Thursday, February 6, 2014

Knowing the unknowable

We don't think much of God.

Small wonder we care so little for each other.

Three cases in point this week:

1.) Bill "The Science Guy" Nye debated Ken Ham, president of the Creation Museum, over the argument: Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?

(Fascinating to watch, but clear out some time. Check it out.)

Ham argues yes, the earth is 6,000 years old, and all the answers for the universe's origins are in the Bible. We can only know, says Ham, what we as humans can observe directly.

Further, says Ham, atheists and secularists conspire with government to suppress creation as a science, and persecute its believers. Ham referred to scientists outside of creation as "secularists."

Nye says no, creation science does not explain our origins, if only because science has found things on earth that are older than 6,000 years. Among other evidence.

The United States stands at great peril in world science and technology mastery, says Nye, if we raise generations of Americans who believe in creation as a science. Nye referred to creation as a science "the Ken Ham model."

Full disclosure: I'm a Christian, a lukewarm one, the worst kind. I am a troubled Catholic — troubled by belonging to a religion whose good works may be vast, but whose suppression and subjugation and killing and war and torture and terror and conspiracy across the globe over the centuries are also vast. I remember my mom, born Methodist I believe and raised Catholic, left the church when we were kids because she was upset at its treatment of the Indians of California by priests from Spain as they established missions three centuries ago.

Even this week we are reminded that the Catholic church has conducted a system of protecting and hiding priests who have raped children — rather than seeking their prosecution and punishment — in an effort to save the church's reputation and standing. Only now is the church beginning to acknowledge and act correctly upon the decades of horror and pain and abuse of children under the trusting care of priests, but the hurt will go on.

Though not affected directly by this abuse, it has changed deeply and adversely how I view my church.

(Nevermind not a few infamous efforts by the Catholic church to suppress science and discovery.)

I believe in God, but not as we generally and typically view God, as a giant bearded and robed man in and of the stars. I believe in heaven, or a time and space after we die, though not the heaven as it's come to be explained to me, as a paradisal reunion of all our loved ones, in harmony and bliss, which sounds boring.

I believe religions mark one way humans try to order and understand their world, their community, their people. But I also believe — and human history shows time and again — religion creates separation of humans, differentiates them, raises some, brings others low, gives reason for one group of humans to kill in God's name, right up to today, and surely tomorrow. Religion would be great if it weren't for people.

What keeps me in faith is the mystery of our ability to love and have compassion, our ability to live and move and have our being (as it says in Acts and a eucharistic prayer in the Catholic church). It's an arrogant, human-centered faith, I know, believing in some spark that moves in our lives — because I agree with Bill Nye that we take advantage of our human intelligence while we can, but intelligence and dominance don't guarantee our dominion. Germs can easily be our undoing on earth, he said.

This is not a post-mortem of the debate. Nye and Ham best me for arguing at length and depth, and this subject is a mire from which I'm surprised these two emerged. Some scientists questioned whether Nye should have engaged the debate in the first place; that just agreeing to debate legitimizes creation as a science.

I may anger or sadden some people I know by what I think — and what I think is a Biblically literal creation is not only loony, it doesn't give God much credit.

Is it a great God who would create the universe in seven days, 6,000 years ago, fill the earth with flora and fauna and man to rule it, and declare "That's all you need to know?"

Or is a God great whose universe is vast beyond our understanding, whose creations comprise and come about by processes and mechanics ornate and largely unknown, and that among those creations are humans, who have the capacity to feel and learn and love and think, who thirst for knowing the answer to where we (where everything) came from?

And wouldn't that capacity to learn and think include ways of measuring and exploring the universe not only of the time and space we experience, but of time long gone and distance unreached? Even of doubting God and imagining other possibilities? Isn't God great enough for that?

Ham, for example, dismissed as unreliable the methods used to measure the age of some earthly and heavenly processes. I pictured God playing scientists as fools, sending them out on needless errands — as a cosmic prank? — when all we need to know is in the Bible. Which makes me wonder about the scientists Ham frequently referred to in the debate, creation scientists with accredited science degrees. I wonder what they might seek if all the answers are already available to them.

