As the fire alarm beeps persistently through the night, I am trying to ignore it by watching Richard Dawkins’ documentary version of The God Delusion. It might have become my thing for the past few months — thinking about religious extremism and watching documentaries about it. Currently, I am hung up on the oxymoron of creation science, and the possibility of one opposing evolution.
In an age of so-called reason and tolerance, flocks of men gather on street corners preaching through a megaphone, wanting to save each and every one of our sinful souls, and well-dressed ladies knock on our doors on Sunday mornings, confidently handing out pamphlets of truth, asking for our commitment and donation to their churches. I can’t help but feel that, if an atheist were to start yelling on a crowded street corner, or if he or she were to start going to people’s houses on weekends, interrupting their private lives, promoting science and reason, pointing out that faith is actually a “process of non-thinking,” and that religion is the ultimate “root of all evil,” and by adhering to its doctrines, all believers are contributing to the spread of “murderous intolerance,” that atheist would receive violent opposition, the kind that religious extremists don’t face.
In a recent conversation with a friend who is quite religious, I was struck by the ignorance that accompanied her faith. This friend is a doctoral student in biology at a top research university, and does not believe in the evolutionary theory. When asked whether she thinks God might have created a universe based on an evolutionary system, an argument that is discussed frequently among different sects of Christianity, she claims never to have heard of such an argument before. After she takes a minute to think – and no more than a minute does she take – she decides that it cannot be, for the Bible says that God created Earth in 6 days. What about dinosaurs I say, what about them she says. Well, we know that they lived long before humans even existed I say, how do we know that she says, carbon dating I say, oh, she says, I don’t know. As we talk of evolution, she says she doesn’t believe that we come from monkeys, I mention the word primate, she repeats it: right, she says, primape. She suggests that I should look at the website of a creation scientist researcher, Dr. Kent Hovind. I look him up, and Dr. Kent Hovind is a joke. He has his doctoral degree from a non-accredited Patriot Bible University in Del Norte, Colorado. His website, Creation Science Evangelism: Creation, Evolution, Dinosaurs, The Bible, contains videos that I thought I would watch not to be one-sided. Unfortunately, one cannot watch Dr. Dino’s (and yes, that’s what he seems to call himself) educational videos without paying for them (although I must cut him some slack on this, for how else will he afford to pay off his legal charges?).
What astounds me the most, however, is that a person in a competitive PhD program, where everything is about being critical and analytical, about curiosity and skepticism, and questioning before accepting, can strictly hold on to what is written in a book with a questionable author, unable to see just a little bit outside of the small box of repression she has placed herself in. For she, as a biology major, changes the channel when a woman in a sitcom mentions her own breasts to her husband in a non-seductive manner. How can this friend become a scientist, while religion necessitates belief without questioning?
As we talk about these over beer and pizza with another friend, we realize that it had never even occurred to us that one could not-believe in the evolutionary theory. For me, it was never something one would or wouldn’t believe in. As I grew up, evolution was fact, and Darwin was a genius. This got us to thinking, are we no different than religious extremists? Are we scientific extremists? As believers look down on us sinners who are yet to be saved, and pray for us in a pitying manner, do we not do something similar? Do we not look down on their ignorance, their ability to believe without questioning, their ability to accept without curiosity? Do we not ‘other’ them as they ‘other’ us?
Right now I don’t have answers to these questions. However, it bothers me to see that, as science advances, the existence of evolutionary theory in school books diminishes. When I google this in Turkish websites, the first result that comes up is Harun Yahya’s website supposedly proving the downfall of the evolutionary theory. But similar things are happening all around, this is not specific to Turkey. It bothers me because religious extremism, as is any type of fundamental extremism, is dangerous and frightening. While individual spiritualism may be benign, systematic religions promote hatred and intolerance towards the different. And ignorance seems to be their strongest tool.