Saturday, May 26, 2007

Creationist museum set to open

Yikes.

For all of its shock-entertainment value, the museum's website does offer valuable insights for those seeking to understand the mind of the Biblical literalist. Did you know, for example, that "old-earth" (i.e. real-world) geology is at least partly to blame for "drug abuse, sexual immorality, abortion, epidemic divorce, school violence, suicide, etc."? Neither did I. I've always thought that geologists were dull as dishwater -- what sort of man finds his vocation in rocks? But now that I realize they are conspiring to undermine our entire moral order, I see that they're actually the mack daddies of the science world.

Picking on fundamentalists is like shooting fish in a barrel, so I'll try to resist the temptation to run up the score here. Instead, I'd like to examine this particular Creationist notion that scientific inquiry as normally pursued in the secular world is in the long run demoralizing. I don't think I've ever met anyone whose life of debauchery and hedonism was prompted by the study of geological strata or quasars or mitochondria, but even if I had I still wouldn't believe that we should ignore or conceal scientific truths for fear of their potential moral effects. Suppose that people are unhappier in an ancient, vast, and cooling universe than they would be in a young one soon to be redeemed by God: what of it? We have to accept things as they are, not as we would wish them to be. (And in any case, is an uncaring cosmos really more terrifying or demoralizing than one presided over by the Biblical God, who wages holy wars on behalf of his people and consigns many souls to eternal torture?)

Perhaps fundamentalist Christians would have a healthier respect for the age and scope of the universe if they could learn to get away from the idea that human behaviour is or ought to be solely influenced by promises of reward and punishment. If your only motivation for doing good is to "lay up treasures in heaven", then certainly there is a risk that losing your faith will ruin your character too, and you might be well-advised at least for pragmatic reasons to steer clear of studies that challenge the Biblical worldview. But if you prefer to do good for its own sake, nothing in your understanding of physical reality will cause that to change: your moral compass will always point to the same place, regardless of what Darwin or Dawkins has to tell you.

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