So I kept seeing posts on Facebok about some debate about Creation Science vs. Evolution between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham, founder and president of the Creation Science Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky.
Usually this kind of stuff is only of passing interest to me. But I had to start packing for my move to Philadelphia next month. So I put it on and got to work.
As I expected, it was pretty silly. It’s always mildly fascinating to me to listen to religious people trying to defend whatever they believe as “science.” The Hare Krishnas used to (and no doubt still do) try to present their stuff as scientific. But whenever science contradicted their literal interpretation of the Hindu scriptures, science was obviously wrong. Ken Ham is the same way but with a different set of scriptures.
There are lots of bloggers out there weighing in with their assessment of who won the debate and why. It seems like there is a lot of support for Bill Nye and not so much for Ken Ham. Many seem to agree with Bill Nye that there are a whole lot of Christians who don’t accept Ham’s ideas about a literal six day creation approximately 4,000 years ago, who accept evolution and do not see science as a challenge to faith in God.
My quick run through of a few blog postings about the debate indicates to me that, for many people this assertion by Bill Nye (about religious people who believe in science) was the deciding factor. A few others said that Ham’s saying that nothing could change his mind while Nye said that if the creationists could come up with real evidence they should “bring it on” was what swung things.
That may be so. But for me the crux of the debate came at around 2:03:25. After over two hours of back-and-forth that was largely just plain silly sounding to me (Nye made sense, Ham spewed nonsense) my ears pricked up when Ham said, “I have a mystery. You (Bill Nye) talk about the joy of discovery. But you also say that when you die it’s over and that’s the end of it. But if when you die it’s over and you don’t even remember you were here, what’s the point of the joy of discovery anyway? I mean ultimately. You won’t ever know you were here and no one who ever knew you will know you were here ultimately, so what’s the point anyway?”
To me, that was the heart of the debate on the theological side. I fully comprehend exactly what Ham is saying here. After making no sense at all for a solid two hours, he finally said something that revealed what was actually going on for him, and for most of those who fight against science. This says all you need to know about why there is a Creation Science Museum at all, why some people don’t want evolution in school text books, why the attacks on September 11, 2001 happened, why the Tokyo subway gas attacks happened, why there are UFO cults, why religious people all over the world seem to be going bananas at the moment.
We are all afraid of death. We all want someone to tell us we’re not really going to die. Many of us will throw out all other logic in an effort to believe we will live forever. We will attack those who threaten that belief. And there may be completely logical reasons to do so, or at least it can seem that way.
When I was younger that was the crux of the debate for me. I understood science and accepted it. But at the same time I was afraid of death. I didn’t like the fact that most of the people I was aware of who sided with science also believed that “when you die it’s over and you don’t even remember you were here.” I grasped at the same straws poor Ken Ham and his followers are grasping at now to try to find some way to make myself believe in something that was clearly not sensible.
Unlike Ham and his peeps, though, I had a broader worldview. I’d grown up in Africa and had been exposed to non-Christian religions at an early age. There was no reason I could see for favoring the Christian Bible over the Koran or the Bhagavad Gita or the oral creation traditions of the Masai and Kikuyu. When I became acquainted with some of the creation myths derived from Buddhism (unlike most religions, Buddhism has no single creation myth but there are a few creation myths that have attached themselves to the Buddhist tradition) I could see no reason to accept them any more than the others.
Still, I wanted to be told by someone who knew that death was not the end, that I would not die and never even remember I was here. I heard from my teachers the Buddhist idea that our human lives are like bubbles on a river. I understood that individual lives are like those bubbles, made out of the same stuff as the river, and that when our bubble/lives burst nothing really went away.
And still I did not believe.
Oh, I liked the idea. It made more sense than any other notion I’d heard about what happens after you die that still preserved some kind of hope that maybe in some vague way I might “remember I was here” after I breathed my last. Yet science still made more sense. And if I had to be fully rational about it I would have said that the notion that death is the end and nothing came after made better logical sense.
So what is the point? This is what Keith Ham very rightly wants to know. This is why there seem to be some good logical reasons to fight for religion against science. If we die and then we’re gone forever, if there is no punishment for our sins or reward for our goodness, then who cares? Why not just forget morality and do whatever the hell we feel like? If we allow the belief in science to spread, what’s going to stop things from descending into complete chaos? Isn’t that what we’re seeing in the world today? Isn’t it a provable fact that as the belief in religion wanes, crime rates go up, murders increase, sexual assaults become commonplace, people do drugs, fornicate with each other’s spouses, and so on and on and on? If there’s no good karma or bad karma why try to be good?
It is a scary prospect. I think Ken Ham has a valid point.
But turns out he’s wrong about what happens when people stop believing in traditional religion. Steven Pinker demonstrates in his book Better Angels of Our Nature that as the belief in religions has waned, violence has actually decreased. It is simply that better communication systems have led to us being able to know more about the many horrible things people still do to each other, not that these things are actually happening more often than when we didn’t have access to flashy reports about them 24 hours a day. It’s fascinating. Fewer people believe that God will punish their sins and reward their good behavior, and yet that has been accompanied by a tendency for people to behave better towards each other. It’s hard to know if there is a direct correlation. But the facts are facts.
Interesting as all that is, it still leaves open the question – what does happen after we die? Is it the end? Or are we bubbles on a river? Or maybe Ken Ham and friends are right after all and God just put all kinds of stuff around to fool us into doubting His word as a kind of bizarre test of faith.
My experiences in meditation have led me to the conclusion that the whole either/or debate here goes in entirely the wrong direction. When one becomes very, very, very quiet, one begins to see the world in a way that is entirely different from the supposedly “rational” beliefs of the mainstream on both sides of the debate.
It takes a lot of work to get to that point. But it’s totally worth it, if you ask me.
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I just got my 1099 tax forms from my publishers. In 2013 I made about $6000 from book sales. That’s it. The biggest support I have is your donations. A while back I saw where a very popular Buddhist blogger set up a goal of $3000 a month in donations to his blog. I don’t know if he got that. But I do not make anywhere even close to that amount here. Still, your continued donations = my continued ability to make rent. Thank you very much for your support!
(If you get a warning about an expired security certificate, ignore it. It’s just some company trying to get money from us. We’re gonna fix that. The PayPal link is not associated with my blog and is completely secure.)
You can see the documentary about me, Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen, at the following locations (I’ll be at all screenings):
– March 11, 2014 Ithaca, NY
– March 15, 2014 Brooklyn, NY
– April 20, 2014 San Francisco, CA