Hearing about the exchange last night between Bill Nye, "The Science Guy," and Ken Ham the founder of the Creation Museum in Kentucky, I could not help but be somewhat disappointed by the whole situation. The reporting of it on NPR confirmed the worst fears of someone who believes in Creationism: the more educated people become, the less likely they are to continue to believe in Creationism.
For the scientifically minded, even the social and political progressives, amongst us, this claim about the role of education makes a great deal of sense and perhaps seems reasonable. But it does little more than to make believers in Creationism buckle down, which tends to make the possibility of a genuine conversation about this quite difficult. To be honest, I think that we need to have a very different kind of a conversation about "origins" than what was had Tuesday night.
I think that the entire conversation needs to be focused on what the Bible is and is not.
Because this is not really ever part of the exchange between Creationists and scholars, scientific or otherwise, Creationists will never be convinced by the perspective of evolution. Here are three reasons why I think this is the case:
1) Evolution is not, strictly speaking, mentioned in the Bible, so a Creationist is not inclined to trust it. I say "strictly speaking," because I know of rabbis, pastors and scholars who see evolution being given a nod in the story found in Genesis 3. But admittedly, this is not how most people I know read it.
2) People tend to assume that the two realms of science and faith must be in opposition to one another, or that when one is "right" on an issue the other cannot hold any merit in the conversation. I know of plenty of "faithful" Jews and Christians who can hold the Bible as their sacred writings yet have a healthy scientific world-view. These two realms can inform one another. But when one of the main reasons, if not the main reason, we bring faith and science into conversation with each other is over this issue, we tend to do so in a way that says, "Let's find who is right." Someone has to win, when that is the way the conversation is framed.
3) Starting from the "evolution" perspective is always taken to be challenging what is found in Genesis 1-3. Perhaps this seems obvious to you. But if that is where a person representing evolution starts, she or he has lost the Creationist from the get-go.
None of this way of approaching the conversation addresses the content of the Bible and the type of writings we find in them. This is, it seems to me, the central issue.
Creationists read the Bible as history and fact, and have well-thought-through reasons to read it in this way. But this way of reading, which is one I used to employ, does an injustice to the kinds of writing that the Bible is. When it comes to Genesis, especially the chapters in question here, Genesis 1-3, what we are talking about is myth. Yes, myth. But by "myth," I do not mean "a pack of lies." I mean the "this is a story that explains something that we cannot understand," perspective. There is a great deal more to be said to clarify what I mean by these claims. For that reason, I think that this is a conversation that needs to happen, but starting with what the Bible is and is not.
I take up the issue of genres and what the Bible is and is not elsewhere (forthcoming book), and I do find that it is a conversation that needs to be handled quite delicately and respectfully. Any frustration directed toward Creationists tends to confirm their belief in their correctness. Similarly, not being able to hear the reasoning of a person speaking about evolution needs to be understood as a Creationist holding on to and starting from what is most important to her or him: the Bible. Every way I approach this conversation in my mind, I find that the issue will only be addressed by talking about and understanding the Bible, not science.