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Archive for April, 2008

Costello: I’m asking YOU who’s on first.

Abbott: That’s the man’s name.

Costello: That’s who’s name?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: Well go ahead and tell me.

Abbott: That’s it.

Costello: That’s who?

Abbott: Yes.

We all know the famous routine. But have we stopped to think about why it is so funny, and why we can all relate to this kind of humor? Abbott and Costello are talking about two different things. They have different images in their heads, different perceptions of reality. I think that is why the humor is so universal – we have all experienced this when we’ve had arguments that stem from a fundamental miscommunication.

I have been following the Creationism/Intelligent Design/Theory of Evolution issue for some time now, and was interested to learn about Ben Stein’s upcoming documentary titled “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.” The premise of the film as I understand it is that “Big Science” has been working to suppress any questioning of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, and that anyone with a dissenting viewpoint is blacklisted in the scientific community.

The problem that I have with the entire debate is not philosophical, not atheism (Science) vs. creationism (Religion). The problem I have is with the debate itself. The way I see it, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is an explanation for the question of how, and Intelligent Design is an explanation for the question of what. See the Abbott and Costello connection? We think we’re talking about the same thing, but in reality, the two sides are are not talking about the same thing at all. Related things, but not the same things.

We can observe evolution in action. Ask anyone who has bred domestic animals or fiddled with fruit flies in biology class. Evolution explains the process by which the earth went from a primordial soup of emerging proteins to a planet teeming with life forms of amazing biological complexity. It does not attempt to explain the creation or origin of the universe.

Scientists see evolutionary processes at work, and individually they may or may not believe that a creator, or some kind of universal intelligence, set those processes in motion. Creationism/Intelligent Design calls this intelligence God. Since we cannot prove the non-existence of something, there is little value, in my opinion, in debating the existence of God. Atheists see no evidence of God, and therefore believe that God does not exist. Creationists see evidence of God, and therefore believe that God does exist. These opposing views likely will never be reconciled even if empirical evidence one way or another is discovered. People can be stubborn creatures and will believe what feels right to them, what fits into their experience of the world.

Some people are uncomfortable with the idea that human beings are classified as apes, and share a common ancestry with chimpanzees and gorillas. They often incorrectly distill anthropological information into an indignant sound byte: “those scientists are trying to get me to believe that I evolved from apes.” It has emotional pull. We like to consider ourselves as special and somehow removed from the evolutionary process that drives life on earth. We wear shoes. We eat with forks and knives. We create art. We make love in private. Well, most of us.

Personally, I’m OK with my relationship with chimpanzees and all other creatures on earth. I don’t have an emotional stake in it, other than being continually amazed at the beauty and complexity of life, and feeling privileged to be able to observe and feel such wonder, such communion. On a human level, in terms of how we relate to one another, how we treat each other and how we interact with nature, religion can serve a valuable purpose. Ideally it can help us to understand that we need connections, that we need a moral code in order to live our lives in harmony so that we can sustain ourselves and our place in nature now and in the future.

Creationism is a human concept of what, or perhaps more specifically, who, is responsible for the origin of all things in existence. Who’s on first, so to speak. This is something that science can neither prove nor disprove; at least it can’t yet. This leaves us up to our own imaginations, our religions and our cultures to explain and debate. This is something that is part of the human experience, something that we can discuss in social studies classes, in church and around the table. Evolution is likewise part of the human, or really global, experience, something we can discuss and debate in science classes, in church and around the table. They are related topics, often leading into one another and twisting around each other. But they are also different ideas, answers to two different questions. We need to treat them as such.

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