As part of our trip to see the eclipse, my wife and I went to visit the Creation Museum in Kentucky. It was fascinating, in a rather depressing sort of way.
The basic premise of the museum, and creationism in general, is that the Bible says that the Earth was created in six days, in the spring of 4004 BC, and the Bible is the inerrant, literal Word of God, so that must be how it happened. From there, creationists attempt to build a coherent framework to explain how the world works, and to make that framework consistent with all the observations scientists have made about the world thus far – fossils, layers in rock strata, underground coal deposits, etc.
The result is … interesting. There are exhibits showing humans interacting with dinosaurs (the entry surmises that’s how we got the legends of dragons), and there is a great deal about Noah’s flood as the basis for a lot of geological phenomena would otherwise take millions of years to come about.
Many of the museum exhibits also discuss the conventional scientific view, placing it next to the creationist equivalent. This looks like an attempt to be fair-minded – see, we’re showing both sides! – but it’s not about fairness at all. The placement implies an equivalence between actual science and creationist pseudo-science, as if they’re of equal value. And given two choices of equal value, which are you going to choose – the word of man, or the Word of God?
Creationism isn’t science, despite the scientific veneer the museum and places like the Discovery Institute lend to it. Science is the process of making the theory fit the observations. If an observation contradicts the theory, then the theory has to change. Sometimes it’s just a little tweak; sometimes a theory gets thrown out and replaced with a brand new theory. Creationism is the opposite of science – making the observations fit the theory. The theory is the Word of God, so it cannot change. Any observation that contradicts the theory must be manipulated until it fits.
Creationists have invested an awful lot of time and into their Biblical pseudo-science, and the whole thing is an impressive intellectual edifice. It provides a way for fundamentalist Christians, who believe in the Bible as the literal, inerrant Word of God, to reconcile their religious beliefs with the world they live in. Lessons for the cool kids in Sunday school, so they know the Truth while they’re learning geology and evolution in science class during the week. It seems like pretty harmless stuff.
But it’s not harmless. An exhibit toward the end of the museum tour makes it clear that, despite the side by side displays earlier, science is not to be trusted. Any deviation from God’s word, as laid down in the Bible, can only lead to chaos and destruction. That undermining of science in the eyes of the faithful hurts us all.
When the creationists attack evolution, or geology, or cosmology, they’re taking aim at the whole idea of science. When they question established theories, not based on the evidence but in spite of it, they render all of science suspect, with real-world consequences. The rejection of science encouraged by creationism makes it that much easier to ignore climate change, to overuse antibiotics, to opt out of vaccinations. That sort of willful ignorance must be resisted and corrected.
The Bible isn’t a science textbook, and it shouldn’t be treated as one.