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​Religion and Science

Gadfly | March 18th, 2015

Witches In Tanzania, The Yazidi Blues, And Living Lives Of Quiet Desperation

It has come to pass that when a minority religious group rules a majority religious group disaster will occur. Look at conditions in Syria.

About 200,000 Syrians have been killed in the two years of that civil war and millions have chosen to be refugees in neighboring states such as Turkey and Jordan. Former English Prime Minister Tony Blair, who joined with former President George W. Bush to create a similar civil war in Iraq, believes that religious differences, not political ideology, will continue to cause trouble around the world. In an article in The Observer he writes that acts of terrorism are usually performed by people “motivated by an abuse of religion.”

He writes that the source of such extremism is both formal and informal education systems, and usually in a place of worship. Terrorism can be spread rapidly by technology and the increased use of social media. The world is connected as never before. Even satellite TV news delays are usually less than a second. So technology is not only a messenger of opportunity, it is also a vehicle of hate and division.

And today’s terrorists seem to be very good at it. Will religion be our curse or salvation? Or will believers disappear? Almost every civil war on the planet, whether in Africa, Europe, Sri Lanka, Iraq, India, Pakistan and others too numerous to mention, are meshed with religion.

It seems the need for a God never vanishes because there are about 26,000 significant religious groups around the world. In Mel Brooks’s rather infamous production of the “2000 Year Old Man,” he has a not-very-serious look at the origin of God. Mel claims that early humans adored a big, mean, tough guy in their village named Phil. They adored, worshipped and venerated Phil because they were afraid of him. One day a terrible thunderstorm struck the village and a lightning bolt struck and killed Phil. At a village meeting after the storm the villagers were rather amazed at the death of Phil, but realized now that there was a much bigger power than Phil — so they found God.

The World Quarterback, The Miraculous Interception And The Holocaust

The Public Religion Research Institute surveyed the U.S. and discovered that 20 percent of Americans believe that God has a say in who wins athletic and other sporting events. Pro football players are a little hesitant to make such a proclamation, but Kurt Warner, former star quarterback, devout Christian and current NFL analyst, expresses a tiny doubt.

“It’s one of those tricky questions. I believe God has your best interest in mind. How that correlates to winning and losing football games, I’m not fully sure.”

We have all seen football players take a knee and raise their eyes and fists toward heaven when they score. We have seen baseball players cross themselves and raise their eyes and cap to heaven after hitting a double. I don’t recall ever seeing a hitter make the sign of the cross after striking out. Well, maybe God was busy watching the first baseman adjust his parts. There were over 100 million fans watching the Super Bowl this year. Maybe God was watching this game. When you think of the last 30 seconds of the game when the Seattle coach called a pass play on first down on the one-yard line, maybe the World Quarterback was watching and choosing the winner. The interception was a miraculous play.

Almost 50 percent of Americans believe athletes of faith have the attention of the World Quarterback and are rewarded with good health and success. That’s nothing. Over 65 percent of white evangelicals think that Satan let the air out of the footballs used by the New England Patriots. During the Final Solution, when the Nazis were gassing, shooting and starving millions of Jews, homosexuals and the physically and mentally handicapped, I often wonder how many athletic events were taking place and how close the scores were. God had to be watching some other activity.

What Will Happen When The “Nones” Become The Majority?

About a decade ago Tom Lehrer, a piano-playing satirist and parody writer, entertained millions with his humor and devastating songs. His parody of religion based on National Brotherhood Week really struck home:

“Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics / And the Catholics hate the Protestants / And the Hindus hate the Muslims / And everybody hates the Jews / But during National Brotherhood Week / National Brotherhood Week / It’s National Everyone-smile-at-one-anotherhood Week / Be nice to people who are inferior to you / It’s only for a week, so have no fear / Be grateful it doesn’t last all year.”

The Pew Research Center often surveys our attitudes about significant movements in our society. After a 2014 survey of religious attitudes, Director of Research Dan Cox described the latest information.

“The U.S. religious landscape is undergoing a dramatic transformation that is fundamentally reshaping American politics and culture.”

The basic fact is that there are more religiously unaffiliated people in the U.S. than ever before. These are the “nones” listed in the polls next to agnostics, atheists, deists, secular humanists and general humanists who don’t like to identify themselves with any religious group. In the latest Pew study, Protestants make up 47 percent of those affiliated with a church, the lowest number ever. The religious unaffiliated, the “nones,” came in second at 22 percent, a little higher than Catholics. It is the largest group in 13 states with Washington, Oregon, and New Hampshire having fully a third of their population listed as “none.”

In Ohio and Virginia the “nones” tied for first place. Mississippi has the record for the most religiously affiliated at 90 percent. By the way, white evangelicals make up only 18 percent in the U.S. with 43 percent of them in Tennessee alone. That’s the home of Pentecostal snake handling. While 22 percent of all Americans are unaffiliated, 33 percent of Americans 30 and under are in the “none” category. “Nones” have interesting characteristics for future politics: (1) they are politically classified as liberal; (2) 75 percent favor same-sex marriage; (3) 75 percent support legal abortion; (4) they have higher levels of education; (5) they have higher income than other groups. Income brings up the old adage: “As incomes go up steeples come down.”

