On a Coin Analogy

Image from Microsoft Office

Image from Microsoft Office

A coin is an interesting analogy. On one side is a group of Christians who say one cannot believe in evolution and God. In their own mind, this group believes they speak for all Christians.

On the coin’s other side are some agnostics and atheists who profess that all Christians obviously believe in the literal interpretation of the Genesis creation. Others even proclaim science and Christianity as incompatible, thus Christians must reject science.

Interestingly, these two sides of the coin are the polar opposites who publicly launch diatribes at the other while dominating the news on this topic. However, both sides also fail to realize or accept that there is much more to the coin than opposing surfaces – therefore, more to this story.

As the conservative Christians embrace a literal Genesis, I continuously wonder why they give God so little credit. Besides, they are in the minority of Christian thought and don’t realize it. On the other hand, the agnostics and atheists who pigeon-hole all Christians as disciples of a literal Genesis are failing to realize how many (and yes, the majority) Christians appreciate and embrace the role of science in our world, including evolution – therefore missing the connection to our common opponent.

I have encountered literal Christian and the agnostics and atheists who pigeon-hole all Christians. My personal and independent journey of studying the science-theology interchange not only deepened my Christian believes, I also developed a greater understanding and appreciation of the thoughts from agnostics and atheists. For the sake of this post, I categorize this group into three subgroups: the atheists, the worshipping agnostics, and the uninvolved agnostics.

The atheists can be a difficult bunch. Two prominent science writers, Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne, use scientific reasoning to justify their anti-Christian crusade. While both these passionate scientists are strong voices for evolution, their rational regarding the non-existence of God lies outside of the boundaries of science. (Past post about boundaries) Besides, religion is about faith – a love relationship that involves trust – thus not a belief system grounded in the scientific method. (Past post about faith)

I admit having a difficult time giving these anti-religion crusaders any credence on this issue, which is partially due to their tone of choice. However, I realize not all atheists are as dogmatic as these two scientists are because not all nonbelievers are antagonist to Christians – thus, I find it easier to accept and respect the nonantagonistic atheists and agnostics.

The agnostics are a broad group. Some have never been exposed to theology, thus do not know. Others do not care to know. Others encountered events involving human behaviors as acts of evil and injustice causing them to move away from their prior belief system. Yet, in many cases (if not most) these agnostics are not antagonist to those who are religious.

Carl Sagan is a wonderful example. Although there were times in his life when he challenged religion, he gave religion space during most of his life. There is no question that Sagan marveled the universe. However created, Sagan proudly stood in awe of the universe. Although he did not worship it, he understood the majestic nature of the universe and the role of our Pale Blue Dot. Simply put, his words are an inspiration to anyone with wonder!

Agnostics as Ursula Goodenough and Paul Davies have a different belief system from Sagan. Although not believing in a heavenly god, they see the glories in nature as indicators of the presence of a god in nature – thus the term religious naturalism. Their awe and inspiration are similar to Sagan’s, but they differ from Sagan in their application of god – not a god as a creator, not the God of Abraham, but a god who is present within the complexity, patterns, and mysteries of nature. Like Sagan, their words also inspire.

Prominent writers Michael Ruse and the late Stephen J Gould are examples of another group of agnostics – nonbelievers acknowledging space for theological thought as long as theology does not conflict with the way science works. In his NOMA model, Gould (a self-proclaimed no believer and agnostic) explains religion and science as non-interfering subjects – a similar approach proclaimed by Christians as Augustine, Galileo, Sir Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, and many more.

In the end, because of writers as Sagan, Gould, Goodenough, Davies, and others, I have a greater understanding, appreciation, and respect for agnostics and atheists, along with their view of the natural world. Yet, in the end, I hope those on the opposite side of the fence as I not only become more tolerant to the theological who embrace science, but also understand we share a common view against Biblical literalists. After all, the science-theology conflict is between religions – not one between science and theology.

