Thursday, October 7, 2010

At War with the Cosmos

The fundamental assumption of science is that the cosmos can be understood, and that it operates by consistent laws and principles. While this is an assumption that may be embraced by religion as well, I am not convinced that evangelical Christianity does so. Mainline denominations, and liberal groups such as the Quakers, appear to do so, but not the big, powerful, and loud fundamentalist groups that dominate the religious scene in America today.

Jesus told his disciples, “The world will hate you.” I always assumed, back in my fundamentalist days, that this meant that people who love to sin will hate those who tell them not to, or even imply by their moral lives that sinning is wrong. But this is not what the Biblical statement says. The “world” in that statement is kosmos. That is, the physical world that science studies. The implication (or so it was suggested by A. N. Wilson in his biography of Jesus) is that it is wrong, from the Christian viewpoint, to want to make sense of what happens in the world. The world, including the planets and plants, is the kosmos that is hostile to Christians. Jesus also said, to Doubting Thomas, blessed is he who does not see yet still believes. As Richard Dawkins points out, to evangelical Christians, the dissonance between facts and faith is itself accepted as confirmation of the faith.

I suppose this also means that truly religious people should reject Occam’s Razor. A complex creationist explanation full of invented stories (e.g., God moved the fossils around during the Flood to make them get buried in an evolutionary order, and God stuck thousands of pseudogenes into noncoding DNA to make it look like organisms had evolutionary ancestors) are just as good as the simplest and most straightforward explanations: that the fossils have an evolutionary order because they evolved over time, and that pseudogenes were genes used by real, living, evolutionary ancestors.

Christian scientific organizations such as the American Scientific Affiliation and the John Templeton Foundation will strongly object to this interpretation. Good for them, and they deserve our admiration for it. But this observation might make it easier to understand why so many religious people seem to live in a world devoid of reality when it comes to scientific, political, and cultural ideas. Get rid of that kosmos; the truth consists of whatever ideas pop up in my brain, because God must have planted them there.

Reminder to American readers: Remember to vote Democratic, which is the milder and less dangerous choice. Democrats, however imperfect they are, are more likely to get their facts from the kosmos.

Reminder: Send a link to this blog to your friends and professional associates.


  1. "Kosmos" has a much wider range of meanings than just the physical world in classical and Koine Greek, just as "world" does in English. You are making a large piece of cloth out of a very little thread.

    It can mean, "the order of the world" or "the rulers" or "men in general" or "the known world" or "the temporal world" or "the heavens (the firmament") and so on. Check out the LIddell and Scott definitions at Perseus.

  2. Thank you for your comment. You are quite correct. Kosmos includes the world studied by science, as well as many other things. I suspect the Biblical author had all of these things in mind, but cannot know. Thanks for reading.