I’ve spent plenty of time over the past few days going over arguments about creationism in its weak and strong forms, and frankly I’m a bit too tired to write up another long response (nor do I think that anyone needs to read any more re-statements of my position; click the “creationism” tag if you’re really that curious as see for yourself). Nevertheless, a blogging friend with a different take on the evolution/creationism debate has posted a response to my (in)famous “Why Fight Creationism?” post entitled “Why Talk About Origins At All?.” [which has been temporarily removed for a re-write]
I’ve had some friends who have taken a similar approach, essentially employing the belief that the issue of evolution is so divisive amongst Christians that it is better-off locked up in the closest, the salvation message of the “Good News” being of primary importance. Indeed, one of my old pastors would never respond to any of my thoughts or questions about evolution/creationism when I’d e-mail him about it, and I have more than a few more conservative Christian friends/acquaintances that simply ignore the fact that evolution is what I want to study and my more favorite topic of discussion (even though they seem a bit irked when I show up wearing my “Future Transitional Fossil” t-shirt or am reading books like The Beak of the Finch while they’re around). In any case, avoiding discussions of evolution may work for churches/ministries that want to create a cohesive group more focused on belief/outreach/simply believing in Christ, but I think this cheats people a bit, making me think of the great “Wizard of Oz” who didn’t want anyone to look behind the curtain.
So why bother about origins? As a relative of mine once opined about scientists and creationists, “Why can’t people just not think about these things?” The most direct answer that I can give is that the question of origins demands an answer. I don’t expect everyone to be as interested in evolution as I am, nor to put the amount of time/money/effort into reading up on it as I or other more knowledgeable folks have, but it’s difficult for me to understand how anyone can be unconcerned with how we came to be the way we are. Everyone has an opinion, that much is for sure, and oddly enough many people seem to prefer one version of mankind’s origin or another based upon religion (or lack thereof) or what is most comfortable/intuitive. I am a bit baffled that, in this age of discovery when we have uncovered so much of our past (be it through fossils or genetics), there is so much disinterest in learning about from whence we came.
I suppose why I spend so much time thinking about and talking about a subject that many don’t seem to care very much about (or have already formed an opinion about, one way or another) is that I don’t think it’s a good thing to merely pick a version of the origins of humans (or other life) and simply close the book on the subject. This method is almost like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story, where it doesn’t really matter what we think so long as we ascribe to one belief or another. I also must admit that while religion does have its virtues, I do worry of the repercussions of allowing bad science and bad theology in the form of creationism to spread and become generally acceptable; I have the feeling that a return to the Bible as the plainly-written infallible, unchanging text breathed by God might have other unsavory repercussions. Are we to return to an era where mental illness was really possession by Satan himself? Where storms were caused by witches? Where lightning rods were shunning and plagues allowed to spread because doing anything to enhance human safety in the face of natural phenomena was robbing God of His armaments? Such things would be regarded as foolish now, but if we allow ourselves to think that belief is a higher virtue than thought, where we will end up? I really do hope that my above questions have no real basis in reality, that I have no reason to fear a return to the militant and dangerous religious funamentalism that has marked so much of Western history over the past few centuries, but I am still reminded of Mark Twain’s famous quote;
“During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after doing its duty in but a lazy and indolent way for 800 years, gathered up its halters, thumbscrews, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood. Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry.”
On the surface, this issue is about the evolution/creationism debate, and if that was all there was to it then there wouldn’t be much else to say. What concerns me, however, are some of the other attitudes that seem to come along with creationism. It seems that many creationists (and ID advocates) do not believe that Global Climate Change is a real problem, or even if it is God is coming back soon so why worry about it? Science, in general, is mistrusted unless it has some economic value to it (particularly the fields that produce new technologies and medicines), but I don’t especially think a return to the natural theology of the 18th and 19th century is going to help the natural sciences like geology, biology, ecology, etc. grow very much. This isn’t merely about whether I think a chimpanzee is an evolutionary relative of mine or not, but rather a larger way of looking at the world, choices made whether to have faith in the infallibility of a particular religious text or to let the natural world speak for itself.
As Ann Druyan noted in the introduction to the recently published Varities of Scientific Experience, “We batter this planet as if we had someplace else to go,” and I feel that much of it has stemmed, either directly or indirectly, from the Biblical command to subdue the earth. I am heartened to see some evangelicals realize that either as a gift or by luck we’ve been entrusted with the planet and abused it for far too long at our own peril, but it still seems this is a minority response to current problems. Again, this is not a blanket statement because there are notable exceptions to the problems I am mentioning here, but in general I just wonder why those who don’t care about origins (or would rather ascribe scientific questions to a religious text) are so often apathetic about ecology or other important issues, and at times I feel that many have not moved far beyond the belief that Jesus is essentially coming back any day now, so there is no real reason to care for, preserve, or understand life on earth. If people hadn’t been so easily fooled by such platitudes and false logic early on, who knows what we would have discovered or come to understand by now? Clutching to Genesis tightly, taking no time to look at “the creation” itself, has only brought humanity misery, and now that we’re finally released from those mental shackles (although still a bit sore), I would hate to see is catapulted backwards into a time of hate and superstition fueled by bad theology, there being a Bible verse to support every variety of misdeed and ignorance if only interpreted in this way or that.
In the end, though, I know feel that my time is not wasted. The questions of how we can to be how we are, and what happened to those who came before, demand answers from us, and for every one thing I learn there’s a dozen other questions that I have. The natural world is so wonderful that I can’t help but be awed by it and want to know more, even to the point of not being able to understand how anyone can be apathetic towards all the amazing things we’ve learned about it. I could function in society and make a living without knowing anything about evolution, perhaps that is true, but what sort of existence would I lead? Simply working for a paycheck, working to be comfortable, seems rather hollow; I would much rather struggle to understand even one great truth than to simply ignore nature, and at least for me, there is no greater topic that requires discussion and understanding than “origins.”