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02:50 pm: In which I get called out

Last week, technolope came over for a quick lunch, which is one of those rare treats when you work from home. We went to Common Grounds cafe, an eclectic little restaurant around the corner from my house.

The restaurant is run by a small community of Christians who in the 60′s “stopped going to church,” and “started being the church.” Based on my recent reading, they appear to hark back to the very earliest communities of Christians – valuing things like self sufficiency and living slightly apart from the rest of their civilization. While they live as overt Christians, their evangelism is limited to a note at the bottom of the menu: “We serve the fruit of the spirit, why not ask?” I’ve never asked, and they’ve never pushed.

The restaurant is amazing. The internal architecture and decoration is all handmade from reclaimed lumber. Every table is a different shape and size, and in the winter a large stone fireplace warms the whole room. The food is, mostly, locally grown on the community’s farm in Western Mass. It’s tasty, filling, and mostly vegetarian. It feels like a tiny slice of community in the middle of the city.

Anyway, technolope and I had our lunch, and when the time came to pay – I was making chit-chat with the man behind the register and he looked at my T-shirt. “Teach the controversy, what does that mean?”

I realized that I was wearing my “Pb -> Au” shirt, which specifically mocks the creationist crowd.

Uh oh.

I explained that “teach the controversy” is a slogan used by people who want to include biblical creation in the science curriculum of public schools. That the shirt makes fun of that, since the mere presence of a controversy didn’t suffice – in my mind – to make something “science.” There will always be people with ideas that are not science – should we include all of them? Even alchemy?

Another couple people had wandered over, and asked “so do you oppose teaching creation in the schools?”

technolope had, at this point, settled back, made metaphorical popcorn … and was watching the show.

I did my best to stay positive, but also to clearly state my position. To do that, I needed to talk about what I believe – rather than letting the conversation be about what they believe. I wound up with something like this: Philosophy and religion are different from science. Science is, necessarily, about evidence. About predictive models with real world power. In some basic cases, like electromagnetism, it’s pretty simple to test in a couple of hours in the classroom. Either a given setup will make the lightbulb go on, or not. Newtonian mechanics are similarly straightforward. In other cases, like evolutionary biology and astrophysics, we wind up looking at the preponderance of evidence and having to make a bit of a judgement call. We can’t actually re-play the evolution (or not) of multicellular life with even a week or a month in a high school lab.

To their credit, they didn’t let me off the hook. “So you don’t think that creation should be taught in the schools?”

I had to admit that, no, I don’t think that the biblical creation story qualifies as science. I tried to lighten it with the fact that I don’t think that physics qualifies as religion.

Long story, less long: I got called out, and learned that I’m not as ready to back up my snotty t-shirts as I might have liked. Back to the honing stone … gotta sharpen that wit.

Originally published at chris.dwan.org. You can comment here or there.

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