Charlotte’s Faith Problem

Blog reader Deanna passes along this fantastic op-ed piece by University of North Carolina Charlotte professor David Walters.

He praises the favorable qualities of Charlotte before turning to his biggest problem with it: the rise of religion in community life. And when comparing Charlotte’s faith to that of Walter’s home country of Britain, the differences are even more striking:

This optimism is tempered however by a concern that might seem strange to some readers: I’m worried about the role of religion in American political and community life. Charlotte is no exception, as religion looms large as a topic across many pages of the Observer, to a degree that most people in my country, Great Britain, would find weird or even alarming. This is especially true when basic building blocks of modern science such as evolution are doubted and ridiculed on the news and opinion pages

This erosion of belief in science and rationality is especially troubling for a prosperous region such as ours. American action is vital if we are to defuse the looming crisis of global warming, and Charlotte’s rise as an emerging global city gives us special responsibilities to play a leading role in solving this challenge. But solutions will be impossible without informed debate based on rigorous science.

Our city will need all its smarts in the years ahead; we can’t waste precious time and energy fighting fairy tale creationists who want to turn the clock back to pre-Darwinian days of medieval mysticism, or others who bizarrely believe global warming is some sort of “socialist plot.”

Deanna adds that the “column was in the top right section of the editorial page, a very prominent place to make his opinion known.”

Obviously, any city that embraces mythology over reason, Creationism over evolution, prayer over action, and faith over reality is going to be in trouble when real problems requiring scientific solutions emerge.

It’s not just a Charlotte problem; this goes on everywhere.

At least there are some rational voices in the mix.

Kudos to the editorial board of the Charlotte Observer for placing this piece where it will receive the attention it deserves.


[tags]atheist, atheism, science education[/tags]

  • Arlen

    His problem doesn’t seem to be with religion per se, but with the anti-science stance taken by some people of faith. He would do well not to alienate the vast majority of religious people, those who trust in science and reason, by making his argument about “religion” rather than the real problem: ignorance (intentional or otherwise).

  • http://journals.aol.ca/plittle/AuroraWalkingVacation/ Paul

    I think he suffers from the same error of thinking that many other immigrants do. He remembers his home country as it was when he lived there, and thinks it remains the same today. If he went home now, he’d find a different country from the one he left.

  • Syckls

    I give him two weeks before the bigots run him out of his job.

  • http://atheists.meetup.com/531 Ben

    He would do well not to alienate the vast majority of religious people, those who trust in science and reason

    The portion of religious people who trust in science and reason is NOT a vast majority. Hell, in the U.S., it’s not even a majority.

  • http://www.killerisme.com James

    If you trust in Science and reason and aren’t just giving it lip service then you would not be religious. Religion is the ultimate exercise in overlooking lack of evidence (faith) and believing in the unscientific.

    Christians hate science for good reason, it is diametrically opposed to their beliefs.

  • The Unbrainwashed

    Faith begets irrationality. The anti-science sentiment is simply a result of the honest stance many overtly religious people take.

  • http://hoverFrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    From March 2002 the office on the Prime Minister (http://www.pm.gov.uk/output/page2305.asp)

    ‘CREATIONIST’ SCHOOLS

    Asked whether the Prime Minister believed that creationist theory and evolutionary theory had equal merit, the PMOS pointed to the OFSTED report on Emmanuel City Technology College, which had been produced this year. The report had stated, “The curriculum is well designed. The college achieves very high standards of attendance, behaviour and results. Students make very good progress. Teaching is good. Leadership and management are outstandingly effective in promoting these high standards.” In addition, the 2001 GCSE results for the school showed a very high rate of performance: 96% of pupils achieved five A*-C grades.

    In terms of the school’s approach to teaching science, pupils were taught that the fossil record was evidence of evolution and how variation and selection might lead to evolution or to extinction. They were also taught how scientific controversies could arise from different ways of interpreting empirical evidence. The important point here was that the teaching at the school conformed to the national curriculum. Yes, two points of view were put, but the point was both were put equally. Questioned again about the Prime Minister’s view regarding the merits of the two theories, the PMOS said that in the Prime Minister’s view the school was performing well within the national curriculum and that it was important to recognise diversity.

    Asked if the Prime Minister believed that the earth was only a few thousand years old, the PMOS said he was not aware the Prime Minister had expressed a view on creationism. The point here was that OFSTED was satisfied that standards at the school had been met.

    In answer to questions about faith schools, the PMOS said we had dealt with this issue a number of times in previous briefings. It was important to recognise that all state schools had to observe the national curriculum. Faith schools which were independent did not.

