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Faith & Reason

Nica Lalli

May 7, 2007

The debate between the creationists and evolutionists has been raging for many years. As a secular person I have watched in horror.

I find it disturbing that there are people in our country who would limit learning in the name of faith. Where would we be today if the scientists from the last one hundred years (not to mention all the years before that) adhered to answers they already had, as opposed to open ended research? We would be mired in ignorance, disease and superstition.

The opening of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky has taken the debate to a new and distressing level. It is distressing in this guise because of the role museums play in society. A museum is a place that holds collections of artifacts and objects, but more importantly, they are institutions of learning, study and inquiry.

When we visit a museum and see an object in a case we wonder about it. Where it came from, what it means, what it is made of, what it was used for, how old it is.. as museum goers we seek the answers to these questions by using our powers of observation and investigation. We read the labels written by scholars, curators and educators so that the object in question is more illuminated for us. In a short paragraph or two the experts share their studies with the rest of us. If more information is needed, books can be purchased (often right there in the museum store) and lectures are often offered.

At the Creation Museum faith and belief have supplanted study and research. A fossil is dated as 4,000 years old because the creationists believe that all the fossils were formed during the flood of Noah’s time. They eschew carbon dating, geology and other studies because it does not adhere to their belief. If that was the way scientists, historians or researchers in any field approached their material, we would have no new findings about anything. In other words we would be living lives like people lived thousands of years ago.

The creationists are more than happy to take many of the scientific and technological advances and use them to better their lives: polio vaccines, microwave ovens, cars, computers, penicillin - just to name a few of the most obvious examples. Yet they reject the ideas of evolution because it doesn't conform to their particular, biblical world view. It would be interesting to see these people try to live a life that adhered exclusively to the biblical world view. Almost nothing invented or discovered in the past 2,000 years would be allowed. They would surely not be happy campers.

It is one thing to have belief. It is another to go over the edge of reason and try to turn belief into knowledge. If a research paper is turned in and has only one source it gets an automatic &lsqup;F.’ The Creation Museum clearly uses the bible as the only source, and indeed they seem to feel that the bible is not only the source of faith and inspiration for millions across the world, it is also the equivalent of a high school science and humanities textbook. I am surprised that people of faith would want that done to the very words meant to bring deeper spiritual meaning to the world.

As a museum educator I use all the research I have at my disposal for my teaching, but I also want the work to be open to interpretation. I urge people to question what they see and approach the objects in the museum as if they can converse with them. I think conversations with the works in museums are fascinating, whether they are art museums or museums about nature, space or other cultures. Look, observe, question, read and then form an opinion. Form an opinion based on what you think (believe) and what the facts are (research by others, and at times through first hand study as well), leave with new questions and new perspectives. At times, if we are lucky, we leave with something more precious than faith: knowledge.

Nica Lalli

Nica Lalli is the author of Nothing: Something to Believe In. Visit her website at nicalalli.com.