I watched the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham surrounded by new friends. I actually stumbled across these people in no small part because this debate happened. A friend of my wife’s on Facebook commented that she might attend- which led to my wife suggesting that this might be an event our 9 year old son might enjoy- which resulted in me confirming my attendance on a Facebook events page that is run by a local atheist group. Bill Nye helped me discover that my hometown has a fully developed and thriving atheist community that I was somehow completely oblivious to until a few days ago.
This, I suppose, is a lesson in unintended consequences.
So when I started my morning by recapping what other people thought of the debate with the intention of helping to clarify my own thoughts, I was sympathetic to the opinion of Michael Schulson in The Daily Beast that the debate was a losing proposition from the moment it was brokered. Facts are not something to be debated. We shouldn’t be lending credibility to creation myths by juxtaposing them with science. Bill Nye is the wrong person to be representing the scientific argument because he is not an expert on evolution. This was a common argument before the debate even aired.
On all accounts I think these arguments are wrong.
Academics Don’t Create Policy, But Somehow They Are The Only People Qualified To Talk About Science
Several people have pointed out that the Creation/Evolution debate is a political issue and not a scientific issue. I agree with that assessment. The question I’d like to ask is this: If people who are passionate about science aren’t going to wade into the political debate over what we teach the next generation- who is going to stand between opportunistic legislators and our children? Can we just assume that rationality is always going to rule the public stage in opposition to the court of public opinion?
Bill Nye is right that we need children that understand the scientific method and how proper science is done. We also need the public to be savvy enough to tell the difference between education and indoctrination. The idea that this debate emboldened creationists by giving them a stage is, I think, demonstrably wrong. First, you need to assume that all creationists are Young Earth Creationists (YECs). Then you need to assume that YECs aren’t already aware of Answers In Genesis, the Creation Museum, or Ken Ham. This is akin to going up to your nerdiest friend and telling them about this great new Star Trek series called “The Next Generation”. This debate didn’t bring new attention to Young Earth Creationism to the target audience for Young Earth Creationism. It brought new attention to YEC to exactly the people we need to see it- the large swath of Christian and other religious parents who think of Intelligent Design or Guided Evolution or some other pseudo-scientific concept when they imagine “teaching the controversy“. These people are embarrassed by people like Ken Ham. They know the earth isn’t 6000 years old, and they understand just how impossible it is to square that belief with observable phenomena. These are the people who are going to be moved by this debate. To assume that all people sympathetic to anti-evolutionary ideas are sympathetic to a literal reading of Genesis is a mistake. Many of those people will be moved by just how absurd it is to teach YEC as science. Some of these people might change their view about science education when faced with the prospect of science class becoming a strict literal interpretation of the first book of the Old Testament.
In this regard, I think that Ken Ham is exactly the kind of person those of us who care about science should debate. He is an extremist, a fundamentalist, an outlier even in Christian circles. Too many of us feel that Bill should have avoided giving Ken Ham a platform- when in fact that platform has already started to lay bare the deep divide among creationists. Pat Robertson has already called on Ham to “not make a joke of ourselves.” Inside the bubble of Young Earth Creationism, the idea of a 6000 year old creation and a big boat that held 10,000 animals while the entire world was flooded for a year seems perfectly reasonable. They think that people just need to see the evidence the way they do and everyone will be forced to concede the truth of their beliefs. It is the people outside this bubble that Bill needed to speak to, and I think he did that marvelously.
Bill Nye Is Exactly What We Need
To the degree that I think Ken Ham is exactly the kind of creationist that science educators need to draw attention to, I think people like Bill Nye are exactly the kind of person we need doing it. We need people who are teachers and communicators. We need people who aren’t going to go on tangents about overly dry and technical aspects of evolutionary theory when simple and focused arguments suffice. We need people who aren’t going to waste their whole half hour talking about the philosophy of science when someone tries to make the ridiculous distinction between observational science and historical science. We need the kind of people who say “there are trees older than you think the universe is.” We need people who can make radio waves and the big bang something I can explain to my 9 year old son. We need someone who can Gish Gallop with easily digestible facts that are memorable and funny.
