By Alec Hudson – Staff Writer
Out in Meade County, Ky., there is a swath of forest collectively owned by my mother’s family on the cliffs of the Ohio River. I grew up going there for family reunions, vacation days, or just outings. Every time I went, I would dig through the mud, especially around the creek beds, where I’d find little coral and shell fossils in the limestone.
I loved finding those fossils, and as a kid obsessed with all things prehistoric, I read about them and where they came from and asked science teachers about them as well.
Our simplest discussions were based on found evidence of something that existed before us. They were based on research and data collected over many years by scientists who were able to support their findings. They were not conjecture but physical material that I could hold and in my hand.
Such was also the case when the famous science educator and mechanical engineer Bill Nye (known to children across the country as “The Science Guy”) debated Christian fundamentalist and President of the Creation Museum Ken Ham on Feb. 4.
The debate gained a large following online due to the controversial subject, yet the content was ultimately weak. Ham contended that science should be divided into “historical” and “observed” sciences, with the latter being based solely on observation and the former solely based on a particular worldview: a worldview that was, in Ham’s case, separate from what he called mainstream natural science.
He further challenged that the basis of mainstream natural science was less plausible than his belief in a creator god who formed the universe in six 24-hour days 6,000 years ago.
Nye countered by poking holes in Biblical stories and proving their limitations in the natural world, such as the ridiculousness of the claim that eight people could force thousands of species into a relatively small ark and keep them alive for an entire year.
The debate continued with questions of morality, our place in the universe, and how we can move forward with new and old ideas.
But the entire premise of the debate is troubling. While it may appear reasonable to view Ham’s Young Creationism argument as equal to that of mainstream science, it is impossible.
Ham makes the mistake of thinking science was born in an atheist vacuum, that it starts on the basis of a lack of a god in the universe to find evidence to back up that atheist argument. But what he and proponents of Young Earth Creationism forget is that science was born through the questioning of religious-based and supernatural-based explanations of natural phenomena. Science and religion have been in dialogue for centuries.
Galileo, Newton, Bacon, Descartes, Darwin, Curie, Einstein, and countless other scientists did not start out asking whether a god existed or not. They formulated their theories with observation, evidence, experimentation, and reproducible results which we are still able to debate and that are liable to change as we make new observations. Their intent was not to find evidence to disprove the Bible or the Abrahamic God but to discover how the mechanisms of our universe work so that humanity might understand the world in which we live. Their scientific experiments were not attacks against faith, but an attempt to learn.
Young Earth Creationism does not collect evidence, experiment, or theorize. It is based on a literalist interpretation of the Abrahamic Genesis text in which a higher power whose existence is not provable through any scientific method and whose basis of existence is in a collection of documents written in the Levant thousands of years ago is solely responsible for the creation of the universe. Their perspective on the world comes from one text.
Creationism that tries to act as a science seeks answers to a question it claims to already know, even though the sources of its answers are refutable by science and historical record.
This is not to say science and religion cannot coexist. Indeed they have done so for the past centuries. But humanity’s ability to reason, analyze, and calculate has allowed us to observe and define natural phenomena on our planet and throughout the universe.
That ability has allowed for us to know that the corals and shells I found along the Ohio River as a boy were millions of years older than what any ancient text says. If religion is to be accepted and taken seriously in our society, it must submit to the fact that its ancient answers to natural phenomena cannot withstand the physical evidence being discovered every day through observable science.
In short, religion needs to accept that it does not have all the answers to our existence, because no one does.