President Barak Obama has wisely suggested that it is time to take the heat out of the debate over abortion, and that people on both sides of the aisle (pro-life vs. pro-choice) need to stop demonizing each other and try to find some common ground that they can agree upon. Obama’s counsel might also be applied to the debate over “where we come from”.
Public debate is usually driven by the more strident supporters of both sides of an issue; this is especially true in the debate over the theory of evolution vs. creationism (or intelligent design). The result is that both sides come off badly. Creationists who see evolutionists as godless heathens, need to stop it. Evolutionists who think that all creationists are nutcases who believe that the earth was created by God literally in six days (after which he took a breather) need to quit it too.
The scientific community must regain their devout temper and agree that no subject nor discussion is ever off the table. They should also discontinue the practice of behaving like theories (no matter the alleged supporting evidence) are indisputable facts. Only facts are facts. Fully open minds, reasoned debate, and a spirit of inquiry should rule the roost. At the same time, it should be remembered, as Carl Jung once said, that science is but one tool to acquiring knowledge, it is not the only tool.
To achieve common ground today’s scientists might take the counsel of Alexander von Humboldt, a German naturalist who was among in the earliest explorers to adopt the modern scientific view. In his 5 volume master-work Kosmos (1845), Humboldt writes:
The thoughtful scientist’s most important achievement is this: to recognize the unity in diversity, to comprehend all that the discoveries of recent times tell us about the individual, to sift and scrutinize details without succumbing beneath their weight, and, mindful of humankind’s high destiny, to perceive the Spirit of Nature, which lies beneath a covering of external phenomenon. In this way, our endeavors will reach beyond the narrow confines of the external world and we shall succeed in mastering the raw material of empirical observation, as it were, by ideas.
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In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s parable of The Grand Inquisitor, Jesus reappears on Earth during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. Although the crowds adore him, he is promptly thrown in prison and sentenced to death. While in his cell, Jesus is visited by the Grand Inquisitor who says that he must kill him, even though he knows that he is truly Jesus Christ. The Inquisitor defends Jesus’s death sentence because:
Instead of giving a firm foundation for setting the conscience of people at rest for ever, you chose all that is exceptional, vague and enigmatic; you chose what was utterly beyond the strength of others, acting as though you did not love them at all; you who came to give your life for them! Instead of taking possession of people’s freedom, you increased it, and burdened the spiritual kingdom of mankind with its sufferings for ever.
The Inquisitor says that the Church, by giving people strict rules and telling them exactly what to believe in, is saving them from suffering the burden of making choices and doing them a greater service than Jesus ever did.
Instead of debating with the Inquisitor, Jesus remains silent and at the end simply kisses the old man on his “bloodless” lips. Shocked, the Inquisitor releases him from the cell and sends him away, telling him never to come back into the world.
That Jesus chooses not to argue or debate with the Inquisitor is perhaps the most important part of this parable. In the Gospels, Jesus is conspicuous for never getting into tit-for-tat theological debates or arguments. Instead, he simply speaks his mind when confronted with hypocrisy1 and answers the questions asked of him by his disciples, the scribes, and others.2
Why was Jesus against arguing? Because he realized that the “winner” of an argument is a momentary champion. When it comes to personal beliefs, lasting changes of heart never come not from persuasive rhetoric. They only arise from inner awakenings.
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To read about M. Scott Peck, Buddha, and The Road Less Traveled, please go to: Life is NOT Difficult.
- “Hypocrites! It was well said by Isaiah when he prophesied about you: ‘This is a people that honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far removed from me; But vainly do they worship me, for they teach but the precepts of men.’” Matt 15:7-9 [↩]
- “Teacher, are we right in paying tribute to Caesar or not?” Seeing through their deceitfulness, Jesus said to them: “Show me a coin. Whose head and title are on it?” “The Emperor’s,” they said; and Jesus replied: “Well then, pay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” Luke 20:21-25 [↩]