On The Mixing of Mainstream Science and Private Lives

Lately, I have been thinking about some of the modern debates that reside outside of politics, and two debates that came to mind are those revolving around religion and monogamy. In both cases, you have those who are seemingly on the side of science, and those on the other side who defend the status quo (e.g. the existence of God, the belief in monogamy).

In the realm of religion, there are atheists who decry the existence of a God. People like Richard Dawkins use science to back up this belief of theirs. Scientists who don’t believe in the existence of a god refute creationism. On the other hand, you have Christians creationists who try to interpret science in such a way that supports their beliefs.

In regards to monogamy, you have people like Christopher Ryan (author of Sex At Dawn) who use science to justify their views on sexuality. People look for evidence in science to uphold their beliefs so that it can be pronounced as the truth. For example, one can point at the “natural” world and say that homosexuality doesn’t exist in order to justify their belief that homosexuality is a perversion of nature and thus should not be allowed. One can point at “prehistoric” evidence that sexual promiscuity is in fact “natural” and should be allowed, that fidelity should not be expected. Then there is also the debate over whether or not science can support the concept of race. To some, genetic markers are enough to delineate between the “races”; and they insist that scientists who use the word ‘population’ to describe groups of people should just face reality and call it a ‘race’ of people.

The problem is that all of these people have agendas. They try to use science to justify their beliefs. But since when was science about providing evidence and backing up one’s beliefs? What bothers me is when scientists publish books with obvious partisan content. Under the guise of expert authority, they push onto the unknowing public their world views as the hard undeniable truth. Scientists should be concerned with finding out hard truths based on hard data and should leave the interpretation to others.

I believe that all of this debate stems from insecurity. For some reason, people have insecurities regarding their own beliefs. They feel the need to justify them and to back it up with ‘hard science’. However, what people do not realize is that belief, as I learned in my studies of Paul Tillich, is an act of faith.

As Stuart Chase says, “For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.” Belief in God is an act of faith. In fact, belief in monogamy is also an act of faith. For those who believe in God or monogamy, no proof is necessary to justify their behavior. A religious person will live in accordance to their beliefs even when such beliefs are supposedly disputed by science. And a monogamous person will remain so even as their urges and science challenge such behavior. In the same way, those who do not believe in God will never find sufficient proof of God, just as those who do not believe in monogamy will always find evidence in the sciences that go against the idea of monogamy.

It is not necessary to confirm or refute the existence or “validity” of God or monogamy because such things are beyond the realm of the strictly rational. Hyper-rationalism is in fact a form of close-mindedness. As Carl Jung explained, the rational realm is such a tiny sliver of the entirety of human existence. Those who have faith and an active spiritual life are indeed blessed. Blessed not in a religious sense, but in a psychological sense. Perhaps, then, many decriers of religion are merely experiencing sour grapes. Perhaps those who denounce religion are so spiritually impoverished that they must fill their empty souls with purpose. Perhaps they must push their pain onto others so that others will wallow in their misery as well.

But whether or not science can support the existence of God or how natural monogamy is is irrelevant to me, as it should be for others as well. Such things are extremely personal and need no justification to others. I suppose what bothers me most is the presumption of others who would try to push their views on others. Highly public figures like authors and columnists really ought to keep their traps shut when it comes to how people behave in their personal lives. What business is it of theirs how others conduct their lives? Their arguments are often disguised in some form of desire for public good, but I strongly suspect that most of it stems from a place of trauma and is in fact some form of sublimation.

If I choose to live a life of monogamous commitment, who are you to come along to challenge me and to denounce my goals, to declare me to be somehow inferior to you? I would no sooner try to push on others the lifelong commitment of marriage and monogamy than I would a life of recreational drug use. What works for some may work for others, or it may not. But to pronounce one lifestyle to be superior and more justified than others is immensely egotistical, judgmental, and prideful. When it comes to the romantic relationships between people, my only concern is whether or not people are harmed by such arrangements. The futures of children are often at stake when it comes to family configurations, and that is where my concerns lie. Ultimately, it boils down to one question: Is anyone being hurt by this? I say that the American public’s private lives should be left well enough alone. There is too much drivel out there to fill people’s minds with all the wrong ideas. It is expert partisan misinformation and a gullible uncritical public that frightens me most.

