It’s almost 2005. It must be time to revisit the Scopes Monkey Trial!
Right on schedule, and perhaps not surprisingly only weeks after the alleged “religious conservative”-driven election victory, school districts around the country are entertaining the teaching of Creationism – the “science” derived from the story of creation contained in the Bible.
With battles brewing in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and an actual trial in Georgia, we must now endure the pathetic spectacle of earnest and devoted religious scholars trying to justify why un-provable faith should be given equal time with a scientific theory that has withstood vigorous testing since the 1859 publishing of Origin of Species.
The biblical creation story is beautiful. It is rich and poetic, and sets forth in a meaningful and powerful fashion the birth of the Judeo-Christian tradition. But it’s not a scientific theory. It has no more objective truth than the creation story of any other religious or mythological system.
The true meaning of the story is in the richer subtext, in the message to us that God created humanity because He wanted a creature in His own image, a creature that would be more interesting, more challenging, and more like Him than all that He’d created before. But you miss that kind of nuance when you’re trying to concoct a scientific theory that’s capable of proving that the Duckbilled Platypus was created at 3:17pm on the fifth day.
By trying to turn a powerful religious message into a lame attempt at a scientific theory, the creationists engage in a form of heresy, forsaking the real meaning of the creation story in a vain attempt to “prove” the Bible to be a literal work of history. Their heresy is fundamentally anti-Christian.
How so? It obscures the true meaning of the Bible in a fog of half-truths and fanciful word games that the holier-than-thou crowd spews forth to “prove” that the creation story is literally true. In doing this, they portray the religion as being about pretzel logic rather than belief. Oblivious to the disservice they do to their religion, they dismiss carbon dating, dinosaur bones, and other cold, hard facts with absurd explanations told with a self-satisfied grin.
You see, it’s that grin that always drives me nuts. Creationism proponents always seem overcome with that smile whenever they finish a particularly contorted rationale for why something seemingly obvious really isn’t. Is it a smile of self-satisfaction at their prowess in verbal ju-jitsu, defeating facts with a barrage of faux logical arguments? Is it barely-contained laughter at the cleverness of their improvisation? Is it pride in the fact that they’ve once again been forced to concoct lies from whole cloth to defend their faith?
My father reminds me that Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as, “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” It seems to me that the saddest part of the creationism effort is that if fundamentalist Christians and supporters of creation “science” truly had faith, they wouldn’t need to bother with “scientifically proving” anything. For allegedly faithful Christians to engage in the intellectual dishonesty required to promote “creationism” denigrates both them and their religion.
The six days of creation are not a time line, they’re a bold metaphor for the awesome power of the Judeo-Christian God who created the entire universe and still didn’t think it was enough, so created humanity as His last and greatest creation. A theory of evolution doesn’t disprove God, nor does it undermine the faith of the truly faithful. It only presents a problem for those who are too intellectually lazy to have sought the deeper meaning in the Bible’s telling of the creation story.
The message of the creation story is that we are special creatures, not that our species is a day younger than the Emu. To try to make the creation message into creation “science” is to take something great and powerful and make something less of it, something hollow and meaningless. It’s missing the forest for the trees. Or perhaps more aptly, it’s like trying to derive the meaning of a church by examining the bricks and lumber from which the church is built rather than focusing on what goes on inside.
Whatever God or higher power you believe in, or even if you don’t believe in a higher power, you must agree that humanity is endowed with an insatiable curiosity. Our quests to understand how our bodies work, how our planet works, how the universe works — if you believe in God, you must believe that God intended us to be curious about these things. To create scientific theories that withstand the scrutiny of time and experimentation is no threat to God. And it’s certainly no threat to those whose faith comes from a truly contemplative life, a life defined by an insatiable curiosity to understand faith and God’s love.
Unfortunately, I have come to believe that fundamentalist Christians are fundamentally un-Christian and fundamentally unfaithful in their failure to engage their religion in more depth than mere face-value. To fail to engage, or to be unwilling to engage, is not being true to the Christian faith, and it’s certainly not being true to the intelligence that God gave us all. Faith is not easy. It sometimes requires you to do the intellectual work necessary to understand the intricacies, complexities, and sometimes contradictions, of the faith. It’s those who are unsure of their faith who lack the will to challenge it.
If you are a fundamentalist Christian and that’s too much work for you, then do yourself and your professed faith a favor and stop trying to pass yourself off as being more faithful than somebody else. You demean yourself and your religion by trying to quarrel with those who have made an effort to understand that the meaning of the Bible, and the meaning of the Christian faith, are deeper and more powerful than mere words on a page.
Liberals aren’t against religion. Indeed, freedom of religion is a fundamental liberal value, as is respect for all religious traditions. It’s Republicans who want to force one dominant religious framework into schools, laws, and government policies. Liberals are for honest discussions about the role of religious values in our civic life, our government policies, and yes, the role of religious values even in our schools. But liberals believe that faith should not be taught in public classrooms, just as partisan political lectures shouldn’t be given from tax-exempt pulpits. Government is a lousy vehicle for advancing religion, and religion is not a democracy. Trying to mesh the two ultimately corrupts both.
If you are truly full of faith — faithful — then there is no problem with children learning the scientific theory of evolution on a school day, and then learning the beauty of the creation story in Sunday School. The only problems arise from those whose minds are too small to accept that reason and faith, as Pope John Paul II said, “are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to contemplation of the truth.” Or as Einstein put it, “Religion without science is crippled; science without religion is lame.”