First up from the God Machine this week is a report on this week’s debate between Creation Museum Founder Ken Ham and scientist Bill Nye on evolutionary biology – and the unexpected reaction to the event from one of the nation’s leading televangelists.
MSNBC sent my friend Adam Serwer to the debate in Kentucky, and while his report is well worth your time, the lede helped capture the fundamental difference between the rivals. In this case, Ham was asked whether anything could shake his belief that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old.
“As far as the word of god is concerned, no, no one is ever going to convince me that the word of god is not true,” Ham said. Ham then turned and asked Nye, “What would change your mind?”“We would just need one piece of evidence,” Nye said. “We would need the fossil that swam from one layer to another, we would need evidence that the universe is not expanding, we would need evidence that the stars appear to be far away but they’re not. We would need evidence that rock layers can somehow form in 4000 years…. We would need evidence you can reset atomic clocks and keep neutrons from becoming protons.”“Bring on any of those things, and you would change me immediately,” Nye said.
And with that, the root of the problem became clear. Ham, defending creationism, effectively conceded he starts with the answer, then works backwards to support his conclusion. Nye, defending modern biology, starts with the evidence, then works forward to reach a conclusion. It was a reminder as to why faith and science, while not always incompatible, are dissimilar.
But that’s not the funny part. Rather, that came the next day when TV preacher Pat Robertson declared that young-earth creationists like Ken Ham are a little out there for him.
“Let’s face it, [17th century Bishop James Ussher] added up the dates listed in Genesis and he came up with the world had been around for 6,000 years,” Robertson told his viewers. “There ain’t no way that’s possible…. To say that it all came about in 6,000 years is just nonsense and I think it’s time we come off of that stuff and say this isn’t possible.”
He added: “We’ve got to be realistic that the dating of Bishop Ussher just doesn’t comport with anything that is found in science and you can’t just totally deny the geological formations that are out there…. Let’s be real, let’s not make a joke of ourselves.”
When a very right-wing televangelist, who’s spent a generation making a name for himself with shocking and extreme comments, is worried that creationists are making a joke of evangelical Christians, it’s safe to say creationists have fallen on hard times.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* Gallup this week released the results of an annual study ranking states by religiosity. This year, the most religious states, in order, were Mississippi, Utah, and Alabama. The least religious, in order, were Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
* A Tennessee judge who refused to allow a couple to name their son “Messiah” was fired this week, following a citation from the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct.
* Sister Barbara Finch, a Sister of St. Joseph of Baden,was fired this week for reasons that seem quite unfair: “A nun who worked for five years as a registered nurse at the Allegheny County Jail infirmary was fired last week for spearheading unionization efforts, an organizer for the United Steelworkers union said Monday…. [Finch] expressed concerns about staffing, safety issues and patient care during meetings at the jail, said Randa Ruge, the union organizer” (thanks to reader R.P. for the tip).
* Unexpected results about marriage from scholars at Baylor University in Texas: “Despite their strong pro-family values, evangelical Christians have higher than average divorce rates – in fact, being more likely to be divorced than Americans who claim no religion, according to findings as cited by researchers from Baylor University” (thanks to reader R.B. for the tip).
* And in keeping with modern tradition, President Obama attended the National Prayer Breakfast this week, focusing his remarks on the importance of freedom of religion – not only in America, but also around the world.