Monday, April 02, 2012

How Religion Quashes Scientific Discovery

Using God to Fuel Discovery

Child: Mom, what is a rainbow?

Mother: A rainbow was placed in the sky by God after the Great Flood as a promise to Noah and all his descendants that He would never destroy the earth by water again. Now, every time you look at a cloud and see a rainbow, you can be reminded of God's promise.

Child: Oh, that's nice. So God is never going to destroy us again?

Mother: I didn't say that. God promised never to destroy the earth by water again. Next time he's going to use fire.

Child: Oh, I see. Mom, isn't God supposed to be perfect in every way?

Mother: Why yes, dear, He is.

Child: Then why does He have to keep destroying His creation and starting over? Why couldn't he have gotten it right the first time?

Mother: Eat your peas!

Child: Mom, what are the stars made of?

Mother: I don't know. I've never been to one. God put them there to rule over the night sky.

Child: I hate the dark. Couldn't God have made them brighter?

Mother: Just eat your damn peas and hush!

Using Science to Fuel Discovery

Child: Mom, what is a rainbow?

Mother: A rainbow is caused when sunlight shines through the tiny water droplets inside a cloud. The droplets bend the light, because light bends when it strikes certain objects. But different colors of light bend different amounts, so when white light from the sun, which is a mixture of all the colors, gets bent, the colors spread out and makes a rainbow.

Child: Cool! What else causes light to bend?

Mother: Light bends when it goes from one clear substance, like air, into another substance, like water. That is called refraction. It also bends when it goes around sharp corners of objects. That's called diffraction.

Child: Silly Mom, light can't go around corners. It goes straight, right?

Mother: Normally it goes straight. But when it strikes a very sharp corner the different colors can bend a little. Hold two fingers up to that light and squint your eye to look between the slit made by your two fingers. See those dark lines?

Child: Yes, what is that?

Mother: That's called a diffraction pattern and its caused by the light bending around the corners of your fingers.

Child: What if I get a piece of clear film and draw tiny lines real close together and let light shine through. Would light bend around those lines and make a rainbow?

Mother: Try it and see!

So the child made a diffraction grating and spent hours experimenting with different ways that light could be diffracted through his homemade kaleidoscope. But he noticed that when he held it up to fluorescent light, it didn't make a complete rainbow. Some colors were missing. So he asked his mom about it.

Child: Mom, why do I get a strange-looking rainbow when I look at fluoescent light through my grating?

Mother: Flurescent light does not produce a continuous spectrum. The coating on the inside of the bulb glows only in certain wavelengths of light.

Child: So do other things also only allow certain wavelengths of light to pass through them?

Mother: I think you're probably right. Why don't you do an experiment to find out?

So the child, with his mother's supervision, vaporized various elements and compounds and shined white light through them after capturing the vapors in a flask. Sure enough, different gases produced rainbows with certain colors missing. The child made a chart showing which colors were missing from different elements and compounds. He then mounted a better diffraction grating to his telescope, connected it to a camera, and let it capture starlight. He could see dark lines in his rainbow as captured from the stars. He concluded it was because the star must be made of certain elements that glow with that particular pattern of light, so when he compared the starlight to his list of elements, he found that what stars are mostly made of was the element hydrogen, with a little helium too.

Child: Mom, I know what the stars are made of! It's hydrogen and helium!

Mother: That's what other scientists have discovered too, dear. Good work!

And that is how religious belief quashes scientific inquiry. Why bother seeking real answers if the only answer you care about is that "God did it"?


Erin Jewett said...

I'd like to propose a little change to your first "Using God to Fuel Discovery" section. For me (if I had kids) I would see the conversation going something like this:

Child: Mom, what is a rainbow?

Mom: Well, on one level a rainbow is a reminder of the promise of God to Noah that He would never again cause a flood like He brought in Noah's time. On another level a rainbow is what happens when sunlight shines through tiny drops of water. You see, the sunlight that we see is actually a mix of all the colors and when sunlight shines through the water drops it bends and each color bends a little different. That's why they spread out. The water and sunlight are the means that God used to put the rainbow up in the sky for Noah. They're the method He uses to put every rainbow up in the sky! You see God is the author of everything, but through science He gives us the means to learn about the things that He made. That's what I do every day when I work in the laboratory.

Child: Wow, God is so amazing. So, did He make it so that other things can be used to make a rainbow or to cause light to bend?

etc. etc...

Resulting in something like the bottom section, though since I'm rather unlearned in the physics of light it'd probably wind up with my child and I looking into the matter together.

That's just my perspective as a Christian scientist and I hope one day a Christian parent

Jerry Wilson said...

Thanks for your comment. I did think of that explanation too, knowing full well that some Christians have no problem with science. This post was mainly intended to highlight the differences between science and the science-denying fundamentalist Christians.

In the case of your substituted reply, for example, an intelligent and thoughtful tyke might then reply with something such as: Well, if God uses natural processes to fulfill his wishes and if scientists are then able to figure out how he does it, such as with the theory of evolution and the laws of quantum mechanics, then why did he have to interfere in human affairs at all, by destroying the world? He could have made the laws of nature so that everything would have worked out perfectly for him, right? And why does he have to use miracles to do anything at all, such as to resurrect his son or to part the Red Sea or to allow Jesus to walk on water? He's breaking his own laws of nature, right? And if can do that, and chooses to do that on occasion, then why not just simply kill everybody on earth in an instant and preserve the animals so that Noah wouldn't have had to spend a hundred years building a big boat and herding them all aboard? Explain that, Mother! :)

Erin Jewett said...

Well, in the situation with Noah's flood God's judgement really has not much to do with the laws of nature. God passed judgement not because of the laws of nature, but because of human sin. There's lots of other debates that people bring up surrounding Noah and I won't go into it here because it's something I haven't dug exceptionally deep into yet. Plus it's pretty peripheral to the main point.

The main issue is with miracles and the suspension of the laws of nature. This can be a big topic and for deeper treatment I recommend Vern Poythress' book "Redeeming Science". My reasoning here is partly my own and partly his. The idea of God 'breaking' His laws of nature makes the assumption that God is subject to these laws. After all to break a law one must be subject to it. On the contrary God is the creator of the laws and as Hebrews says Jesus "upholds the universe by the word of His power" (Heb 1:3 ESV) and there are similar verses as well. But the gist it that God is continually upholding the world and the laws of nature are the regular working of His speech. What we see as miracles are simply God speaking in a different way than the norm. What we see as laws of nature are our approximations of God's regular manner of speaking. So, God's word is the ultimate law and laws of nature are what we observe as the effects of that law at works. There are a lot of places that you could add details, but that is the grand overview of what I might say.