  • Gary

    You have a valid point- one's personal lifestyle choices and decisions should not be be a matter of public debate. Interestingly, the atheistic nihilist may also argue that there is nothing inherently wrong with choosing to believe in something just because one feels like it. There isn't any universal requirement to adhere to a strictly rational ideological framework and conform to any one theory of being… since, according to the atheistic nihilist, we all simply die in the end, regardless of what we believe in and regardless whether our beliefs are "right" or "wrong." That is to say, even if an all powerful, all knowing deity does not exist, there is nothing wrong with choosing to believe in one. The belief, may even, from an economic perspective, provide some sort of utility or benefit to the believer (which is probably why the idea of a personal god is so appealing to many- it serves some purpose.)

    One area that I think you overlooked, and where I stand with my atheist brethren when they take up arms, is when religion and/or creationism is taught in schools. This is a real phenomena in this country, and it does need to be combated, because as anyone well versed in the biological sciences knows- creationism is a bastardization of evolutionary science that seeks to reconcile contradictory information between scientific finding and Christian teachings on the physical world. Put it another way, children are being taught bad science and are taught to interpret it in a religious light- when this far from what science is about.

    The physical sciences says nothing about the existence or non-existence of a personal deity, since it is not something that can be scientifically studied- though much of it's findings contradicts what religious dogma teaches on the creation and functioning of the physical world (e.g., Copernican solar system vs. Ptolemaic solar system, the age of the Earth, the origin of humankind, etc.)

    It also violates the principle of the separation of church and state, when it is taught in public schools with tax payer money. Now, that just isn't cool, because for the most part, a lot of us quiet, non-militant atheists (or post-theists as I prefer to identify by) do not seek to push our philosophical stance (I say it is a philosophical stance, because this is a metaphysical discussion, and not a scientific one) on deities on others and would prefer people made up their own mind on the matter.

    And then there's of course the political debate on abortion and such. When it comes to politics, this sort of public debate is not avoidable. To sum my point up, I agree with you- nothing wrong with believing in what you want, rational or irrational, right or wrong- but when it comes to politics, I stand with the atheists fighting the good fight and it is here, where you seem to have omitted that it is not the atheists and non-believers who are promoting their beliefs, but it is the religious that are.

    • wistfulwriter

      Good to hear from you my friend, I hope you're well. Are you still going to school?

      I don't agree that secular people do not promote their beliefs. You're right though that I have overlooked religious zealots who push their pro-life views on the public (in fact, I find it a semantic trick to call it pro-life/pro-choice…but I digress).

      The truth is that there are people on both sides who push their agendas onto the public. I was, erroneously, responding only to the matters on my mind at the time. But now that you bring it up,
      I don't know why religious folks are so adamant that science is wrong about things like the age of the earth and all that…it's that thing I was talking about: mixing faith and science. Science can easily co-exist with faith, it's just that many take scriptures too literally (at least, that's what I am speculating).

      • Gary

        It is good to see you are alive and well too. I had forgotten all about your blog, and just remembered last night and as always, good to read your blog entries, especially on intellectual matters like this. I apologize for not having much to say in regards to your literary interests- I am not much of a man of literature, but I do hope your novel gets published, read widely and hopefully, taught to high school children. Heh.

        To answer your question: nope, I have decided to drop out of school and pursue a different life. I have not decided to drop out of my personal, intellectual pursuit of knowledge though.

        Yes, there are a lot of militant atheists out there. I have not denied this. I will readily admit, I was once one of those atheist zealots, among a lot of other things. Quite frankly, I'm still guilty of espousing my metaphysics when questioned on the matter- something I don't see anything wrong with, as a matter of philosophical discussion and debate, where appropriate. I can't speak for those out there handing out leaflets in the public, promoting atheism, religion, or any other belief though.

        On the other hand, is that not how ideas spread? If we all kept to ourselves, through what avenues would knowledge find its way around? There seems to be an innate compulsion to communicate ideas, whether they be knowledge or belief. It makes us human, I suppose (perhaps I mean to say this is just a characteristic of human culture.) This is not to say I'm veering away from my agreement with you that zealotry can be an annoyance though- but people find some pleasure in expressing and communicating their ideas. You have your blog, and I comment. *shrugs*