Faith vs. Fact: Saying No To Science Because The Bible Tells Me So?

The United Nations is set to release data suggesting that the number of individuals infected with HIV is lower than previously believed. The announcement has led some to argue that the UN is misleading the world with regards to global warming. There is a dangerous trend by those on the right to discount fact when it doesn’t comport with faith. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen when it comes to the changing justifications for the war in Iraq.


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

I’ve noticed a disquieting trend on a number of important issues with regards to those on the right. In summary form, the trend is to discount scientific evidence while promoting faith based biblical theories in order to advance a narrow ideological agenda.

The most recent example is the response to a report to be issued by the United Nations in which the organization will lower its’ estimates on the size and scope of the AIDS epidemic. Pouncing quickly, many on the right wasted little time in using the revelation to conclude that the UN’s data on global warming must therefore also be inaccurate…or fabricated.

Let me be clear. I’m not suggesting that the United Nations is beyond reproach or that they should be excused if, in fact, they chose to inflate their estimates in order to draw more attention and more funding to the AIDS crisis. Such actions are not justifiable and they only serve to undermine the organization’s credibility and the severity of the problem.

At the same time, the UN’s actions aren’t any more egregious than the efforts of the Bush administration to convince Americans that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Frankly, with the latter, the outcome wasn’t to revise the number of WMD’s found downward…the outcome revealed that the WMD’s didn’t actually exist and new justifications were hastily pulled from thin air.

As such, why would those who doubt the UN’s data, and seek to use one reevaluation of a decades long problem as the means to discredit all of the organization’s other opinions, still hold firm and fast to supporting a President and his many policies which have been proven to be blatantly wrong on numerous occasions? My own answer to this question is premised upon the notion that many people of faith would rather defend those amongst us who have been discredited or found to have been deceitful than to admit that their reliance upon faith, and their belief in those who espouse it as fact, may be a suspect construct.

It seems to me that, all too often, people of faith adopt an all or nothing perspective on issues, which simply precludes the possibility of rational debate and reasoned dialogue. While the AIDS crisis and global warming may eventually be determined to be less dire than once thought; why should this action, on the part of the United Nations, to correct a misconception lead us to conclude that we can’t or shouldn’t continue to acknowledge the seriousness and severity that does exist? Should a revision from 40 million infected to 33 million infected lead us to conclude that AIDS isn’t an epidemic in need of immediate and significant attention and funding?

Let’s look at a comparison. We’re currently spending over 10 billion dollars a month on the war in Iraq…a war that was initiated with reliance upon questionable data. On the other hand, the United States just recently committed to spend 15 billion dollars over five years to combat AIDS in Africa. Here’s the issue. AIDS has been a known killer of millions for over twenty years. Now that the UN has concluded its data may be inaccurate, are we also supposed to halt our funding? If so, then why do we continue to support funding for the war in Iraq?

And why the need to use the revised AIDS statistics as the impetus to assail the United Nations warnings about global warming? Is global warming a secular issue? Will rising sea levels only impact the non-believers? Are we to believe that faith will be sufficient to combat our disregard for the planet? Did god give us this domain to do with as we wished without regard for preserving and protecting it? Where in the bible can I find these seemingly inconsistent values?

Sadly, the battle isn’t limited to these two high profile situations. We’ve witnessed the same dynamic with regards to evolution and intelligent design; with regards to abstinence programs and sex education which includes information about contraception and the distribution of condoms; with regards to abortion and the administration of Plan B contraceptives to victims of rape; with regards to teen promiscuity and the new vaccination for the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) to prevent cervical cancer; with regards to Terri Schiavo and end of life issues; with regards to stem cell research and the need to treat life threatening diseases and illnesses.

In the end, faith is not fact and while everyone is entitled to the faith of his or her choice; the choices of the citizenry should not be precluded by the faith of the few. Science needn’t be challenged simply because it fails to support one’s faith. In truth, as I understand it, acts of faith, by their nature, are not predicated upon fact…they are acts of belief premised upon religious values which can and should withstand the challenges of our imperfect human condition.

At the same time, because faith cannot be factually infallible, this nation established a separation between church and state, which afforded each individual the right to adopt the faith they preferred while preventing and protecting the individual from the narrow imposition of the precepts of any particular religious ideology. As such, our forefathers chose to establish governance based upon an adherence to that which could be determined factually while being careful to allow the individual to adopt and abide by their elected, and often disparate, religious beliefs.

Until this nation recommits to this formative construct, we will continue to indiscriminately attach ourselves to each news report that affords us the opportunity to advance narrow and nescient belief systems. At some point, faith must again become a bond of belief between the individual and his or her god…one that actually offers the comfort that is promised to come from a true act of faith. If this cannot be achieved, then perhaps its time we admit that we have abandoned true faith for that which can be falsely forced upon others in order to convince us that it must be fact. In the end, if one’s god exists, then putting forth the former while succumbing to the latter will do little more than sever us from the salvation we’re purportedly seeking.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007 by Daniel DiRito |

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