Diversitas is a series of community presentations held in Morden, Manitoba, designed to educate and inform people about the diversity of humanity. On March 22, the topic was “Can Faith and Science Coexist?”, and the guest speaker was Dr. Patrick Franklin (PhD, McMaster Divinity College), Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, and a member of an organization called the Canadian Scientific & Christian Affiliation.
The event was well attended, with most of the seats filled at the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre’s Aquasaur Theatre. The title of Dr. Franklin’s presentation was: “Is Christian Faith Obsolete in a Scientific Age?” In his opening remarks, he added other questions, such as “Is God belief obsolete?“, and “Is religion obsolete?“. He mentioned that we would spend some time discussing the Old Testament, and presented a few verses which he thought best demonstrated that Christianity is not in conflict with science. A lot to cover in a 45-minute talk.
For those unfamiliar, the study of conflict between faith and science has a name – conflict thesis, which is a very old idea and well documented. First proposed in the early 1800’s, author and politician Andrew Dickson White took a mighty scholarly whack at it in his two volume set A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. It was published in 1896, and although a product of its time, is still a good read – especially in light of more than a hundred years of scientific advancement and the slow decline of churches’ power. (It’s available for free download from Project Gutenberg.)
Dr. Franklin began his talk with a quote from Richard Dawkins:
“One can’t be an intelligent, scientific thinker and still hold traditional religious beliefs.”
Although I have been unable to confirm that this as an actual quote from Dr. Dawkins, for the sake of argument we will assume that it is true.
Dr. Franklin described a study in which it was found that 35% of scientists believe religion is in conflict with science, and he then made the assertion that this means 65% scientists believe there is no conflict. Unless the question was asked directly (“Do you believe there is no conflict?“), this seems to be a false dichotomy to me. Another study, by sociologist Elaine Ecklund, in her book Science vs. Religion, showed that, of American scientists interviewed, 34% were atheist, 30% were agnostic, 28% had varying degrees of confidence in God, and 8% believed in some higher power. Ecklund then went on to postulate the reasons for this high percentage of atheism and agnosticism amongst scientists. These three reasons rose to the top:
Scientists who are not religious
- Were not raised in a religious home – children raised in a materialistic, non-religious households were more apt to be curious and gravitate to learning about the natural world
- Had a bad experience in church/religion or with a pastor/clergy member
- Disapprove of the idea of God
Dr. Franklin thought these reasons were interesting because they show that, by and large, the high number of atheists in the sciences is not due to science itself, but to many of the same reasons that other people are atheists. I would tend to agree; however, I have a different take on these points.
- Yes, children who grow up as freethinkers and not indoctrinated into religion will be more curious and gravitate to seeking out their own answers – but this is a good thing. Don’t indoctrinate your children and they will learn more.
- Yes, people have bad experiences in church and with clergy; not a week goes by that I don’t see a story in my newsfeed about another priest diddling little boys, or embezzling money; and of course there are those who need money to paint their private jets. I think this point says more about the authoritarian nature of religion, and how its true colours become exposed in a modern freethinking society. It’s a no-brainer that many people don’t want any part of it.
- As for disapproving of the idea of God – well of course, if you’re of a scientific-thinking mind, you seek out answers and explanations; ones that are demonstrably true and useful. The idea of God is “disliked” because it is none of these.
Dr. Franklin then went on to present a list of some 15 scientists, complete with mentions of what they do/did; all, of course, Christian. Everybody from Nicholaus Copernicus and Isaac Newton to Alister McGrath (and some he knows personally). It is worth noting here that even though professional scientists may be theists, this does not demonstrate the compatibility of science and religion, but simply that a person may hold contradictory beliefs. During that segment it was interesting to note that Dr. Franklin was quick to point out which scientists on his list were evangelicals (his denomination), which prompted a member of the United Church I spoke to later to say “the way he was talking, you would think all Christians who are scientists are evangelical”, which was exactly what I was thinking.
So where does that leave us so far? Dr. Franklin believes the evidence shows that the statement “One can’t be an intelligent scientific thinker and still hold traditional religious beliefs” is just wrong. On the surface it looks like he is correct; however, if we dig a little deeper we find that scientists who are religious or spiritual leave their religion or spirituality at the door when walking into the lab. In the lab they are not testing their hypotheses by faith, while in church they are not looking at religious claims using the scientific method. Some do attempt to test religious claims, but they often end up believing things that are not part of traditional religious beliefs.
Dr. Franklin believes the scientific evidence for climate change, genetics, geology, the age of the earth and what science can tell us about the natural world. He is very much a scientific thinker, and for this I give him great credit. But when it came to the Q & A portion of the talk, I asked him a question that went like this – “Through our understanding of genetics, paleontology, evolutionary biology, anthropology, geology, and other sciences, we know that at no time in the past was the human population down to just two. There was no genetic bottleneck that would show that there was an Adam or an Eve. If Adam and Eve aren’t possible, then there was no garden of Eden; no Original Sin; no need for Jesus, human sacrifice, or redemption; and essentially no need for Christianity. How do you make your scientific understanding comport with your supernatural Christian beliefs?” The question was sidestepped. Dr. Franklin did suggest a couple of books I could read (Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science, and The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins), and mentioned the possibility that Adam and Eve were some sort of king and queen of a tribe or population of about 10,000, many, many years ago (it was all very vague). The thing is, through the science of genetics, paleoclimatology, archeology, and geology, we know that our human population was reduced to about 10,000 individuals as early as 70,000 years ago. Due to climate change, humanity was almost wiped off the face of the planet, gone extinct like so many other species. What’s funny is that apparently, some of this information was discovered through Christian theology shortly after it was discovered by science… it’s a miracle!!!
In my view, Dr. Franklin is the embodiment of the Dawkins quote. He is a scientific thinker who is unable to hold onto traditional religious belief – in this case the traditional belief that one man named Adam and one woman named Eve started it all. The next day, I received a links from Dr. Franklin to his blog and ten more resources on the subject… I was hoping he would just answer the question.
The next section of his talk was about how science is limited, how the scientific world view can’t provide ‘comprehensive knowledge’, and how scientific reductionism is a harmful and vast oversimplification of reality. This is an argument that is usually trotted out by the slimiest of Christian apologists; unfortunately, it seems to have gone mainstream.
I think the reason this argument bothers me so much is that it’s an attempt to discredit science by faulting it for doing what it is designed to do. The perception of beauty is not a scientific question; nor is what music someone finds pleasing to the ear a scientific question. The concept of ‘comprehensive knowledge’ is just a smokescreen, as later, apologists will try to wedge God, Jesus, and spirituality into ‘comprehensive knowledge’. They will argue that science reduces concepts such as love and beauty to mere biochemical reactions (which they are). But that’s what science does – reduce concepts to their simplest form in order to better understand the whole. This process actually results in real knowledge, and for me, more knowledge increases the appreciation of beauty. As the great physicist Richard P. Feynman said, ”Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars – mere globs of gas atoms. I, too, can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more?…” (full quote here). See also Feynman’s Ode to the Flower.
Finally, near the end of his talk, Dr. Franklin spoke of God’s two books. One was, of course, scripture; the other was the metaphorical book of nature, or what we can learn from nature. To illustrate how these two books go hand-in-hand, he offered Psalm 19. These poetic lines in the Bible describe the beauty of the natural world, and Dr. Franklin believes that this Psalm tells Christians they should learn more about the natural world and how well science goes with Christianity. Admirable, but I listened carefully to see how he was going to juggle the verses. He read beautifully verse 1 through 5, skipped 6 (this was not an oversight, as he said “skipping ahead to 7”), and then moved onto 7, 8, and 9.
I, too, know Psalm 19, but for different reasons. This is verse that he skipped:
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
5 It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
6 It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth. (NIV)
Verse 6 clearly states that the sun orbits the earth (“makes its circuit”). It is one of many verses that was used by the Catholic Church to justify the charge of heresy against Galileo, his imprisonment, the re-canting of his scientific work, and his eventual house arrest. If you understand church history, this verse becomes one of the best examples of how Christianity has retarded scientific progress.
Unfortunately, the Q & A was dominated by a sizeable contingent of YEC’s (Young Earth Creationists). Dr. Franklin handled himself admirably as he explained why “creation science” is not science, and of course he answered the all-important question “If we evolved from apes, why are there still apes“? After it was all over, I was hoping to chat for a couple of minutes with Dr. Franklin; however that was not in the cards. I did thank him and shook his hand. As I left, I could see that he was surrounded by a whole lot of creationists and some United Church members, having a discussion about Adam and Eve’s kids, incest, and the origin of the human species. I didn’t hang around to listen.
Regarding the question from the start of the evening, Is Christian faith obsolete in a scientific age?, I would have to say yes – to everybody except, it seems, Christians. As for the conflict between religion and science, it will always be there. I will leave you with a quote from Joshua Cuevas’ excellent article in last years New Humanist:
“Ultimately, there is no conflict between religious claims and science. The conflict is in the mind of the theist who desperately attempts to preserve his or her belief system.”
– Pat Morrow
Former police officer Bob Russell served with the Winnipeg Police Service for 35 years, from 1976 to 2012. He served in uniform patrol divisions, the detective branch, and forensic identification section, retiring at the rank of Sergeant. Since retirement, he continues to follow current issues within the department. He is dead against the creep of evangelical Christianity into the Winnipeg police service, and he is passionate and vocal about it. Here are his thoughts about the chapel in the new police headquarters.
Recently the Winnipeg Free Press reported that the Winnipeg Police Service announced plans for a “chapel” within the new headquarters building. I submit that including a chapel is a bad idea. My thoughts on the chapel also extend to the existence of police chaplains. I speak both as a concerned private citizen and as a retired member of the service for which I retain considerable pride and loyalty.
The Winnipeg Police Service is publicly funded to enforce the law, maintain the peace, detect and apprehend offenders, and prevent crime in a multi-cultural, multi-faith city. It must serve everyone without bias or the perception of bias, including those people who do not believe. We know that not everyone, including the religiously faithful, agrees on the numerous and contradictory truth claims of the myriad of world religions, the nature of “spirituality”, or even on the actual existence of supernatural beings.
A chapel is traditionally a place of Christian worship. Here it is advertised as a “space for quiet reflection.” As you may know, quiet rooms already exist in all new police facilities, where space is made available for reflection, prayer, or just peace and quiet. Chaplaincy program coordinator Sgt. George Labossiere claims that chaplaincy promotes the “holistic health of officers regardless of their beliefs”, and sells the chapel as “more based on ensuring that our members have a place to go, can connect with people, can make sure that we don’t just ignore the fact that many people have spiritual needs that need to be addressed.” This is double-speak. What he is actually saying is that the service should promote religious or spiritual ideas even though some people don’t hold them. An excellent employee assistance program already exists, with access to professional counsellors who treat a wide range of physical, mental, and spiritual health issues.
The Police Service should not be in the business of promoting religious or spiritual notions, regardless of how many or few people believe or disbelieve them. Churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, covens, etc. currently exist in large numbers to look after the needs of those who believe. Police employees have plenty of off-duty time to visit them – frequently if desired. If religion and spirituality is the business of the police service, then chaplains should be employed full time and in far greater numbers, services and prayer should be compulsory and numerous, and there should be spiritual mediums on staff. But the police service doesn’t have full time chaplains, mandatory prayer services, or spiritualists on staff. If not, then why not?
Will the chapel be made available for fringe religions? Satanists? Scientologists? Neo-Pagans? If not, then why not? What sort of imagery and icons will the chapel contain? All? None? Or will this be an absurd attempt at being “non-denominational”, like the Calgary Police Chapel, which contains only the icon of the Archangel St. Michael, the supposed patron saint of police officers. Is it not odd that some people consider a Roman Catholic saint non-denominational? Many police vehicles in the United States now display Christian crosses. Shall the WPS do the same? If not, then why not? Will the service fly a Christian Flag? Any other religious flag? If not, then why not?
A chapel and chaplains encourage unprofessional, unwanted, and unethical proselytization. This has and still does occur. Church Parades were held in the past. Gideon New Testaments have been supplied by the WPS to new recruits, off and on for years, most recently in 2014. A leadership training course, produced and marketed by Christian evangelist John C. Maxwell, was, until recently, taught to newly promoted supervisors. This material contains blatant religiously-themed material suggesting that future leaders should be growing closer to God. It also recommends that future leaders be without personal problems – which are undefined. To many believers, non-belief in the supernatural is a personal problem. Will they be given a fair shake by a supervisor who is assessing a non-believing employee? Maxwell’s goal is clearly stated on his websites. It is to ensure that more Christian leaders are in place throughout the world. Both of these issues were addressed by HAAM, and Chief of Police Clunis assured us that bible distribution would cease, and the inappropriate course would be dropped. He followed through with his commitment on those two issues. However, the planned chapel is another insertion of a faith-based worldview in what should be secular organization.
In the last 20 years or so, WPS Awards Days have been held at Grant Memorial Baptist Church, and training sessions for employees have been held at Springs Church. Springs Church is of particular concern because employees of the WPS have been handed church membership information on entering the building. Did Springs offer their facility, complete with many volunteers, and free coffee, snacks and lunches, at a highly discounted rate? I have heard that this was the case. Even if not, Springs took full advantage of the opportunity to try to recruit WPS staff who only wished to – or were obliged to – attend a work-related seminar. That these seminars were organized by a wellness officer who was also a police chaplain makes it doubly suspicious. Police chaplains are always front and center at awards days and graduation ceremonies, offering prayers and benedictions and assuming that everyone agrees with them. Chaplains have always had a privileged place at these events, and this is unwarranted and undeserved.
Private fundamentalist Christian police organizations exist with the purpose of evangelizing other police employees, the general public, and persons in custody. The Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers – Canada, with 1,200 members across Canada, is one. I have no idea how many, if any, WPS officers are members. There are probably a few, and they have the unquestionable right to belong. However, the FCPO-Canada has produced advertising and recruitment videos which include an FCPO-Canada member in uniform, seated in what appears to be the executive boardroom of the Woodstock (Ontario) Police Service, and an officer in the uniform of the Toronto Police Service standing next to a TPS police car. The apparent intended impression is clear and convincing – that this fundamentalist private club has official recognition and the support of the police agencies involved.
In 2016, FCPO-Canada and the Canadian Bible Society have partnered to distribute evangelical books to police employees across the country. Such groups will no doubt take advantage of a religious chapel wedged in the police service. It will be used for bible studies, prayer meetings, and speakers aimed at recruiting other employees. The service will surely then be in the business of proselytization to a membership who represent all religious persuasions and no religious beliefs at all. Is this an agreeable situation? Will the service allow other faith groups or clubs to come in as guests to pitch their religion to employees? If not, why not? The potential for strife, internal and external, is obvious, high and dangerous.
Will alternate rooms be made available for those faith groups or persons who choose not to share? Some mainstream religious groups are diametrically and violently opposed to each other. All religious faiths are, at their core, convinced that all others are wrong. They are all certainly convinced that non-believers are wrong, many believe that non-believers will be eventually punished, and some would like that to happen sooner rather than later. This is why ecumenicalism and religious pluralism are like a greased pig – very difficult to grasp and more difficult to hold on to.
I have heard the argument that chapels exist in hospitals, airports, and many other institutions outside of traditional religious buildings. These arguments are irrelevant because these institutions do not have the same responsibility as a police service. People who are sick or visiting a sick person in hospital, or who are travelling and desire the facility of a religious room should have easy access to one. This is completely benign. But the police are different in very important ways. Firstly, police represent the front line of authority of the state and its institutions which govern us all. Secondly, police have the ability and duty to lawfully deprive people of their liberty. And lastly and most importantly, police have the ability and duty to lawfully use physical or deadly violence on citizens. The police service must not be seen to be favouring or privileging any group – religious or otherwise. As Sir Robert Peel stated, a civilian police must retain the trust and confidence of its citizens. Simply put, the best stance for the WPS is to be officially neutral with respect to religious belief.
I therefore propose the following changes to ensure that the Winnipeg Police Service becomes a truly secular agency. One that serves the increasingly multi-ethnic, multi-religious people of our city without any actual or perceived religious favouritism or privilege.
- The chapel should be cancelled immediately.
- No religious facilities should be installed in any police building. This does not prohibit any memorial to fallen officers consistent with the values of a completely secular service.
- No WPS facility, uniform, equipment or logos should be used by any religious organisation for any of their activities or advertisements.
- The blatant proselytization of any religious belief, while on duty and/or within a police facility or vehicle, to employees, civilians, or persons in custody, must be prohibited.
