In the newspaper recently, I read about the “debate” between Science Guy Bill Nye and Ken Ham, self-styled biblical creationist and founder of the Creation Museum. The public debate, which occurred on February 4, was held at the Creation Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, and live-streamed online.
Ham believes that the universe is 6,000 years old because the Bible—or specifically the Book of Genesis—says so. Or so he says.
Mr. Ham had asked for the debate in response to Nye’s earlier comments about creationism. In Nye’s opinion, creationism is “a completely unreasonable explanation of the Earth’s natural history that is useless from a practical standpoint.” Nye has expressed his concern that young students who are the scientists and engineers of the future should not be “indoctrinated into that weird worldview.”
Nye agreed to debate the issue: “Is creation a viable model of origins in the modern scientific era?”
Now, I have to wonder just what the Science Guy was thinking. What did he hope to accomplish by his appearance at the Creation Museum? By framing the issue in scientific terms, Nye may have thought that the answer was obvious—that by any rational scientific analysis, Ham’s version of creationism is not a “viable model.” The flaw in this reasoning is that belief in creationism is not the product of rational scientific analysis. It is a matter of deeply held belief (or, as Ham would have it, biblical authority). It is incredible that Science Guy did not understand that. Ham, himself, rests his conception of creation on Genesis and not on any scientific inquiry.
It seems as though Nye believes that he was participating in a real debate—and he believes that he won. But this was not a debate. It was a creationist’s wet dream. My guess is that Mr. Ham was pleased by the outcome.
Following Nye’s own critique of his preparation for and performance in the Creation Museum spectacle, Ham commented via Facebook: “Sadly, Bill Nye wants generations of kids to be told they are just animals that arose by natural processes—thus ultimately, life is without meaning or purpose.”
I have been thinking a lot lately about “purpose,” and so the notion that life might have no meaning or purpose makes me pay attention.
Having a “purpose” seems to be an essential ingredient in the mix that makes retirement satisfying and ultimately enjoyable. I did not think about “purpose” so much before I retired. My work seemed to supply a sufficient sense of having a purpose. The job served something larger than myself. I felt that I was part of something that produced a public benefit, and I derived feelings of satisfaction from that.
Those were simpler days when all that was required to experience purpose in life was to devote my energies toward doing my job. In retirement, I am untethered from a job and detached from its purpose. My career has run its course. “Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now” (Bob Dylan, My Back Pages).
Now, purpose must grow from another source. Purpose, I suspect, must come from someplace within myself.
Which brings me back to the weird world of creationism. According to Ken Ham, if we are all animals that arose by natural processes, life ultimately has no purpose. The idea is bizarre on its face. Aside from the question whether humans belong to the animal kingdom, are the lives of all animals lacking in purpose?
Mr. Ham is not retired, so his personal experience is limited. He likely derives his own sense of purpose from his work on building a “full-scale, all-wood ark” based on dimensions provided in Genesis and operating it as a theme park just down the road from the Creation Museum. Although the ark will contain exhibits and “edu-tainment” features, there are apparently no plans to include “of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort” (Genesis 6:19).
Like Bill Nye, I accept the idea that natural processes have been at work on Earth for millions of years. Though a definition of my purpose eludes me now, I reject the illogic that there can be no purpose in life absent a belief in the supernatural.
Some other stuff for later,
- 44The English version of this post is Believing in a Natural Purpose. The Spanish translation is my own and may contain errors. I invite native speakers of the language to comment on my errors and to suggest corrections. Aquí está una traducción en español de Believing in a Natural Purpose.…
- 37In the hour of my death, would I regret that my life had no meaning? Should that be a regret, after all? It seemed that some people—often those who offered sage advice about aging—advocated a search for meaning in one’s life. It was seemingly a noble cause. If you wanted…
- 32This month, I have had the privilege of playing Neil in a community theater production of The Quality of Life, a beautifully-written, award-winning play by Jane Anderson. Neil and his wife Jeanette are living in a yurt on their property in the Berkeley Hills in Northern California after losing their…