Many otherwise smart people have claimed that this debate was worthless and they avoided it because neither speaker had the authority to talk about evolution. Public opinion isn’t decided by experts. Policy isn’t made by experts. Hell, High School Biology class isn’t taught by experts. This wasn’t an academic debate and if it was it would have swayed virtually nobody involved in the future of science education. To be blunt, one of the problems in the divide over public science education is that it seems to be difficult for people to grasp the basics of evolutionary theory. Policy will be shaped by ignorance and incredulity if we fail to take interest in education. If the Bible denied that there are integers above 20,000, we wouldn’t insist that only those with a degree in theoretical mathematics argue with theologians. We would send in Warren Buffet and the Manager at TGI Friday’s to compare their purchasing power. When we want people to understand how simply wrong a proposition is, we need people who can speak in terms laypersons can not just grasp but easily internalize. Bill Nye is a brilliant science educator, and he was the perfect person to take on a science obfuscator.
The public is not going to get energized nor swayed by academic debates on the minutiae of evolution. They are going to be easily confused until some charlatan shows up to reassure them.
I think it is insulting to assume that all Christians are going to be moved by a literal six-day creation argument, and I think it’s ignorant to assume that there were no viewers who had positions that could be influenced by a clear and concise argument that science is the best way do science. Many people approached the prospect of this debate with a hyper-simplistic view of those who don’t accept biological evolution whole cloth. It is precisely this kind of superiority complex and lack of understanding that is going to stoke the fires of people who wish to sneak religion into science.
We are so busy thinking about the possibility that Christians are naive and easily duped that we fail to see that, more likely than not, the unintended consequence of this debate is a popular rebuke of literal six-day creation among the larger Christian community- the people who vote, who sit on Parent/Teacher Associations, who choose curriculum guidelines.
I found a community as an unintended consequence of a well marketed, elegantly argued, and entertaining debate about evolution- and I think that it will have the opposite consequence for Young Earth Creationists. Showing reasonable people what God in science class might really mean will make the fringe increasingly isolated.
This is Part 2 of my two part contribution to the Forward Thinking project on this months topic “What Does Marriage Mean To You?” The Forward Thinking Project is an amazing online community project started by Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism and Daniel Finke of Camels With Hammers. For more information or how you can contribute click on the links above.
Part 1 is a satirical imagined conversation between a father and son regarding the meaning of marriage. This post is my personal views on what marriage- and specifically my marriage- means to me.
I’m married to the most complex, wonderful and beautiful woman I know. My wife is my saviour and my nemesis. If Paul was right when he spoke in Corinth- that love is patient, love is kind, it is not proud; love protects, trusts, perseveres- then it is true that my wife is the embodiment of love in my life.
To be honest with you, neither my wife nor I really wanted get married. We lived together for 6 years before we were married. We already had two children (and a third on the way). We owned a house together. In every way that someone quantifies marriage as a lifestyle, we had been married for years before we ever made it “official”.
So why get married?
We- my wife and I- asked ourselves this question. Are we somehow bowing to social pressure? Are we quantifying our relationship by a social convention? Is there any real value to choosing to be married as opposed to living as a married couple? For us marriage was still something that was meaningful- and I’ll tell you why:
Marriage is more than just a social convention. It is more than a legal recognition of your bond to one another. It is not a mere contract, a religious act, or a promise to some imagined covenant with God. It is what it has always been; marriage is the sharing of your love with your family, community, and friends. Some choose to share that with their community in religious imagery and language, some choose to make that expression in a way that is unique and personal. What all marriages have in common is that they are a recognizable symbol of something that transcends the institution itself.
