October 31, 2007 | David F. Coppedge

When Bad Religion Confronts Good Science, and Vice Versa

A spooky Halloween thought: there are still witch doctors in the world today.  If they were harmless spooks, they could be dismissed as kooks, but they can have a devastating impact on the ecology as well as the souls of men.  National Geographic had a disturbing story this month about the witch doctors of Uganda, who are driving the beautiful gray-crowned cranes of the country extinct, because of superstitious beliefs.
    These birds with golden headdresses, also known as crested cranes, are among the most beautiful in Africa.  They are popular and beloved icons for most people in the region.

In the past decade, though, the crane population in Uganda has fallen from 50,000 to 20,000, primarily due to witch doctors—also known as traditional healers—who use the animals in folk medicine and poachers who take the birds from their natural habitat….
    The healers crush the eggs with herbs to sell as a “love potion.”  Feathers, claws, and beaks of the cranes are also used in drinks and as decorations for promoting monogamy and affection.
    The crane is also perceived as a good omen that can cast away evil spirits from children.

Because the cranes mate for life, village people think that by consuming the birds’ eggs and feathers, they too will have better relationships.  A team of researchers found 40 dead cranes in the shrines of witch doctors.  Because the birds are treated cruelly in capture and transport, poachers often have to catch 4 or 5 for every one that actually makes it to the black market.
    For a study in contrasts, when the good-guy/bad-guy roles are reversed, consider what is happening in schools and universities across America.  The website for the upcoming movie Expelled (see 08/22/2007 and 10/25/2007) is holding a contest for true stories from students, professors and scientists who have been ostracized, fired, denied tenure, or otherwise expelled simply for doubting the reigning paradigm of Darwinian evolution.  In just a few days, the site at Expelled has collected 16 stories.  These include teachers and senior research scientists with impressive academic research records.  The movie itself will detail many of the notable cases.  It is expected that many will refrain from telling their stories, though, for fear of retribution.

If you are appalled at both cases, good.  You have not bought into the white science vs. black religion dichotomy, which has been roundly debunked by most historians of science, such as Lawrence M. Principe (Johns Hopkins; see Teaching Company lecture series).  It means you are wise to the either-or fallacy.  It also means that you assume Judeo-Christian morality as a precondition of judging right from wrong.
    Clearly there is plenty of good and bad in both science and religion.  If we can judge between good and bad science, as does James Randi, the skeptics societies and the Ig Nobel Prize judges, we should also be able to judge good and bad religion.  If it is wrong to judge science based on bad examples, it is wrong to judge all religion because of witch doctors who drive beautiful birds extinct based on foolish superstitions.  A little more reflection will reveal that science and religion are not watertight compartments but have many aspects that overlap and reinforce one another.
    If you are an evolutionist, or an atheist, on what basis could you claim that what the witch doctors are doing is bad?  According to Darwinism, primitive peoples and their religious sensations evolved, as did their prey, the cranes.  If the cranes are wiped out by the humans, too bad.  The humans are obviously the fittest.  Evolutionists should actually praise the selfishness of the native people who are trying to improve their reproductive fitness, because selfishness is the ultimate good in Darwinland.  Darwinists believe that even altruism is a byproduct of selfishness.  Decrying the birds’ fate only makes sense if humans have souls, who have an innate sense of true moral categories that should make us care about such things.
    On a scatter plot of case studies in science and religion, we should expect to find clusters of good religion and good science, bad religion and bad science, good religion and bad science, and good science and bad religion.  We can make these judgments only if we presuppose a righteous Creator.  Because Christians and Jews believe in a holy, personal God who called all things He made good, and created man in His image, they alone have a foundation for making sound moral judgments based on God’s holy standard.
    So, Darwin Dogmatists, ease up on your fellow academics who disagree with the reigning paradigm, and hear them out.  Stop judging them until you can define and defend your moral categories, and consistently judge your own actions and beliefs accordingly (including the integrity of science).  This means you will have to acknowledge Judeo-Christian moral standards at the outset.  If not, please explain where your moral categories come from, and why anyone else should feel the way you do.
    Then, let the good scientists and good Jews and Christians join the fight to save the endangered creatures God has put under our stewardship.  Suggested method: win the Ugandans to Christianity, so that they have a basis for sound moral judgment and appreciation for creation.  Then educate them in science and ecology so they will know how best to care for their fellow created things.  Educate them in logic and Bible doctrine so that they will not fall for superstitious myths (II Timothy 2:23-25, Ephesians 4:14-15).  This will heal a fallen society from within so that the population will have an internal motivation to do good, without the need for police and government regulations.
    Halloween is also Reformation Day.  The Protestant Reformation was not just a theological quibble over doctrine.  It was a call to freedom of conscience for each individual to respond to his or her Creator in faith, love and reason – to have personal access to the Word of God in their own language.  Many historians have attributed the rise of science, political liberty, the end of tyranny and slavery, and a plethora of new social institutions based on personal responsibility to that fateful day on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther, in a one-man crusade of righteous indignation at a moral evil he witnessed (his people enslaved by a foolish superstition), nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenburg.
    The story is complex, and Luther was far from a perfect man; he also was indebted to brave predecessors such as Jon Hus and John Wycliffe.  Luther’s crusade bore good fruit because he studied God’s word intently, using his God-given reason, instead of acquiescing to the doctrines of mere men, and had the courage and opportunity to open this door of freedom to others.  One of his passions was to get the Word of God into the common language so that individuals could study it for themselves.  Western civilization has benefited immensely since.  (For a summary of the benefits, see this Reformation Society article).  The ending of the movie Martin Luther says, “Luther’s influence extended into economics, politics, education and music, and his translation of the Bible became a foundation stone of the German language.  Today over 540 million people worship in churches inspired by his Reformation.”
    Is this not morally superior to the Halloween haunts of witch doctors who enslave poor people in dark superstitions?  Let’s give the captive people of tribal villages the same opportunity.  Jesus Christ can turn the heart of darkness to everlasting light (I John 1).  When that light illuminates both science and religion, the fusion of good religion and good science is a recipe for whooping cranes and joyful people.


Exercise:  List leaders in various fields who were products of the Reformation, along with the benefits they brought to humanity.  Examples: J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel (music), William Wilberforce (human rights), Johannes Kepler (astronomy), John Milton (literature), Adam Smith (free market economics), John Adams (political liberty).  Suggested reference: How Christianity Changed the World by Alvin J. Schmidt.


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