule and disgust.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Cliff,

Wow. 20% are unable to say whether the earth or the sun is the center of the solar system?! I find that hard to believe (not that I'm questioning the data - just have a hard time understanding how that could happen in this day and age).

I agree with you that Hodge was wrong (although, some of his instincts were correct - ie. if by Darwinism one means a reductionist scientism that claims evolution implies atheism, then yes that is a definite problem).

On your rewriting of Hodge's statement, I'd say "The gospel is endangered by anti-science Christians". 2 reasons why I'd modify it this way:

1) "religion" is so hard-wired into humans that I'm convinced the majority of humanity will always be "religious" - but "religious" and "faith in Christ" are not necessarily the same thing. But, anti-science thinking is definitely a problem for a credible gospel.

2) "fight for its life" is probably overstating it - I'd say there are other just as problematic (or worse) issues in the church today and solving the science / faith
conflict will not help. But I think you agree with this based on what you have written before - your statement in this case was intended to mirror Hodge's.

Cliff Martin said...

You are quite right. I do not use "religion" in the same way Hodge does. In fact, I usually avoid the term altogether, except as you defined it in your comment. I was just mirroring the Hodge quote, as you suspect.

Is "fight for its life" an overstatement? I'm not sure that it is. I am presently reading Richard Dawkins. He builds a strong case against the brand of Christianity that dominates the conservative church. And much of his line of attack is in some way related to an ant-science bias within the church. As the cultural battle with "evangelical" atheists like Dawkins heats up, the atheists are posed to win many arguments. Still, "fight for its life" may be a little overreaching.