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Creationism not just a what problem: but how

Controversy arising from the recent opening of the “Ark Encounter” in Kentucky (promising something “Bigger Than Imagination”) has excited dismay among the international scientific community, echoing everywhere from New Scientist to National Public Radio. These ancient creation myths have so firmly passed through the evidence mincer into the file marked “Of Anthropological Interest Only” as to be beyond the need for refutation here, as has the pin-head dance of prevarication over what is to be taken literally, and what metaphorically: after all, who has the authority to determine which?

Two questions of greater significance involve the moral and the epistemological considerations of the Ark fable. The first is particularly resonant as it touches upon the upper hand that religion feels it holds over atheism: where would humanity go for its ethics if it didn’t have religion to show it the way? On the evidence of this particular fable, the moral of the story appears to be that you must die by drowning if you are not privileged to be Noah or a member of his family, or one of only two animals from each species which can leg it to the boat before the waters close in.

The second question may be more significant, at least cognitively: how do we know what we know? How did we come by that knowledge, then question it, revise it, and enhance it? Here is where humanity is so badly let down by its putatively holy books, in which no explanation is too risible for unquestioning belief to be compelled upon pain of eternal damnation, whatever evidence may emerge for more plausible explanations.

It is as if some ancient map had been handed down to posterity as an unerring guide to the world in all its flat majesty, promising that between the verdant coastline and the perils of the world’s edge, over which the oceans spill off and out into space, lie vast depths where there be dragons bigger than imagination. Onward marches history and the science of cartography, and slowly we come by better maps that reveal the world more closely adhering to the reality in which no traveller need ever fear slipping over the edge of the world, or being devoured by non-existent dragons.

But any insistence upon adhering to a belief in the old map will make landfall a much less likely possibility too, no matter how big the boat.

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