    The official government response to a petition to support faith schools teaching creationism (27 August 2007) is as follows:

    The Government remains committed to a diverse range of schools for parents to choose from, including schools with a religious character or “faith schools” as they are commonly known.

    Faith schools have an excellent record in providing high-quality education and serving disadvantaged communities and are some of the most ethnically and socially diverse in the country.

    Religious Education (RE) encourages respect for those holding different beliefs and helps promote pupils’ moral, cultural and mental development. There is scope for pupils to discuss the origins of the Earth and living things in religious education lessons, including different traditional faith views of how the world began.

    Evolution is a scientific theory. As part of the science curriculum, pupils learn about scientific theories as established bodies of scientific knowledge with extensive supporting evidence, and how evidence can form the basis for experimentation to test hypotheses.

    (http://www.pm.gov.uk/output/Page12950.asp)

    Sadly Great Britain isn’t immune to this creationist (giving is a capital C seems somehow to give it credence) nonsense although I hope that people laugh more openly at it over here.

  • http://lifebeforedeath.blogsome.com Felicia Gilljam

    Nice piece, but I must admit that as I’d never heard of Charlotte before, it was very confusing. Who is this Charlotte and what does it matter to us if she has a faith problem? Next time maybe a short introduction to the subject for the benefit of international readers might be in place. ;)

  • LeAnn

    I have read this blog with great interest since purchasing your book. I have commented very sparingly but have enjoyed reading the posts and comments of all. As a person of faith and someone who lived quite near Charlotte, NC when I was going to college, I found this article different from what I was used to seeing in Charlotte news programs and newspapers. I went to a very small, religious university outside of Charlotte. However, my university had many people with science majors such as biology, chemistry, etc. The school has just recently opened a pharmacy school as well. I find it interesting that the author finds people in Charlotte to be closed minded to the ideas of science and the evidence that science provides to answer questions that we (humans) are grappling with. I did not find this to be the case at all. The people that I conversed with were very open to both science and faith and how the two could work together to form a worldview rather than science and faith being at opposite ends of the spectrum and not being able to co-exist. However, I have not lived in Charlotte for the past 10 years so obviously things could have changed in that time. Just my thoughts.

  • Deanna

    I live in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA (just want to help orient you, Felicia Gilljam ) and we moved here 1 1/2 years ago. I find Charlotte to be a very “religious” city, while we raise a family that isn’t religious. Perhaps, LeAnn, being a person of faith, it’s easier to not notice the giant churches that seem to be at every major intersection, the new churches being built, and religious references almost every single day in the local paper’s Letters to the Editor. I am sure I would see a different Charlotte if I were living within a college environment, but living in a “family neighborhood”, church is a constant discussion point among PTA members, Girl Scout & Boy Scout meetings, swim meets, etc. Trying to get children and/or adults together on a Sunday or Wednesday is nigh impossible, due to church conflicts.

    Look at the comments already at the Charlotte Observer’s website about David Walter’s opinion piece:

    http://www.charlotte.com/171/story/461866.html

    And, check out the blogsite that’s promoted at The Charlotte Observer, since the writer is the editorial page editor at the Observer:

    http://janepope.blogspot.com/2008/01/ultimate-proof-of-god.html

    Deanna

  • Karen

    I think it’s great that a newspaper in such a conservative Christian area would give prominent placement to what’s bound to be a very controversial point of view. However, I too wonder how long it will take before the poor man is hounded out of his job or at least browbeaten into shutting up in future. I don’t envy him as his opens his email over the next few weeks. Whew, there’s going to be some vitriol!

    but living in a “family neighborhood”, church is a constant discussion point among PTA members, Girl Scout & Boy Scout meetings, swim meets, etc. Trying to get children and/or adults together on a Sunday or Wednesday is nigh impossible, due to church conflicts.

    Yes. My sister is a fundy and she moved there a couple of years ago to get away from “godless” So Cal. I’m sure she’s thrilled with the religiosity of the area. Gag.

  • grazatt

    I love this comment on the article
    Good old England? Facts say otherwise

    The writer is pastor, All Saints’ Presbyterian Church.

    So David Walters’ fondest hopes seem to be that we wouldn’t gather to worship so much and that those of us who doubt the random self-assembly of the universe would be more like good old England.

    Is that the England now afflicted with unprecedented levels of binge drinking among the young? The England where abortion is on the rise? The England where the second most common male name for newborns is Mohammed?