To be unmarried is not to take away from the reality of being in love, or committed, or together- to be unmarried is merely to deprive us of our cultural language-
It is to ask us to succinctly describe a sunset…..
to a blind man……
in sign language.
So when I tell you I am married it doesn’t change the way I feel about the person I chose to marry. It doesn’t make my love any more or less real. It doesn’t make my love and commitment any better- objectively- than a couple who chose not to be married. What it does it make my relationship relateable. It makes my relationship something that has a meaning easily shared with others. When I tell you I’m married I am giving you a dissertation in a single word.
I started this post by telling you how I feel about my wife; all of it is true, and more. I could have written a million metaphors and I still wouldn’t have given my wife her due. Though my words remind me of all the things that make me love her, they certainly constitute a too-long explanation to you of how we relate to one another. All you need to know is what we all know to be the ideals of a marriage:
I love her enough to make her my wife- our love is that meaningful that we choose to share it.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 10 so far )
This is Part 1 of my two part contribution to the Forward Thinking project on this months topic “What Does Marriage Mean To You?” The Forward Thinking Project is an amazing online community project started by Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism and Daniel Finke of Camels With Hammers. For more information or how you can contribute click on the links above.
Part 1 is a satirical imagined conversation between a father and son regarding the meaning of marriage. For my personal feelings on what marriage means to me, please check out Part 2.
Son: Dad, What is Marriage?
Father: Oh boy. Is it really that time already? I’ve been dreading “the talk” since the day you were born…..
Son: Really Dad? You are aware that I am seventeen, right? I mean, I thought that “the talk” was about sex and stuff- we never had that talk either……
Father: And we never will, son; we never will. Sex is a conversation you need to have after an awkward and humiliating honeymoon with your equally clueless wife. It’s the way God intended.
Son: I did hear a bit about it from friends at school. Well, the ones who got permission from their parents to attend the “Commitment Classes” that the Priest came in for. Why didn’t I get permission to go to that again?
Father: He was Catholic and I didn’t want you to start questioning the degree of your depravity, I thought we went over this. Can we get back to marriage?
Father: You see, son, as we all know- the government owns a woman’s vagina. One day, when you are older and ready to breed, you are going to meet a woman who makes you want to pray a little harder to Jesus for the strength to overcome sexual sin- and this is the time you are going to contemplate marriage. When you are ready, you will complete a three way transaction between the woman’s father (her owner), the government (the owner of her vagina), and yourself (the prospective owner and lessee). Essentially you are seeking a licence from the government to transfer ownership from her father to yourself as well as secure a lease of the woman’s vagina from the government. My wedding was beautiful…..
Son: That doesn’t sound all that beautiful, dad.
Father: But it is, son, it is! There is nothing better than a wedding- it’s one of those “milestone moments” in your life- like showing off your first muscle car to your buddies. You wax her all up, get’er real shiny, then burn rubber around the neighbourhood to let everyone know who’s got a new set of wheels….
Son: Are you talking about Mom?
Father: Sorry, got carried away. Did I ever tell you I had a ’74 Charger with a 318? God I loved that car…….
Son: Don’t people get married for love?
Father: No! Who told you that? Love has nothing to do with marriage. Just think about it- if you could just marry ANYTHING you loved, then men would just go around marrying their favourite dog, or their mom, or even another man! Heck, I’d be married to a ’74 Charger. Love is just a pleasant bonus in a marriage, like finding a $10 bill in a pair of jeans you bought at the Goodwill.
Son: So you didn’t love mom when you married her?
Father: Is she in the room right now? ….Yes, of course I did. Love can be something to consider when you get married- I’m just saying it isn’t definitional to a marriage. People who don’t love each other get married all the time.
Son: Then why do they read 1Corinthians at weddings?
Father:First, Paul wasn’t writing that about marriage. Second, you remember when you were a kid and you had a dental appointment that you didn’t want to go to, so I told you there was candy in the car so that you would go with me- and then I bought you a Blizzard afterwards because I felt guilty for lying to you? It’s kind of like that. And by “kind of like that” I mean it’s exactly like that.
