MLK, Facts, and Values

MLK, Facts, and Values January 19, 2015

To mark Martin Luther King, Jr. day, I thought it was important to note how the civil rights leader felt about the conflict between science and religion. In short, he felt that there was not one to speak of.

In his book Strength to Love, King discusses how “Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values.” King saw religion as more of a social/cultural feature; it was the ability to understand our fellow man and how to treat each other. And, while he felt they were two sides of the same coin, it helps us understand his position for equality in his “I Have a Dream” speech. In his speech, he talks of the founding fathers, in the Declaration of Independence, writing a “promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.” The problem then, as it is now, is the bank that is supposed to cash that check is claiming it is bankrupt.

What King may have been surprised to find today is, what he calls, “softmindedness” in mainstream religion. By this, he meant, those unwilling to challenge or change their beliefs. In Strength to Love, he writes “Softmindedness often invades religion…This is why religion has sometimes rejected new truth with a dogmatic passion.” Today, we see issues involving Ken Ham and his Answers in Genesis theme park; unwilling, or perhaps unable, to understand that the story of Noah, like many in Genesis, are an etiology, an origins story, rather than a historical narrative. We find parents allowing their children to suffer and die from perfectly treatable conditions due to their belief that vaccines, or going to the doctor, is against God’s will. And let us not forget the anti-science legislation that is constantly at war with our schools to teach the biblical interpretation of creation, rather than the heavily-researched, well-documented theory of evolution. Of course, there is also the attacks in Paris on Charlie Hebdo.

While I find King’s position on religion and science refreshing, I disagree that they are necessarily relying on the other to exist. Neil deGrasse Tyson spoke recently on the irreconcileable differences between religion and science and, in his interview, quoted the Book of Revelation. He quotes, specifically, the passage at 6:13; a passage about the stars falling to earth. And, he states, “To even write that means you don’t know what those things are. You have no concept of what the actual universe is.”

I find this statement true beyond measure. These texts, used for the Abrahamic faiths, all date to times very long before the modern era; an era when we have a much clearer concept of our place in this vast universe and how it functions. To take a text several millennia prior to when this knowledge was accessible, or even realized, and declare it authoritative is a decision made in error. After all, they were written at a time when people approached priests to cure diseases (Leviticus 14, Mark 1:40-45, Luke 5:12-16).

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