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February 15, 2014

Creation debate brought back memories

By Emily F. Popek
The Daily Star

---- — If I were still 16 years old, you better believe I would have tuned in to the recent debate between Bill “The Science Guy” Nye and creationist Ken Ham.

As a high school student, I remember being positively astounded to learn that, not only did my biology teacher not believe in evolution, most of my classmates shared his view.

It was a wake-up call for me, revealing my own naivete; up until that moment, I had never considered that evolution was up for debate. To me, it was as if a room full of people had said they weren’t so sure they believed in gravity.

To assuage his discomfort with teaching evolution, my teacher proposed that, rather than studying the section in our textbook devoted to the subject, we would instead stage an in-class debate, so that both sides of the argument could be heard.

I was the lone volunteer for the “evolution” team. And I was certain, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I would win the debate.

But what I learned in that classroom is the same lesson that’s been repeated after Nye and Ham took the stage at Kentucky’s Creation Museum last week. It was a painful lesson for me, but one I’m sure both Nye and Ham already realized.

The fact is, any debate on this issue is inherently nonsensical, because it boils down to one person saying, “I believe what the Bible says” and the other person saying “I don’t.” You can dress the debate up all you want, but at the end of the day, that fundamental inability to establish a common frame of reference means that true debate is actually meaningless.

Ham and Nye were considerably more eloquent in their presentations than my sophomore classmates and I were. (And there was a lot less shouting.)

For example, at no point did Ken Ham declare, sneeringly, “I didn’t come from no monkey!” as one of my classmates did. (There were cheers. I had no ready rejoinder.)

But the end result was, essentially, the same.

A series of photographs taken at the debate recently made the rounds of social media. The photographer asked 22 people to write a message to Nye. Many of the questions sum up perfectly why the idea of an evolution vs. creation “debate” is so absurd. And since Nye didn’t answer the questions, I’ll take a swing at a few of them here.

Are you scared of a Divine Creator?

No. There’s nothing scary about the idea of a higher power. I just don’t happen to believe that one exists.

If God did not create everything, how did the first single-celled organism originate? By chance?

Yes. My biology professor in college used to call it “the crapshoot of evolution” — her way of reminding us that it’s not scientifically accurate to ascribe agency to the evolutionary process.

If evolution is a theory (like creationism or the Bible) why then is evolution taught as fact?

Evolution is a scientific theory, which means it relies upon observable regularities and posits a structure that best explains those phenomena. Creationism does not; the Bible does not. Are there “holes” in the theory of evolution? Undoubtedly. But it remains the best explanation that science can offer, to date, for the information available to us.

How do you explain a sunset if their (sic) is no God?

This is my favorite. What other than arrogance could make someone imagine that the colors of a sunset were carefully crafted for our own aesthetic enjoyment? A sunset merely is; no explanation is required.

I don’t know what it is about this last idea that some people find so troubling. But it’s just this kind of fundamental inability to see eye-to-eye that makes any kind of debate simply fall apart.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t change anybody’s mind in my biology class, and I don’t know that Ham or Nye did, either. Does this mean we shouldn’t talk about evolution and creation? Absolutely not. But neither is it a debate that either side is likely to win any time soon.

Emily F. Popek is assistant editor at The Daily Star. She can be reached at 432-1000, ext. 217, or epopek@thedailystar.com.