One day a few years ago I lost my glasses. I searched all over: kitchen, bedside table, bathroom. I didn't find them but I did find Elizabeth, my wife. "E," I said, "Have you seen my glasses? I've looked everywhere and can't find them." She smiled quizzically, then laughed aloud when she saw I wasn't kidding.
They were on my face. I had been looking through them the whole time. My forward focus had missed them even as they floated at the periphery of vision.
Last Saturday it happened again: Something I could until then see only peripherally, something I had been looking for, materialized before my eyes. It was pretty awesome.
It has to do with young Earth creationism. This is the belief that the cosmos and the Earth in it were formed over six 24-hour periods about 6,000 years ago. This number is arrived at using the biblical account alone -- its historical markers and begats -- to calculate the year of creation. Different methods yield different calendar dates for Day One, but to a single significant figure all round to 4,000 BC.
I think about creationism a lot, and when it enters the scope of my mind's eye I see science. I see the tsunami of unambiguous evidence that forces us to believe in a 14-billion-year-old cosmos; in a 4.5-billion-year-old Earth; and in the long slow evolution of creatures, Darwin's "endless forms most beautiful." And I see the sad caricature of science championed by young Earth creationists in their effort to prop up their historical reading of Genesis. I see their arguments about the Deluge, the Grand Canyon, the receding Moon, and I see exactly why they are wrong. I see all of this and I ask myself, How can Ken Ham's Creation Museum -- not to mention the forthcoming Ark Park -- even be possible in such a cosmos? Why can't people see the evidence and change their minds?
This is naive, I know. And I would have admitted as much even before I picked up the October issue of the Atlantic on Saturday. But before I read Jeffrey Goldberg's article about his visit to the Creation Museum, the truth about creationism lurked faintly and furtively at the outer edge of my vision. By the time I put the magazine down, however, my naivete had become a large solid thing standing directly in front of me. I could finally see it in all its obviousness.
The Creation Museum offers up plenty of fun -- zip lines, a planetarium, a food court, a petting zoo -- but these are so many electrons swirling around a stable and serious nucleus: a series of scenes from the so-called "primeval history" of Genesis 1-11. Up front and central is God's establishment of Adam and Eve in the bright luxury of Eden. The museum's First Couple radiates contentment (in a mannequin-y kind of way). They are white, healthy, and unfazed by not only their own nakedness, but by a surrounding horde of large animals and (yes) dinosaurs.
They are also, per scripture, oppositely sexed. There is no subtlety in the presentation of this fact: "buff Adams and sexpot Eves," Goldberg writes of the mannequins, "plastic breasts covered by waterfalls of extremely healthy hair." Male and female God created them; very male and very female Ken Ham presents them.
For me this is a sign pointing to the truth about creationism, which is: Creationism is not about the dinosaurs in the ark, it's not about the weird chronology, it's not about the tortured explanations of geology and biology. Creationism, in short, is not about science at all.
What creationism is about, is gay marriage.
Sitting with Ken Ham and Terry Mortenson, a historian of geology and a theologian on staff, I asked why it is so important to convince their visitors -- more than 2 million since the museum opened seven years ago -- that Genesis is a book of history. "There's a slippery slope in regard to authority," Ham replied. "If you say that the history in Genesis is not true... why shouldn't you just reinterpret what marriage means?"
Mortenson stayed on the subject. "The homosexual issue flows from this. Genesis says that God created marriage between one man and one woman. He didn't create it between two men, or two women, or two men and one woman, or three men and one woman, or two women and one man, or three women and one man. If other parts of Genesis aren't true, then how could this idea of marriage be true? If there were no Adam and Eve and we're all evolved from apelike ancestors and there's homosexuality in the animal world and if Genesis is mythology, then you can justify any behavior you want."
To be fair, other social issues are also important to Ham and his fellow creationists: teen pregnancy, pornography, abortion, euthanasia. But gay marriage, it seems, is representative of the lot. It is central. It is, as friend and fellow parishioner David Gushee writes, our generation's hot button issue.
And because creationism is about gay marriage and not about science, science doesn't matter to creationists.
Back in February bow-tied science advocate Bill Nye debated Ham on the question of human origins. He did an admirable job representing real science. But Nye can calmly and rationally present the facts of science to Ken Ham until the Sun turns to coal but it won't make a difference because the facts of science have nothing to do with it at all. All the scientific posturing of Ham and his team is there to effect a single and manifestly non-scientific end: the protection of a traditional social order, starting with one man and one woman.
This is why creationists can deny science while accepting its technological bounty; this is why they make up their own science as they go; this is why they stand and face science's great wall of facts -- and even comprehend it -- and don't budge a micron from their long-fixed position.
Creationism is not about science. This is so painfully obvious to me now, I'm embarrassed to reveal how blind I've been. I may even be more embarrassed than when Elizabeth witnessed me losing my glasses while they were perched on my face.
There are of course plenty of creationists who are not true believers like Ham, who might yet be persuaded by the facts of science. Therefore the work of science apologists like Nye is important. And not all who oppose gay marriage have a view of science even remotely resembling young Earth creationism. But there seems to be a parallel between Nye's work and that of Gushee, for example, who is in the midst of developing a Christian argument in favor of gay marriage (among other things). Both work to convince not the entrenched but those at the boundaries, where all the good stuff seems to happen.