This is the first entry in a three part series that examines science and religion in the context of a recent trip I made to Northern Kentucky.
People who know me well are aware that I'm a little proud of the fact that I have been to every state. (Although my dad contests my claim on Oklahoma.) Do you count states? Whether you count the Bluegrass State while passing through Delta's hub depends on your counting rules. For this trip, I decided to fly direct into Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport and drive the 80 miles or so south to Lexington where I was to present about graduate student ethics education. (Carbon auditors: what's the verdict on this? I drove a compact car.) In cutting out the labile factors of airline strikes, delays and weather that could strand me somewhere in middle America, I increased the chances of returning to Seattle and Anacortes in time to get some sleep before the first day of my family medicine clerkship. As a bonus, I got to drive through some scenic countryside during daylight hours.
Some readers might recall something else about northern Kentucky. Back on Memorial Day there was a big splash in the blogosphere and beyond about the grand opening of the Creation Museum. Tara and Michael each wrote good reviews of this spectacle and there are rather extensive photo-documentaries of the place around the web. Since the museum happens to be just a few miles from the airport, I had been considering checking it out, and several folks suggested I would regret being in the neighborhood and not visiting.
Since my presentation was about graduate ethics education, it is reasonable that I formally outline the dilemma I faced. As I got to typing this entry, it quickly blossomed into a thesis on science and religion. I present it here in three parts, titled “Warfare,” “Equal Time,” and “Unearthing Truth.”
Who knew that northern Kentucky could be so stimulating?
When it comes to science and religion, I am no fan of the warfare thesis. After all, how could I reconcile my own beliefs regarding science and God? My view is that the folks who ascribe to warfare are either comfortably camped with their own tribe, or indifferent to the extent that they buy in to the barrage on the airwaves about science and religion as polar extremes. The hour or so footage that I've seen from the recent NOVA special, “Intelligent Design on Trial” perpetuates the warfare thesis, and evidently in Dover two years ago, it felt like war. Science and religion are well entrenched, but like certain other kinds of war, that people fight does not make it right. When it comes to conversations about religion and science, I prefer a diplomatic approach. That's why I am a member of the American Scientific Affiliation and the Metanexus Institute.
What does all this have to do with the Creation Museum? A lot, actually. I am a Christian and a scientist who understands Earth to be billions of years old. I am an evolutionist who believes that the Universe exists in the context of Divinity. For me, that's a Christian divinity. I do not believe that Earth was created 6,000 years ago. Like the majority of Christians, I am not a Biblical literalist. As someone who prefers diplimacy over warfare, I am interested in meeting people where they are and seeking a common ground. This part of me strongly endorses a visit to the Creation Museum. I think that several science bloggers and atheists who visited the museum when it opened took this position as well. They sought an understanding of this foreign worldview, if only to better mock it.
That's not the end of this story. I've been around the conversations involving evolution, young earth creationism (YEC) and intelligent design (ID) long enough to know that there are some folks genuinely convinced that there is scientific proof of an earth less than 10,000 years old. These people are confused. Take for example, LOLCreationists: earning a PhD in geology requires acceptance of billion year old principles. How then can the earth be only 6,000 years old? I have to give the YECs credit for their earnest puzzle-solving. Cramming geologic research from the better part of two centuries into a worldview derived from ancient peotry takes a great deal of skill. Most folks on the Creationist side of this 'debate' are more disingenuous. They do not understand science or else openly disregard it, for they select certain facts and misuse them to 'prove' their own agendas. Science requires a complete assessment of all known facts, not a selective assortment of convenient truths.
So if there is a war, it is not between science and religion. It is between the honest immutibility of fact and the confused selective interpretation of fancy. That is not to say that all scientists are honest and all persons of faith are fanciful. On this particular issue, I think that there is a basic misunderstanding that will require both education and relationships to overcome. At the center of the creationism debate is not the science, but Biblical literalism.
Tomorrow in Part 2, I'll provide some elementary field work to examine the state of creationism and evolutionary theory in northern Kentucky. Of note to the folks who hung around for the entirety of this post, that entry will have more jokes, too.