Son: This is all quite confusing and depressing, Dad. I don’t think I want to get married…
Father: I know son. I blame the liberals. Do you want to see pictures of me with my ’74 Charger?Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 5 so far )
This post is my contribution to the Forward Thinking project, an amazing online community project started by Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism and Daniel Finke of Camels With Hammers. For more information or how you can contribute click on the links above. The topic of interest this time is “Mourning Death Collectively”.
When my Grandfather passed away two years ago, I sat in the chapel of the funeral home where his service was held and listened to a Minister deliver a eulogy to a man he had never met. My Grandfather was not a religious man- at least not in my lifetime. He was clever, kind, jovial, and gentle; he was the kind of man that made a room light up with his presence. He never talked about God, and he never went to church.
The Minister did an admirable job of ducking and weaving; he recounted the life of a man who left so much love in the hearts of those he touched, a man whose life had purpose and meaning, a man whose life seemed bursting with grace and bereft of God.
The Minister had clearly done his homework; he had spent several hours during the days leading up to the service talking to several of the friends and relatives who would be in attendance. He had cornered me on the day of the funeral- asking me to share the memories I had and the things I might miss most now that my Grandfather was gone. He listened attentively to the stories of going to visit my Grandpa on the farm he had worked at when I was little; how I was thrown ten feet by a sheep that took exception to my petting her lamb. Stories of him taking me up to the top story of the barn to look through all the arched doors, stained glass and cast iron fixtures collected over a lifetime of renovating century homes and landmarks with his construction company, of giving me my sense of wonder and a love of architecture and history. What I would miss most about my Grandpa, I said, was how he would always have a magic trick or two to show us when we sat around drinking coffee; he would confound everyone with his sleight of hand, showing us the same trick over and over as we tried desperately to figure out how he did it.
During the eulogy, the Minister recalled this story of my Grandfather and the magic tricks. Being the rhetorical magician that most Ministers are, he took the moment to try and teach us a faith lesson about how a man can be so close to the beauty of religion without ever actually expressing it in words. The Minister seized upon this moment, telling us all that here was a man who loved the mystery– who embraced the illusion; here was a man who saw that there was something more to things than what lies at the surface. Isn’t that what faith is about? Isn’t it about trusting that there are reasons that lie beneath everything that we see, even when it is not visible to the eye?
There was a part to the story of my Grandpa and his magic tricks that the Minister had left noticeably absent from his retelling. The reason I liked those tricks was that after frustrating over so many of the solutions, and admittedly solving very few of them on my own, my Grandpa would show me how it was done. He would slow it down, take special care to make me aware of his hands and what they were doing- and expose the illusion as just that: an illusion. My Grandfather loved the mystery, yes. What I want to think he valued more was watching me solve the puzzle; he wanted me to look past the surface and see that there was no magic there other than what he had wanted me to see. I like to think that my Grandfather did much to train my mind to break an illusion down into simple, explainable steps and not get caught up in what seemed to be the implausible.
Maybe this Minister thought that in a moment of grief that none of us would give much thought to what can only be described as the worst analogy ever. Maybe he thought it was just a cute segue from a personal story to the conciliatory platitudes of his faith. I wanted to laugh. I thought to myself that my Grandfather had played one last sleight of hand that day- he had let a rhetorical magician build an illusion; he watched as I carefully examined the sleight of hand and exposed the trick. My Grandfather respected illusions, but he always wanted you to be in on the sleight of hand.
