In a comment on my last blog post on miracles, the commenter, Stephen Parrish, wrote the following:
What is the common ground between the occurrence and the impossibility of miracles? If a religion were based on the flatness of the Earth, or the geocentric theory, would you seek common ground with its followers?
You’re trying to find a path to something you don’t believe exists. I don’t get it.
The issue is important enough that I want to devote an entire blog post to it.
I want to emphasize that I appreciate Mr. Parrish’s comment. Comments such as his are exactly the kind of comments I seek from readers. If everyone agreed with me, then this blogging would get very boring very quickly. And in the spirit of finding common ground, I want to avoid the temptation of engaging in counterattack. So I will use a parable (something I’m borrowing from the bible, by the way).
Let’s assume that there are flat earth believers and that we disagree with them, in particular we believe in a spherical earth revolving around the sun. (Call us the “copernicans”, after Copernicus the scientist who gave us the current heliocentric view of the solar system, which by the way isn’t exactly correct either, given our solar system’s trajectory about the galaxy; but anyway…)
I argue that we should want to find a common ground between the flat-earth believers and the copernicans.
What is the alternative to finding a common ground? Well, we could kill them all, and that would solve the problem of our differences. But maybe they outnumber us significantly and would fight back. Okay, then maybe we can wait until they all die off, perhaps a generation or two. But they teach their children that the earth is flat, and so, as a culture, they’re not likely to die off. Okay, maybe we can educate them in our public schools, or unleash people like Carl Sagan on them. But we find that that doesn’t work. We’ve aimed our telescopes skyward and have “proven” that the earth isn’t flat, and we’ve written books detailing those proofs, and Carl Sagan said, “billions and billions,” so many times that he was hoarse, but still they believe that the earth is flat. We can write a zillion books on the subject, teach the heliocentric theory in our schools, and the flat earth believers will simply home-school their children. They congregate in their flat earth buildings with their steeples. And then we learn that they are plotting to do away with the non-believers, the copernicans!
We have failed miserably.
Who wins in the end? Some might say that the truth will win out, that whoever holds the correct view will emerge as the winner. I wonder whether that is really true. People believe what they want to believe, sometimes irrespective of the truth. And in any case, it could take a thousand years.
I argue that we must find a common ground with the flat earth believers. Maybe there’s something good about believing in a flat earth. The earth is locally flat anyway, right? Maybe there’s a value in seeing the earth as flat. Maybe in finding a common ground, we can overlook the superficial differences between us and rejoice in something higher. I’m not sure what that is right now, but maybe it’s LOVE.
How can we love each other if we are hating each other’s beliefs? Maybe LOVE is a good enough reason to overlook the details of each other’s beliefs as we move toward that common ground.
Why attempt to find a common ground? Ultimately, we must find a common ground because there is value in each side’s position, and because, as a civilization, we cannot survive if either side is erradicated. Science serves a useful purpose, and so does religion. So rather than continue sniping back and forth, let’s figure out how to come together.