How did we get here (or, how we argue about it)?

I’ve been doing a lot of reading, listening, and thinking lately (so I’ve a billion things going through my head), and one of those things has been the creation/evolution debate. I am ashamed to say that I used to be a creationist. “Why ashamed?” you may well ask. Well, as I’ve watched debates (I’m enjoying YouTube so much!) between evolutionists and creationists, I’ve realized some very important things.

  1. Science and religion do not, indeed cannot, mix. I am sure they can overlap a little (after all, the bible, for example, does mention things in the world such as trees and water and mountains), but they are fundamentally different. They begin at completely different places. Science begins with a hypothesis, which is tested and tested to see if it can be disproved. A hypothesis cannot be proved, but it can be disproved (so my stats professor drummed into me). However, there are probability values that can be assigned to events. The higher the probability, the lower the chance the hypothesis is null and void. If there is no correlation, the scientist starts again. Maybe they will scrap the hypothesis entirely, maybe they’ll edit the hypothesis, or maybe they’ll find problems in the experimental method. Finding no correlation is not failure! (I found that a difficult concept to teach middle schoolers, by the way). On the other hand, religious people start with their text. They make everything FIT that text. For Christians, it’s obviously the bible. If a scientific fact shows the text is wrong, then it is the scientific fact that is wrong! The holy book (substitute hypothesis here) CANNOT be wrong.
  2. Evolution/Creation debates become, after a while, intensely frustrating. This is because the Christian (and I’ve mostly watched Christians debate, although I’ve seen a Muslim and a Jew debating too) always comes back to the bible, yet never gives evidence that the bible itself is what they call it (the infallible word of god). So, the evolutionist will patiently explain something that you’d think a middle schooler could easily grasp, yet at the end the Christian will say that can’t be true because… the bible. All right. If that is the case, tell us WHY the bible is so, so authoritative and error-free. But, they don’t (because they can’t).
  3. I’ve come to the conclusion that these debates (and also the YouTube videos put out by pro-creationists) , as far as the Christians are concerned, are intended for one audience, and one audience only: Christians. They give the same arguments over and over. Ken Ham and Ken Hovind are the worst. Both these men really, really seem incredibly ignorant. Further, neither seems to listen. In one debate, an evolutionist will explain something to one or other of these men, yet in the next debate or interview (or tweet or blog), the exact same issue will be raised, with no modifications whatsoever. No attempt to incorporate new knowledge to boost or strengthen their own argument. It’s as if the debate never took place, as if they never heard or learned a thing. I’m not even suggesting they should change their minds, but once an argument has been addressed, you should take the responses into consideration next time you raise that same argument. Anyway, both those men sound as if they’ve memorized chunks of text or ideas just to spout off whenever. So why do they do these debates? As I said, it’s for the Christians. No thinking person could possibly be swayed by what they’re saying (and I am referring to these types of debates; think Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham) – at least not a thinking person who values truth and has some kind of scientifically trained mind. On the other hand, I’m not sure why scientists take part in these farces. Do they hope to reach wavering believers (my best hypothesis)? Surely they don’t think they’ll change the debator’s mind? (Ken Ham, for example, has built his empire on creationism. Even if he knew he was wrong, he would have far too much to give up to admit it)
  4. The only reason I held on to creationist beliefs for as long as I did was because *I* never listened to the other side. I closed my mind. I knew there were issues, but instead of honestly addressing them, I read creationist literature. I never read anything by an evolutionist, and I am ashamed. I really am. I do believe that many, many Christians are in the same boat; maybe they don’t think there are issues, but they sure aren’t reading books by Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens (or Jerry Coyle, Neil Shubin, Sean Carroll etc…). I can’t tell you how many times I was warned about reading books that might destroy my faith, and I can only assume I was not alone in hearing this kind of message. You’re supposed to build yourself up, edify yourself… “Whatsoever is pure… think on these things”. Hmm.
  5. I am angry. I was duped. I let myself be duped.
  6. I am grateful for people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitches, AronRa, CosmicSkeptic (who, at the time of writing, is only 18 years old, but is a thoughtful, respectful adolescent who gives me hope for the future). Without those who do speak up, perhaps I’d still be hiding. Who knows?
  7. The teaching of Creationism (Creation “Science”, Intelligent Design) does not belong in the science classroom. It is not science. It has no relationship with the scientific method. It is not an “alternative view” in terms of science. It is religion. Pure and simple. Take away the bible (re-read number 1 above) and there is NO CREATIONISM. ‘Nuff said.

