Sunday, February 16, 2014

My Religion, My Science: Thoughts on the Nye-Ham Debate

Full disclosure: I am a woman of faith. I am a devout and practicing Catholic. I believe that God can be seen in all of creation, and that Truth can be found in his Word. I also teach human evolution.

Fuller disclosure: I didn't watch the Nye-Ham debate.

I didn't watch it because I doubt Bill Nye presented any new information about evolution (I teach this stuff, it's not like I'm uninformed), and I'm not a member of Ken Ham's church, so he's not the person I would turn to on matters of theology or Christian practice.

I didn't watch it because there's hardly ever a point to this kind of "conversation". Most people watching have chosen their "side" already, and nothing presented in a debate between creationists and scientists is going to change their mind.

But most importantly, I didn't watch because the "science vs. religion" trope gives the impression to religious people that we cannot believe science, even if our religion has no problem with evolution. Many people have no better religious education than they have science education. They hear the media message that "religious" people can't believe in evolution, so they think it's true for their religion as well, even if it's not. I've had a number of students tell me that they can't believe in evolution because they are devout Catholics. But there is no conflict between Catholicism and evolution. Blessed Pope John Paul II even said so! Catholic schools have been teaching evolution for generations. Yet, since students don't have religious education on this topic, they assume that the media message of "science vs. religion" must be true for their religion, just as it is for, say, a church that believes in young earth creationism.

I didn't watch the debate because it demeans both science and religion. Not everyone likes Stephen Jay Gould's argument that science and religion are nonoverlapping magesteria, but I think it fits well in this case. Events like the Nye-Ham debate put the evolutionary theory of human evolution on the same level as the Biblical explanation of human origins, but the truth is, they aren't even playing the same game.  Science is the study of what is knowable, physical provable or disprovable. Religion concerns itself with a higher Truth that is, ultimately, based on faith and not physically provable (or ever fully knowable). If Ken Ham wants to believe in the literal truth of Genesis, as an act of faith that is unrelated to any physical evidence, then he is absolutely within his right to do so. But there can be no debate between faith and evidence. That's the point of faith, it needs no evidence.

But when creationist arguments descend from the realm of faith and enter the realm of the physical, the measurable, the quantifiable, the empirical, then they've entered the domain of science, and they're going to lose the case on the merits of the evidence every time.

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