Last week, Kyle Welch addressed the importance of displaying respect toward people of different religious views than yourself in his article “Just because you don’t believe it, doesn’t meant it isn’t worth your respect.” While I agree with his assertion that tolerance is a key component to a peaceful society, I have a few points of contention with his arguments.
Welch criticized the notion that religious people are less intelligent than atheists, calling it “cultural imperialism.” And certainly it’s not the case that people of religion are necessarily intellectually inferior to people without religious affiliation. I happen to know a number of very intelligent people who practice religion. But in the case of the creationism debate featuring Bill Nye and Ken Ham that Welch mentioned, it’s not the mere affiliation with a religion that is at the forefront of the debate. There are clearly both harmless and positive aspects of organized religion, such as the sense of community and comfort that it tends to promote — whether or not these outcomes can be produced equally or more effectively outside the realm of religion is a different discussion. But this is not what’s being criticized.
The problem with religion that the debate exposed is the complete and utter denial of fact. And more specifically, the problem with this is less about anyone’s personal convictions than it is about the teaching of religion as fact to generation after generation.
If you’ve lived in New York your whole life, chances are that you’ve never run into a high school biology teacher teaching creationism, but even in the United States this kind of practice is not extinct. Efforts to correct these schools in eliminating religion from the classroom is not equatable to the Western colonialism waged on Africa. In fact, it’s precisely the instability and religious intolerance that Welch acknowledges that fuels atheists’ arguments about the harmfulness of organized religion.
Welch says, “None of us saw the creation of the universe or the birth of life,” to make the point that no one has all the answers. But then he states, “We cannot completely accept science.” I don’t think anyone is “completely [accepting] science” because science is not something to be completely accepted at all. Equating a science book and a holy book as two separate established schools of thought is misleading because religious books are set in stone, while science books are not. In the absence of a supernatural event, there is nothing that is going to change the Bible. Science, on the other hand, is ever-changing, and the very point of teaching it in the first place is the hope of new discovery and change.
To clarify any misconceptions about Welch’s article, he is not advocating for the teaching of creationism in the classroom or the denial of evolution. He is criticizing the lack of respect displayed to people with opposing ideas. Of course, tolerance is crucial to stability and progress within any society. I’m certainly not advocating for inferior treatment to believers of any kind. Acknowledging the ideas of others and opening our minds to the possibility of being wrong are indeed the ingredients to enlightenment.
However, that is exactly what science is founded on, and exactly what religion isn’t. And it’s this reason that religion is under the scrutiny of skeptics and truth-seekers.
Editor’s Note: Columnist Kyle Welch’s original column, “Just because you don’t believe it, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth your respect,” can be found here.