Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Edge of Reason, by Melinda Snodgrass

Melinda Snodgrass may well have her books burned in the streets. (I hope not. No book deserves to be burned.) But the likelihood stems from this chain: Book-burners tend to be fanatics of one stripe or another; fanatics tend to rely on belief rather than knowledge and emotion rather than rational thought; The Edge of Reason is the first book of a series that pits science against magic in a real-world, Large Hadron Collider-versus-fundamentalist religion sort of way; Snodgrass and her heroes come down on the side of reason; fanatics tend to not like it when folks point out they might be eeeeeevil.

Thus, seemingly inevitable book-burning.

Knowledge has bumped against faith for centuries, so our contemporary struggles are nothing new. That said, the United States appears to be stuck in a roach-trap of denying knowledge in the face of faith. I will never hold a person's religious beliefs against them, but I will fault a person for ignoring verifiable conclusions with no better cause than "well, I just don't think that's true."

As citizens of the world, we each have a responsibility to accept the empirical evidence staring us down. Global climate change isn't something we "believe" in -- it's something that exists whether we believe it or not. Like the sun, or gravity. And for all the questions regarding Beowulf's exact date of composition, the interpretation of its poetry, its clues to the history of a region, its religious influences, and (less questionable, thanks to Tolkien) its literary merit, we can be quite certain that Grendel was not a Tyrannosaurus rex. We cannot ignore the linguistic workings of Old English no matter how much we believe that a word means something it just doesn't.

Belief and faith may alter our brain structures, but even that result is not merely faith-based, in that it is scientifically verifiable.

Faith in a God should not controvert the world that He/She/It is believed to have created. For the faithful, why can science not be a way of receiving messages from above? Why must science be the enemy of religion, when the religious could view science as illuminating God's wonder and beauty?

I genuinely wish I could understand the answers to these questions. I may never be satisfied with the responses, though, because reason and belief operate on two different planes. We don't use the same language, so when one says "We're having brussel sprouts for dinner," the other answers "But I don't like carrots!" Both sides know they're on the same subject, but discourse is impossible when one side refuses to acknowledge the tenets of the other.

Melinda Snodgrass is not exaggerating. A war does exist, and it may well determine the fate of our planet and our very humanity. How much nicer it would be if our species could settle this over a cup of tea.

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