I blame Bill Nye. Several weeks ago, Nye thought it'd be a fine idea to debate a well-known creationist and founder of the Creation Museum, Ken Ham. On debate points and grasp of reality, Nye absolutely won the debate.
But ultimately, Ham was the real winner.
Not only did the debate send the loud but unspoken message that creationism was worthy of equal time with science but, it turns out, the debate was a huge money-maker for Ham's ridiculous museum -- inside which it's okay to instruct children that the universe is 6,000 years old and that humans rode on the backs of tamed, domesticated dinosaurs. The debate also helped to raise much-needed funds to greenlight "Ark Park," a theme park based around the fable of Noah's Ark.
I'm sure Nye had the best of intentions. Perhaps he thought he could convince a few skeptical creationists about the reality of evolution, while reinforcing the validity of it with those of us in the choir who don't need any convincing. That said, there are some things that are unworthy of equal time. Ken Ham's ideas are fine in the context of a Sunday morning homily, but they don't belong in science class. Nye, for all of his good intentions, invited creationism into his classroom.
And now, with Neil deGrasse Tyson's reboot of the Cosmos miniseries airing every Sunday night on Fox, Ham and his organization believe they deserve equal time on television in order to balance the visibility of the purely scientific documentary series.
It's possible that this would've occurred irrespective of whether Nye had debated Ham, but clearly the success of the debate for Ham and his ministry has emboldened them to do more.
On a program called The Janet Mefferd Show, a spokesman for the Creation Museum as well as Ham's other outfit, "Answers in Genesis," complained that his group deserves equal time with Cosmos.
Danny Faulkner told Mefferd, "Consideration of special Creation is definitely not open for discussion, it would seem." Well, sure it does -- in church -- not as an equal or even valid counterpoint to facts proven through the scientific method, which are then peer-reviewed and agreed upon by almost unanimous consensus.
The host of the show doesn't really care about the scientific consensus thing, saying, "Boy, but when you have so many scientists who simply do not accept Darwinian evolution, it seems to me that that might be something to throw in there, you know, the old, 'some scientists say this, others disagree and think this,' but that's not even allowed."
The percentage of scientists who disagree with evolution? One tenth of one percent -- 0.1 percent. Once again we have no choice but to invoke Lloyd Christmas from Dumb & Dumber: "So you're telling me there's a chance! Yeeeaaaah!"
You can find a narrow cross-section of kooks and weirdos who believe in the Sasquatch as well as the malarkey about how the moon landing was faked in a Hollywood studio. That doesn't validate either myth nor should such validation warrant inclusion in science classes. Likewise, the popular conspiracy theory about "chemtrails" doesn't deserve equal time in aviation courses.
There's neither scientific validity nor consensus behind any of it. That's not to say believers in any of the above conspiracies and myths aren't allowed to launch websites like InfoWars or to discuss religious matters from the pulpit, and it doesn't forbid Ham from hosting a "God Is In The Gaps" website like the "Answers in Genesis" website. The Constitution allows such freedoms, but it doesn't mandate equal time with empirical reality.
Regarding Ham's website, it's essentially dedicated to raising doubts about evolution while offering creationists various handy-dandy (yet easily debunkable) talking points to refute science. Whenever a science news story breaks in which one or more details remain unclear, Ham's site offers it up as evidence that science is flawed and therefore inferior to the teachings of the Bible. If we can't explain everything, according to Ham and others, then we have no choice but to admit that the Bible fills in the gaps.
The site also features an online store where the recommended publication is an e-book titled Noah and the Last Days, Featuring Ray Comfort. If you've followed the online surge in creationism for the last ten years or so, you'll recognize the name Ray Comfort and how he represents Ground Zero for everything that's silly about the movement.
Comfort was, and maybe still is, the sidekick to teen-heartthrob-turned-born-again-evangelist Kirk Cameron. Cutting to the chase, Cameron and Comfort once hosted a video in which Comfort explained how the banana was intelligently designed by God. See, it comes pre-packaged in its own biodegradable wrapper; it fits perfectly in the human hand; it has a pop-top like a soda can; the cylindrical meat of the banana glides smoothly into the human mouth; and it's "curved toward the face."
I know what you're thinking. Eureka, right?
Of course, at the time, Comfort didn't want his congregation to know that the banana he discussed was a modern store-bought banana that's been selectively bred to look like it does -- not unlike Tyson's Cosmos segment about "artificial selection" with dog breeds, developed and bred by humans to form the wide variety of dogs that exist today.
Should Comfort's explanation for why bananas look like bananas be taught in agricultural and biology classes? Should it be given equal time with any serious science? Should Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack or the folks from Dole routinely debate Comfort, giving his cringe-worthy banana theory an equal platform?
Not a chance. Why? Because it's not science. It's not anything other than a belief -- a very, very wild belief. But I'm sure more than a few suckers bought the banana story (the "atheists' nightmare") all the way. If you're predisposed to believing in intelligent design, why the hell not? Yet a cursory group of believers can't possibly justify equal time or prove any real evidence to contradict the documented fact that, yes, through modern agriculture and selective breeding, the wild banana changed significantly over the years to its current recognizable form.
By the same token, can we please stop debating creationism on equal terms? I'm looking at you, scientists. And it might be too late, but let's hope that Fox doesn't decide to air a seven-part "documentary" miniseries abut creationism. Though, yeah, it's Fox, so anything's possible.
While we're here, let's be perfectly frank about an even broader issue: any constitutional argument in support of creationism in science class based on grounds of religious freedom should expect to be met by a backlash in which secular ideas are forcibly injected into church matters. Indeed, the Establishment Clause door swings both ways. Opening the door to allow religious dogma to be incorporated into the secular world frees secularism to intrude upon the pulpit; be it scientific evidence shoehorned into sermons for the sake of "equal time," or taxes imposed upon churches. Hence, the door should remain firmly shut and padlocked, for the benefit of both science and religion.
As I've written before, not all people of faith are stupid or naive. They're not. However, when some of them try to pass off their faith as science, they very often seem that way. Fooling oneself into believing that an article of faith can be proved by empirical analysis and scientific methodology only makes one look as silly as Ray Comfort and his banana, or Ken Ham and his saddled triceratops. Faith isn't science and science isn't faith. Conflating the two is indeed far worse than comparing apples to oranges -- it's more like comparing apples to hobbits. Awkwardly struggling to couple these two vastly different realms only breeds confusion, fear and resentment. And it needs to stop.
The sooner people of faith accept the "wall of separation" between science and faith, the sooner these ideas can coexist, each in their own appropriate non-intersecting spheres.
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