  • LeAnn

    I appreciate the comments of those that live in Charlotte presently. I would notice many of the big churches when I was in Charlotte but I guess most of the people I conversed with and most of the people that are publishing comments about the piece in the paper are not the same. To put it another way, the people that I surrounded myself with would generally not be the people writing the editorial pieces in response to the article. As is generally true, the people with the “fundamentalist” beliefs are usually the ones that will feel the most threatened by such an article and feel the need to respond. The more moderate people (as I consider myself) would just take the piece as informational and interesting, maybe even having conversations about it, but not write in to the editors of the paper in response as they most likely would not feel threatened by it. Again…just my thoughts. Again, I can appreciate that Charlotte is a very different place from when I lived close by but not directly in the city.

  • AJ

    that those of us who doubt the random self-assembly of the universe

    Who’s advocating “random self-assembly” of the universe?

    England where abortion is on the rise

    Oh no, we don’t force our superstitions on others through law, limit access to abortion to poor women, and harass people for deciding what to do with their own bodies! I think England still manages to have less abortions per person than the United States.

    England where the second most common male name for newborns is Mohammed

    Mohammed (including similar spellings) is an extremely popular name, most other populations in England have more variety in their naming.

  • Daniel Hoffman

    Christians hate science for good reason, it is diametrically opposed to their beliefs.

    I’m a Christian and don’t hate science.

    And scientific conclusions based on naturalistic presuppositions are opposed to Christian belief, not science itself.

  • http://www.killerisme.com James

    Maybe what I should have said is those that do (who I would consider the majority) do so with good reason. The bible and science are polar opposites.

    And science doesn’t contain presuppositions or it isn’t science. It is simply that only naturalistic things lend themselves to scientific explanation. I guess it is only natural since they actually exist.

  • Daniel Hoffman

    And science doesn’t contain presuppositions or it isn’t science. It is simply that only naturalistic things lend themselves to scientific explanation. I guess it is only natural since they actually exist.

    James,
    Everyone has presuppositions. You begin the scientific process by assuming that ultimately all truth is testable and discoverable by human reason. You assume your autonomy. You assume that supernatural events have not occurred (hence looking for a natural explanation of everything). You assume that firings of neurons in your brain and the brains of others are objectively meaningful; in fact, until you give an account of why firings of neurons in your brain – a mass of atoms – are meaningful and can accurately gauge reality, your position is internally incoherent and utterly unreasonable.
    If you are going to make the scientific method and human reason the ultimate arbiter of truth, you have excluded God from the beginning, because God by definition is Himself the arbiter of truth.
    When Adam fell in the garden, he fell because he made himself God’s judge and trusted his autonomy over God’s word and command. When Jesus came through the temptation in the wilderness, He passed because He submitted Himself to God’s Word – each time He replied with “It is written”.

    The bible and science are polar opposites.

    Only in that science starts with the authority of human reason and the Bible starts with the authority of God. The word of God has to regulate everything, and in that sense they may be “opposites”. But certainly the Bible allows and encourages us to learn all we can about the world around us, and to see it for what it is and use it rightly.

  • http://www.killerisme.com James

    Science is not despite your assertion about presupposition. There may well be things that are not knowable. Science is simply the struggle to find answers without starting with a presupposition. You rightly assume that supernatural events have not occurred because every instance where it was assumed that supernatural events were responsible in the past have been proven wrong and science found the answer.

    until you give an account of why firings of neurons in your brain – a mass of atoms – are meaningful and can accurately gauge reality, your position is internally incoherent and utterly unreasonable.

    This is a position Christians like to often take putting the burden of proof on science that they never hold to religion. I say until you can prove that they are not and that even one aspect of god, the supernatural, the virgin birth, resurrection or any other of the mythology is true that your position is utter nonsense. Live up to the standard you set for others.

    On the same hand if that mass of neurons cannot accurately gauge reality then they can also not be trusted to interpret the bible or Gods will or even the existence of God.

    Anyway you slice it this is a flawed argument.

    But certainly the Bible allows and encourages us to learn all we can about the world around us, and to see it for what it is and use it rightly.

    Tell that to those brave men who struggled for centuries to advance science under penalty of death from the church. Tell it to those burned at the stake or hanged for being witches or simply whores. Science has led us to the reason we have now certainly not religion if anything it has been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

    If it were up to religion the earth would still be flat being circled by the sun.

  • Daniel Hoffman

    Science is not despite your assertion about presupposition. There may well be things that are not knowable. Science is simply the struggle to find answers without starting with a presupposition.

