Scientific study, faith, not so far apart
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The problem for the religious fundamentalists who claim that reading the Bible is accessing God's Word is that they are overlooking the fundamental changes that occurred as Christianity was transformed from an oral tradition into a text-based religion. They are also overlooking the changes in God's Word that resulted from the taken-for-granted assumptions of the men who, from various cultures and under pressure from different political regimes, translated the Bible. For example, the words "God he..." clearly represents the patriarchal assumptions of the translator.Skip to next paragraph
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The same indifference to the influence of the assumptions of the dominant culture can be seen in how the metaphors derived from the Industrial Revolution are now used by scientists to describe the metabolic processes in a plant cell - and in the current effort by some scientists to explain cultural patterns and process (which have their origins in the culture's symbolic systems) as "memes" that function like "genes" and thus are subject to the same process of natural selection. By extending the theory of natural selection to account for the better adapted cultural "memes," scientists are transforming the theory of evolution into an ideological justification for the spread of Wal-Mart and other corporations that drive small and culturally diverse producers out of business.
The argument that future scientific advances may make "faith" a moot issue diverts attention from the real issue that separates the two camps. The issue that neither the religious fundamentalists nor the proponents of natural selection are addressing is whether their respective sources of authority can be the source of moral values that will help Americans resist the various forms of cultural domination - among ourselves, of other cultures, and of the environment.
E.O. Wilson, a mainstream interpreter of evolution, tells us that "science for its part will test relentlessly every assumption about the human condition and in time uncover the bedrock of moral and religious sentiments."
And the same hubris is expressed by various groups within the fundamentalist camp who promote a friend/enemy approach to politics, and are imposing their culturally mediated "Word of God" on the rest of us - and on our foreign policy.
Those in both camps ignore the differences in the knowledge systems of different cultures, with the result that both are engaged in competing approaches to cultural imperialism.
The cultural assumptions that members of both camps take for granted should not, in light of the environmental crisis and the scope of poverty in the world, be the ones that are passed on to future generations. Unfortunately, the double bind is that neither the scientific method nor the "truths" revealed to the proponents of intelligent design are adequate for making explicit the cultural assumptions that are the sources of today's many problems.
• C.A. Bowers is a retired professor and author. His latest book is 'Mindful Conservatism: Rethinking the Ideological and Educational Basis of an Ecologically Sustainable Future.'