I have a confession to make. Going to the Natural History Museum totally stresses me out.
When I was growing up, I considered going to a museum or a science class a test of my faith. When my biology teacher told us in the 9th grade that we were descended from apes, I looked at her and said, “Well, maybe YOU were.” You know. For Jesus. (Mrs. Butts, I doubt you’ll read this. But if you do, I’m really, really sorry.)*
The thing I remember most about the natural history museum was walking past all the signs that said things like “5 million years ago” and thinking yeah frikkin’ right. Morons. Everyone knows that the Bible is Very Clear about how long we’ve been here.
But then, at some point, it occurred to me that a lot of people say things like “5 million years ago”. And that some of them are probably actually really smart. So things started to feel a little less clear.
And then I started to meet other Christians who believed things like “5 million years ago”. What the what?! Don’t you know that if you don’t take the first three chapters of Genesis absolutely literally, your faith has no basis? Poetry? Prose? No, no, the New American Standard Bible doesn’t bother with that nuance. Nuance is how the devil gets you.
Still, it kept getting harder and harder to disregard All of the People as morons. Especially as people I consider to be heroes of my faith were “outed” as not-necessarily-seven-day-creationists. Very notably C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien; these two men, between them, constructed the backdrop of most of my childhood imagination. It is very hard to pin down what they actually believed about evolution, and maybe there is a lesson to be learned from that in and of itself in this day and age when we are all reduced to either “Tea-baggers” or “libtards”.
Watching Ken Hamm and Bill Nye debate each other last night made my stomach hurt. On one hand, I had all this nostalgic defensiveness about the dogmatic positions of my youth. Well, yeah, sea fossils on mountain tops. What’s that about? It was also painful to watch the audience clap and cheer for Ken Hamm and stare in stony silence at Bill Nye. Don’t you guys know? He’s the Science Guy! He’s saying something charming and being funny! You’re allowed to laugh at the fact that the big bang would have been silent. It doesn’t mean you’re becoming an atheist.
Sometimes I miss the comfort of being Very Sure of All the Things. But mostly I am very glad for the loss of my hubris.* I am able to have conversations with people now and actually learn from them. I remember in college once I spewed the four spiritual laws all over a poor fellow undergrad just because she had offered up that she thought she understood something about who God is because of her relationship with her husband. What she offered me was real and experience-based. What I offered her was memorized out of a pamphlet. I was presuming to claim status as an eye-witness about something that I hadn’t even taken the time to internalize yet. I wish I could say this is the only cringe-worthy moment I had in college (wouldn’t it be nice if we could all reduce that pile to one?). But if you know me at all, you know it wasn’t.
All I can say about that now is that I am very glad for the relative anonymity of not being famous so that I can work this out without being skewered publicly by thousands of commenters every step of the way like some of my famous Christian brothers and sisters who say stupid things and then come under fire for them. Anyone who knows anything about the science of education will tell you that is a very, very unproductive way to learn anything. As I thought about writing this out I could hear in my head derision from my right for compromising and allowing the World instead of God to direct my footsteps. And from my left, I could hear derision for not being progressive enough. The pressure is further intensified by the fact that I am now responsible for the cognitive development of two people who, if the internet is to be believed, will either turn out to be amoral heathens or bigotted bumpkins if I make the wrong choice about which museum to go to over Thanksgiving (The Creation Museum is close to my hometown, as is the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History). Why do I have to be either Godless Bill Nye, or Anti-scientist Ken Hamm? Why can’t I be something in between? Oh, wait, I can. Just maybe not on Facebook.
I suppose this post will end the way this conversation usually ends for me these days. That is to say, I don’t know. It’s a cop-out, I get that. But it’s the best I’ve got right now. At the end of the day, whatever happened at the beginning of the world thous…wait…mill…wait…bill…well, a very long time ago, anyway…has very little bearing on whether I should be kind, generous, and loving. I’ll take comfort and direction from the words of George McDonald (another hero of my faith, someone who was alive when Darwin was, and who was thoughtfully and intentionally silent about this entire debate). “I have enough to do in trying to faithfully practice what is beyond dispute.”
*Please don’t take my explanations of my experiences growing up as descriptive of Creationist Doctrine as a whole. I can not and would not claim to represent that. My experiences, thoughts, and pride are my own and no one else’s. Christian teaching, including Creationist Christian teaching, says that we should be humble (which by extension means to not assume that people are morons) and the hubris of which I spoke, while certainly not rare, is certainly not an inherent trait of Evangelicalism, Creationism, or Christianity any more than angry atheism is a necessary part of accepting evolutionary theory.
A middle ground? Some wouldn’t think so. Thanks, JE, for sharing this.
Bill Nye’s motivation for debating
Ken Ham’s motivation for debating