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Why Religion vs Science Debates Don't Work

Disclaimer:  I wrote this like six or seven months ago, but never actually posted it because it's not about movies, minutes, or really anything that I normally talk about.  But since this is a holiday week and I want to make sure I've got time to get things done, I figured I'd drag it up and take the day off.  Enjoy!


My office did it again.  They got into a debate about creationism versus evolution at somebody's birthday meeting / dessert break.

I'm not offended by the subject matter.  I honestly don't care either way what anybody individually thinks.  I'm just annoyed that they keep arguing about it, because they're all doing it wrong.

The people on the Science side keep talking about it with the snarky, too-cool-for-school, condescending attitude that makes religious people hate skeptics, and the people on the Religion side keep talking about it without actually understanding what they're saying, which is what makes skeptics hate religion, and then the people in the middle keep sitting on that stupid, "Well, you really need both to understand the world" fence, which is just another load of bullcrap disguised as a compromise.

So, let me break it down, since at least some of y'all need to be set straight.  Let's talk about this by way of metaphor.

Pretend that you're going to a track to see a race.  There's a dozen competitors.  They're all dressed up in running shorts and they're all wearing numbers so you can call them out.  There's a referee with a whistle who's standing next to the Start Line.  There's a little podium set up in the field with a block for the first, second, and third place winners to stand.  It's a legit, official event.

An announcer tells you that the race is about to begin.  The ref blows his whistle.  Eleven of the competitors take off, running down the track.  The last guy starts doing jumping jacks.  Five minutes later, the eleven runners finish running their lap, and the last guy stops doing jumping jacks.

The referee points out the first three runners and congratulates them.  But now the jumping jacks guy start arguing: "Hey!  I did two hundred seventy-three jumping jacks before that guy got to the finish line!  I came in first!"

Now, we can all agree that doing 273 jumping jacks in five minutes is impressive.  I can only do maybe 20 before my knees give out and I feel like I'm going to die. But even if you did 1,000 jumping jacks, it's not changing the simple fact that you weren't running.

That's basically what's going on when somebody invokes religion in a scientific debate.

You are not running.  You are doing jumping jacks.  They are a completely different thing.  They need to be measured on their own in a completely different system.  You cannot "win" a competition between running and doing jumping jacks because there's no common criteria.

Everybody's in such a damn tizzy to prove that they can blow somebody's mind or prove somebody wrong that they keep forgetting that the two things are completely different beasts.  And so whenever you engage a debate between the two, you're starting out on a false premise.  You're comparing two things that have totally different structures, goals, and characteristics.

It's like debating the nutritional value of ice cream by way of quantum mechanics.

Science is about facts and evidence.  Religion is about faith and belief.  If somebody does an experiment and finds evidence, they're doing Science.  If somebody believes something, then they're doing Religion.  And even though certain facts are going to come into conflict with certain beliefs, it's a fool's game to try to pretend that you need to reconcile them.

Arguing about whether Creation or Evolution happened is missing the point.  If you like Religion, then you shouldn't care what the facts are, because that's not how Religion works.  You just believe it.  If you prefer Science, then you shouldn't care what somebody's beliefs are, because it doesn't change the facts.

The only time there's a problem is when somebody decides that their Religion needs to be based on fact, or when somebody decides that Science should be a "belief."  That's how you end up with people doing jumping jacks in the middle of a foot race.

Let's be totally clear about something once and for all.  Skeptics don't give a crap whether or not you believe Evolution.  We know it happened.  Your Religion has no bearing on that whatsoever.  You also have a Constitutional right to your Religion.  So, if you want to believe in creationism, go right ahead.  It doesn't matter.

Just stop pretending that you can "prove" it. Proof is a scientific concept.

Next time you want to get in a debate about God or whatever, try to keep it clear what you're debating.  You can come to whatever conclusion you want about the world, and you can view it through whichever lens gets you through the day.  But what you can't do is pretend that they're the same thing.  Quit arguing about them like they are.