    Your presupposition may be something as simple as what you take for your authority. You take human reason, Christians take the Word of God. or, you might even say you start in “neutral”. Christians don’t. We start under the authority of our Creator to tell us what creation is and what it is for. If you had a watch, you might take it apart and try to figure out how it works, and you might even figure it out to a great extent, but it would be much better to talk to the watchmaker.

    You rightly assume that supernatural events have not occurred because every instance where it was assumed that supernatural events were responsible in the past have been proven wrong and science found the answer.

    “Science’s” answer to things such as the virgin birth and the resurrection is simply that they did not actually occur. Again, it’s a presupposition.

    This is a position Christians like to often take putting the burden of proof on science that they never hold to religion. I say until you can prove that they are not and that even one aspect of god, the supernatural, the virgin birth, resurrection or any other of the mythology is true that your position is utter nonsense. Live up to the standard you set for others.

    I am freely admitting that I start by assuming the truthfulness of God and His Word. Starting there I can take the usefulness of the mind and the objective nature of reality for granted, because those are things taken for granted in God’s Word. If I’m trying t “put the burden of proof” on you”, what I am trying to do is get you to make your own worldview account for itself.

    On the same hand if that mass of neurons cannot accurately gauge reality then they can also not be trusted to interpret the bible or Gods will or even the existence of God.

    Now you’re mixing worldviews. This is a category confusion.

    Tell that to those brave men who struggled for centuries to advance science under penalty of death from the church. Tell it to those burned at the stake or hanged for being witches or simply whores. Science has led us to the reason we have now certainly not religion if anything it has been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

    I don’t have to defend the church’s mistakes any more than you have to defend the mistakes of atheists like Stalin.

  • Daniel Hoffman

    Science is not despite your assertion about presupposition. There may well be things that are not knowable. Science is simply the struggle to find answers without starting with a presupposition.

    Your presupposition may be something as simple as what you take for your authority. You take human reason, Christians take the Word of God. or, you might even say you start in “neutral”. Christians don’t. We start under the authority of our Creator to tell us what creation is and what it is for. If you had a watch, you might take it apart and try to figure out how it works, and you might even figure it out to a great extent, but it would be much better to talk to the watchmaker.

    You rightly assume that supernatural events have not occurred because every instance where it was assumed that supernatural events were responsible in the past have been proven wrong and science found the answer.

    “Science’s” answer to things such as the virgin birth and the resurrection is simply that they did not actually occur. Again, it’s a presupposition.

    This is a position Christians like to often take putting the burden of proof on science that they never hold to religion. I say until you can prove that they are not and that even one aspect of god, the supernatural, the virgin birth, resurrection or any other of the mythology is true that your position is utter nonsense. Live up to the standard you set for others.

    I am freely admitting that I start by assuming the truthfulness of God and His Word. Starting there I can take the usefulness of the mind and the objective nature of reality for granted, because those are things taken for granted in God’s Word. If I’m trying t “put the burden of proof” on you”, what I am trying to do is get you to make your own worldview account for itself.

    On the same hand if that mass of neurons cannot accurately gauge reality then they can also not be trusted to interpret the bible or Gods will or even the existence of God.

    Now you’re mixing worldviews. This is a category confusion.

    Tell that to those brave men who struggled for centuries to advance science under penalty of death from the church. Tell it to those burned at the stake or hanged for being witches or simply whores. Science has led us to the reason we have now certainly not religion if anything it has been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

    I don’t have to defend the church’s mistakes any more than you have to defend the mistakes of atheists like Stalin.

  • http://www.killerisme.com James

    Sciences answer to the virgin birth and the resurrection is that there is no known way and the odds are set at such a way to be impossible for them to happen. The odds against them happening are higher than those we take for proof in dna testing. That is not a presupposition it is scientific fact.

    The watchmaker example is an old and tired one that needs some revision as you stated it. I could take a watch apart and find out exactly how it works or I could talk to a watchmaker that is invisible, nobody has ever seen or talked to.

    Now you’re mixing worldviews. This is a category confusion.

    No it is a classic response from a religious apologist caught in a trap of their own making. If as you say the brain cant be proven to be reliable then it cant be reliable for ANY purpose including that of knowing a God. Its more double standard claptrap where the burden of proof is always for the nonbeliever.

    I don’t have to defend the church’s mistakes any more than you have to defend the mistakes of atheists like Stalin.

    I don’t have to defend Stalin because he is one man no more than I would ask you to defend Hitler who was a Christian. The church as an organization has a long history of not only not embracing science but doing everything they can to quash it. This directly counters your argument that the bible allows and encourages us to learn all we can about the world around us, and to see it for what it is and use it rightly. Or maybe thats just this weeks interpretation of the bible.


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