So, like many people I've been engaged by the debate between Bill Nye (the Science Guy) and Ken Ham (CEO of the Creation Museum). While I have a cynical side that says this debate was little more than a way to perpetuate the wedge between science-minded individuals and those who eschew science in favor of intelligent design, I am at heart a humanist and optimist. I have to believe in the best of my fellow man and think that this dialogue is a good thing. I've watched the debate, read responses, followed Twitter feeds. I've oscillated between apoplectic rage and fist-pumping excitement at all of the above. And for the most part--other than a few tweets or posts on Facebook--I've promised myself I won't engage this publicly. Not in any lengthy form at least. That would take a while, and I admit fully that I am not an objective observer.
However, there is one part of the debate that when I listened to it, I could not help but react with volcanic magnitude.
DISCLAIMER: This is not going to be about who's "right" or "wrong". This is not going to engage creation vs evolution, or devolve into Team Nye or Team Ham. What follows is my reaction to a specific piece of Ham's testimony.
During the debate, Mr. Nye was asked questions to which he didn't have answers--questions SCIENCE is still trying to answer. When Mr. Nye explained, "I don't know," he did so with great glee and relish. He went on to say that science takes joy in the discovery of the answers to these questions.
Mr. Ham then responded with the following:
"You talk about the 'joy of discovery', but you also say that 'when you die it's over'...If when you die, it's over and you don't even remember being here, and no one who knew you remembers being here, what's the point of the joy of discovery anyway? In an ultimate sense?"
That... that paragraph terrifies me. More than that, it makes me sad. It breaks my heart.
What's the point if we're not going to remember it? What's the point? WHAT'S. THE. POINT?
First of all, I will address the simpler part of this atrocity. "If no one remembers, what's the point?" I admit that my head is all twisty at this sentence. This implies that all action, creation, speech--LIFE--is meaningless unless it is documented or in some other way remembered. It's not hard to see where this idea comes from. Our culture is one of memory sticks and terabyte hard drives. Mr. Ham's religion stems from an oral tradition passed down for centuries before being compiled into the books of the Old Testament. Humanity has always valued the past. Some of this is for survival: remember the footprints of this prey or the breeding grounds of that quarry or the shapes of poisonous leaves. But we are also creatures of sentiment.
Perhaps family bonds began as evolutionary strategy, maybe we were created with the capacity to love, or perhaps aliens implanted the chemicals that control our emotions: the point is that we assign value to people, places, things and experiences. We remember because--for one reason or another--it is important to do so.
With that in mind, I can see where Mr. Ham would make the leap in his logic that a life that simply ends has therefore carried with it no meaning. I disagree strongly, but I can see where the leap has been made.
And I think it's based on fallacy.
Here's the thing...I don't remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, but the nutrients--or lack thereof--are still with me today. It matters because of simple cause-effect. Similarly, if I develop Alzheimer's or dementia in my later years, the fact that I would not remember whole portions of my life would not invalidate it. If a man dies alone and no one mourns him, the choices he made in his life still leave echoes in the lives of many. If I die and that's all she wrote, I will not remember, but I *did* remember during my time. I still made discoveries and told stories and touched lives. And though those who would remember me will one day die as well, our very culture ensures that we pass on knowledge. Pluck a single violin string, then mute it and the others will still vibrate. The knowledge of fire didn't die with the first proto-humans to harness it, and thus our discoveries are not made in a vacuum.
Furthermore, I think Mr. Ham's rebuttal fails to understand the very essence of joy itself. Joy is present for joy's sake. Why eat more than bread and water? Why make music beyond one note? Why tell stories or ask questions to begin with if not for joy? Why bother with life at all if not for heart-rending, mind-boggling, skin-tingling joy?
Humanity would never have left the caves if life didn't have some meaning to it. Death wouldn't sting if life wasn't so glorious in and of itself. Our lives are given meaning and value by the experiences, connections, choices and events in them--and the fact that we can be snuffed out as quickly as a candle.
What's the point?
While we all need to figure that out for ourselves and discern why we as individuals continue to carry on breathing every day, I think the answer to the greater question is right there in that befuddling paragraph.
If we are created in the image of an intelligent designer, then s/he knew that, too. Why create us at all?
Because it was fun to do it in the first place.