As a child I fell in love with technology, but I have to admit I never fell in love with science. I kept hoping that messing around with Macs and Atari and eventually the Internet would nudge me closer to caring about the periodic table, Louis Pasteur and the double-blind studies that now seem to stand for science. As it was, I only cared about the double-blind studies that told me what I wanted to hear—that potatoes are good for you or that people of my height are generally happy—and I liked the phrase “double-blind” when it was on my side because it meant “true” and “take that.”
I assume that other people love science and technology, since the fields are often lumped together, but I rarely meet people like that. Technology people are trippy; our minds are blown by the romance of telecom. At the same time, the people I know who consider themselves scientists by nature seem to be super-skeptical types who can be counted on to denigrate religion, fear climate change and think most people—most Americans—are dopey sheep who believe in angels and know nothing about all the gross carbon they trail, like "Pig-Pen."
I like most people. I don’t fear environmental apocalypse. And I don’t hate religion. Those scientists no doubt see me as a dopey sheep who believes in angels and is carbon-ignorant. I have to say that they may be right.
In the hazy Instagram picture I have in my mind of the mechanisms that animate my ingenious smartphone—a picture that slips in and out of focus, and one I constantly revise—it might as well be angels. At the same time, I have read and heard brilliantly serpentine arguments for and against fracking, not to mention for and against cities and coal and paper (it sidelines carbon and decomposes! it is toxic industrial waste!), and I still don’t know right from wrong when it comes to carbon. All I know is one side of these debates seems maybe slightly more bloodthirsty and opportunistic than the other—but now I can’t remember which one.
Also, at heart, I am a creationist. There, I said it. At least you, dear readers, won’t now storm out of a restaurant like the last person I admitted that to. In New York City saying you’re a creationist is like confessing you think Ahmadinejad has a couple of good points. Maybe I’m the only creationist I know.
This is how I came to it. Like many people, I heard no end of Bible stories as a kid, but in the 1970s in New England they always came with the caveat that they were metaphors. So I read the metaphors of Genesis and Exodus and was amused and bugged and uplifted and moved by them. And then I guess I wanted to know the truth of how the world began, so I was handed the Big Bang. That wasn’t a metaphor, but it wasn’t fact either. It was something called a hypothesis. And it was only a sentence. I was amused and moved, but considerably less amused and moved by the character-free Big Bang story (“something exploded”) than by the twisted and picturesque misadventures of Eve and Adam and Cain and Abel and Abraham.
Later I read Thomas Malthus’ “Essay on the Principle of Population” and “The Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin, as well as probably a dozen books about evolution and atheism, from Stephen Jay Gould to Sam Harris.
The Darwin, with good reason, stuck with me. Though it’s sometimes poetic, “The Origin of Species” has an enchantingly arid English tone to it; this somber tone was part of a deliberate effort to mark it as science and not science fiction—the “Star Trek” of its time. The book also alights on a tautology that, like all tautologies, is gloriously unimpeachable: Whatever survives survives.
But I still wasn’t sure why a book that never directly touches on human evolution, much less the idea of God, was seen as having unseated the story of creation. In short, “The Origin of Species” is not its own creation story. And while the fact that it stints on metaphor—so as to avoid being like H.G. Wells—neither is it bedrock fact. It’s another hypothesis.
Cut to now. I still read and read and listen and listen. And I have never found a more compelling story of our origins than the ones that involve God. The evolutionary psychologists with their just-so stories for everything (“You use a portable Kindle charger because mothers in the primordial forest gathered ginseng”) have become more contradictory than Leviticus. Did you all see that ev-psych now says it’s women who are naturally not monogamous, in spite of the same folks telling us for decades that women are desperate to secure resources for their kids so they frantically sustain wedlock with a rich silverback who will keep them in cashmere?
Sigh. When a social science, made up entirely of observations and hypotheses, tells us first that men are polygamous and women homebodies, and then that men are monogamous and women gallivanters—and, what’s more builds far-fetched protocols of dating and courtship and marriage and divorce around these notions—maybe it’s time to retire the whole approach.
All the while, the first books of the Bible are still hanging around. I guess I don’t “believe” that the world was created in a few days, but what do I know? Seems as plausible (to me) as theoretical astrophysics, and it’s certainly a livelier tale. As “Life of Pi” author Yann Martel once put it, summarizing his page-turner novel: “1) Life is a story. 2) You can choose your story. 3) A story with God is the better story.”