The Common Good

'Ham on Nye' Debate Doesn't Reflect Reality

Whenever I hear about someone else making a case for Young Earth Creationism in the name of Christianity, I’m embarrassed, once again, to associate myself with them. And people wonder why many of us prefer to identify as “Jesus followers” or “Spiritual but not Religious” rather than be lumped in with the Ken Hams of the world.

Courtesy Answers in Genesis
Courtesy Answers in Genesis

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Duh.

The thing is, a healthy number of us who consider ourselves to be Christian embrace science. We think critically. We accept the likelihood that much we think we understand about the world, the universe, and about our faith can (and should) change as we learn new things. We understand that faith is more about questions than answers, and that the prime mover in our faith practice is to be more like Jesus in our own daily walk, rather than focusing so much on making others more like us.

The desire of a vocal minority (yes, that’s what I said, and I meant it) of Christians to cling to a notion that the entire universe is a few thousand years old, despite the clear physical evidence to the contrary, points less to a reasonable alternate view of the observable world. Rather, it points to a desperate attempt to maintain a dying voice in the cultural conversation.

Its the sound of Christendom losing its grip on the chair at the head of the table. It’s the sound of a culturally dominant voice trying to resist its own marginalization to the fringes of a society who values the pursuit and evolution of human thought.

You’d think that the whole Copernicus thing might have taught us that trying to reconcile Biblical literalism with a historical account of anthropology and cosmology doesn’t work out so well for the church. And it’s not just because we’re becoming more secular and Godless.

Science figured out something long ago that religion still struggles with. Built into the scientific method is the assumption that all hypotheses and theories should be held loosely, and ultimately, released in exchange for new ones when the evidence before us calls for it. Religion, on the other hand, tends to carve out a position and defend it tirelessly, from generation to generation, sometimes to the death.

Never mind if it’s clearly absurd, counterintuitive, and based in bronze-age thinking. It’s what a “good Christian” does.

The media is responsible for its share of fanning these flames in the public forum, though. The fact that National Public Radio would have someone like Ken Ham on air to debate the origins of the physical universe rather than, say, John Caputo, Marcus Borg, or Diana Butler Bass points to a healthy dose of willful myopia about what Christian faith in the 21st century looks like for hundreds of millions of us who don’t require the Bible to be literally, factually true in order for it to contain life-giving truth.

I might expect Bill Maher, Fox News, or MSNBC to foment such empty punditry, but not NPR. So let’s have a thoughtful, nuanced conversation about our origins.

Let’s talk about, while science focuses more on responding to “how,” religion should focus more on “why.”

Let’s talk about how both science and religion benefit from a sense of open-ended mystery and curiosity, which inherently requires a willingness to change.

Let’s talk about how not all Christians believe there’s some invisible Sky Wizard sitting up in the clouds who got lonely and creates us as His playthings.

Let’s talk about how, at the heart of the faith of many Christians, is a poetic, aesthetic sense of something greater than ourselves, one that cannot be explained or argued to a definitive conclusion. One that requires a sense of intellectual humility and an openness to alternate realities. One that joyfully makes room for the coexistence of multiple truths.

And let’s talk about how many of the greatest scientists have held much the same mindset when entering into the most compelling questions at the hearts of their own research.

Let’s talk about how theology should help reveal without trying to fully and decisively explain, and how good science concedes to an overwhelming evidence.

Let’s recognize that, at the heart of a more full human experience is the logical, observable world as well as the sublime, the ineffable, the mysterious that draws us forward toward ... who knows?

Moreover, let’s stop trying so damn hard as people of faith to be something we’re not. Jesus is no less Jesus if the universe is billions of years old. “Love God, Love (ALL) neighbors, and serve the world” is both critical to Christian practice, while also not being an exclusively Christian value.

Science is more about seeking answers, while faith is about asking questions. Science dwells in the “how” while faith explores the “why.” And both only work if, beneath it all, we keep the notion that it’s very likely, if not inevitable, that much I think and believe is true today will change tomorrow.

And that’s okay. It’s part of being human.

Here are a few of the best tweets during the #creationdebate:

Watch the debate below:

Christian Piatt is a Sojourners Featured Writer and an author, editor, speaker, musician, and spoken word artist. He is director of church growth and development at First Christian Church in Portland, Ore. Christian is the creator and editor of Banned Questions About The Bibleand Banned Questions About Jesus. His new memoir on faith, family and parenting is called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

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