Have you watched the latest stupid debate? You know, this stupid debate?
Well, I watched part of it. As much as I could stand. And I ask everyone: what the hell is the point of all this? What could anyone expect to gain?
Ken Ham spends the first 20 minutes or so of this video spouting such utter idiocy that it’s really demeaning to everyone involved to even be in the same room, let alone honor his idiocy with a response.
Ok, ok. I get why Bill Nye’s there. Essentially, it’s a publicity stunt. And I get what he’s going for as a professional science communicator in trying to combat the endless tide of idiocy that our country has been drowning in for the past couple decades, ever since the Christian got hold of the Republican party and made their lunacy “respectable” in a public sphere. Serious scientists have been reeling for a long time on issues like climate change and evolution, and I understand a desire to stand publicly against the sort of ridiculousness that Ken Ham’s ideas represent.
But, God, why?
Honestly, nobody’s mind is going to be changed by this debate. And what’s happening instead is everybody’s watching this moron share a stage with a well-known, well-liked, and fairly well-respected figure in the realm of science communication. Instead, we’re hearing two sets of arguments–one well supported by evidence and one completely invented and demonstrative of willful ignorance–as though they should be considered equally on the merits of their argument. Before anyone walks into the room, we know which one of these two arguments is better supported by the evidence. So the question really remains: why does anyone believe this bullshit?
You see, to me, the biggest problem here is that this is exactly the wrong debate to be having on this issue. If we take the whole evolution vs. creation debate in its broader context, what’s really at issue is whether or not you believe that the Bible’s account of natural history is literally true. When it comes down to it, that’s the big picture argument here: was there actually a historical Adam and Eve, who lived in a garden with God and were tempted by a serpent? What about Abraham, and Jacob who wrestled with an angel, going all the way to Jesus, the acts of the apostles, and that weird book of revelations? It’s not really about any of the particular details of the story–the point in question is whether it’s all exactly literally true. Or, as Ken Ham would put it, is it the word of God?
Now, if I were going to have that debate, I would ask the question: if you believe that the answer to the above question is yes, why do you believe that to be so?*
Speaking as a non-believer, it seems to me that the best possible answer to this question is that religion can be a really good thing for lots of people. First of all, a shared system of beliefs can connect an individual to a community in ways that secular society really fails to provide. Not only can you take part in a community of people that gather together every week, but you can join with them in feeling connected to a higher purpose, one that takes you above the petty day-to-day concerns of life. It bears mentioning that religious people do tend to report being happier than non-religious people, probably for the above-mentioned reasons among others.
Now, if I had all of those things and someone told me that if any single word of the Bible wasn’t 100% literally true I would lose them all, I could see myself fighting rather viciously against any ideas that “went against” the Bible. Anyone who questioned the core beliefs of my community would be, in effect, challenging that community.
And that, to me, is the big problem with creationists. It’s not necessarily that they’re wrong about science, which they obviously are. It’s that they present a view of religion that allows no depth of thought about church dogma. They present a view of religion which is pretty much identical to the one the Catholic Church of the 17th century held when it put Galileo under house arrest for daring to put forth a heliocentric view of the cosmos. The only difference is that Ken Ham doesn’t have the political power to imprison people who disagree with him. Well, not yet.
While there are obviously many problems with this view, the biggest one to me is that it completely closes religion off to all but the ignorant. It’s been a disaster to American Christianity that it has been so hijacked by the ignorant–and that anyone who is willing to take anything like a scholarly view of matters of faith is shunted to the side so we can have debates about the literal truth of Bible stories.
I can think of much better ways to spend our time.
*There are lots of ignoramuses out there (or is it ignorami?) who, not being aware of the definition of “circular logic” would say something along the lines of “Because the Bible is the word of God.” I don’t want to bother addressing these people directly.