Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Freedom from religion, evolution and confluence of ideas

On the way home from work this evening, I heard this report on NPR. I was incensed after listening to it. I've been following the Intelligent Design/Creationism story for a while, though not as thoroughly and closely as PZ Myers. He could speak about this much more scientfically and less emotionally than I. This story got me more than others because the people who spoke struck me as incredibly unthoughtful and yet, aggressively pursuing the spread of religious beliefs through schools and elsewhere. I was thinking lots of things as I was listening and yelling into the air. First, I was mad at NPR for giving the Christian right so much air time without explaining, for example, that a scientific theory is not just someone's opinion as the speakers asserted. Why couldn't they tell them or us that gravity is a theory too? Do you see yourself floating into space on a regular basis? One girl explained that there was no evidence for evolution, but there was for creation. I was all ears. What was it? "The creator is in my heart." Ack! Well let's open you up and see. Metaphors are not evidence. Why couldn't there have been a discussion about what constitutes scientific evidence? Unbiased reporting is one thing, but letting such statements stand really bothered me.

Second, I was mad about the way they talked about needing to get religion into the schools and that it was important for children to learn it or they will be lost. Fine, you believe that, teach your children those things at home. Go to church and Sunday school or send your kids to a religious school of your choice. They did have one person, a parent, who essentially said the same thing, but no one made any statements about issues of separation of church and state.

The story also made me think back to *the* point in my childhood when I began to not believe, primarily in organized religion, but eventually in God. I was in the car with my best friend and her father. We were being taken somewhere and somehow the conversation turned to starving children in Africa. My friend's father said something about how there was nothing we could do for them because they didn't believe in Jesus and so weren't going to heaven and so we shouldn't help them. Not sure how the logic worked exactly, but I remember thinking that I had thought the whole point of Jesus was that *everyone* was saved. No matter what. So those African children, I thought, if Jesus and heaven turned out to be true, they were in. If not, none of us were in and it didn't matter. Suddenly I saw, though, that to many people, it mattered specifically what you believed. Otherwise, you were out of luck on the whole afterlife deal. That just didn't seem fair to me. And so began my rocky road to atheism.

The thing is, I don't care what anyone else believes. I respect whatever others believe and I believe that religion is a personal matter. It's something you decide for yourself and perhaps share and celebrate with others who are like-minded. When it starts to bother me is 1) when people start pushing religious views on others and 2) it starts clouding people's thought processes so much they can't think clearly. It's fine with me if you don't want your kids to study evolution at school. Send in a note that says they're exempt; they can sit in the library and read the Bible while the rest of the class studies evolution. Let's see how they do on the state exams, on the SAT's, in college.

I drove through Dayton one time quite by accident. We missed a turn and ended up on 75 instead of 40 and to make our way back, we drove through Dayton. We went around the very courthouse where the Scopes trial was held. We ended up on a ferry across the Tennessee. It was stunningly beautiful and kind of sad.