So, shall I answer my own question (the title of this post)? We got here through natural selection, an amazing, awe-inspiring, yet cruel  process. We have no reason other than to fill a niche made by those same processes. And that makes it all the more important to live life to its fullest, to leave the planet in better condition than it was when we entered it, to give the next generation opportunities like we have, to make life for all people (and creatures) the best that it can be (fighting inequities, lending a helping hand, having the courage to stand up for minorities and the oppressed). That is our “purpose”. And when we die? I don’t know, but if it’s like the experience I had before I was conceived, whatever it was/is, has left no mark. Probably just nothingness.

There we go.

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Kentucky Clerk – Kim Davis

Watching people at the demonstration at the Rowan County Court this morning has most certainly activated a bunch of my brain neurons! In fact, so many thoughts are zooming through my head right now that it’s hard to know exactly what to say. However, I’m going to start by stating that I believe in equal rights. Marriage is a civil union, protected by law, and granting many benefits such as tax breaks, next-of-kin privileges, health care benefits etc… No-one should be excluded from civil marriage based on their religion, color, race, or sexual orientation.

So why is this clerk defying the Supreme Court, and breaking the oath she swore when she became the elected clerk of the county? Speaking from my own experience, I think I can venture a guess, and I’ll start with an observation. Looking at those supporting Kim this morning, a group that appeared to be members of her Apostolic church and led by a man I assume is her pastor, one could not find a single African American or other person of color in the entire gathering. The majority of the people were over about 50, with a few exceptions (there were some children present who I assume were either playing truant or are being “home-schooled”). They were dressed like country folk, and held placards that included miss-spellings and very odd references (For example, one sign proclaimed that the Supreme Court ruling was wrong because of the 10th amendment). The leader (pastor) seemed to be a very dynamic man who certainly organized the group in a confident manner. The people clearly respected him.

I imagine the pastor has been teaching this group about the “evils” of homosexuality, and if he’s anything like the people on American Family Radio, he’ll have told them that there is no worse sin. If he doesn’t SAY that, he probably treats it that way. He’ll use a few passages in the bible to shore up his statements, and everyone will simply listen and soak it up. The majority will NOT go home after church and check that what he says is the whole truth. Quite probably, the majority have never read the bible in its entirety. So, as long as a few verses are thrown in here and there, they’ll accept anything he says (unless he veers off the path they’ve been walking along all their lives). Unquestioning acceptance. Questions will be considered rebellion and a lack of faith and trust (been there, done that!). Platitudes and oft-repeated phrases will assume the same value as truth.

Fundamental and/or evangelical Christianity is like a box. Once you’re in, there are many ways to keep you there, and most of them can be condensed into one word: fear. If you die unsaved, you’ll go to hell; if you examine other religions, you will most likely open yourself up to demons; if you question, your faith is not sure; if you even attempt to read or listen to divergent opinions, you might stray and lose your salvation (or, if you’re a Calvinist, entertaining opposing ideas might simply show you that you were never saved in the first place). It’s scary to contemplate non-Christian viewpoints, and the viewpoints you’re supposed to embrace are very specific (depending on which church you belong to, of course).

Kim Davis will not change her mind because she will have swallowed the Kool-aid. She will be frightened to question, and she’ll keep her eyes “fixed firmly on Jesus”. She will believe she is right, and her church will agree with her. Heck, the fundamentalist right would probably make her a saint…  if saints weren’t so… Catholic! As a result of this kind of thinking, arguing with her (or her ilk) is an activity doomed from the start. She will not think outside her box; her everlasting life depends on not doing so. And that’s a real shame. Truth should stand up to scrutiny, but if you avoid the scrutiny altogether, how do you know if you have “the Truth”? You don’t. You can’t.

So, Kim Davis, sincere as she might be, is unable to examine her actions in any light other than the one she has chosen to bathe in. The idea of substituting her own actions with what another might do, for example, imagining a Muslim refusing to issue marriage licenses to divorcees, or a Christian from a different sect/group/church refusing to, say, collect property taxes from any of his/her church members, would require logical thinking. She cannot do that.

