So, over the weekend, I posted a comment in thread over on Dr. Jerry Coyne’s blog, Why Evolution Is True, and lo and behold, he turned it into a main post, and suddenly I had hundreds of people clicking over to my own humble blog to take a gander at what the exact opposite of a professional website looks like. No colors, no tags, rare posts (basically, whenever I have a thought worth sharing, and I can go months without one of those). As folk singer Utah Phillips used to begin his shows, “Those of you who have been to one of my performances before, calmly reassure any newcomers that this is, indeed, what happens when I get on stage.” This here be more a log of my thoughts than any attempt to build up an online readership. My nine-to-five job entails running a website, and, like the chef who puts in his eight hours a day in the kitchen crafting exquisite meals, sometimes I just want the blogging equivalent of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when I get home at night.
That said, I would like to build upon some of the points made in that comment I posted over at Dr. Coyne’s place on the uselessness of theology degrees, namely, this:
“What I ended up discovering is that there are no actual standards in theology. If there were, then there would be unity in the field, rather than division. Look at biology, chemistry, and physics. We consider them separate fields for the purposes of organizing a university, but they are mutually informative–in fact, we can’t really understand biology in its modern manifestation without tackling chemistry and physics. All are subject to the same universal laws because they are studying the same thing, if with different emphases–the universe itself, material reality. Contrast this with theology. Your progressive folk will claim that all religions are expressions of the same universal truth, but if so, why do they come to such different answers about the nature of that universal truth? Why, if theologians are approaching the same phenomenon, are there Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, etc.? These are not overlapping disciplines–these are mutually exclusive worldviews.”
Material reality (or “reality,” for short) is the only reality about which we can conceivably make any kind of judgments, it being the only reality we can measure in a standardized way. The point I was trying to make is that theology tells you nothing about material reality (or “reality,” for short). It attempts to tell you who is responsible for the reality we inhabit, but when the evidence of reality itself contradicts sacred narratives, then theology insists that reality is somehow flawed, tainted by the presence of evil, or that we, observers of reality, are thus inflicted. One can, after all, find numerous volumes offering reasons why one should believe that bread and wine do literally, under the force of a particular ritual, become the body and blood of some man who died 2,000 years ago, but one has to read all these volumes and be convinced because the evidence of neither eyes not tongue are enough to dissuade you from the perception that these elements of mass remain simple bread and wine.
Theology is ideology, and ideology is a denial of the evidence of the senses, or any evidence that can be derived empirically. Earlier today, I was catching up on some episodes of the Swedish radio show Konflikt while doing some gardening. One particular episode pertained to the status of women in present-day Egypt and included a bit about the ongoing presence of female genital mutilation there. The reporter interviewed a young woman who had undergone this procedure (her mother having been pressured by neighbors to make her daughter “normal”), as well as other activists involved in the struggle against this horrific procedure. Among the reasons offered for why mothers should have their daughters clipped was the belief that the clitoris is a male-like organ which, if left alone, will grow and grow and eventually render girls barren, unable to have kids. Too, women who possess a clitoris are driven by unbalanced sexual urges. (One man in the report did ask—well, what if she’s whole but ends up liking sex a lot? In that case, I say, consider yourself blessed and work hard on satisfying those urges. Now, was that so difficult?)
But what’s so silly about about such statements is that they are so easily tested scientifically. I mean, we can easily envision a study, complete with a control group of intact women who regularly have their clitorises measured. Combine this with a random sampling of childbearing women across the world, and ta da! We have proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that clitorises do not grow unsustainably large and that their presence does not reduce fecundity in the slightest.
Of course, that wouldn’t be enough for those people heavily invested in putting their daughters to the knife. They are not doing this because they have scientifically concluded that this is the most responsible thing one can do for the health of the girls in their life. They are doing this to keep women under control—all else is an afterthought, an after-the-fact justification for brutality. It’s ideological, and if it sounds horrid because it’s unnecessary surgery carried out in non-sterile conditions in rural Africa, well, it’s just part of the denial of reality with which we are confronted here in ‘Merica, too. After all, vaccines are proven to work, but a good chunk of the American population is suspicious of them. Some 97% of scientists agree with the theory of anthropogenic global climate change, and when an overwhelming majority of scientists agree on anything (because they do so love arguing with one another), one should take note, but this does not stop politicians from essentially peddling pollution on the campaign trail. Creationism is a rank lie, and has consistently been proven so, but the preachers still insist that their outmoded dogmas be offered up in biology classes as sanctified truths.
Ideology is the denial of reality. And this is why those who have drunk deeply at the well of ideology assume automatically that those opposing them are likewise motivated by ideology—why they believe that there are such doctrines as “scientism” and “evolutionism,” or why they believe that global warming is a carefully crafted conspiracy on the part of the scientific elite to force proud citizens of ‘Merica to put away their cars and take the bus now and then. They simply have no frame of reference outside ideology, and thus such terms as “evidence-based” are anathema to them, for evidence that speaks against their own worldviews cannot be considered real. In fact, there is a strain of modern Calvinism called Kuyperianism which holds that unbelievers and believers simply have access to completely different models of the world. If you are an unbeliever, you cannot do anything, undertake any test, which might prove an article of faith because you have not first taken that leap of faith yourself.
Now, that is the ultimate expression of ideology—the notion that people of different outlooks inhabit literal different worlds—because if you are starting from there, then we have no common language at all. But even though it’s a narrow strain of Calvinism, this Kuyperianism is more common than we might think. Of course, the bread and wine become the body and blood of our Lord Jesus. Of course, Comrade Stalin, this implementation of rapid collectivization is not producing famine, or if it is, then it’s the fault of kulak saboteurs. Of course, a clitoris will grow to the size of a penis—why are you asking me for proof?
Our world is inhabited by amateur butchers who will be dissuaded by no evidence whatsoever. And any attempt to confront them with evidence will only convince them that you share their same vocation, that you also have a stake in denying the nature of reality. And, to be quite honest, I’m not exactly sure what can be done about that.