I’m going to tackle this topic even though I know it is polarizing.
I read a column in The Chronicle of Higher Education today asking to scientists who support the theory of evolution to be kinder to creationists- and at least to not treat them like their idiots. Some of them clearly are not; you can present them the evidence for evolution and a creationist will just say ‘I think there is a different set of facts’ (no, there aren’t, but I’m not here to convince anyone- I think it’s futile to do so, people have to be convinced on their own, make their own discoveries).
The thing I get confused about with creationism is that it seems like such a limited view of what God created with the universe (or even more than one universe, possibly).
A scientist’s job, through the empirical method, describes nature as well as they possibly can. Through that study, the evidence suggests that the universe is very old, 13,700,000,000 years old. That there are atoms made up of quarks and a whole host of other sub-atomic particles that are not obvious to the naked eye and zoom around at nearly the speed of light- 299,792,458 meters/second. These small particles and fields they represent make up everything in the universe. Life on Earth is ~2,000,000,000 years old, the Earth, 4,600,000,000 years old. The oceans formed, continents moved! Volcanoes erupted in massive and destructive explosions! Life has had myriad forms and dynamics over its history and we humans are a current incarnation of the mechanism of evolution, in a deeply philosophical sense, we are a way for the universe to know itself. Our brains have 83,000,000,000 neurons that form even more synaptic connections. Our bodies interact with microbes and other parts of the natural world- like plants!- that enables us to live and function on this Earth (all have DNA too- a rather elegant molecule for data storage). As humans, we’ve progressed far enough to be able to send the Voyager spacecraft to the edge of the solar system- 11,000,000,000 miles away! And there’s a ton we just don’t know or understand even still. Nature is complicated and doesn’t yield secrets easily. The fact that our brains have comprehended as much as we have is impressive.
This astounding complexity would make me say, if I were religious, ‘Dear God, you created something incredible!!!! Far beyond what’s written down in The Good Book!’. I am assuming that God, all-powerful, wouldn’t allow us to know things we aren’t allowed to know, of course.
The numbers and mechanisms of the universe create a hugely richer picture of the universe than a 6,000 year old Earth with everything intact all of a sudden. The logistics of Noah’s Ark boggle the mind if you consider the millions of species of animals out there (including the insects?). did he also take on all the plants of the world (250,000 flowering species alone- most wouldn’t survive a flooded Earth)?
Is the more epic universe that science has painted a more uncertain place? Probably so. But therein lies the mystery and the frontiers of exploration. Living with uncertainty is hard (believe me, read previous posts here, uncertainty is quite difficult), but none of it means you can’t still be a very decent person and do your part to make the world a better place.
None of it precludes believing in a God it seems to me; It just deepens what God actually did in creating the universe. Staring at the night sky as a kid was one of the most inspiring things ever to me. And to realize that it’s more ancient and grander than I even knew then, well, that’s amazing! The part of the universe we’re aware of constitutes ~4% of what’s out there…96% is other stuff we have no idea about yet.
So to the extent that I’m spiritual, the evidence of science suggests God did so much more than what’s enumerated in The Bible- a book that gives some good guidance on how to behave in the world, not a manual for how the world goes, to paraphrase Galileo.
I can get how the Renaissance Catholic Church would feel threatened by any view that wasn’t what they said was ‘how things are’, but in 2012 in a democratic society, it seems like there’s something else going on that makes creationists reject modern science (and in my mind, not give God his/her full due). And I must underscore, accepting a bigger vision of the universe in no way means you can no longer be religious, or a believer, or destroy one’s faith.
I’m sure people smarter and more articulate than I am have made a similar argument as I’ve outlined here, but I’m writing it again myself to get it out of my head- it’s something I think about fairly often.
My goal is not to convince anyone. I do think there needs to be a respectful voice in articulating our points of view and reasonable people can disagree. I do see how scientists (I feel this way too sometimes too) get frustrated when a whole community (like creationists) rejects what is overwhelming evidence that evolution happens; many scientists went out exploring nature and came back with natural selection as a mechanism for life to evolve. Evolution has had practical impact on all of our lives as well; from our crops we eat (selectively bred) to vaccines and antibiotics that kill harmful microbes, but spare us (by targeting things specific to the bacteria, not us- reflecting vast differences in DNA/cellular make up). Scientists don’t come upon mechanisms of how nature works easily and we fight it out amongst ourselves until a theory emerges that stands up to most challenges (and even then, it continues to be challenged and refined). So to have our hard work rejected is hard to take, especially when it seems to a lot of us that we’ve uncovered some new piece of creation, that deepens our understanding of nature- making God, if you’re religious- all the more impressive.
So scientists often see limits to creationist thinking (it’s all in that one book?); whereas scientists went directly to the primary source- nature itself.
Scientists also tend to reject absolutist thinking. Science is a process, not an absolute way of knowing things, but a way to be more certain. We stare into the void often enough and get rejected by our methods of trying to understand what’s going on so often that we realize anything we say comes with some level of uncertainty. Which makes scientific theories all the more impressive; Gravity, evolution, cell theory, The standard model, relativity, have all been vetted so thoroughly that scientists have accepted their veracity and continue to use them as a basis for experiments.
That doesn’t mean that scientists can be mean to creationists and belittle them (that will convince no one to come to accept evolution), but does explain why scientists have a hard time understanding a Creationist point of view- an absolute view oftentimes. When presented with evidence counter to a hypothesis we hold to be true, scientists do something remarkable; we change our minds- often slowly, but we do.