I have to say I didn’t watch the Ken Ham/Bill Nye creation-vs.-evolution debate last week. I’ve heard all the arguments before, and my suspicion that few who watched did so with intent other than cheering on their “team,” so-to-speak, has been confirmed by the reaction I’ve seen online. I think the idea of such a “debate” and the hubbub surrounding it demand more scrutiny than the views and evidence presented at the event.
A number of famous evolutionary scientists, atheists and anti-theists entreated Nye not to debate Ham in the Creation Museum. They claimed it would bring undue attention, legitimacy and money to the creationists and IDers. McElwee and Salvatore argued that “debates” such as these solve nothing, since more than a century of politics has deeply entrenched protestant creationists.
For the most part, I agree with McElwee and Salvatore, although what’s lead to this entrenchment is less important than that it exists. I’m a staunch evolutionist, agnostic and nihilist. I don’t subscribe to the notion of religion and science as “non-overlapping magisteria” proposed by Gould. I also detest atheism of the sort championed by Dawkins, Harris and their ilk. As far as I’m concerned, pandering to pseudointellectuals by ridiculing religious folks as stupid and backward makes you the same as this smug asshole who couldn’t be bothered to read a Wikipedia page about thermodynamics. It’s as inane as it is futile. The biggest challenge facing evolutionists, etc, isn’t stopping creationism. Rather, it is freeing those who are stuck on the fence.
Before about 150 years ago, intelligent, well-educated westerners were compelled to believe the universe and all in it were created and imbued with inherent meaning and purpose by God. They weren’t just compelled by the danger to their lives and livelihoods should they say otherwise, but rather by the fact that it was the best explanation they had. It made the most sense. They were compelled by reason. These days, however, I and those like me are compelled by reason to understand that the world is not imbued with inherent meaning, that humans aren’t special and that species around today are evolved from common ancestors with each other through evolution.
Realizing there is no inherent meaning does not make things better, it kind-of sucks. It would be great if the world were imbued with meaning by its Creator. I wish that were the case, but wishing won’t make it so. I am compelled to believe otherwise, and it was not easy getting to this point. It’s hard realizing that life has no meaning except that which you bring to it. It fills you with a great sense of responsibility, and a great deal of despair.
Instead of focusing our efforts on battling the faithful, why not extend a hand to those who need it? There are a lot of people out there who are caught between their scientific understanding of the world and their anxiety at the prospect of a world without meaning. We need to show those people it’s not so lonely over here, that we’re not all on a crusade for science. We need to hold those people’s hands and help them with that transition. And we need to not abandon them if they decide to go back.