Thursday, August 2, 2007

Pressing the Buttons of the Universe

Sims is the seasoned writer in this home, and his comment on Northern Kentucky's Creation Museum compels me to step back and let him speak.

As a native Kentuckian, any news about the Creation Museum fills me with a bizarre combination of amusement, embarrassment and contempt. Of course the Creation Museum isn't about science. It's about a personal longing for certainty and a societal escape from fear. It's about people using religion as a talisman, for protection. The Creation Museum is a palladium. It's a monument that safeguards a substantial part of contemporary American culture. It provides comfort for millions who want to believe in a personal God pressing the buttons of the universe. The idea of religion as something internal is less compelling to these people. The awesome sweep of evolution, the legacy of trial and error and adaptation worked out over eons, doesn't begin to satisfy their longing.

I don't think there are simple answers to the phenomenon that the Creation Museum represents. I try to respond with the empathetic recognition that most people on some level are searching for meaning, and that this search works out in many different ways, some of which appear sophisticated and others that appear laughable, and that all of this is subject to cultural perspectives and prejudices, and that perhaps a kind of intellectual evolution is also at work.

More than two thousand years ago, the Roman statesman Pompey became curious about the Jewish god he had heard so much about. Rome was a city of a thousand gods, of course, the more the merrier. Like most Romans, Pompey was impressed by the antiquity of Judaism, by the fact that it had been around for so long. On the other hand, as great organizers, monotheism made no sense to the Romans. How could one god take care of the whole world? To get maximum efficiency, gods needed to specialize. Passing through Jerusalem, Pompey decided to check it out for himself. He strode into the temple, right into the inner sactum, which as a non-Jew wasn't supposed to enter. Pompey expected to find a huge, garish idol, but the room was empty except for some scrolls. That blew his Roman mind. The beliefs of this tiny minority in a dusty corner of the empire seemed absurd.

Today monotheism seems less strange. So maybe we should give the Creation Museum a few thousand years. Come back when it's a ruin studied by scholars from unknown places who speak unborn languages. Maybe then truth will provide more comfort than myth, or at least the proportion of relative comfort will have shifted a bit. Maybe then science won't be the enemy.

Drawings: from the "Hours" series