Michael Shermer is the founding editor of Skeptic magazine. In the below clip, Shermer visits the young earth Creation Museum in Kentucky, and has a sit down in the cafeteria with Dr. Georgia Purdom. Dr. Purdom got her PhD in molecular genetics from Ohio State University, and she tells Shermer that in getting her PhD the subject of evolution and Darwin simply didn’t come up much (thus she had little conflict, as a young earth creationist, going through the PhD program). She is now a “research scientist” at the museum, and has a five year old son.
She strikes me as one of these very intelligent people who is simply committed—a priori—to a religious proposition (the Bible is the inerrant Word of God)—and she won’t be moved off of it. In other words, she begins all of her reasoning within a closed system, and is impervious to “reality testing.” It’s ironic, because this is precisely the opposite of what a scientist normally does. Most scientists are committed to constant hypothesis testing, and accepting things as facts only tentatively. And if something can’t be falsified, scientists tend to think that it is not a very fruitful avenue for research.
Shermer, by contrast, does a wonderful job trying to patiently understand where she is “coming from.” But it’s really, when it comes right down to it, two people talking past one another. They both really know what the other is about, but they are simply rejecting each other’s premises. It makes me feel a bit bleak about how human beings can ever really come to agreement about cultural premises or ultimate things. Still, they are being respectful of one another, and they are communicating their views.
From my vantage, Dr. Purdom is caught in a stupidity. Her subculture has totally shut her in intellectually. It’s obvious that absolutely nothing that anyone could ever say to her could change her mind. Unfortunately, this is what passes for an admirable scientist among certain segments of the religious population in the United States. In any event, here are two people representing two interesting subcultures—the fundamentalist one and the agnostic/atheist one—trying to talk to one another, and understand one another. But they might just as well be from different planets. One believes that there are two realities (the supernatural and the natural) and one believes that there is only one reality (the natural). And, apparently, never shall the twain meet: