Among many evangelicals (or whatever they should be called these days), the tension between science and faith is real. Today, many are dismissive of ‘silly’ young earth creationists, but human history has long demonstrated the significance of this strain between faith and science. In a U.S. context, I am puzzled and intrigued by the lack of tension between faith and science among conservative Jews, Muslims, and Catholics. It is the protestant Christians on the conservative side of the spectrum that struggle the most to reconcile faith and science, while other religious conservatives have, for the most part, managed to reconcile the two with relative ease.
I recently had the pleasure of listening to a scholar discuss his research on the Creation Museum. William Trollinger and Susan Trollinger, both of the University of Dayton, described the rooms, displays, and evidence presented at the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum. According to the Trollingers, both museums emphasize the importance of agreeing on the literal 6 day creation and that the earth is 6,000 years old. If one cannot agree on that, according to the museums, than one cannot believe the scriptures to be true and trustworthy. The museums also frame the oppositional binary: God’s word as literal truth, or human reason, that abandons God’s word. Bill and Susan pointed to the totalizing rhetoric of the cultural wars in the museums, which served to create, promote, and encourage visitors to become warriors against secularism.
I have always found that all or nothing logic to be overly simplistic. If faith were absolutely logical and rational, than it wouldn’t quite be faith, would it? But this all or nothing assertion troubles me because I have a view of humanity that is both optimistic and skeptical. Frankly, I don’t trust humans to get it right all the time with absolute certainty. After all, if we can admit that we are not God, than we are bound to be wrong some or much of the time. I realize that nuance, complexity, and thoughtfulness is exhausting. All or nothing is much simpler to follow. Yet wholly unsatisfying. Is anything else in life clear cut and simple? Why would I want my faith to be overly simplistic and unthoughtful?
The Tollingers concluded their presentation with this assertion: “in the effort to fuse evangelical theology and culture war politics, Christian Right Institutions such as the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter may actually be accelerating the advance of secularization by driving evangelicals into the category of the religiously nonaffiliated.” I find this assertion particularly interesting and troubling. As someone who is intrigued by the ways that people, particularly in faith communities, work to pass on their faith to their children, it seems that most young people find the literal arguments unsatisfying and simplistic. As a result, some throw out their faith like the baby with the bathwater.
On the other hand, both museums had millions of visitors last year alone. Clearly the museums strike a chord.