Race, DNA and Other Miraculous Science

Some day I may understand the workings of DNA, but until that day I will go along with geneticists when they revealed that they had found the remains of England’s King Richard III, who died in battle in 1485. He was buried in Greyfriar’s Church and was found in 2012 under a parking lot where the church once was located. They tentatively identified his remains from his battle wounds and his scoliosis. He has always been played as a hunchback in Shakespeare’s plays.

But through DNA, the scientists are 99.999 percent sure it’s the 529-year-old cold case solved. They tracked down Richard’s living relatives and took samples and analyzed genetic makeups. So there’s a one in 100,000 chance that it isn’t Richard. Pretty good numbers. Scientists say that in perhaps a few years we will have the entire family of man in one huge DNA family tree. For all you Klansmen and white supremacists, this means some of your relatives are black and your blood — horrors — contains black blood! DNA proves most African Americans have European ancestors, but it also proves all Europeans have African ancestry.

Remember white supremacist Craig Cobb who tried to establish Leith, N.D., as a haven-heaven for old and young Nazis? A British TV program hosted by a black woman asked Cobb to come on and submit to a DNA test to determine his genetic makeup. His DNA indicated he was 86 percent European and 14 percent sub-Saharan African. Ouch! In other words all humans on the earth have the same set of genes with some minor variants. There are genes that mutate and cause damage to the human body — but the genes are still there. Blacks from New Guinea and sub-Saharan Africa have been affected by climate and are black, but they don’t look alike because of gene variants. Genetically it makes no difference for a white to marry a black or for an Asian to marry an Australian.

If Both Armies in a Civil War Read the Same Bible and Pray to the Same God, Who Wins?

President Abraham Lincoln posed this dilemma at his second inaugural speech. He said later it was his way of warning against ever supposing that one possesses the whole truth. In our Civil War one in 10 young American men died. Lincoln said in the speech that the “Almighty” had imposed retribution, “the scourge of war,” on both the North and South for the 250-year-old sin of slavery. Maybe he forgot the Bible approves of slavery. But we know that the war did not cure racism, corruption and injustice, because we still live and die with it.

The “nones” in our surveys today reject religion and its accoutrements because it seems to arouse conflict and death instead of peace and life. Muslims have honor killings when the children do not obey the wishes of the tribe and parents. Catholics, Muslims and some Protestants deny women a full role in society. At last count over 1,500 animal species have been observed to practice homosexuality, while the human race is finally accepting it as normal, not an aberration. Some major religious authorities call it “intrinsically evil” and a “sin against nature,” but the rapid acceptance of same-sex marriage by a majority in the U.S. will eventually overwhelm the Vatican and evangelicals living in the dark ages. Their congregations already accept that fact.

A religion in Tanzania believes that the white skin of albinos possesses magical powers, so women are often accused of killing albinos so they can use body parts to practice a form of witchcraft. An article in USA Today by Tonny Onyulo describes this bizarre practice. In the last six years more than 3,000 “witches” have been killed by villagers because they are suspected of killing albino children. Witchcraft has been banned by the government, but 75 albino children have been killed in 15 years. Albino organs are worth hundreds of dollars in illegal trading.

The Tanzanian Albinism Society estimates that about 33,000 albinos live in the country. It’s another reason for the “nones” to reject religion. By the way, this is not an extreme example of religious practices. We tried to save thousands of the Yazidis in northern Iraq from ISIS. The Yazidis, a rather mysterious Muslim minority, have the reputation of being devil worshippers. Among their unusual practices they are forbidden to eat lettuce or wear the color blue. They worship Melek Taus, called the Peacock Angel, because he refused to bow down to the first man Adam. Oh well, study the conservative Catholic organization Opus Dei and the Islamic Taliban’s attitude toward women and then explain the difference to me. Will it take more Joans of Arc and women in burkas to change a policy made by men in skirts?

Is It Science and Religion or Science vs. Religion?

As scientists continue their trade of revealing the secrets of the universe, religions must continue to modify their man-made dictates and policies to remain a unifying force. So far many have failed because they still accept the drivel of old ignorant men and the complete subjection of women. An article in the March issue of National Geographic discusses what science does and what it is for.

“In this bewildering world we have to decide what to believe and how to act on that. In principle, that is what science is for. Science is not a body of facts. Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of nature or not.”

Let’s use the two trials of O.J. Simpson to illustrate this point. He was acquitted of murder by a jury who evidently could not eliminate all possible doubt. But O.J. was found guilty in a later civil trial because that jury thought that there was a preponderance of evidence he was guilty of two murders. Science usually does not remove all doubt. But science often carries the day because most of the evidence points to a conclusion. The “nones” in the religious surveys will continue to increase as scientists continue their search for the truth — unless religions decide to join us in the 21st century. Religions can be filled with grace, forgiveness and beauty and with bigotry, intolerance and ugliness at the same time.

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