Secularization Politics and Science

In general, the conclusion of sociologists that secularization has not substituted for religion is completely correct in our view. In their book Acts of Faith Stark and Finke, for example, devote an entire chapter to "Secularization RIP.''27 If we stick to a definition of religion as "organization'' and measure it by attendance or membership, this may not be so. In the National Opinion Survey of religion, the fastest growth is "no religion.'' Further, the category "no religion'' is growing fastest among the young in the United States. However, when "religion" includes other measures of spirituality, we would argue that religion is simply taking other forms, which would ostensibly support the views of Stark and Finke. For their part, Roman Catholic social scientists (and apologists) see no problem reconciling "progress" with Roman Catholic teachings,28 suggesting that doctrinally Catholic thinkers are supportive of growth.

But when the demand and supply for the thousands of forms of religion and the definition of religion are considered, one could go even further. Surveys showing that natural scientists do not have vastly different church attendance rates than the general population (although those of social scientists are lower) appear to provide some evidence that scientists are not enemies of religion. The development of science in the area of embryonic stem cell research, condemned by the Roman Catholic Church and by particular polities (the United States), will probably not have much of an effect on belief in God, spirituality, or an afterlife. The religious condemnation of these potential but possibly major scientific advances hinges almost entirely on pre-scientific notions of natural law and definitions of "life." In this, Thomas Aquinas, who adapted the tele-ological natural law view of Aristotle to Christian theology, casts a long if weakening shadow. In Christian terms, this animistic view asserts that "life" is the "purpose" and "end" of existence. Thus, all life is sacred and must be protected no matter the circumstance. Birth control hinders the "natural" end of sex, life begins when cells meet (no abortion) and cannot be ended "unnaturally" (as in capital punishment or euthanasia). There is no room for interpretation or compromise here, but this view is becoming increasingly irrelevant in view of scientific advances calling it into question.

Few issues in the realm of pure science have garnered more attention than the theory of evolution. Darwinian evolution, the foundation of modern biology, is at the root of the debate. A biology of natural selection with a common ancestor and random changes are at the heart of most accounts of evolutionary theory. This gargantuan breakthrough in science was accompanied by the discovery of DNA and the biochemical "book of life." The neo-Enlightenment support in theory and evidence for Darwinian principles has never been accepted by the evangelical Christian Right. They have fought tooth and nail—from the Scopes trial to contemporary attempts to suppress the teaching of evolution in U.S. schools—to maintain a particular and literal interpretation of Biblical creation (some providing an exact date using the Gregorian calendar).

A debate, largely self-constructed by evangelical groups in the United States, has centered around new Bible-based theories involving "intelligent design"—the idea that some unseen mover has guided evolution.

These Christians believe that this view challenges scientifically accepted versions of Darwinism. In intelligent design, some kind of divine interve-nor is necessary to explain the complex skein of life on earth and its development. This theory has been viewed as a more sophisticated Christian response to evolutionary science than biblical creationism.

Other contemporary developments make the issue even more serpentine. The Roman Catholic Church, which always had been claiming that Darwinian evolution was not incompatible with Christian faith, has now sought to redefine its teachings. Although Pope John Paul II stated in a 1996 address that the scientific argument and evidence for evolution was growing stronger and that the scientific revolution was God-given, the election of Benedict XVI in 2005 casts doubt on the Church's position. Christoph Schonborn, Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, has sought to set up an antithesis between what he calls theories of a "neo-Darwinian provenance which explicitly deny to divine providence any truly causal role in the development of life in the universe.''29 He cites ''overwhelming evidence for purpose and design found in modern science.'' There is no such ''evidence,'' however, unless one invents it. In other words, science has nothing to say one way or the other about whether natural selection or random DNA changes are divinely inspired. They are such only if one believes they are. Creationists, who argue that Darwinian evolution is ''only a theory,'' which may only be taught alongside biblical creation or intelligent design scenarios, simply hope to dismantle science and its methods. There is a fundamental area of conflict between Christians who argue that reason and science are compatible with faith and those who would use every tool—political tools are currently in favor—to suppress science and its methods as "anti-Christian." The creationists were dealt a severe blow in December 2005 by a federal judge's ruling declaring that the teaching of intelligent design in the public schools of Dover, Pennsylvania, was unconstitutional. The ruling, while not binding in other jurisdictions, has served as a warning in other bastions of creationist thought (such as in Ohio and Utah). The religiously inspired "culture wars'' in the United States continue, however, and evolution is only one area of conflict.

Theologians and certainly scientists differ greatly on the issue of when life begins, which has been a lightening rod for Roman Catholic and fundamentalist-conservative churches in the United States. Success of stem cell research to cure human maladies such as Parkinson's disease, diabetes, and cancer will simply lead to ignoring Church prohibitions on such matters, as has been the case with the science that has given women (and now men) the ability to control reproduction. The ability to clone humans, fast becoming a reality, is yet another amazing feat of science that will find a place in human societies, as will the ability to develop human beings outside the womb. Evolutionists point out that extra-uterine reproduction would only be an extension of human development from one-celled animals, through egg layers, through marsupial reproduction, and through intra-uterine cell developments. There are no reasons, a priori, to believe that such scientific or "secular" advances will make fundamental religious, spiritual, or Christian beliefs obsolete. These developments will not prevent death or the risk and anxiety that accompany it.

Such scientific advances, unstoppable in the long run, have captured the attention of Christian sects around the world, especially in advanced countries, with important short-run political effects. Short-run effects on scientific policies have generated a massive resistance on the part of fundamentalist-conservative Christians in the United States. A few examples will suffice. Opposition to stem cell research wherein human embryonic stem cell lines—which are strings of identical cells—created in test tubes has been vociferous in the United States among Roman Catholics and other fundamentalist sects.30 The uproar by these types of Christians over stem cell research joins that concerning other life issues such as abortion and gay rights. Politicians are naturally divided over these issues, but some Christian sects have attempted to influence the political process, threatening to cross the line between separation of church and state. Over the 1990s electoral cycles, fundamentalist churches (e.g., the Southern Baptist Convention) were warned by the Internal Revenue Service to cease distributing "voter cards," which was considered undue political influence. In the 2004 political race a subgroup of Roman Catholic bishops warned political candidates (and church members) that they would not be able to legitimately receive the sacrament of Holy Communion while supporting abortion, gay rights, or stem cell research. Clearly, the policies associated with religious forms—often derivative of more fundamental church doctrine or dogma—are expressed in the political arena. Tax exempt status may be endangered, however, when lines between political advocacy and "preaching Christianity" are crossed.

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