Topic: Professions & Institutions

Spreading Ignorance with Best Intentions

“Bob and Ray", the old radio comedy team, once did a routine in which Bob Elliot played an interviewer whose guest was a longshoreman who had written a history of the United States. “This book is riddled with errors, sir,” he protested at one point. “For example, on page 324 you say that Abraham Lincoln was born in Bailey’s Mistake, Maine.”

“Well, it’s a big book,” his subject, played by the hilariously deadpan Ray Goulding, replied. “A few mistakes are bound to slip through.”

Is the willful spreading of ignorance unethical? Certainly; but what if the one spreading ignorance passionately believes that he is spreading the truth instead? He is still unethical, because one who assumes the responsibility of educating others is obligated to take every measure to ensure the accuracy of his information. Ignorance is profoundly destructive to individuals, society, and human progress. Those who nurture it, even with the best of intentions, must be held accountable for the damage they cause.

This principle applies to Kentucky’s soon-to-be-opened attraction, the new multi-million-dollar Museum of Creation. It is the brain child of Ken Ham, an Australian evangelist who believes his 25 million dollar theme park will attract America’s fundamentalist Christians and create new ones. Among its attractions are life-size dinosaurs shown co-existing with human beings, as some maintain that a literal reading of the Bible proclaims. Visitors will even see a Tyrannosaurus Rex pursuing Adam and Eve after their fall from grace. "That’s the real terror that Adam’s sin unleashed," visitors will be warned.

As willful misinformation goes, this is quite a bit worse than putting Honest Abe in Bailey’s Mistake. And please, let’s not get all misty about how people of faith have a right to believe whatever they choose. There is no rational debate about the fact that dinosaurs and human beings were separated by millions of years. Just as the Catholic Church, after years of denial, was finally forced to reconcile its tenets with the inconvenient fact, championed by Copernicus and Galileo, that the Earth went around the Sun and not the other way around, fundamentalists have to bite the bullet and accept a few indisputable facts, like the fact that universe is a lot more than 6,000 years old and there were plenty of cute little dinosaurs small enough to get on the Ark if they had been in existence when Noah put down the gang plank.

This is not a small matter. Refusing to accept and comprehend basic well-documented scientific facts about the development of life on earth precludes the acquisition and use of a huge amount of essential knowledge, including aspects of mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, and biology. Ham’s Museum of Creation will indoctrinate children with misinformation that will handicap their ability to learn and understand the world they live in, while bolstering the ignorance of their parents. If you think that this is a trivial matter that applies only to an extremist minority in the United States, think again. Polls show that more than 40% of American neither understand nor believe in evolution, and presumably would be receptive to the idea that mankind’s early existence was akin to that of Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Ham’s 47 acre disinformation center makes some other, more sinister, claims, like blaming the Columbine tragedy on Charles Darwin, and the AIDS epidemic on gays. All in good faith, of course, and all with completely good intentions.

It doesn’t matter. There may be some rich and well-intentioned Holocaust deniers out there somewhere; that doesn’t mean that we have to shrug off Holocaust Denial Land as a legitimate and benign expression of personal belief. Sometimes questions do have answers, and sometimes we all have an obligation to adjust our beliefs according to uncomfortable facts. That time came long ago for fundamentalist Christians, and now it must be said that stubbornness, intractability and willful ignorance can no longer demand respect as just a matter of faith and a difference of opinion. The false history presented by the Museum of Creation shackles young minds and weakens older ones. Mister Ham has a right to his own ignorance, but when he uses his resources to spread it far and wide, he is doing affirmative wrong.

Ironically, the museum’s "Bible Authority Room" warns visitors that “everyone who rejects his history … is `willfully’ ignorant.”

At least there is some truth being told at the Museum of Creation.


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