Thursday, December 10, 2015

Was Moses a Scientist?

Turn the clock back to 1976. I was a creationist student at the University of California, Santa Barbara.  Our little creationist group, at that time called Creation Society of Santa Barbara (later Students for Origins Research) had organized a debate, which, as it happened drew a crowd that nearly filled Campbell Hall, the major event center at the university. On the creationist side were Henry Morris and Duane Gish, both now deceased, and who remain the iconic figures of modern young-earth creationism. On the evolution side were geologist Preston Cloud and cellular biologist (later a scholar of Judaism) Aharon Gibor, both on the UCSB faculty.

It is nearly impossible for any such debate to yield any insights. First of all, it converts a continuum of belief into two armed camps. The creationist side considers itself the sole representative of religious belief; therefore, if there is anything that evolution cannot explain, it proves that their 6000-year version of Earth history must be right.  Furthermore, in such a debate, a creationist can make a large number of wrong statements, which an evolutionist could not possibly set right in an equivalent amount of time. Would Darwin debate? The guy who pretends to be Darwin says, no way!

The 1976 UCSB debate was no exception. Of course, I thought the creationist side won. But I remember a couple of statements Aharon Gibor made which, in retrospect, I understand to be very wise. One statement was that there are hundreds of creation accounts in the world; which one are we supposed to believe? (Maybe the Yoruba one, which I described in the previous post?) Debunking evolution does not lead straight to fundamentalist Christian creationism.

But his second statement really made me think, even at the time, when I was not in a habit of really thinking about this issue. He said that Moses was a sort of ancient society’s version of a scientist. When he saw the burning bush, he turned aside to see what it was. He did not simply assume what it was, but wanted to investigate. This is what science is about. Of course, Moses was a very religious man. But religious people can be inquisitive and seek data to test their beliefs. This describes many religious people today, but does not describe fundamentalists.

Just this morning I received a term paper in my Evolution course. I quickly determined that it was plagiarized. I have, in my nine years of teaching evolution, received two creationist term papers; both were plagiarized. The first one, from a Christian fundamentalist student, was bought from a term paper website for $15.95. The second one, which I just received, was reworded from the website of the Muslim creationist website run by the flamboyant Adnan Oktar, who goes by Harun Yahya. On this paper I noted that it was OK to disagree with me but not to plagiarize.

I conclude from these experiences that creationists do not reach their conclusions by investigating the world but by repeating what their leaders say. This is as true for Muslim creationists as for Christian ones. For those of you who are religious, might I pass on Aharon Gibor’s suggestion: be like Moses, and turn aside to see the evidence before you proclaim your conclusions.

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