Actually, merry prankster is a fitting image, God saying, "That's for me to know and you to find out." Another fun trick: Maybe God looks like a bacterium.
(While I type, I'm listening to an aftermath discussion with Ken Ham and Georgia Purdom, a molecular biologist with a PhD who is part of, an online group advocating creation as a science, that Ham directs.

The discussion is a sort of eviscerating of Nye in absentia — entertainment for Ham and Purdom's supporters — even criticizing the quality of Nye's slides compared to the animation Ham presented, which came complete with caricatures of Nye and Ham.

As a "Yay Us!" session, it diminishes the debate.)
Isn't it miracle enough that life exists? Because if life is found on another heavenly body, isn't creation as a science untenable?

I subscribe to Nye's motivation, the joy of discovery, wanting to know what's out there and in us.

2.) For the Super Bowl, a Coca-Cola™®© commercial featured people singing "America the Beautiful" in eight languages, sparking a social media outrage.

In the so-called Twitterverse™©, pissed-off people kissed off Coke® as "communist liquid" and by large numbers explained, "This is America and we speak English!"

Even someone I volunteer with, someone far outside Coke®™'s demographic, said those same words yesterday.

Once I got over the shock that people would give Coke®™ such credence as a style maker, I wondered whether we have gotten anywhere at all as a people since I was a kid. Back then, I looked to a future of greater understanding and equality, and in many ways I have seen it, looking back from these 50-plus years.

Then I learn of the vitriol that a minute-long commercial raised, of a quintessentially American song in many languages — a song written, it has been pointed out numerous times, by a lesbian — and wonder if I really just saw hatred and fear under a thin veneer of progress.

Better the world should ask why the United States speaks only one language, at least officially.

3.) Tomorrow the Winter Olympics begin, packaged for red-blooded American hoo-rah multimedia medal count consumption, on a veneer of ice and snow and civility, in a country that officially bans the "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships" to minors, and equates homosexuality with pedophilia.

So let's celebrate the coming together of nations in spirited and joyful competition, with a Coke™© at McDonalds®© to show off our new 2014 Games Ralph Lauren®© apr├Ęs-ski wear, all made possible with a quick whisk of my Visa®©™.

For the Bible tells me so?


  1. An interesting discussion. As an English person I find the US religion thing highly disconcerting, especially since fundamentalists with at best a tenuous grip on the teachings of Christ seem to be hugely over-represented in the bully-boy gang. I pretty much brought up my dinner when Bill Clinton asked God's forgiveness in public for shagging Monica L. If he'd done that in Britain he'd have been a laughing stock.
    On this side of the pond we tend to congratulate ourselves on our reasonableness and modernity, while maintaining the tangled mess of government and religion in a multi-cultural and multi-religioun society with the majority of the populace being atheist or agnostic. We allow religious schools who select and segregate based on religion. You only have to look to Scotland and Northern Ireland to see the results of that. We have a democracy in which the hereditary monarch rules by divine right and still maintains constitutional power.
    But the British monarch (still 'Defender of the Faith') cannot marry a Catholic. Nobody has mentioned Muslims or Hindus because it's a nice hangover from Henry VIII's problems with his lack of male heirs, and his failure to understand the biology of sex. The House of Lords is overrun with Bishops. We get told off and patronised for attempting to debate these essential conflicts.
    How do creationists view or explain the advances of science?

    1. thanks for your angle. i imagine the us is mostly agnostic/atheist too, but the religious are more entertaining.

      my thoughts exactly on creation and science. i'd love to hear from one, but i imagine the job to be very tiring, not by discovering things but by defending the bible against discoveries. every advance or discovery made by a scientist who follows the creation story must conform to the bible, or someone's authoritative biblical endorsement. everything discovered that fall outside those parameters must be explained away: methods used to measure earth's age are unreliable, for example, or t. rex was a baby when it rode on the ark, and became fully grown and vicious and hungry later, when the floodwaters receded. so they're not really scientists so much as gatekeepers for the word.