I went to the American Museum of Natural History on January 6th. A wonderful establishment and I recommend it to everyone.
I went with a friend of mine. He's religious, wears a black hat on shabbos, goes to shir a few nights a week. He's also a math major in college and appreciates and knows science to some degree. A full on Modern Orthodox Jew.
So we're going through the 4th floor which has halls depicting the evolution of vertebrates. Starts at the jawless fishes goes throughlungfishes and dinosaurs and whatnot, ends with modern mammals. And as we go through I'm explaining to him some of the more interesting facts and tidbits from what I know. Interrelationships, points ofdivergence, stuff like that. We're looking at one of the skeletons and one of the "Fossil Explainers" comes by. Those are the guys in red aprons with big buttons on their chests. Volunteers.
So he asks if we have any questions. I figure I can pretty much cover anything my friend asks so I ask the guy, in a joking way, what my friend asked me a second before about this long-necked skeleton. "How many vertebrae does it have?" He's a little surprised and says, "Oh, you can count them."
But that was a bad move. Instead of just saying "No thanks" we get into this whole conversation between the three of us. He starts talking about how he "knows" we don't accept all this (evolution) and gives us a sheet that explains cladograms. My friend pipes up with a usual Modern Orthodox approach, "Well, with this you jus thave to compartmentalize between the two worldviews." And the guy responds with a quote from Thomas Aquinas that two truths cannot contradict. And my friend responds (quite well actually) that it's similar to the division between Quantum Theory and Relativity. Both are right, but we don't know exactly how to combine them. The guy gives up and says that physics is out of his league.
I'm standing there the whole time, not saying anything because my friend doesn't really know what I think about all this. We've spoken about evolution before and I've told him what I think about it, in great detail, but also strategically without bringing the subject of God into it. I really don't know what he thinks I think but I prefer not giving him fodder.
I just wonder what the Fossil Explainer would have said if I told him what I wanted to tell him. I'm an atheist and a biology major! Don't judge people from what they look like. Sometimes I wonder when I see guys in full Muslim wear...what are they thinking? I also saw a couple of Chassidic guys with full beards and in full costume walking down the Big Bang ramp. As you walk down you follow the history of the universe from the Big Bang billions of years ago to the present. They were in deep conversation. I really would've loved to hear what they were saying.