Sunday, February 9, 2014

Creation Staycation

It's been five days since the Great Creation Debate of 2014, and I'm still torn. Not by the debate itself (which, full disclosure, I've only read about), but by whether it ever should have happened in the first place.

In case you haven't heard about it, Bill Nye, science educator and entertainer (my kids watched his PBS show back in the 1990s) traveled to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, for a debate with Ken Ham, Christian apologist and author of this book:
Judging by the length of the video posted by the museum on Youtube, the debate was nearly three hours long. Judging by the commentary on Slate Magazine, it was also pointless. Nye deftly dissected the standard Biblical creationist arguments and, as might be expected, made the case for science, primarily evolutionary biology and geology. Ham smoothly rolled out sputter-inducing fallacies, unanswerable questions easily answered by Nye, ignored the answers, and layered on even more creationist silliness.

That's why I'm struggling with whether this should even have been attempted. I've given up trying to convince Biblical literalists of the errors of their ways, and have written about that decision several times. Since the issue for them is not really truth (as much as they like to use that word) but faith, the rules of logic simply don't apply. Exposing the contradictions and errors in their reasoning is blasphemy. However calmly, logically, and respectfully Bill Nye may have made his case, whatever he said was essentially a huge middle finger to Ken Ham's dogma. And that is why I just don't go there.

Bill Nye did go there, and has come under fire from the scientific community for doing so. Much of their criticism suggests that his mere presence at the Creation Museum lent credence to its ludicrous mission of evangelizing the ideas that the world is 6000 years old, that humans interacted with dinosaurs, and that all the evidence for evolution only applies to descendants of the critters that Noah took on the ark with him, all of which were prototypes created just a few generations earlier by God. Ken Ham has dedicated his life to propounding this codswallop, building an empire of nonsense for the misinformed who view science in the same way Joe McCarthy viewed Communism, and attempting to debate him from the perspective of science would be an exercise in frustration for the most gifted logician.

It should go without saying that I think Ken Ham's "Dinosaurs of Eden" approach is loony. What grieves me most about it, though, isn't the bizarre ideas it stuffs down the gullible craws of its science-fearing adherents; rather, it's the way it abuses a text that has far more to say about humanity than can be contained in a literal reading of its plot points.

There are two creation stories contained in the book of Genesis. The first is on a cosmic scale, and places humans at the apex of creation. The second is much more intimate, a story of an oasis in which God gets down in the mud and makes a man, blows him up like a balloon, then makes some animals and, finally, a woman to keep him company. Apart from the whimsy of the imagery, the story is a brilliant depiction of human nature: both the man and the woman are innocents. A clever snake talks the woman into breaking the rule against eating from a particular tree. She at least objects at first; the man unquestioningly takes what he's given to eat. Suddenly they both feel naked, and make skirts out of itchy fig leaves to conceal their privates. Hearing God approaching, they hide. Found out, they refuse to take responsibility: the man blames the woman, the woman blames the snake. Realizing their presence in the garden is a recipe for continued destruction, God banishes them, condemning them to hard lives in the real world.

There have been whole libraries written about the meaning of this story. For my part, I've shifted my understanding of it over the years. As a preacher, I focused on the blame game that it plays, the way both humans refuse to take responsibility for their actions. As a teacher, I find it much richer: the two humans appear to be about six years old in terms of reasoning and morality. The woman is extremely concrete in her understanding of the rule about the tree, while the man is sheeplike in his willingness to simply break that rule because she already has. Upon realizing they're in trouble, their first impulse is to hide. Confronted with their crime, they turn instantly to blame. And then they have to leave the garden and work for a living.

As I see it, the whole story is a metaphor for growing up. Children are naturally curious, impulsive, and prone to getting into difficult situations with consequences they never could have expected. Eventually, the nurturing environment of home and school has to be left behind as they graduate to a world of hard work and childrearing. Pointing fingers, making excuses, and crying over the unfairness of it all is futile: we have no choice but to grow up. It's an experience every human being lucky enough to survive childhood has had since the beginning of time.

That's the approach I would take if I found myself stuck in a room with Ken Ham. I'd leave my science hat at the door. He doesn't speak the language of science anymore than I speak Croatian. At best, he's using scientific words as a kind of gibberish. If I had to talk with him, I'd delve into the deeper meaning of the text, see if he could appreciate the real Truth in this spiritual document.

I'm in awe of Creation, by the way. I go to Utah to see the history of the earth revealed, and there's no question but that it's mind-bogglingly ancient. Yesterday, as Amy and I were skiing through the park, I watched two ducks bank their wings to come in for a soft landing on a frozen pond, and I was blown away with what brilliant pilots birds are instinctively. It's easy for me to see why so many, whether or not they believe in the "young earth" idea, place some kind of divine intelligence behind the forces and processes that shaped our world: it's all so elegant, so complex, and it all fits together in such amazing ways. It's also, though, harshly chaotic: the weather that kept us at home skiing has caused dozens of traffic accidents.

I don't know if there is a God behind all this. I like to think there is, but I can't be logically convinced, one way or the other. Science neither proves nor disproves the existence of a Creator. It does describe how our present world came to be the way it is, but it can't tell us why. Faith can bring meaning to the wonders around us, but only the tools of observation and analysis can explain those wonders. These two world views need not be at odds. Casting either of them as debatable is a recipe for frustration.

As for me, I'll leave such futility to the likes of Bill Nye, Bill Maher, and Christopher Hitchens; and spend as much of my remaining time on this earth as I can enjoying the wonders of nature, geology, and human development. Whoever or whatever made this stuff, it sure is pretty.

No comments:

Post a Comment