A Choice: Skepticism or Dogma?

A news item today presents a useful example of the difference between science and religion, something that continues to confuse many people. The announcement, confirming that the oldest fragment of the early Earth is 4.4 billion years old, is based on a new study in the journal Nature Geoscience, appeared in various media including NPR, Sky News, and even Fox News. (Yes, really.)

The study is based on new techniques for measuring the radioactive decay of uranium isotopes in zircon minerals and in accounting for the various geological processes affecting the samples in that vast time span. But what may be most interesting in the account is not the age itself but rather the process of the investigation as it seeks to answer past criticisms of techniques. What comes through clearly is that science is a self-correcting process in which data are openly discussed in a skeptical forum of educated specialists. This is much different from religion because that is based on dogma, something that is meant to be defended and for which skepticism is heresy.

This example is, I submit, a particularly worthy one because it just happens to have as its subject something that many fundamentalists dispute: the age of the Earth. I have to wonder how Fox News viewers/readers avoid cognitive dissonance on this one? I found it interesting too, even amusing, to compare the news accounts on NPR with that on Fox News. If you read them, you’ll see what I mean. They are aware of their readerships.

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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7 Responses to A Choice: Skepticism or Dogma?

  1. PiedType says:

    You’re right, it’s Interesting to compare the two reports, NPR vs. Fox. Can’t let a good science story go by without throwing the doubters some red meat.


  2. Jim,

    Interesting contrast. But I’m not sure it’s dogma that’s the conflict here. I believe the Roman Catholic Church is the oldest form of Christianity and certainly has largest number of adherents. And over the years a number of Catholic clergy have made a number of scientific discoveries and other contributions to science. Even the Great See has acknowledged the Big Bang theory and does not believe it to be a conflict with their religion.

    Likewise, I think most mainstream Protestants are probably OK with this new dating technique. So, that leaves the hardcore fundamentalists/evangelicals who would play the dogma card here. This is the crowd that thinks the bible is inerrant and that the earth is 6,000 years old, give or take a week. Besides, these folks will most likely change the channel or turn off the sound when the word “science” is mentioned.

    Yes, FOX introduced some doubt. They know their audience. But they did not denounce the new discovery outright.

    So, my thinking is that perhaps the more appropriate word here is “denial,” not “dogma.” But that is a very minor point to your point in this most interesting post.



    • Jim Wheeler says:

      The dogma I had in mind here, Herb, is simply that of inerrancy, something that Duane pointed out in a recent post as being of foremost priority in the religious dogma of most Christians. I was aware that the Catholic Church has embraced much of science, even evolution, but that makes it all the more peculiar to me how they can also embrace the inerrancy of the bible. But they do. On the Wikipedia page on Biblical inerrancy it says:

      Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Providentissimus Deus … reaffirmed the decisions of the Council of Trent and emphasized that the Bible in all its parts was inspired and that a stated fact must be accepted as falling under inspiration, down to the most insignificant item; that is, the whole Bible is the Word of God.[10]

      This was also confirmed by the Second Vatican Council. So, as I see it, what many religious people do is accept the dogma of inerrancy and science at the same time. But this is a minor quibble. Your word, “denial” is good because if people were to view these matters skeptically, the inerrancy question immediately becomes an absurdity.

      I appreciate your comments, Herb.


      • Jim,

        I agree with your last paragraph — what we have here is a combination of the Reductio ad absurdum fallacy and the law of non-contradiction. That is, evangelicals can’t make a meaningful argument when they start with a provably absurd premise — bible inerrancy.

        Likewise, they can’t believe in creationism/miracles and science at the same time. Come to think of it, dogma and denial may be the wrong terms here. Hypocrite comes to mind as does ignoramus, irrational, stupid, ridiculously incongruous and foolish. You can probably add to that list.

        The tragedy, of course, is that the evangelical worldview is beginning to dominate the political landscape. Who knows, it may be Ted Nugent running for president in 2016. He’d probably have a good change at winning. Think about that tonight as you try to go to sleep.



  3. Interesting, Jim, not just the article, which I had not seen, but also the juxtoposiiton in my “blogs I follow” on Word Press.

    I had just finished reading a blog by Quakerattled about a sefl-described clmate-change denier at Univ. of Alabama (Roy Spencer) who .has a Ph.D. in Meteorology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is a senior fellow of the Cornwall Alliance.

    And from your story about the age of the zircon, “…nothing in science goes without being questioned. It always has to be proven,” says , a geochemist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

    Your point about science being a self-correcting process is a point that is often missed, I think, at least by many of the religious readers of our local paper. Every so often we get a Letter to the Editor complaining that scientists keep changing their story, whereas the Bible never does. I always want to calmly ask, When new evidence comes in, would you rather they refuse to take it into account?


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Exactly, Helen.

      Coincidentally, there was a letter to the editor in our paper a few days ago by a woman defending the inerrancy of the Bible and one of the pieces of evidence she offered for the coexistence of humans and dinosaurs was the (admittedly mythical) tale of St. George and the Dragon. Kinda hard to argue with logic like that, eh?


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