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Column 109
A question of scale

The universe and me

By © Martin Foreman
Word Count: 796 words
Publication date: May 27, 2007

In the current online issue of Skeptic magazine, writer Stephen Asma reviews the new Creation “Museum” in Kentucky.

Much of the description and, apparently, much of the “museum” is given to a reproduction of the Ark. We learn such fascinating “facts” as number of the dinosaur species kept on board – about fifty, and they were all small.

We also learn from “Museum” director Ken Ham that carnivores on the Ark would probably have temporarily reverted to their pre-Fall herbivore state. This was news to me, that Eve’s and Adam’s munching of the apple had not only got themselves expelled from Eden, but had ended immortality among animals and led to the kind of gorefest we see nightly on Animal Planet. Our putative ancestors have a lot to answer for.

In a way, I am impressed by the “Museum”. Twisting truth and science in the way that it and its supporters do requires a mental agility that would be impressive if it was put to good use rather than perverting the minds of gullible and young. 

But it wasn’t the details that struck a chord with me in Asma’s article so much as his comparison with an exhibit on evolution at the Field Museum in Chicago. Visitors there often report that the exhibit leaves them a strong sense of their own “fragility” as a species, making them feel “small” in comparison with the vast scales of geological time.

The Creation “Museum” attempts to do the opposite, shrinking nature and time to human size.

A human-centred world is much more reassuring than a universe that barely registers our existence. (I am not sure how much attention the “Museum” pays to the vast cosmos that surrounds us) 

The fact that we are the evil at the center of this world, having eaten the apple and killed God’s son, is less important to insecure minds than the fact that we are the center. We may be bad children, but our father still loves us and if we try really hard to be good he’s going to give us a fantastic present.

This is the underlying message of the Creation “Museum” and, the website which spawned it. It does not challenge us to be adults, but reassures that we can stay children.

It gives easy answers to difficult questions. It tells us not to think because it thinks for us. It keeps us in a state of dependence and ignorance.

The creationist approach to knowledge is to observe the world and to mold every observation into a Biblical framework. Its “science” is limited to predetermined answers.

The honest approach to knowledge is to take these same observations and, with no prejudice as to the answer and no certainty that we will ever reach a final answer, to use physics and chemistry and astronomy and genetics and every other scientific discipline to push the boundaries of knowledge.

Creationists tell us: “never mind the question; here is the answer”. Science says: “what is the question? perhaps we can find the answer”.

Creationism, based on a presupposition that prevents any open-minded research, is comforting but dishonest. Science is honest but for many disheartening, because it reduces our importance in the universe to a footnote or less.  

But so what? It is a question of scale, since each of us inhabits two universes. One extends billions of light-years into space and billions of years in time. In that universe we are nearly nothing and our lives and experience are trivial.

It is the universe you and I may long to explore but will never know – drifting among the stars of Orion, watching our planet for eons as mountain ranges rise and fall, species after species, our own included, emerge and die, and the world is finally engulfed by an exploding sun.

There is, however. a second universe, that of myself, my experience and understanding of the planet I live on and my relationships with those around me. I am the center of that fascinating and constantly developing and changing place. 

No matter how much I learn, no matter how long I live, I doubt I will ever come to the limits of that amazing universe.

This is not egoism. I do not think I am special. I have no illusions about my place in the world or in history. I am a middle-aged man with many faults and little ambition beyond good health, good friends and freedom from poverty.

But I enjoy life. Much of that enjoyment comes from continuing to watch and read and listen and talk and learn. It comes from that second universe. And in that universe, which we all have, where none of us is inferior or limited, there is no place for the delusion and dishonesty of the Creation “Museum”.

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If God existed, he would...

admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create

recognize that eternity is meaningless

deny both heaven and hell

disown all men and women who speak in his name

denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"

help the human race to thrive without him

If God existed, he would be an atheist.

What is the difference between science and faith?

science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything

faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing

Which do you trust?

"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"

Check the answer

wear the Scarlet letter

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