From Religion Dispatches
N.B.: Respect the Establishment Clause
By: Paul Wallace
“You can take it to the bank: Any species of religion that rejects the most basic products of the last 400 years of scientific inquiry, will not last. Here’s why.
The other day at HuffPo, Michael Zimmerman pointed out that, when pushed (or even gently nudged), creationist leaders such as Ken Ham and organizations such the Discovery Institute will actually disavow their own polemic. This is evidenced by the reactions of these parties to an earlier Zimmerman piece in which he made some claims about their perspectives on science. In each case they criticize Zimmerman’s claims, calling them, in effect, lies. Yet the claims themselves were neither false nor unfair nor mean-spirited.
Trying to make sense of this, Zimmerman writes,
“Creationist beliefs are even too extreme for the creationists. Those beliefs make for good copy when preaching to the faithful and when raising funds, but when those very same beliefs are presented in a broader context, they are quickly disavowed.”
This inability of Ham and the Discovery Institute to respond coherently when challenged is, in my view, symptomatic of their profound ambivalence toward science. They are smitten with science. They see how powerful a tool it is for exploring and describing the world. They want a piece of it.
But that’s all they get: a piece. Their theology, based as it is in a shallow and demonstrably false reading of scripture, just isn’t deep and wide enough to swallow all of science. So they queue up for “cafeteria science”: They like electrodynamics, they dislike evolution; Ken Ham likes relativity theory, he dislikes the big bang theory; the Discovery Institute likes the atomic theory, it dislikes natural selection. (I’m only guessing physics is OK in their books.)
They want science the way they want it, not the way it is.
But science is of a piece. This is not to say that there are not outstanding questions about the evolution the solar system (did you see this?) or about the evolution of sex, or that the integrity of every scientific theory requires the integrity of every other, or that all scientific ideas stand solid and true and indisputable. It is to say that the same spirit runs through all of it. Science is not a set of products but a way of answering certain kinds of questions, and a way of excluding certain possibilities. It is animated by a very particular spirit of inquiry.
Universal gravitation and evolution may appear to be different, and they are, but down deep their roots converge. The same spirit of curiosity that animated Newton, animated Darwin.
It is this spirit of inquiry that is at issue, not certain showpieces of scientific end-product. But it is unthinkable for Ham or the Discovery Institute to publicly reject “the spirit of inquiry,” so they focus — as they do so often — on externals, and wind up accepting only self-selected pieces of science. They are caught in the trap of idolizing science while wishing, on some level, it would just go away.
It’s not a formula for success. Whatever theology can’t expand to meet — and exceed — scientific realities, will pass away. Whatever theology can, has the hope of lasting. Both the passing away and the lasting have happened over and over and over.
It’s happening again, and this time it’s creationism that’s passing away.