Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Fundamentalism And The Mistrust Of Technology

My demon-haunted coworker has a problem. Every time I need to look up a biblical reference, I go to the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. For some reason, just because I looked up a quote there, he mistrusts it. He mistrusts it so much that even if I just give him book:chapter:verse references and tell him to look it up himself in his own Bible, he still mistrusts the quote. Just because I looked it up on a computer.

Let me make this clear. I’m not saying that he believes the website is misquoting the Bible. He doesn’t trust any biblical chapter and verse citations I find online simply because I found them online. He doesn’t trust the technology. I don’t know, maybe it’s possessed.

I got to thinking about this because I have another coworker who is computer-phobic to the point that he doesn’t check his work email more than once a month or so. He has someone else type his emails for him, even though he’s a pretty good touch-typist himself. He just doesn’t like anything pixilated. It’s the technology that bothers him, not the processes used to manipulate that technology. I’ve been worrying at it, figuratively speaking, for some time now, trying to figure out why an otherwise sharp guy would have such a problem with digital media. And then it hit me. He doesn’t understand how it works, and that makes him nervous.

This simple little realization then sparked back to demon-boy. He doesn’t trust my online citations because he doesn’t really understand how the SAB works. He has a hard time believing that this simple site that brings up some pretty glaring problems and uncomfortable truths about the Bible is actually using biblical verses. And because it’s not a book in his hands, he’s uncomfortable with the idea that it’s actually an annotated Bible. It’s like the paper version holds some special authority, simply because it’s paper, as if no one could ever misrepresent the Bible in print. There’s something almost holy and sacred about the weight of it in your hands. And I understand that feeling, being a reformed True Believer myself.

As another example, demon-boy thinks that temperature and pressure can affect the half-life of radioactive materials, even though this is patently false. Even if I explain it to him, over and over again, he still clings to the idea that temperature and pressure can change the half-life of carbon-14, and thus throw off the accuracy of radiocarbon dating. His understanding of genetics is similarly flawed. He takes the fact that some traits skip generations to mean that natural selection doesn’t actually occur. His reasoning is that if traits can skip generations, then even if you die, the trait lives on. That’s true, as long as multiple individuals carry the genes for that trait. If you’re the only possessor, however, and you get eaten by a crocodile before having children, then that particular genetic quirk is gone. I can’t explain this to him to save my life, because “that’s not how genes work.”

People like him take things they have learned intuitively and apply them to the world. They also have religious doctrine ingrained at an early age. They are incapable of decoupling either their intuitiveness or their ingrained religious teachings from their intellect, and allowing intellect to work alone. But this isn’t just an issue with my confused and mistrustful coworker. It’s a problem with fundamentalists everywhere. Take my essentially fundy friends, with whom I am sadly at odds at the moment. When I try to talk about science with their ten year old, explaining how the Grand Canyon was formed over thousands and thousands of years, and not the few biblical Flood days he had been taught in Awanas, they balk. And when I explain that the average whale’s throat is the size of a grapefruit and thus couldn’t actually swallow a man, they take exception. Even when I add the caveat that there are a few types of whale that might have been able to do so, they still have problems with it. Why? Because “science isn’t their strong suit.” Heck, they actually asked me to help them teach their ten year old science, since he’s home-schooled. I just thought I’d get a head start. I guess he can’t be taught any science that’s not listed in the “pre-approved Christian Home-schooling Science kit” or whatever other standard they are working from, assuming they have standards to work from.

And that’s the problem. Fundamentalists don’t take the time to learn the science behind the positions they are opposing.

“Abortion is wrong because the soul enters the body at conception, and therefore that’s when life begins.” Well, what about identical twins, who don’t develop separate bodies for several days after conception? “Ummm, I don’t know.”

“There’s no proof of evolution because we’ve never seen it.” Well, what about the ring species in California and other places around the world? “Ummm, I don’t know.”

“Only Christians should celebrate Christmas.” Why? “Because it’s a Christian celebration of the birth of Christ.” Then how do you explain the fact that just about everything to do with Christmas was taken from some other religious tradition, from the giving of gifts to the lighted tree to caroling to the actual date? “Ummm, I don’t know.”

Science and history are irrelevant to the fundamentalist if they refute something he believes. That’s understood. But one of the biggest problems in dealing with fundamentalists is that they don’t even understand the science behind the things they oppose and they don’t understand the history of their own traditions. Knowledge is secondary to feeling, understanding less important than conviction. This is why the myth that there is no proof of evolution is so predominant throughout American Christendom. It’s easier to believe that than it is to pick up a book and learn what the evidence supporting evolution is. It’s easier to think the world is 6,000 years old than it is to learn not only THAT astronomers and astrophysicists have dated the universe to several billion years, but how they’ve done it.

And that’s a serious problem when trying to open ANY kind of dialogue about beliefs and traditions. When you don’t even speak the same language, how do you expect to communicate anything of significance? When you live in different realities, how can you find common ground?


Blogger RazorsKiss said...

I'm a Christian.

I'm a web designer, using 3 computers regularly. I have two graphic designer brothers, who can eat, sleep and breathe Photoshop. I have a church music director mother, who loves her iPod, thrills to have a stable of mac-based audio-manipulation programs, and who had me design a computer-based projection system for the Sunday worship services.

My dad is NASA's resident chief engineer for the Space Shuttle external tank program.

I have two thoroughly secularized friends who hate everything to do with technology. They have never visited a church.

The only technology-averse folks I know are older than 65.

Although both of my grandparents, who are pushing 75, use computers. They have been since they came out, actually.

Our administrative pastor is an ex-network admin for the USAF (ran Keesler AFB's network), and our pastor is an ex-heart surgeon.

Techno-phobic? I think not.

Just for the record - this is in Gulfport, Mississippi, in the heart of what many of your fellows so affectionately call "Jesusland". Redneck central, right?

I dunno. Maybe it's not us living in a different reality :D

I just gave a good dozen contra-examples, from the (arguably) most "Christian" state in the US. Care to respond?

11:31 PM  

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Nor the wind for the moon, to be cool.

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