This week, Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham of the Creation Museum in Kentucky spent two and a half hours debating the origin of the universe in a well-publicized update of the Scopes Trial of 1920. I could only endure the tedium of the YouTube broadcast for about a half hour, but even though I didn't watch the whole thing I am pleased by the friendly gesture this event represents. Sometimes a willingness to meet in open debate can be more significant than any actual arguments contained within.
Amidst the social media conversations following the debate, I was also impressed by a page of photos of regular people holding up papers expressing questions or ideas supporting the creationist point of view. I don't get the logic behind some of these expressions -- and yet they all appear to be sincere, and a few may even be meaningful. In the photo above, a woman's comparison of the idea of God and the idea of the Big Band strikes a chord. It is true that the idea of the Big Bang as constantly described by physics teachers and Morgan Freeman is as ultimately inexorable as the traditional idea of God.
This series of photographs impressed me more than a follow-up titled Dear Creationistas that also made the rounds, containing sarcastic answers to the questions above in a familiarly nasty tone: "What might help you understand this stuff? A fucking science class. Or five."
I don't know how others reacted to the entire public conversation about evolution and creation this week, but my own heart rose with the Nye/Ham debate, and with the friendly conversation that followed. It sank back down again when I saw the hostile comments on this page.
Well, okay, we've talked about this before. Personally, I believe in Darwin's theory of human evolution. But I am not arrogant enough to think that anybody who doesn't believe in Darwinism must be a moron. And I wonder if many people who react with incredulity and hostility when they hear that any person believes in a traditional religious creation story realize that they might be offending many of their own close friends and relatives.
Apparently about half of America's population believes in some form of creationism. That doesn't mean that half of America is stupid. It might mean that one half of America doesn't understand the other half.
Some are concerned that a tilt towards acceptance of creation theory or intelligent design might eventually subvert our national education system. But doesn't an exodus towards homeschooling also subvert our national education system? Are we sure a hard-line against any appearance of traditional religious teaching in school is the right education policy for this country's future, if it alienates so many parents into withdrawing their kids from public schools? Doesn't this just divide us further apart?
The Nye/Ham debate was a good exercise in communication across well-entrenched lines, and it also inspired some surprisingly nuanced and complex reactions (like this one from evangelist Pat Robertson, who finds Ken Ham's creation theories too literal). I'm glad the debate took place, and I think we need more wide-open conversations like this.
I'd like to suggest to many of my own scientific friends who are appalled by the very idea of creation theory that they step back to take a larger view. Why is it that they don't speak up when their country goes to war, or permits its fragile mountains and rivers to be despoiled by industrial wastage, or allows corrupt politicians and business executives to enrich themselves with vast empires of wealth at the expense of hardworking citizens ... but only speak up when they discover that somebody believes in the Biblical account of Adam and Eve? We might require a few more vigorous public debates before we can begin to answer this one.