Re: A belated addition to the Science/Religion thread

From: Jim Fehlinger (
Date: Sat Mar 17 2001 - 22:42:09 MST

I just wanted to add an illustration to my
previous remarks on this thread.

I airily generalized:
> The persistence of "that old-time religion" in the modern
> world is simply due to some groups of people having
> been insufficently exposed to the web of consilience,
> very largely, I think, due to the unavailability or ineffectiveness
> of education. When young adults jettison, for instance, the
> belief in special creation they've been bought up with in favor
> of the modern secular view of dinosaurs, and Darwin, and the
> 4.5-billion-year-old Earth, it usually happens not because they've
> been bullied into it, but because they're reasonably
> bright to begin with, and they've gone off to college
> and been exposed to the big bad modern web of belief.
> The enormous intellectual appeal of consilience and
> self-consistency gives the modern scientific web of
> belief a tremendous advantage when it comes to colonizing halfway-
> intellgent brains. You don't have to attend Evolutionists
> Anonymous meetings to continue to believe in Darwin.
> It's the smaller, coarser-grained, less-well-knitted webs of
> traditional religious doctrines that require an enormous
> ongoing amount of social support to hold together.

The most vivid account I've read of somebody jettisoning
a religious upbringing and embracing the "modern scientific
web of belief" as a result of having an opportunity to attend
college popped back into my working memory today. This
account was in the 1995 book _All-American Boy: A Memoir_
by M. Scott Peck (the paperback version was subtitled
"Growing Up Gay in God's Country"):

The young author of this book received some notoriety
when his father, an officer in the Marines, testified
before Congress that he did not believe that homosexuals
should be permitted to serve in the armed forces, even
though his own son was gay. A 1995 review of the book
from the _Seattle Times_
( )

"Scott Peck's homosexuality is the least of it. Growing up
in the deep South, he and his mother were caught between the
physical abuse of his stepfather--a horrific drunk who
belt-whipped her on the front lawn--and the spiritual abuse
of her parents, strict Calvinists, who told the boy his mother
wanted him aborted. All the while Scott struggled to hide his
burgeoning homosexuality with the small cloth of Christian
Fundamentalism. He even considered becoming a preacher.

Ironically, the least intriguing aspect of the book is
Scott's 'coming out'. Yeah yeah, another glimpse into gay
lifestyle. Another trip to that bar. Better is the glimpse
Scott Peck gives us of the Christian South. You mean there
are still places in America where charismatics speak in
tongues? Where conversions are attempted with a Bible in one
hand and the other curled into a fist? Where newsletters
are titled _Thank God for AIDS_? How strange! How monumentally

Unfortunately, the copy of the book that was once on my
shelf seems to have succumbed to quantum evaporation, but
to paraphrase from memory, the author describes how
compelling it was for him to listen to college lectures
alluding, for example, to Darwinian evolution and the vast
age of the earth. The other students in these classes listened
in various attitudes of distraction or boredom because,
Mr. Peck explains, they had heard most of it before. But for him,
it was like discovering an entirely new world.

My friend Joe Fineman, on hearing this story, was compelled
to counter that, while he was willing to believe that Peck's
account is typical of the direction in which belief **usually**
changes in such circumstances, he had also heard a story
about a geologist who, after having been professionally
trained to believe that the earth is billions of years old,
had then converted to Christian fundamentalism, adopting
an elaborate explanation of why his former beliefs had been
erroneous. My friend did not remember any of the details
of the social context in which the geologist's conversion
had taken place. :->

Jim F.

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