Bill Nye “The Science Guy” received some criticism from the scientific community for being willing to debate the founder of the Creation Museum yesterday.
His critics suspect that, regardless of the debate outcome, the Creation Museum has already won on the basis of increased publicity that legitimizes unscientific views that are soundly rejected by the consensus of modern science.
I hope they are wrong, but it’s possible that Nye’s critics are correct.
Bill Nye presented his points better than I expected him to last night. The founder of the Creation Museum is highly skilled and well practiced in convincing his audience. Nye calmly and respectfully presented the basic argument that science is based on evidence and pointed out that Creationism is not based on scientific evidence.
Nye may or may not realize that observable facts and human reason are not the foundation of the creationist position. Creationism is based on a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible.
I view Genesis 1v1-2v3 as “high prose,” an artistically and mathematically beautiful hymn about God, the beauty of the universe and the dignity of human beings. A second creation account begins in 2v4 with a new name for God and a theologically and chronologically different telling of creation altogether. The author/compiler of Genesis makes no attempt to fool any of us and convince us that Genesis is a unified, scientifically tested theory on the origins of the universe.
Most Christians I know both love the Bible and accept the theory of evolution to varying degrees. Thinking Christians in America understand that the Bible must be interpreted. Roman Catholics all over the world see science and faith as compatible. The vast majority of Christians in the world realize that Genesis is simply not a science book.
Christian fundamentalists, however, believe that every word of the Bible originated with God. They view any scientific theory that contradicts a literal, scientific reading of the Genesis creation poem as an attack on their faith. This is the same thinking behind the Church’s condemnation of Galileo for asserting, against three verses of biblical poetry, that the earth revolves around the sun.
Galileo was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life because the Church interpreted ancient Middle Eastern poetry literally.
I grew up in a fundamentalist environment, and I share the following thoughts from my own experience of interacting with many fundamentalist Christians. Regardless of Bill Nye’s debate performance, when a fundamentalist is challenged in his or her belief, the fundamentalist’s faith actually grows stronger for at least three reasons:
1. Blind Faith
When a fundamentalist is challenged with facts or reason, the fundamentalist simply doubles down, because in fundamentalist religion, blind faith is seen as a virtue. If the fundamentalist continues to believe in spite of all evidence to the contrary, he or she is seen as being faithful to God. Increasing evidence to the contrary only fuels the fundamentalist’s faith (a false sense of certainty in spite of evidence).
2. A Common Enemy
Being challenged strengthens the fundamentalist’s sense of community and certainty, because the rational challenger (Nye, in this case) is demonized and gives the fundamentalists a common enemy. Nothing galvanizes a group like sharing a common enemy. In this case, creationists’ common enemy are “those godless heathen, secular humanists,” in other words, people who respect evidence and the conclusions of human reason.
3. Martyr Fantasy
Finally, being challenged only strengthens a fundamentalists faith because it gives the fundamentalist the ultimate payoff- it fulfills their apocalyptic martyr fantasy. A fundamentalists ultimate goal is be so “faithful to God” that she or she is persecuted or even martyred for his or her faith.
Even being respectfully and gently challenged by Bill Nye last night is enough to feed a fundamentalist’s martyrdom fantasy. In a creationists’ eyes, it’s the godless scientists verses the “pure” people who are “faithful” to God. Even though he lost the debate and looked foolish, in the eyes of creationists, the Creation Museum founder is now a martyr who is faithful to God in spite of “persecution” at the hands of a soft-spoken, bow tie wearing children’s TV host.
I hope Billy Nye was correct in debating a religious fundamentalist in such a publicized format. Hopefully, his rationality will awaken some younger persons who could outgrow the fundamentalism of their parents. Regardless, the Creation Museum and creationism will profit handsomely from the debate, and their fundamentalist faith may only grow stronger.