I am a huge Bill Nye fan. I have been for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, there was a steady stream of awesome sciencey things on television for young people. Mr. Wizard, Beakman’s World, and Bill Nye the Science Guy. I’m sure there were more, but those are the ones I remember. Loving that stuff when we were little made us a target demographic for things like Mythbusters when we got to be grownups. To which I say: bonus. We scored as a generation. I love science even though, admittedly, a lot of the math of it goes over my head. Which is kind of the point of those kinds of shows. Not to dumb science down at all, but to make it accessible and really cool. To make it appealing and get people interested. That’s fantastic. Keep it up, ye sciencers. Good work.
But I bring up Bill Nye right now because he did a thing a couple of weeks ago that I can’t keep my big fat mouth shut about. I tried. I really did. But I can’t. You probably heard about the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, the head of the Creation Museum in Kentucky. It was a big deal. If you missed it, you should check out the whole thing here. Mr. Nye is an aerospace engineer who has worked for NASA and Boeing. Mr. Ham holds a degree in applied science. That he has a science degree is a delicious tidbit that I was unaware of before watching the debate, and which baffles me after having watched it. Because his whole schtick is not just garden variety creationism but young Earth creationism, a philosophy which I can’t for the life of me wrap my brain around. The bigger point is that neither of them is an evolutionary biologist or a theologian.
The two men squared off at the Creation Museum to debate whether creationism is a valid scientific theory. The specific question was “Is creation a viable model of origins in the modern scientific era?” However, the conversation quickly devolved into the old science-versus-religion fight. As I expected it would. They were civil towards each other, and neither of them seemed to walk away angry or insulted. Props for that, gentlemen. But I honestly think the whole thing was a waste of time. And here’s why: they went in there knowing that they weren’t going to change any minds. Not just each other’s minds, but the audience’s, as well. They were each there to preach to their respective choirs. So it goes with these kinds of arguments. I suspect that’s how it will always go. Sad, really, that. But all it did was stir the shit up from the bottom of the internet, and that defeats the whole purpose of debate. At the end of a debate, someone should win.
I’m fine with people believing that some sort of god created the universe. We do, frankly, have a giant gaping hole in our knowledge of what happened before the big bang. If you want to fill that gap with religion, go for it. But when we get into how old the universe is, and an argument is made that it’s only six thousand years old? That’s when I get my science hackles up. We have buildings older than that on this planet. Fact. And the method of getting to that number is absurd. They added up the ages of everyone in Genesis, from Adam and Eve on down. That’s it. That’s their whole thing. And I’m wondering why Ken Ham wasn’t asked during this debate about our modern calendar not being created until the fifteenth century. Seems like a pertinent question, doesn’t it?
Another thing that they focus heavily on in young Earth creationism is the flood, the one when Noah did his thing. Which is a great story, but there is no evidence of it being actually, literally worldwide. Floods happen all the time. To the folks who wrote the Bible, if their country or their region of the globe got wiped out that would have been perceived as the whole world, right? These were people without a lot of mobility, after all. We were, as an entire human race, blown away by the discovery of North America (except for the vikings and the people who already lived here, who were in for a wholly different kind of mind blowing). Kings and popes and scholars burned people alive for saying that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe, or even that the thing was a sphere. I’m reluctant to trust the scientific acumen of the apostles, is all I’m saying, if we’re just now getting to the point where we know why matter has mass.
And don’t even get me started on the dinosaurs.
But in this conversation, which seems to just rage on and fucking on, I feel like the question shouldn’t be one of absolutes. It shouldn’t be “which is right: science or religion?”. That’s a false dichotomy. We live in a world where science is a thing and religion is a thing. You don’t have to pick just one. And if you do pick a side and stick to it, you shouldn’t shit on the other team. Especially if you’re uneducated about the specifics of the other side’s beliefs. I’m just as annoyed by people who scoff at anything scientific as I am by people who think all religious people are stupid. Neither of those are valid arguments. Just stop it. The questions we should be asking instead should be along the lines of “which parts of these can work together?” or “how can we use these to interpret each other?”.
For example, why doesn’t anyone seem to embrace the possibility that god created evolution? If one believes in god and that that god is perfect, why wouldn’t such a process be a manifestation of that perfection? And why do we think it’s only mankind that was made in god’s image? Why not the whole of our gorgeous, intricate, unfathomable universe? The thing runs like clockwork, from the biggest spinning galaxy to the teeniest subatomic particles. That whole, as an interlocking, functioning, ever-changing system, is much more in line with my ideas of power and glory. But that’s me. I’m not trying to change any minds here. I just like to ask the questions about the questions we’re asking.
And I think that’s why I went into watching the Nye/Ham debate already on Nye’s side. Because he’s a scientist, and their whole job is to ask questions about things they don’t understand, rather than stuffing the things they don’t understand into a box that may not fit. There’s this story about Niels Bohr, which is probably apocryphal, but I love it. Once upon a time, Dr. Bohr was walking along a beach with one of his students and the student asked him why he became a scientist. He picked up a seashell, held it up, and said, “Because this is what I know.” He threw it into the ocean. “And that is what I don’t know.” That’s the point, isn’t it? Not just of science, but of life? Getting excited about new or scary or unknown things? If I went through life thinking that I knew everything about everything, I think I’d get so bored I’d kill myself. And I say that with no hyperbole whatsoever. How fucking bleak a worldview that would be. Dreadful.
Anyway, check out the debate. It is, at the very least, extremely interesting. But be warned: you may get your agro going if you’re passionately on one side or the other. I have disclaimered, and now it’s out of my hands. Amen.