When my friend Randy Lovejoy and I started down this road together about a year ago (when we first started a conversation about reproducing the conversation we’d been having for 15 years as a blog and podcast), I figured it’d be, among other things, educational. Sure, it was going to be educational where blogging and podcasting are concerned — that was hardly surprising.
The surprise comes from how education this has been while we’re doing our podcasts. In the almost ten podcasts we’ve done as of this writing, I can honestly say I learned at least two or three things from each. In fact, Randy’s parts of the podcast are always my favorite parts. Looking back on the first brace of episodes we’ve produced, there are myriad things I’ve learned while listening to Randy but I’ll focus on two right here.
First — in Episode #2, Randy pointed out that Protestant churches teaching the bible as inerrant, historical truth is a very recent “innovation”. Prior to Darwin — and rush of scientific discoveries that began to flow in the late 19th century — it didn’t occur to churches to teach the biblical texts as literal history. Most American Protestant churches didn’t even think of the bible as “historical”. They taught the underlying messages instead.
But, then Darwin came along. If humans evolved from apes then God didn’t make them in his image — unless God is an ape. And, as other science was learning, if God didn’t make the world, then some other forces did. The institutional churches couldn’t tolerate such a notion. Without God as the alpha and omega, they had zero authority (since their ability to “speak for God” was what justified their whole existence and their authority). The institutional church returned the only fire they thought they had: denial. Denial of science and data and facts. Denial of our ability to actually know anything.
Long live the God Of The Gaps.
There doesn’t need to be a chasm between spirituality and science. Even faith can tolerate a fair amount of hard data before breaking. As Randy pointed out, it was a lack of confidence in their message’s ability to compete that caused church leaders in late 19th century America to insist on the truthfulness of its tick tock over the truthfulness of its message. It’s like religion’s inferiority complex here in America is baked right in.
It’s another reminder that atheists and people of faith never needed to stand on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. Take literal interpretation of the biblical texts off the table — see the texts instead as essential, message-heavy literature — and suddenly atheists and theists have a hell of a lot in common.
The other lesson I’ve learned from Randy came not so much from Randy as from recognizing my own thinking in what Randy was saying. Part of Christianity’s lure is its embrace of “mystery”. One could argue that a lot of the “mystery” in Christian mythology comes from its having been rolled out piecemeal over several centuries. It’s easier to make things mysterious and “unknowable” as you go along instead of thoroughly vetting them.
Believers in the scientific method also dwell in the “unknowable”. Religious people will say that ultimately God is unknowable. The process of trying to understand him & what he wants is filled with mystery. But, ask a hard core, science-believing atheist what lies at the other side of a black hole’s singularity and though he might have some ideas about it, if he’s honest, he can only say “I don’t know”. He could also say “It’s possible that we’ll never know”. Atheists will have to live with the mystery just as theists do.
We dress our mysteries in different vocabulary but we all have to make the same peace with the same fact: there are simply things human beings don’t know — and may never know. It’s just one more thing we all have in common.