It troubles me that people tend to interpret atheism as the repudiation of everything that religion happens to represent in their minds rather than simply the principled rejection of the core of religion, belief in the supernatural. While it’s true that someone could be diametrically opposed to absolutely anything even remotely associated with religion, it’s wrong to assume that atheists necessarily are; I certainly have never encountered one who was. As for me, I embrace a number of values which religions commonly profess to promote such as peace, justice, empathy, compassion, honesty, loyalty, responsibility, temperance, introspection and reflection.
I also, however, strongly embrace skepticism, which has led me to disbelieve the supernatural claims of upon which believers (wrongly) claim to derive their moral values, and freethought, which allows me to evaluate the worth of moral values with my own individual judgement rather than deferring to an unquestionable authority such as scripture or a religious leader. These twin values foster others which most religions don’t inherently support and which some even explicitly oppose such as liberty, equality and secularism. They have also led me to reject irrationality, superstition, fear, hatred and ignorance, which most religions support or have supported to varying degrees throughout their histories. It is my skepticism and freethinking which distinguish me from believers, not a lack of virtue.
In truth, I yearn for a community in which I can foster my personal growth through contemplation of, discussion about and action based on my values without any compromise to supernaturalism. My several visits to a Unitarian Universalist congregation and my casual online investigation of Buddhism were part of an as-of-yet unsuccessful quest for such a community and identity. Humanism presents the greatest promise for fidelity to my beliefs, but it lacks the type of formal structure that I desire, perhaps for fear of being too similar to religion, and it’s not distinct enough from increasingly humanistic western culture to provide a unique focus and identity. All I can say is that I’m a naturalist in search of a place to call home.
The local debate over evolution and creationism yet continues. This letter by Marcia Greer was published today under the heading, “Science: No place for creationism.”
I was dumbfounded by the poor reasoning and arguments in a recent letter titled “Teach students the truth.” The letter writer asked for intellectual honesty, and for our students to excel in science, yet wants stories of creation taught. That’s exactly what they are: stories. Yes, evolution is a theory. A theory is a framework that guides scientific research. It is not a guess; it is not based on written stories by men who had their own agendas thousands of years ago. The fossil record does show evolution. For example, evolution of vertebrate legs is well documented in the fossil record. The evolution of some dinosaurs into birds also has documentation; the most famous fossil is the Archeopteryx, showing a creature with traits of both dinosaur and bird. If, as the letter writer said, we need to include creation stories, how about all the other myths including Aztec, Hindu, Norse, etc. I think it is only fair to give those myths the same focus another unproven story deserves – the Bible. What makes our creation myth so much more believable than anybody else’s? Nothing. While we’re teaching all these stories, we’ll crowd out the real science that our kids aren’t learning. Evolution, while much is unexplained, can be documented, tested and researched. That is science. Keep religion in religion class or mythology. This nation is already lagging in science.
This letter in support of teaching only evolution in public schools is fairly standard like the previous one. I’m publishing it for the sake of completeness and I have no additional comments.
The local debate over evolution and creationism still continues. This letter by Ed Brunson was published today under the headline, “Science: Evolution is a theory.”
The fact that the scientific theory of evolution is being debated in the same breath with the religious theory of creationism and intelligent design is appalling. In the 1920s, Tennessee was the scene of the famous Scopes monkey trial that debated the legitimacy of teaching evolution. Since that time, scientific evidence has continued to come in supporting the theories involved in natural selection and evolution. Recently, the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine published their updated edition of Science, Evolution & Creationism. In it, they state, quite succinctly, “The evidence for evolution can be fully compatible with religious faith. Science and religion are different ways of understanding the world. Needlessly placing them in opposition reduces the potential of each to contribute to a better future.” Evolution is a scientific theory, testable, but not 100 percent provable. Isaac Newton’s theories, including that of gravity, are theories. Not provable. But you don’t need to prove gravity, because, when you try to deny it, you fall. Creationism, and intelligent design are not scientific theories; they are religious explanations for unknown happenings. The story of creationism is allegorical, nothing more, nothing less. The infusion of religious theory into scientific teaching is folly; it should have ended in the 1920s along with the Scopes monkey trial.
This letter in support of teaching only evolution in public schools is fairly standard and I would just like to comment on the texts written by other parties.
First, I find the heading printed by the newspaper misleading. Many detractors of evolution argue that it’s “only a theory,” implying a lack of supporting evidence, but the author of this letter emphasized that a scientific theory is not something to be proved. Perhaps they could have written something like, “Evolution: Gravity is also only a theory.”
Second, I have objections to the statement by the National Academy of Sciences. Evolution can be compatible with religious faith, but that depends entirely on what that religion teaches. It’s not compatible with the belief that humans were miraculously created by God six thousand years ago. It’s not compatible with the belief that humans have existed on earth for all eternity. It’s not compatible with the belief that humans were brought here by space aliens. No one is placing science and religion in any more opposition than they actually are; some people just aren’t willing to pretend that there’s no contradiction when there actually is, radically change their religious beliefs, and sweep the issue under the rug. I don’t object to changing one’s religious beliefs and acknowledging that this change was made in the light of new evidence, but it’s simply dishonest to strip a belief of its original meaning in order to save face, especially if while still claiming infallible certitude for this and other completely unsupported assertions. Science and religion aren’t two different ways to understand the world because religion just isn’t a way to understand the world. One might as well say that a magic eight-ball is yet a third way to understand the world since it’s no less reliable than religion in ascertaining the truth. Of the various ways to gain knowledge, only science offers consistent results and we shouldn’t give religious dogma receive any more respect than any other variety of quackery.