56 thoughts on “On a Coin Analogy

  1. I think people who view the world in such black and white terms misses out on a lot. I’m not a religious person, yet one of my best friends back home is a youth pastor. We both know each other’s viewpoints and we have lively debates, but at the end of the day, we both respect each other. We may not agree all of the time, but we’ve never problems due to our beliefs. Personally I don’t one person or group can know it all. This world/universe is too diverse to say that there’s only one belief or something. I find religions fascinating and have studied quite a few of them.

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    • TBM,
      Thanks for sharing your personal experiences. Lively, respectable debates about any topic are good …. and yes, even religion. But as you say, at the end, much mutual respect still remains intact.

      Meanwhile, great last point about knowing and diversity. Although I’m Christian, I have a hard time believing that Christianity has the market cornered … thus yes, there’s a lot to learn – including from others.

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      • There are so many intelligent people from all over who have great input. I think this world would be a better place if we listened to all and not just the group we believe in. Many love the diversity in plant and animal life. why can’t they feel the same when it comes to people?

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  2. As a recovering Catholic, I do not and never have called myself an agnostic and am certainly not antagonistic toward those of faith. Must admit though there are some who cause me to be, some who do not understand what their faith calls them to, how their faith calls them to act and those, yes those I am certainly antagonistic towards.

    I most closely align with the Deists, though even they cause me some discomfort now and then. Natures God, or God in the Natural World is easier for me to accept. I stand in awe, always of the complexity of our universe and see the hand of a higher power in its creation.

    You are so right Frank, the opposing sides of the coin are only what are the polar opposites. They are the small and non-representative minority.

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    • Val,
      Thanks for sharing your personal thoughts. It seems to me that our explanation of religious naturalism match! (Cheers to us) 😉 … Interestingly, there still is a segment of people who feel they have to choose one of the two sides … actually thinking those are the only two choices – thus forgetting about the coin’s core.

      Thanks much for reading and giving your input.

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  3. An interesting post.
    Science and religion are not incompatible and most of the time not that contradictory either. Where the problem arises is the interpretation that (a) some scientists and (b) some Christians make in a sometimes desperate attempt to support respective positions.
    I’m still not sure how Herbert Spencer’s survival of the fittest turned into evolutionary theory, or how the latter has managed to become perceived as an intellectually superior belief, but since I have not met an evolutionist (or many professing Christians come to that) who understood what the Bible really tells us in the first place that might help to explain the root of the problem.

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  4. What a thoughtful way to start my day, Frank. I’m pretty much in the Sagan, Gould, Goodenough, Davies.

    But you know, I was in France when they changed from the Franc to the Euro. The transfer was quite simple. If only we could get some of the dogmatics in our society to simply pick a different coin, there would be less trouble in the world (or at least in our politics).

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    • Elyse,
      Thanks for your input. One of the points I wanted to make was that I learned from those with a different mindset than mine … and what I learned from them (in a positive way) strengthen me.

      Dogmatics are also interesting, especially when complaining about the dogmatics of others while shoving our own dogmatics down the throats of others.

      Glad you enjoyed this post.

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  5. This with faith and beliefs – something we all have – but it doesn’t have to be about devote ourselves to one religion … personal I have my faith and beliefs in people that helps those who needs help, unconditionally – but there is place enough for all of us … what ever we believe in. But when it’s about money there is loads in some religion – that upset me, because nothing goes back to the once that really needs it. And for some of us .. money is the religion.

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    • Viveka,
      Good point about faith in people and those who act unconditionally to help others. That very point is probably a common thread running through most (if not all) religions. … and yes, there are things that get in the way.

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  6. The value of the coin is in both sides not one or the other. I think the difficulties we have with other viewpoints is often the difficulties we struggle with in ourselves. Nice post. Well written.

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    • Mobius,
      Wow … great first sentence – yet (as we know), some say one must chose a side.

      No question – other viewpoints challenge us … yet can enhance us if given the chance … but that won’t always happen. Thanks for sharing your good thoughts.