As we gather together to celebrate the lives of those who are close to us, it will increasingly be the case that we will have these confused mash-ups of religious tradition and secular culture. Funerals are, of course, for the living and not for the dead. At this moment in time we have families and communities that are not, as we were perhaps a half century ago, religious monoliths. It was the case with my Grandfather that his funeral was religious more because the people who planned it were religious and not because he would have wanted it that way. I was in the minority in that room, and I’m in some sense glad that the Minister was able to balance those religious platitudes with an honest acknowledgement that my Grandfather was not one to suffer religious hand-wringing. Increasingly though, there will be more and more people like me who are grieving more and more people like my Grandpa. As our society shifts farther toward the irreligious, those traditional ceremonies will be increasingly less relevant to both the mourners and the memory of those being mourned. The religious people delivering eulogies, too, will feel the pressures of the tightrope walk between not disparaging the dead and the honest acknowledgement of what their faith says lies ahead for those who “turn their back on God”.
It was amusing for me to watch a religious man wax poetic about how downright godly my atheist Grandfather was. I wonder, too, if these moments take hold in the imaginations of the religious mourners who must be torn between reality and faith. How can a man who has done so much good be destined for eternal torment? Why should my belief in Jesus be the difference between everlasting bliss or punishment? Is there no value to being a positive light if that light doesn’t give all credit to God? In death the assumptions of religion come to loggerheads with the reality of a life well lived- for every person who tastes their own mortality perhaps another will see how simple it is to live on. Mourning is a cathartic moment and each of us has unique and meaningful experiences.
With the death of those closest to us comes the cold realization of mortality and the inevitable questions about the meaning of life, consciousness, and what lies beyond. These questions are the bread and butter of religion- many a person has taken comfort and refuge in the idea that corporeal existence is merely a springboard to the eternal. I don’t believe that we are all taking part in some “cosmic audition” for a role in eternity. I don’t believe that my life can be boiled down to a job interview for my spiritual career. I don’t find those ideas compelling or even desirable- but so many of us do. I would rather a compelling explanation over a desirable one- but for me religion offers neither. This doesn’t mean that I don’t think that atheism has a compelling or even a desirable narrative to offer those of us struggling with mortality, grief and the meaning of life. I think we have both. Life is transitory, death is not; it is not a path to something that transcends it. This is all we have, and all we ever will have. We need to make the most of our time under the sun. I was not aware before I came into this world and I will have no awareness once I leave it. Compelling? Yes. Desirable? Perhaps not.
This is just one part of the narrative of life, though; we do afford ourselves some measure of immortality. The lives that we touch and the differences we make will outlive us and outlive their contemporaries. We do get to be a part of the eternal. My Grandfather was a product of those who touched him and the culture of his time- and he in turn touched my life and the lives of so many others. The buildings he built still stand; and they will be here long after I am gone. His life was bursting with meaning- and he was just a construction worker and farmhand. He was infinitely special and nothing special at all. So am I; so are you. We leave an eternal footprint deep and tangible, regardless of whether we are giants or mere men. We are the only known species to have a robust understanding of history and culture, and these things will make us immortal for better or for worse. So be better, not worse.
That, to me, is a desirable way to live- and to live on.
Funerals can and should be an opportunity to reflect on the ways that the mourned have changed us- and in so doing have changed the world. We ought to be sharing the value of a life that will transcend its corporeal limits. I’d like for my funeral to be a time where my friends and family share the ways that my life gave them something that cannot die. I’d like it if we all took the time to think about a life well lived and share that message with others.
If there is one thing that I believe important to take away from the grief of losing someone who was close to us- if there is something that we ought to take away from our mourning and build upon- it is that our lives are not strings that are measured and cut by the Fates. Our lives are braids that are woven with every other person we come into contact with. Even after our string has come to its end, that braid goes on in perpetuity through those we have allowed ourselves to be tied to. If we take the time to change the course of others around us, we don’t die- we just take a well earned rest. My Grandfather taught me to see wonder- he taught me to appreciate architecture and history- he made me open my eyes and question what I saw. I will take those lessons and teach my children, and they in turn will give those lessons to others.
My Grandpa isn’t really dead, because his life has shaped my own.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 5 so far )
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