I've just returned from a hair-raising journey to a strange and terrible place. Okay, so it was on the Internet, and I didn't have to change out of my running clothes, but we all know that there are corners of the Internet, dark, dank, worrisome corners, where scary things lurk. And not just lurk, they have sex with each other and spawn more scary things. Anyway, where was I?
Oh, yes. Just when we were hoping that, with the recent death of Jerry Falwell (may he rest in...well, may he rest), the Enlightenment would resume full force to religiously observant and unobservant Americans alike, May 28th brought the opening of a new museum in Kentucky that is called, wait for it, the Creation Museum. I logged onto the Internet to investigate further. Before long I found myself crouching beneath my desk, humming The Itsy Bitsy Spider and wishing my mother were there.
What is the Creation Museum, you ask? Well, it is a natural history museum dedicated to the commemoration of the time when Adam and Eve and their descendants dwelled amongst the dinosaurs.
When was that again? Oh, right, never. But that's not the thinking of the Creation Museum's founders, members of an organization called Answers in Genesis, which is run by an Australian ex-pat named Ken A. Ham, and sports the motto: "Upholding the Authority of the Bible from the Very First Verse." The ministry's main doctrine is presented as a well-organized, pseudo- scientific treatise both on how evolution is unnecessary to science and how, rather, science can be explained by Creationism.
Okay, let's take a breath. A lot of religious people believe that, one way or another, everything on earth was created by God. Full disclosure: I don't. I am a secular Jew/atheist, who believes that men wrote the Bible in somewhat the same spirit that our founding fathers wrote the Constitution, with the overall intention of imposing some order on all the chaos. I think the Creation is an excellent story that explained the origins of man in the age before carbon dating. That said, I also have enormous respect for the power that religion has to unite people for good causes, buoy people who are floundering, offer solace to people who need comfort.
And if people want to believe that God was there at the big bang, sure, why not? For people who believe in God, it is consistent that the beauty and brilliance of science was created (or, as my seven year old son says, curated) by him/her/whomever. But the beliefs of the Answers in Genesis ministry are a direct refutation of hundreds of years of scientific research.
According to Ken Ham, "The idea of millions of years of evolution is just the evolutionists' story about the past. No scientist was there to see the dinosaurs live through this supposed dinosaur age. In fact, there is no proof whatsoever that the world and its fossil layers are millions of years old. No scientist observed dinosaurs die. Scientists only find the bones in the here and now, and because many of them are evolutionists, they try to fit the story of the dinosaurs into their view."
Answers in Genesis proposes that natural selection is not nature's way of perpetuating the species, but God's way of destroying it. Following a lengthy description of the science of genetic mutations, it is suggested that these same mutations are not leading us towards survival, but away, towards our eventual destruction, as foretold in Genesis, when God cursed Man for having sinned in Eden. We are not evolving; we are devolving. But that's okay, because with our destruction comes our resurrection.
Sure, it's scary, but it's not what worries me.
This is: The theories put forth by the Answers in Genesis ministry, and embodied in the Creation Museum, are emblematic of a trend in America. This trend has, perhaps, reached its apotheosis with the presidency of George W. Bush, the Hebrew National hot dog of presidents, answerable only to a higher power. It is a trend of garnering support for political policy based upon conflation, upon the uniting of two separate things into a new whole. Like al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, for example. Or compassionate conservatism. It is the marriage of two ideas in order to, frankly, advance only one.
The science/religion conflation is particularly frightening. It is a shortcut to another terrifying conflation --that of church and state. One third of the voters in this country believe the Bible is literally true, and their devotion has put them at the continued mercy of evangelical leaders who are still aligned with the Republican party. Even if these voters currently oppose the war, are appalled by the economy --having joined the ever ballooning class of Americans who live in poverty-- or have witnessed their congressional representatives and leaders embroiled in scandal, they have not rethought their position on the Bible. And, hey, it's hard to vote against God. While these other issues may lose their faith-based support, creationism is on the rise. (Perhaps it will do for the 2008 Republican candidate what fear of gay marriage did for Bush in 2004. Yikes.) Three out of 10 current Republican candidates raised their hands when asked during the recent debate if anyone did not believe in evolution. The percentage of adults who believe in evolution has actually declined.
There has been, as the title of the new Al Gore book so eloquently states, an assault on reason. We have, in fact, devolved, and, when you think about it, it is exactly what the Answers in Genesis ministry predicted: a mutation that could lead to the end of the world.
Hopefully not. While we're all still here, let us use this opportunity not only to shake our heads and wonder at the stupidity of it all, but to reach out to people of all faiths, or no faith, and rally on behalf of science. Join the campaign being waged at http://defconamerica.org, and sign a petition, or get yourself on a school board, or go to a real natural history museum.
Believe what you want to believe, but get your facts straight.