Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Wonderful Life Indeed - REPOST

I'm gearing up to write a massive post on the cultural evolution of Santa Claus; from Odin (the one-eyed Norse Father-God) into the jolly Kris Kringle known today. I'm envisioning an overview of all Christmas traditions historically having nothing to do with Jesus but taking their ques from pagan traditions. In preparing I searched my site for old posts I'd composed about Christmas and I came across this re-hash of a debate I had with a large group of creationists. The conclusions here echo a recurring theme I keep running into lately - resorting civility and holding a parley in the culture wars.

Here's the primer...

As the nights grow to the longest of the year in the northern hemisphere I come back to the Christmas Classic "It's a Wonderful Life" year after year and take away some new "positive magic." The right to speak freely also entails an obligation to listen freely. Progress is not achieved through ideological "wars" where one idea is diametrically opposed to another, where foes are demonized and enemy lines are not to be crossed. It comes through the raising of a common consciousness, a common sense.

A book of the same name has also affected me and perhaps made me more receptive to the message in this Jimmy Stewart classic. In the fall of 2007 a "young earth" physicist named Dr. D. Russell Humphreys spoke at Colorado State University. He spent two hours in front of a podium explaining that the observed rate at which helium atoms leaked from zirconium crystal collected from a salt mine in New Mexico indicated the earth was only about 10,000 years old. When I asked the man how humans could observe stars that were more than 10,000 light years away and sometimes even millions of light-years away his response was not scientific at all. He explained that during Genesis and the "great flood" God sped up the space-time continuum to bring the light beams to our eyeballs... After the seminar I left the auditorium in shock and disbelief that this man was paid to speak at a university, then I realized why it was worth it. In the lobby I was surrounded by the student group who invited him and engaged in a two hours long discussion about the age of earth and evolution. I described to them the progression of life as evidenced in the soft bodied fossils in the Burgess shale in British Columbia. I told them how this showcase of evolution and evolutionary timescales was eloquently described by Stephen Jay Gould in his award winning book "Wonderful Life." They had never heard of the Burgess shale and I think I piqued their interest and maybe a few students followed up on investigating this evidence on their own. Even though I was initially shocked that the university would allow such a seminar to be commissioned on campus I eventually realized the beauty of it all. The ensuing conversation between 20+ creationists and myself would never have taken place had this seminar not happened. Free speech is like white light, shining in all directions. Ideas like "life is a wonderful thing" have the power to reign in the poles of the culture wars, forcing us to acknowledge one another and move forward together.

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