Thursday, February 6, 2014

Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham: A Pointless Debate

It is hard to believe that nearly 89 years after the Scopes Monkey trial (The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes), we are still debating evolution in this country. The latest round of  this seemingly perennial debate happened this week. The same themes were rehashed. Once again, viewers were asked to choose faith over science or vice versa. Once again, individuals firmly planted on each side of the debate talked pass each other. Two and half hours later and both sides claimed victory.

In my opinion, refusing to accept evolution is akin to refusing to accept gravity. Through the years, I have engaged in various debates over this topic and found the exercise to be mostly a waste of time. Just like the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham debate on Tuesday night was a waste of time.

It is true that many individuals who object to evolution are very misinformed about it. They confuse evolution (an explanation of how life developed on earth) with theories about the origin of life (evolution is silent on this subject). Many also incorrectly believe evolution means that humans developed from monkeys. Instead, evolution simply states that humans and other primates share a common ancestry.

For a long time, I believed that clearing up misinformation about evolution would result in "ah-ha moments" and we would all live happily ever after. Perhaps, Bill Nye thought the same and today he is probably disappointed. Individuals who hold on to creationism despite all the scientific evidence do so not because they lack intelligence; not because of ignorance. They hold on to their belief because it satisfies an emotional need. They need to believe that the Genesis story is the absolute truth.

What drives this need? Many things, I suppose. A common theme I found while discussing evolution with creationists is a fear that if the Genesis account is untrue, then their whole belief system is undermined. Unless they believe that everything in the Bible is true, then everything becomes suspect. And how does one choose what to believe literally vs. what to assign to allegory?

Believing that Adam was created from dust is a choice. There is no evidence to support it any more that there is evidence that Adam was created from clots of blood as stated in the Qur'an. Why believe the Bible and not the Bhagavad Gita? Why believe the story of Noah's ark and not believe Shinto myths? It is a choice that people make. Most of the time it is a choice driven by our parents, community or geography. A child born and raised in Saudi Arabia is most likely to accept Islam as the true religion than a child raised in Tibet. There is not magic. There is no mystery.

If Bible literalists were honest with themselves, they would realize that they already cherry pick what to believe in the Holy Book. Passages in the Old Testament ordering the stoning or mutilation of individuals for infractions are ignored. The New Testament clearly approves of slavery, yet Christians today rightly abhor the institution . The very existence of so many different Christian denominations demonstrates that all believers pick and choose what to believe in the Bible. It is always a matter of choice.

The Old Testament contains two conflicting creation stories. In the first account, God created the universe in six days while the second account implies that the universe was created in one day. Animals, fruit trees were created before or after Adam and Eve depending on which Genesis chapter one reads. The very presence of two accounts of how the universe was created should give pause to those who want to believe that every single word in the Bible is true. Instead, they choose to ignore the inconsistencies or claim they don't exist because their belief is not driven by fact but by emotion.

Talking about carbon dating, the fossil record or genetic sequencing will not address the reason that is driving individuals to reject evolution. It would be more constructive to have a debate about what believing in creationism means to religious people.

What do they fear would happen if tomorrow they were to accept evolution? What would change in their moral code if they accept Darwin? Would Jesus' message of love, forgiveness and compassion be less powerful if they were to accept that the earth is older than what "young creationists" say? Would their view that man was made in the image of God be tarnished if they were to acknowledge that humans and other primates share a common ancestry?  These are the questions that should be debated. Having one more Scopes Monkey trial is just pointless.