December 15, 2013

Science Attempts to Understand God! Film at 11.

I live with a teenage genius. He reads physics texts for recreation, analyzes the evening news, and engages me in conversations that challenge me to keep up. Yes, that’s my 14 year-old son Bradley, the scientist of the family.

One such encounter took place yesterday. While reading his December issue of Scientific American, he came across an article titled “Is God Dying?” (I found it online) Of course the Almighty is hardly mortal, but this story sets out to explore the state of religious devotion in our present-day nation and world. Bradley asked me to read the article, and offer my thoughts. .
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The article cites a recent survey of citizens in 13 countries by the Bertelsmann Foundation, which sought to determine whether we’re becoming more, or less, religious over time. Their conclusions were intriguing. My first response was to observe that this reputable science journal seemed remarkably unscientific in its approach to this important subject.
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One significant metric, in the view of the editors:

In response to the statements “Only politicians who believe in God are suitable for public office” and “Leading religious figures should exercise an influence on government decisions,” even in ├╝ber-religious America only 25 percent agreed with the former and 28 percent with the latter.

Really? This is proof that we’re less devoted than our ancestors? As a Christian, I couldn’t disagree more. I have no interest in imposing a “religious test” for my political leaders, and I don’t want my preacher lobbying on Capitol Hill. To say that such views make me "less religious,” is absurd.

Another measure:

In Spain, for example, 85 percent of respondents older than 45 reported being moderately to very religious, but only 58 percent of those younger than 29 said they were. In Europe in general, only 30 to 50 percent said that religion is important in their own lives.

Well, the increasing secularization of the Continent is certainly nothing new. But for this survey, I’d be interested to know how they asked the question. Many believers I know (whatever their belief) will quickly reject the label “religious” because (for them) it implies a shallow belief. They want to part of it.

Another interesting measure, according to the authors: With the spread of democracy around the world, religious freedom follows. Hence no single religion can leverage the arm of the state to enforce conformity. Which means fewer adherents. Fair enough.

But allow me to posit a different interpretation of the data: With this liberty the churches are populated by true believers, not conscripts. Therefore (perhaps) we don’t have a true decline today, but instead an undetected overcount yesterday.

Finally, the authors tell us, the rise of free trade has brought about more wealth and less poverty. Since churches traditionally feed the poor, they now have less to do. A smaller enterprise means fewer workers. Generally speaking this is a good thing, right?

The problem is, when relief workers run out of famines and floods to fix, they lose their sense of purpose. (Just imagine that you went to law school for years, only to discover on graduation day that people have stopped suing each other.) They’re not content to return to a normal job back home in a cubicle, and normal worship in a pew. So these believers need a new reason to follow God, and sometimes they just don't find it. Perhaps it’s not such a bad thing, that they feel a need to examine their faith afresh from time to time.

As I neared the end of the article, a strange thought crosed my mind: This is a science journal! Why do they care? Surely all religion is a matter of faith, which means that you believe in something you can't see or touch or hear or "prove" by any empirical means. By its very nature, all such pursuits are foolish and irrational to those outside the fold (1 Cor. 1:18). They just don't get it.

Perhaps science just isn't equipped to explain things that can't be tested by an algorithm. For if you seek to understand the realm of religion according to the customary worldly benchmarks, you'll be disasppointed every time. I thank God every day, that my faith doesn't rest on such false tests.
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