The debate between Ken Ham, founder of the Creation Museum, and Bill Nye the Science Guy roused the long-standing conflict of which our generation loves to stand firmly on one side. The debate was important because there are still 13 states that have some form of creationism taught in government-funded schools. However, we can deduce from the responses to the debate that creationism won’t be regaining ground any time soon. Before the debate began, you could already hear people smacking their lips, hungry for some creationism-bashing. In most of the country, it’s not an argument we tune in to for a good discussion, but rather to muse at the spectacle of someone who still lives under convictions that we find archaic.
Pulling creationism out of schools is absolutely a priority. However, people like Ham who argue for a literal interpretation of biblical stories are making it difficult to remember that there is value in religion and in religious myth. Religion has been a principal influence on societies and people’s lives for all of recorded history, and this is not because until now, people haven’t known any better. Like science, religion provides a way of understanding and navigating the world, and even those of us who reject it will still gravitate toward those things that are at its core, such as a guiding principle or a community. Ironically, atheism has modeled itself after a religion, donning its own culture and narrative. Religion cannot dwindle because it is the product of man’s eternal pursuit of an understanding of the world and oneself, and the rich stories that have emerged from it reveal an essence of human nature that science cannot.
If it weren’t for my religious education, I would not have been able to form my own thoughts about it and to find value in it, of which there is plenty. When you study across religions, you find similar myths that suggest a unity, an overarching human myth that does not challenge scientific fact but complements it. No, we should not take the story of creation literally, and we certainly should not teach it to our children as fact; but taken figuratively, can’t it be seen as a similar story to the Big Bang?
My favorite biblical story begins at the end of the creation myth. Eve is tempted by Satan, and when she and Adam taste the forbidden fruit, the effect is that they become self-conscious, understanding that they are naked. This revelation mirrors the moment of separation of humans from animals when we gained the capacity for self-awareness. Adam and Eve are then banished from the Garden of Eden, the inner change into self-conscious beings transforming their outer world from a land that is essentially perfect into one where good and evil must combat and coexist. It is a beautiful story, and it works as a metaphor not only for the human condition but for our individual lives, for what is it but a coming-of-age story?
Religion has gotten a bad rap from generations of being interpreted every which way and used for wrongdoing, but it is at the core of our humanity, and it is worth studying for its truths that have guided people for so long. As religion drops down on our lists of priorities, we need to make sure that the ideas and stories of different religions remain a staple of cultural literacy. Let’s not take this battle too far — we don’t need to take religious myths out of schools, we just need to change the way we present them, not as facts but as pieces of cultural narrative we must learn to think about critically.
Editor’s Note: Columnist Matt Bloom’s response to this piece, ” Religion has no place in public schools,” can be found here.