Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why Creation/ Evolution Debates Don't Work

I haven't yet watched the "debate" between Bill Nye (of Bill Nye the Science Guy - best show ever) - and Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis in which they duked it out over creation vs evolution. It would probably be fascinating, and I'd probably learn a few things. Unfortunately, I don't think that such debates accomplish anything good, not for the general public.

First of all, note the place: at the Creation Museum in Kentucky. The audience was, naturally, full of creationists. My husband, who has a passion for mammalian biology and evolution in general, watched the full debate; his takeaway was that the crowd was completely white - no blacks, Asians, Latinos, etc. We're talking about an extremely narrow subset of Protestant religious fundamentalists who tend to be white, Southern, and conservative. And by holding a "debate" over scientific facts in this setting, you give them credibility. It doesn't matter that Bill Nye "won" - of course he did, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. This is the kind of publicity that creationists love, and it shouldn't be given to them. Would you agree to engage in a debate on the connections between poverty and race at a KKK rally?

Second, debates like this seldom change anything for the better. Not many people are going to watch the full debate, and if they do, they are the sort of people who already made up their minds a long time ago. Plenty of people will go on Buzzfeed and look at pictures of "questions for creationists" or "questions for evolutionists" and gloat, depending on which side they're on, but settling in to watch the whole thing? That's something that nerds (like my husband) or people very ideologically invested in either side will do.

Third, the whole game is rigged anyway because we don't even speak the same language. I don't see this problem getting any better, because these days Creationists can shelter their children from ever learning evolution until they're so brainwashed that they automatically shut their ears. In addition, scientists have little incentive to know what's going on in the minds of Creationists, so they don't realize how Creationists perceive evolution. The words theory, natural selection, evolution, species, change, and law mean completely different things to both sides. How can you even have a conversation without first defining your terms? (But partly that's because the very idea makes me giddy - I just love hermeneutics, so much fun.)

Fourth, trying to get a die-hard fundamentalist to change his or her views on anything is damn near impossible unless their entire "worldview" (to use my old Reformed-speak) changes. If you believe that Scripture must be interpreted literally, and that all Scripture is inerrant - meaning that it is always true about everything it says, then the cost is too high to change your mind. You see, in the Creationist mindset every verse in the Bible must hang together or hang together as Benjamin Franklin said. If you doubt that the world was created in literal 24 hour days, then you must also doubt the resurrection of Christ. And now your entire world is unmade. It's hard to explain to an atheist or agnostic what this would feel like, but think of it like the Matrix. Or imagine that your brain has been playing tricks on you, and that we're really just zombies in a room having psuedo-experiences imposed on our brains by drugs. Would you really rather live in the real world when it looks so horrible?

Those who make fun of Creationists don't realize the cost of changing their minds. It's not just changing your mind - it's unraveling everything you thought you knew and then scrambling to pick up the pieces. For most of us, it wouldn't have happened without dramatic personal experiences that called the entire fundamentalist mentality into question.


  1. I have not watched that debate, and I've only peripherally heard about it, so I can't really comment on it. I get what you're saying about the pointlessness of it. Most of the people probably wouldn't change their mind one way or the other.

    You know, I've never in my life had a problem with reconciling science and faith. Heck, I have a degree in Biology, and I've generally found that scientific knowledge only increases my faith in and awe of God's greatness. I see the beauty of God in the natural sciences. So I've always had a hard time understanding the people who can't seem to make the connection between the two, because it seems so obvious to me. So, I guess your point about the fundamentalist worldview being so thoroughly grounded in a literalist interpretation of the Old Testament makes it make a little more sense.

    Biblical literalism makes the Catholic catechist in me want to shout, "Hello! The Bible isn't a science textbook! Or a history textbook! Just because some of the books are poetic and mythic doesn't mean the Bible isn't inerrant on faith and morals!"

    Wow, this comment has gotten way too long. Just one more thing, if you like Bill Nye the Science Guy, google Doktor Kaboom. His science show is full of awesomeness and hilariousness!

    1. THat's too funny, because we were always told that Catholics were anti-science, as if nothing changed since Galileo. Meanwhile we were being extremely anti-science legitimately, today. We really did think of the Bible as a science and history textbook. That's 2 posts I need to write: the myths I was taught about Catholicism, and the "science" we were brainwashed to believe. That's awesome that you majored in biology. What's your profession? I think you said were looking for a job right?

    2. Yeah, Catholics are definitely not anti-science! Haha, when you look back through history (including recent history) at all of the great Catholic scientists, it's pretty clear. Unfortunately, I've found that a lot of the Protestant groups do tend to have quite a few misconceptions about what Catholics believe. It seems to be worse amongst the non-denoms and fundamentalists and Evangelicals. I think it's at least in part due to the "former-Catholics" who join those groups and then tell them "what the Catholic Church is really like." The thing is, the majority of them never understood what the Catholic Church really teaches and believes in the first place because they've been so poorly catechized, so their claims are wildly inaccurate. :)

      I'd love to read a post on the myths you were taught about Catholicism. I'm sure they were many and impressive! LOL

      Yes, I have a BA in Biology and a BA in Psychology. Unfortunately, I don't have a job related to either field! I started out as a mental health caseworker, but after a few years determined that just wasn't a good fit for me (it jacked my anxiety up to ridiculous levels). I've been working in data entry for the last several years, but it is very boring and I'm looking for something that requires the use of my actual brain. I'd actually love to go back to school and get an MA or PHD in either theology or philosophy. Science and theology and philosophy go together so much in my thinking that it seems completely logical to me! ;)