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  7. Let me start by saying that I love this post! As a declared atheist, sometimes agnostic, and sometimes one who sees God in nature (I wrote a blog once about finding God in the Redwoods), I know that I don’t know. I have an aversion to people who know everything, and do not leave room for the mystery of life and the universe. Hence my position about believers and non believers: I respect all of you, but please don’t use your religion as a whip. I personally know some truly religious Jews who were scientists, and they had a firm belief that scientific discovery and exploration not only not contradict their faith, but compliment it. At the end of the day I strongly feel that there’s so much that’s unknown, that we mere mortals can only speculate.
    I appreciate how reasonably and respectfully you tackled this controversial topic, and you should have had a debate with Hitchens while he was alive-:)

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    • Rachel,
      Thank you for the kind words. Although tone is always important to me, this post stayed in draft form for some time as I kept working the words and ideas. Meanwhile, nature’s mysteries are wonderful, and answering one mystery opens the door to more questions.

      Like

  8. Religion is always a tricky subject to discuss and I admire how you have handled it here – you have made clear your opinion but have also taken care to be fair to all sides and not slate others just because they don’t fit in to your beliefs.

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    • Vanessa,
      Being respectful is important, so I closely watched my words. Regarding the prior comments where I simply agreed to disagree – as opposed to going into an attack or even an aggressive debate. There is no doubt that the two sides of the coin are polar opposites, and they will probably never agree … but – there is so much more than those two sides.

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  9. Well said. Grew up in a very scientific home – but also attended church as the two can go hand in hand.
    Too bad people aren’t as open and accepting of others’ beliefs as they say they are.
    Great posts like this might help people stop being so rigid

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    • Mouse,
      Thanks for sharing the wonderful example of your childhood. Something that I didn’t say in this post (but have in others) is that churches could do more in-house education to their flock. After all, I’m confident that one group of churches are that do that ,,, and will glad change or ignore facts to make their point.

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  10. I found it interesting to read your post, and especially since I know you’ve been wrestling with this problem for some time. I think that most well educated, rational students of science (or scientists, if you care to call them that) recognize that science can not explain everything in the universe, and doesn’t claim to. Science is basically a system of study and understanding… and part of that understanding is the knowledge that we don’t have all the answers. Some people ‘use’ science to insult religion or to claim it is not true or that it has no value. But in all social discussions, there are always some folks who lack respect for others. On the other side, we have people of many different religions, who believe a great variety of different beliefs and have different sets of values, and who claim that there is a power greater than man, who has given us instructions, codes, or values to live by. There are also numerous traditions of wisdom or understanding regarding the way a human being might best live his life on earth. In the field of religion, we are continuously dependent on information passed on to us by tradition. We are dependent on the wisdom and the verity of those who came before us. There is no proof that each person along the line understood perfectly the messages that were passed down to them. Nor do we have a registered representative of god in our time (except for the Pope, and not everyone accepts his authority). Just as there are people who follow their intuition, and others who need written instructions by the maker of the product, so there are many people who have a deep seated faith… and others who question. But I don’t believe that there could really be a deciding argument between the two sides.

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    • Shimon,
      Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom – and I’m confident that we concur! At times I wonder if the main goal of people as Dawkins and Coyne is to attack religion rather than is their passion for their content.

      By the way, several years ago I had an interesting discussion with a local rabbi about this issue regarding Genesis.

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  11. A very well written post, Frank. I have nothing to add to the discussion, except to say that I firmly believe that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs. I don’t like the idea of trying to evangelise others, which was a strict teaching of the church I grew up in, and left as soon as I was able to.

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    • Paradise,
      Thanks for the kind words. I will toss in this tidbit of info as food for thought (not to contradict your point). Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs … absolutely … but not to their own facts. After all, just because they disagree with science doesn’t make science wrong. … as far as evangelizing, that’s for another day …. well, maybe. Safe travels today!

