Once again I was asked about a topic in the news and then found myself quoted extensively in the resulting article:
As I pointed out in my response to the religion editor at The Blaze, I believe that much of the so-called conflict between science and religion is a consequence of ignorance on both sides, with much of it a result of a misreading and misunderstanding of the biblical materials by both the religious and non-religious.
And Nye and Maher’s criticism of the opening chapter of the Bible misses entirely the purpose and context of Genesis. The book of Genesis has at least three obvious purposes. First, it is a reaction against the prevailing mythology and polytheism that dominated the world of the Ancient Near East. The Babylonian creation epic, known as Enuma Elish, described a battle between the gods and their ultimate decision to create human beings to serve them as slaves. The Babylonian gods include the sun, the moon, Tiamat (translated “the Deep” in Genesis 1:2) and so on.
In Genesis, the sun, moon, and Tiamat appear, but now they are objects devoid of both divinity and personality. They come into existence simply to provide light on the Earth (in the case of the Sun and moon), or in Tiamat’s case, along with the Earth, awaiting God’s words of direction: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (NIV) The book of Genesis has but one God who creates human beings not as slaves, but as the masters of the world. And so that is the second point made by the creation account: there is only one God, not many gods.
Third, the story of Genesis is designed to demonstrate that the one God worshipped by Israel does not belong to them exclusively. Although the gods of the nations around Israel were usually perceived as national deities, in contrast, the God of Genesis is the God not just of one nation, but of all human beings everywhere—because all human beings everywhere are part of one big family with a common ancestor.
As to Bill Maher, he is welcome to his opinion that religion and science can’t be reconciled, but I think his opinion mostly just illustrates that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, rather than corresponding to any reality. There are a number of both scientists and theologians who would strongly disagree with him. For instance, Alvin Platinga is the author of Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. He’s a Christian and he’s the O’Brien Professor of Philosophy, at the University of Notre Dame. Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., is a committed Christian. He also helped to discover the genetic misspellings that cause cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, Huntington’s disease, and a rare form of premature aging called progeria. A pioneer gene hunter, he led the Human Genome Project from 1993 until 2008. For his revolutionary contributions to genetic research, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007, and the National Medal of Science in 2009. He is the author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. John Polkinghorne, KBE, FRS, is one of the world’s leading experts on science and religion. He is a world-class physics professor at Cambridge who then became a priest. He’s the Founding President of the International Society of Science and Religion, and the winner of the Templeton Prize. Polkinghorne is the author of many books, including Living with Hope: A Scientist Looks at Advent, Christmas, & Epiphany and Belief in God in an Age of Science. That’s just three scientists and/or theologians who would disagree with Bill Maher and would seem, by their very existence, to undermine his opinion. There are many, many more people who contradict Maher’s point of view, of course. Doubtless there are some scientists and theologians who might agree with Maher, but I think they’re as wrong as he is–and just as shallow in their understanding of the issues.