An indictment of certainty
WERE WE CREATED OUT OF THIN AIR by an omniscient deity – the finishing touch of a weeklong project to build the universe? Or did we evolve over billions of years from self-reproducing RNA molecules that got their start in a nebulous primordial goo?
Better yet, does it even matter?
Personally, I don’t give a rat’s ass whether I’m descended from Adam or an amoeba. It has absolutely no bearing on my day-to-day life. And I’m genuinely baffled by people on both sides of the debate who invest so much energy in making their case.
It’s safe to say the Biblical version of how we came to be is a fairy tale. It doesn’t seem terribly likely that the Earth is only 6000 years old. But Genesis is a great story. Lots of familial intrigue, a cameo appearance by a race of giants, a tower built to scrape the sky and a massive ark constructed by a wacko … err, I mean, faithful servant of God.
Please tell me
It sure beats the scientific materialist version of how we came to be. Please tell me how I’m supposed to get excited about this storyline: the earth was formed by accident, and that set in motion a bunch of random events that by sheer fluke resulted in the world’s civilizations. According to that storyline, Herman Daly has wryly noted, everything around us is “just a pile of instrumental accidental stuff to be used up on the arbitrary projects of one purposeless species.” Awesome.
So, on the one hand you have the Genesis story, a fascinating Near Eastern cosmology rooted in stories people have been telling each other for millennia. But it seems to have gotten some key details wrong. On the other hand, you have evolutionary theory – the logical extrapolation of evidence gathered and analyzed according to the rigours of the scientific method. But it’s uninspiring, and don’t kid yourself, it too is undergirded by assumptions and conjecture.
Neither leaves me with any sense of certainty about how I came to be here, now. And I’m perfectly fine with that.
Of course, some would like us to think that questions of the creation versus evolution type are highly relevant. The battle over the Kansas Board of Education to determine Creationism’s place in school curriculum is one of many examples. But that fight is less about the issue itself and more about the culture wars being waged for control of the American soul. The whole thing reinforces my point: the fact that control of a state’s education board is won and lost over a debate over our origins is sheer insanity.
Obviously if people feel strongly about something, they should argue for it as steadfastly as they feel is warranted. And we do need to guard against willful ignorance shaping public policy. But as a general rule, those of us who are perfectly content with unknowns and ambiguity shouldn’t feel obligated to desire certainty.
Sure, it’s good to wrestle with religious questions. And I’m up for a good intellectual exercise as much as the next person. But ultimately, I don’t expect any concrete answers when it comes to my faith. Which, of course, should go without saying, given the definition of faith. But that hasn’t stopped religious types of all stripes from beaking off about how sure they are that they’re right. To them I say, tone down the conviction and certitude. While I firmly believe there’s a capital ‘T’ truth out there somewhere, the simple reality is that none of us enjoy anything more than fleeting glimpses of it.
So let’s save our energy for figuring out how to eliminate homelessness or something.
Nicholas Klassen lives in Vancouver, B.C. He is a former senior editor at Adbusters magazine and a principal at Biro Creative communications firm.