Many books that I fundamentally disagree with pass through my hands at work. This includes books written by crotchety atheists whose mission in life is to destroy the beliefs that make other people happy. (Obligatory disclaimer that I'm not criticizing all atheists.) I've read a couple of them, found them to be mostly garbage, and reviewed one here. And I'm not sure why anyone cares what Richard Dawkins has to say about anything after his assertion that we should clone human flesh and eat it to overcome our "irrational" taboo against cannibalism. But hey, free speech. Usually I don't give these books a second thought. But the other day I saw one that made me pause. I don't remember or care about the title, but it was subtitled "How Science Disproves God". And I got a little angry, because it drives me crazy when people's confidence is inversely proportional to their intelligence. Disagreement is one thing, but stupidity really rubs me the wrong way.
Once again: science cannot disprove God. Science cannot prove God. An omniscient supernatural entity who controls anything is by definition impossible to test or falsify. (Faith, in order to not be blind, should be founded on spiritual evidence, analogous to how science works but with the crucial difference that this evidence comes to each person individually and cannot be evaluated by anyone else.) Science and religion/spirituality cover entirely different areas of knowledge, and as such are not in competition except in the puerile minds of a few simpletons in both camps. I will keep saying this until I die or everyone gets it into their thick skulls. So, until I die. (Of course there are some religious beliefs that inappropriately tread into science's realm and make easily disprovable claims about the physical world, e.g. that Earth is 6000 years old and humans are not related to any other animal. This kind of "fundamentalist" thinking, which mostly dates back to the early twentieth century and is rejected by the majority of theists worldwide, is perfectly appropriate to negate with science. But God's existence is not.)
One of my favorite professors was James Pitts. Before I met him, I used the lab manual he co-wrote and met his daughter, so I had the impression that he was a very dry and not entirely pleasant individual. But then I had two classes with him. The first, called "Plagues, Pests, and People", made me never want to touch anything, eat anything, or breathe again. But I can't say it wasn't interesting. And one day I missed class because I went to DI to buy a picture of Jesus. Long story. And I missed a take-home test, and he wanted to know why I hadn't turned it in, and I said I had missed it, and he brought me to his office after class, brought me past the line of students outside, and gave me a copy because he said something about how its point was to test my knowledge rather than meet a deadline, or something. And I must have said something about liking dinosaurs because he pointed out his dinosaur books and said I was welcome to borrow them or come talk to him about dinosaurs sometime, and I would have liked to but because of my social anxiety I never did.
The second class, "Darwin's Big Idea" or something to that effect, was more pleasant. In this class we read "On the Origin of Species", which most scientists and non-scientists alike have never bothered to do, and had discussions about how it held up and how evolution was engrained into our culture. The book holds up incredibly well. A few pieces are missing, like the mechanism behind species diversity that we now know as genetic mutations. And a few things are incorrect, like whatever convoluted explanation he came up with for whatever we now explain with plate tectonics; I don't remember the details. But by today's standards most of the book's contents is common sense that not even the most ardent creationist would dispute. It's hard to imagine there was a time when this information was revolutionary. Like, people literally didn't remember that they had bred all their different varieties of sheep from one ancestral species. I guess someone forgot to write that down. They must have felt sheepish. Speaking of writing, I wrote this essay for that class. It's about dinosaurs.
Dr. Pitts had this amazing breadth and depth of knowledge that enabled him to go off on tangents about any topic we could think of. He lamented his proclivity to go off on so many tangents, but we assured him that we were learning more this way. He also showed a great deal of sensitivity. Near the beginning of the class he stressed out that while the Bible couldn't be used as a science book, that didn't mean it wasn't good or useful at all. In contrast, there was this one kid who was clearly an atheist and thought that our evolution class was anti-religion by default, and occasionally Dr. Pitts would have to kind of subtly reel him in without making a scene. It was beautiful. On Halloween, of all days, he was spring cleaning and gave each of us a book to keep. I got "The Panda's Thumb" by Stephen Jay Gould. It's a fascinating collection of essays on evolution, and perhaps most interestingly it explains the origin of words like "idiot" and "moron" that, sadly, were once scientific classifications of intelligence.
I learned many things that the lab manual never told me. Dr. Pitts was an Army veteran from the south, Tennessee if I recall correctly, with a dry sense of humor. On the day Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev was shot by police, Dr. Pitts came in to class and drawled, "Did you hear they got one of the bombers? They got him the way I wanted him to be got." (I agree, and on that note, why on God's green Earth is his brother still alive well over three years after he was sentenced to death? This incompetence nauseates me.) He didn't get too political in class, although once he complained about some obviously Republican legislation to stop giving free school lunches to impoverished children, and I don't think anyone disagreed with him. He built and played his own musical instruments in his spare time. He taught us once in the diseases class, "There was a big kerfuffle a few years ago when the number of gonorrhea cases in Utah doubled. Went from one to two." Bwahaha.
My point, that I've tried to get at in such a roundabout way, is that Dr. James Pitts was as good and smart a scientist as they come (I mean, he probably still is, but I haven't seen him in years), but he was also a normal person who had a normal personality and interests without deifying science and trying to make everything fit through that lens. I'm quite certain he doesn't wait for science to tell him that his jokes are valid or that it's okay for him to play instruments. He appreciates it as much as anyone, but he doesn't pretend the universe revolves around it and nothing else matters. He really humanized scientists for me and gave me hope that most of them are nothing like the idiots on the internet who try to put down religious believers by flaunting their own worship of science. I don't know or care if he believes in God himself, but his respectful and balanced approach was a breath of fresh air. We need more James Pittses in the world and fewer Richard Dawkinses.