Monday, February 17, 2014

Pointless Debate

Imagine two people having a heated argument across the span of the Grand Canyon. They can barely hear each other but that doesn't stop them from shouting until their faces turn blue. Each side believes it is presenting irrefutable evidence and after each exchange the debaters turn to their followers and claim to have scored a decisive win despite having no proof that the other side has heard its point, let alone changed its mind.

When I first heard that Bill Nye was going to engage Ken Ham in a public debate entitled "Evolution vs. Creationism" I immediate thought to myself: why? Why organize such an event? Don't people have better things to do than watch who can beat his head against the wall the hardest? Aren't there bigger fish to fry or more important things to focus on?

I'm assuming you all know Bill Nye the Science Guy and which side of the debate he represented. Ken Ham, on the other hand, is a Young Earth Creationist who founded a website called Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum in Cincinnati. Young Earth Creationists like Ken believe that the earth was created in seven twenty-four hour days by an all-powerful God, just as the book of Genesis proclaims, around 6,000 years ago.

Meanwhile the vast majority of geologists agree that the earth is approximately 4.54 billion years old.

That's a difference of 4,539,994,000 years, people! Even someone who knows nothing else about the debate can see that the two sides must employ radically different methods for discerning the planet's age. The difference between these two estimates is a perfect representation of the chasm that stands between atheists and theists. It's as if each side is arguing from across the Grand Canyon. How can either side ever hope to convince the other? It's not like they're off by a few thousand years, or even a few million years. They disagree by a measure of billions.

I'd call it an irreconcilable difference.

Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and vehement anti-theist, has gone on record saying that scientists shouldn't publicly debate Young Earth Creationists and I completely agree with him. These public debates serve no purpose. Neither side will ever admit defeat, and here's why:

No, I'm not making this up. Those were their real answers.

Ken Ham's answer is self-explanatory: even if scientists were somehow able to disprove the existence of God conclusively or pinpoint the age of the planet or universe to a high degree of accuracy, Ken would be unperturbed. This admission should make him ineligible for any debate on the topic of creationism versus evolution.  His view--and that of many theists, though thankfully not the majority--is that the Bible is the uncorrupted word of the supreme creator of the universe and the only document humanity needs in order to successfully navigate life.

Good luck changing that dude's mind, Bill Nye. Maybe bring Paul Zaloom with you next time, bro.

I always preferred Beakman's World myself.

On the other hand, Nye's answer also poses a problem because, barring a radical rewriting of basic geology, it's unlikely scientists will ever find evidence for a 6,000 year old earth, meaning nothing can change Nye's mind, either.

The problem lies not with one side or the other but rather in their distinct and incompatible standards of proof. Creationists hold the Bible as the ultimate standard of proof while atheists regard the scientific method as the deciding factor. So long as the Bible contradicts scientific findings these two groups will never agree on the nature of the universe and humanity's role in it.

Agree to disagree once and for all. Stop shouting across the Grand Canyon and try building a bridge instead.

Whether you believe in God or a random universe governed by autonomous mechanistic laws there must be some facts we can all agree on. For instance, we can agree that the earth is beautiful and that it is home to an abundance of life of which humanity is but a tiny sliver. Whether this life and beauty arose via millions of years of evolution or was designed by an all-powerful creator makes no difference for the moment. We must share this earth regardless of our beliefs, so why not make the best of it?

Why not strive to bring unto the earth an era of universal peace, love, and compassion? Isn't God supposed to take care of all the sinners? Just do your thing, believers. No need to impose your beliefs on those who do not share them.

Likewise, atheists need to spend less time worrying about the beliefs of others and more time helping people and repairing the damage we've inflicted on our planet. These are no small tasks. Changes will need to be made at every level of society and as a result we will need all the help we can get. We must stop trolling our potential friends and allies and try to find common ground with those who believe in God.

I understand your frustrations, atheists. Many who call themselves Christians lose sight of Christ's teachings. They hang their racist, misogynistic, sexist, and political views on Old Testament coat-hangers when it is convenient while ignoring scripture that inconveniences their lives. Rather than get angry with our religious brothers and sisters, we should be quoting scripture in order to help them focus on Jesus' teachings. Chief among these is Golden Rule. Second is what Christ described as the two most important commandments of all:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
 (PS. I watched the first 30 minutes of the Debate before giving up. At a whopping 2.5 hours, it's not something I plan on watching in its entirety any time soon. If you have seen it, feel free to comment. /rant over)
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