- No religious literature of any kind may be offered or supplied, while on duty or within a WPS facility or vehicle, by employees to other WPS employees or to any other persons.
- No religious literature of any kind may be offered or supplied by the WPS to any employees with the exception of approved information used in official cross-cultural training programs.
- All official WPS functions, ceremonies, graduations, etc., must be entirely secular.
- Only facilities that are not of a religious nature or purpose may be rented or used for any functions of the WPS.
- The position of Police Chaplain should be eliminated, and matters of religious faith and spirituality should be left up to the individual.
- The WPS should announce these changes and its secular commitment to the general public.
- The City of Winnipeg Act and the WPS Rules and Regulations should be amended to codify the above changes.
Nothing prevents individual employees from carrying personal copies of religious texts while working, praying in a non-disruptive manner, or forming off-duty groups of like-minded people. Accommodations have been made for changes to the police uniform for practicing Sikhs. This is reasonable, but even these types of religious accommodations have the potential for problems arising out of historic conflicts. No doubt, other challenging and controversial situations will arise that will make future accommodations more problematic. But in these cases it is individual religious rights, not organisational rights, that are considered and addressed. The Winnipeg Police Service itself has no religious rights; it has only duties and responsibilities. Its duty and responsibility regarding religious faith and spirituality is to be neutral. Its duty and responsibility to the health and wellness of its officers is already met by its current employee assistance program. The religious beliefs of employees and the public need only be individually respected. The furtherance or alteration of these beliefs are private matters which are best left to the individual. Nothing suggested here prevents the WPS from meeting with community religious or non-religious groups as part of its overall duties to serve the entire community.
Sergeant Labossiere says the WPS follows the lead of many agencies in North America. Follows? Why not lead? The Winnipeg Police Service should become the leader in establishing and maintaining a completely impartial and secular service organization.
– Bob Russell
- Our Atheist Bible Study wraps up
- We Stand With Planned Parenthood
- Reactions to the Refugee Crisis
- and more…
- Our Charity of the Month program goes international
- Hospital chaplains
- Outreach report from a bible belt school
- Member reaction to our meeting about Aboriginal issues
- and more…
Addendum: For more on hospital chaplains and an update on the article in this newsletter, see Privacy Issues in Spiritual Care.
- We welcome Niigaan Sinclair to our next meeting to discuss aboriginal issues and concerns
- Photos of River City Reasonfest
- What do lard and warm socks have in common? Our Charity of the Month needs both items
- HAAM welcomes the Centre for Inquiry to Manitoba
- The niqab – yes or no? One of our members weighs in
In August we were busy with our big annual Outreach event. Read all about it, as well as the final preparations and latest updates on Reasonfest!
In this issue:
- We’re gearing up for our Summer Outreach in Morden and River City Reasonfest in September
- An apologist responds to Dr Arthur Schafer’s speech about the ethics of religion, and HAAM provides a rebuttal
- Updates on Outreach and Religion in Schools
- and more…
- HAAM members display their Pride and celebrate the Summer Solstice – lots of photos!
- We will begin reading the New Testament and get together to discuss the historicity of Jesus
- Was Hitler an atheist?
- and more news and updates
- Updates on the stories we’ve been following on religion in our public institutions,
- Details about all our upcoming events (including speakers who will be appearing at our River City Reasonfest conference in September), and
- A link to view the presentation on the Ethics of Religion if you missed it at our May meeting.
April can bring daffodils or blizzards and just about everything in between! But don`t miss out on the latest news. In this month`s newsletter we get details on our April meeting, learn about a call to action here in Winnipeg regarding the Child Evangelism Fellowship in local schools, and learn which book we`re recommending this month.
We’re busier than a hive of bees this March. We’re got a book club, our regular monthly meeting, and a secular parenting group meeting.
So, don’t miss out on a single word!
We’re busy – you’re busy. We’re cold – you’re cold. But it’s Winnipeg and we’re used to the winter weather, right? Find out what’s happening with the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba by reading our latest newsletter. Cheers!
As we finish celebrating one solstice, we look forward to the next (which will be nice and warm, just like in the picture of the Duck Pond in Winnipeg)
The newsletter may be a trifle late, but the year started right on time! If 2015 is anything like 2014 was, we’re in for a busy year! So get reading….
Get up to date with all the HAAM comings and goings…
Click and read!