Recently, I ended up on a day trip with a co-worker for a meeting a few hours away. I previously had a sneaking suspicion that this person, while perfectly nice, was in fact a very conservative Christian. He's a nice guy and I'll preface this whole story by stating that at no point did we start yelling at each other or had any kind of real tension. Was there frustration? Yes!
On the two hour ride to the meeting we talked about football (the American kind), and then it somehow slid into Global Warming and American politics. It won't shock anyone for me to tell you that he thinks global warming is basically a fraud. I got the distinct impression he thought it was a green energy company conspiracy to grow a business market at the expense of the traditional energy companies. I laughed and told him that I'm surprised anyone on the Right would think that commie/hippie/tree-huggers had that much capitalistic business acumen. He didn't laugh, but I think it was more from not getting the joke. Anyway, it was civil and only a cursory conversation on these matters. He does listen to Rush Limbaugh, however. That...that is just disappointing.
As we made our return trip home he asked me what was the oldest site I had ever excavated (for those that aren’t already aware, I'm an archaeologist). I told him about several early Archaic sites (North America) that I had worked on dating between ~10,000 BP and 3000 BP. After telling him about this he says "Yeah, I'm interested in the whole Young Earth vs. Old Earth debate." I just turned to him and flat out stated:
"There is no debate."
He was, of course, somewhat shocked by my insolence, but the conversation continued. I don’t want to relay the whole tedious (sooo tedious) conversation, but needless to say he was firmly in the Young Earth camp (the Earth really is ~6,000 years old), he rejected the Theory of Natural Selection, firmly believed that a flood covered the Earth (presumably in the past 6,000 years), and a whole litany of nonsense. Why do I easily call it nonsense? Aren’t we supposed to respect other points of view? Shouldn't we—at a minimum—entertain the possibility of a Young Earth? Shouldn’t we respect such beliefs?
There really is no debate. There is no controversy.
Objective scientific facts ( <- yes that is redundant) are actualities regarding the known universe based on observation, testing and refutation. Religions, and Creationism by extension, are "revealed" knowledge which have no evidence to support the assertions. If Creation science can be called science at all, it can only be considered a failed science. Why? It doesn't work. You cannot observe, test or refute most religious claims. Those that can be tested are invariably refuted. To say that they are on equal footing or that there is a debate between the two is absurd. They are not two competing theories. Natural selection is a Theory (big “T”). Creationism is not a theory (little “t”). As Christopher Hitchens succinctly put it in god is Not Great, “In all its well financed propaganda, it has never even attempted to show how one single piece of the Natural World is explained better by design than by evolutionary competition.” In other words: It doesn’t explain anything!
To state that there is a debate is to give it credence. To state that there is a controversy is to employ false equivalence. They aren't in the same wheelhouse. And for the record I do not support the Non-Overlapping Magisteria compartmentalization of Stephen Jay Gould. I reject that notion completely. What I mean is that religion doesn't belong in the same breath as science unless it is being studied by science. Religion—as explanation for the universe, how we came to be, and even what is best for humanity and our planet—is quite useless and in many instances detrimental.
This is not to say science alone can answer these questions. Too often we atheists prop up science as the “end all, be all”, or at least we state things in such a way that is seems so. We need to choose our words better. Science isn't an “answer” to anything. It is one of the tools we use to find answers and, possibly more importantly, ask more questions. Religion is a tool, but only as a poorly constructed coping mechanism or as well constructed means to control people. It doesn't actually produce answers that are not already provided and this provided knowledge comes with the caveat to never ever question it. Not in any meaningful way.
The “Science vs. Religion” debate is a manufactured dichotomy with a manufactured controversy. Without the forced respect and forced discussion, religion—as a means for understanding the universe, ourselves, and how to best live our lives—is irrelevant in comparison. Science is limitless in its useful applications as a tool. Religion’s usefulness peaked during the Dark Ages and, then as in now, holds on only by hook or by crook.