Her lawyers are not immune to this kind of thinking either. Some of their arguments are, frankly speaking, ludicrous. The idea that public servants should not lose their first amendment rights when they take up a post is just silly. Of course they lose some of their rights. A teacher loses some first amendment rights when he/she enters a school. Imagine in Kim Davis had another daughter (not the one who stole the dog) who was in public school. Then imagine that daughter having a math teacher who started telling his/her charges all about his/her sex life. Kim would be up at that school in a heartbeat. And rightly so. Teachers do NOT have the right to say whatever they please in a classroom. And county clerks do NOT have the right to withhold services from certain people because they think God is telling them to do so.

Apparently, the courts agree with me, but it will be interesting to see what happens in court on Thursday (Sept 3) at 11am. If Bunning fines her, Liberty Counsel will no doubt pay her fines. If he jails her, she’ll become a “martyr” and the funds will flow into Liberty Counsel’s coffers in a huge rush. He’s going to have to be very wise and thoughtful about this. And I’ll be waiting on tenterhooks to see what he’s going to say.

Rules and Bible School

Is the Bible a guidebook for life, or is it a recipe? The former implies that the reader needs to discern what is being said, how it is said, and what those words meant for the people who first received them. The latter, on the other hand, implies it needs to be followed exactly (that is, literally) in order to gain the hoped-for result. Which is it? Looking around at the hundreds and thousands of expressions of Christianity around the world, there is clearly no one understanding of how to read (and by implication, follow) the Bible.

My own past includes a conservative, evangelical Bible School where I studied subjects such as exegesis, hermeneutics, apologetics, and old and new testament history (among many other subjects). It was the first time I’d ever had to actually LIVE on a campus that was run on conservative values, and it was not an altogether pleasant experience. I’m a questioner. Two and three year olds go through a phase where they ask “why?” all the time; I never grew out of it. So, I would ask “why” about some of the rules that were in place for college life, and I soon learned that questioning was not a good idea. Firstly, many of the answers didn’t make sense, and secondly, if you continued to question, you were labelled “rebellious” – and we all know what the Bible says about rebelliousness, right? It is akin to witchcraft. So, the ultimate answer is “Be quiet”.

For all her faults, my mother always encouraged questions, so simply being quiet in the face of rules that did not make sense was extremely hard for me. However, the harder I tried to do so, the more the internal damage began to build. I would castigate myself for not accepting what I considered “stupid” rules, and wonder what was wrong with me. Others didn’t seem to have the problems I did. At least, most did not voice any problems. One example was clothing. There were many rules surrounding what we could wear. To lectures, women had to wear skirts or dresses, although dress pants were also acceptable (so I guess the Bible College wasn’t ultra conservative). But, were corduroy pants “dress pants”? Big debate. Not among the students so much as the faculty. The answer, for one semester, was yes. However, this changed the next semester to a “No”. Flip-flops were not allowed to be worn to lectures, but did that include expensive dress shoes that had a bar between the big and second toe? Answer: “Yes”. To me, it seemed so petty, arbitrary, and in my book had nothing to do with the Bible.

I remember that it was at about this time I started thinking about people from other cultures. If women were not supposed to wear anything other than dresses or skirts, what of the Inuit people? Were their women supposed to wear dresses and skirts if they wanted to be Christian? And where, exactly, in the Bible was there an edict that women had to dress so? And then there was the ever-present “modesty” issue. When working around the college at practical tasks, women were allowed to wear shorts, provided they weren’t “immodest”. One of my friends was asked to change out of her shorts because a “brother” had complained her legs were causing him to stumble. Her shorts came half-way down her leg! Surely if our “brother” had a problem, he should be doing something about it himself, not complaining to the faculty about her. I believe we are in charge of ourselves and our reactions, and we should not demand that others change for us. That incident, even today as I remember it, smells badly of the excuse rapists used to make (and still do), namely, that “she asked for it”. It makes me wonder if the judges would accept a woman saying “Well, he took off his shirt while he mowed the lawn, and the sight of his lovely body turned me into a woman possessed. I just had to rape him, your honor. It wasn’t my fault; he was asking for it!”

Anyway, it was living in that kind of environment that initiated an awful lot of questions in my mind. Was this how the God of the Bible really wanted people to live? Were the small, and multitudinous, rules so, so important to life? Is that what Christianity was all about, or were many Christians becoming like the Pharisees that we so loudly condemned?