Evolution vs Creationism
Malachi O'Doherty attends a lively debate at QFT, chaired by William Crawley
Those of us who acquired the first rush of atheistic enthusiasm in the 1960s are a little perplexed by the current lively debate over the Book of Genesis and its account of the creation of the universe. We never really believed that anyone in the past hundred years took that story literally.
It describes a universe between two bodies of water, which the Lord separated and filled with light, before he had even put the sun in the heavens. Meanwhile the rest of us think that light comes from the sun.
Broadcaster and former Presbyterian minister William Crawley filled the Queens Film Theatre last week with an audience for Inherit The Wind, the dramatisation of the famous Monkey Trial, in which Clarence Darrow, renamed for the movie and played by Spencer Tracey, defends a teacher against the charge that he has been teaching evolution to children.
That the teacher in Inherit the Wind was guilty hardly matters. There was a law against contradicting holy scripture at the time and he broke it. But the power and mischief of the story is in Spencer Tracey's unpicking of the prosecution with anomalous titbits from the Bible. Like, who did Cain marry then? And, if there was no sun in the sky by which to measure the day at the start of Creation, might God's day have been millions of years long?
Great, but these are games I played in primary school. And it wasn't as if the audience had come to the QFT simply to see the old black and white film; nearly all stayed for the post-screening debate chaired by Crawley.
Can it have been the personal appeal of Crawley himself which drew them in? Hardly, he is the most ubiquitous chairperson of public events in the city - miss him today and you'll catch him next week. It is hard to resist the conclusion that it was the issue itself that attracted people.
The panel was composed of three men. The first, Christian pastor Rev Dr Scott Peddie, believes in the scientific account and sees no contradiction between religion and science.
The second, retired professor of medical genetics Dr Norman Nevin believes in intelligent design. He made the point that the DNA molecule carries and imparts information, and information does not occur by accident - an intelligent designer must have written it there. No one asked him if the intelligent designer might have been an evil genius in a parallell universe.
And the third was Dr Shane McKee, a geneticist who likes religion as a cultural phenomenon but agrees with the observation that the Adam and Eve story is a pernicious, sexist myth.
But, despite the audience cramming in for this (and as many being turned away as would have filled the whole theatre again) the questions from the floor were a bit sluggish.
One male audience member asked why this particular myth was worth preserving if it wasn't true. He was addressing the school of thought that says religion is nice and part of our tradition, even when it is wrong.
Another spoke up for intelligent design and recited the old line about religion and science being merely competing faith positions, which is nonsense since science is willing to change its view in the face of evidence.
I suspect that if Jesus appeared to this man and told him that the Muslims have got it right, he would stick to his prior position. When the vote came, this one champion of intelligent design voted for that account of creation and 15 percent of the audience, in Crawley's estimation, voted for theistic creation - God, that is.
Everybody else was for evolution without a creator having been involved. Which proved something else.
The big numbers for this event were not accounted for by the churches packing it with devout champions of the Lord of the Universe. If anything, the churches had missed an opportunity to smite the non-believers and the rationalists with the word of scripture.
Those who had come out to see religion humiliated and science endorsed were themselves predominantly believers in science and evolution. Could it be that rationalists are now discussing religion more than
believers are? Where will that end up?