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  12. Your “science and religion” posts are my favorite…even more than the music ones! 🙂 You have searched science and the scriptures and then applied reason and understanding, so you don’t shoot from the hip, you contemplate. I think if all people could approach spiritual mystery without a fear of not having a definitive answer, the openness in conversation that we desire would come. I have a very deep traditional Christian faith and also a respect for science. I find them very compatible. But I was raised a very conservative evangelical and taught biblical literalism, which was confusing to me as a very young person. Try explaining dinosaurs to a kid who believes in a literal 7-day creation. I really struggled. But the struggle was good and brought me into contact with some wonderful theologians and thinkers, and as I said at the beginning, I love this discussion! Keep it up, Frank!

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    • Debra,
      Thanks so much for sharing bits of your past that tie into this post. I know that you are a fan of my posts on this topic, thus knowing a bit of your personal history makes it extra special. Interestingly, there are people inside and outside Christianity telling us we’re wrong. Oh well ….

      Your mention of dinosaurs in a 7-day creation reminds me of the Creation Museum, which is located less than an hour away … and yes, they have/had a Triceratops that one could get a picture riding it. Yes, a museum professing humans and dinosaurs coexisted —- but at least it validates Fred Flintstone.

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  13. Very interesting post. A few months ago I explored your Religion and Science category…probably around the time I decided to “follow” you. Thank you for these thoughtful reflections.

    Who can’t be engaged by Sagan, who in his very voice articulated wonder with this “bbbbillions and bbbbillions of stars”? 🙂

    I found it very moving and faith affirming to finally have read the Bible in my 40’s, then re-read it again a few times more. My faith was a bit shaken in my 20’s when I read Miguel de Unamuno’s “San Manuel Bueno, mártir.” Across the years, I have thanked Unamuno for his philosophical work, that gave texture to my religion and faith that encouraged me to doubt, not out of lack of faith, but because I wanted a deep faith. Reading Unamuno before I read the Bible equipped me with the questions. I love a simple faith of “trust” as you put it, the simple faith of a village or the questioning faith of “Blasillo” el bobo, “Dios mío por qué me has abandonado?” but also, I want my faith to be hammered out as the coins and metals forged.

    All these perspectives and respect for them provide much to reflect on to deepen our faith as strong as a thick woven tapestry. I love the church my husband and I have elected where we could hear one of our ministers who held a doctorate in physics…I trusted he would lead me down many roads that would offer perspectives…not answers, perspectives. I think I will stop. 🙂

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    • Georgette,
      Thanking you for this thoughtful comment wouldn’t do it justice, so I will say this … copy/paste your answer because it would be a very worthy post!

      Meanwhile, seeing people reaffirm a believe system on this topic here causes me to smile. A pastor with a doctorate in physics would be very interesting. I enjoy reading Rev George Murphy articles as he has a similar background. Another, Rev John Polkinghorne, is one of the leading spokespersons in the field.

      Here’s one for you.

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  14. I’m finally settling down from retiring and just had a moment to catch up on your posts while WW is proof reading my new post (this just in: he hates it; back to the drawing board). I love how you handled this post, Frank. Maybe, it is because I have been wrestling with the same issues. I really have a hard time with the attitudes of the “new athiests.” It seems that they are guilty of the same things they accuse the fundamentalist Christians of. The truth is that none of us can see the full story and we’ll all be surprised when we can. I believe in Science and I believe in God. If we’ll all have grace to gingerly hang on to what we believe, with the understanding that we all could be wrong on so many levels, and continue to respect each other in the process, we’ll all get to where we need to go.

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    • E-Tom,
      I like the way you see the similarities between the fundamentalist Christians and the extreme atheists. Interestingly, Guapo made some interesting comments about the extremes. Meanwhile, I will continue to be rational and above the fray! … thus trying to help the majority.

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  15. Great post, Frank.
    I’m amused that your “sides of the coin” groups have one thing in common – their views are held by the loudest shouters, not necessarily the majority.
    Fanatics are generally not helpful, regardless of the inspiration of their fanaticism.

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