Tag Archives: Tulsa World

The age-old argument

The Tulsa World had a long piece Saturday about the rift between ” young Earth” and ” old Earth” Christians. Of all the things Christians (or anybody else) argue about, this has to be one of most pointless.

The argument is whether the Earth is a few thousand years old, which is what some interpret the Bible to say, or a few billion years old, which is what virtually everyone who knows anything about natural sciences say. Really, it’s about those who believe a literal reading of the Bible — for some, the King James Bible — trumps all else, and those who don’t. My own view, through the lens of a lifetime of working with words, is that no language is free of ambiguity, and the phrase “lost in translation” is not merely a cliche.

But I digress. The real question is “What difference does it make?”

Philosophically, morally, spiritually, what difference does it make to me whether the Earth is six thousand years old or six billion? Will I behave differently if it is one or the other? The answer is no. When and how the Earth was made has no bearing on my conduct, and it’s difficult to believe it affects anyone else’s. While this sort of thing might make an interesting discussion, obsessing over it is a detour down a theological dead end. It is the equivalent of arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin; more seriously, it diverts from the central message.

For some reason, we in the United States are particularly prone to pitting science against faith. This is disturbing because it encourages a mindset that puts wishful thinking ahead of objective evaluation of facts and circumstances.

My personal rule is that I never call an electrician to work on my plumbing. I call a plumber. He may turn out to be a bad plumber, an unscrupulous plumber, or a plumber who misdiagnoses the cause of my backed up sink or leaking kitchen drain, but on the whole I’m more likely to get better advice about plumbing from a plumber than I am from an electrician or a child psychologist or a priest.

So it is is with the age of the Earth. If the experts in the field say the earth is billions of years old, I’m inclined to go with that. But I am also quite aware that ideas change as more facts present themselves, and some day the consensus of science may change. That is the nature of science. It’s conclusions change to fit the facts, not the other way around.

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Cruel and unusual punishment

On Sunday, two of my Tulsa World colleagues published a detailed and grisly account of the state of Oklahoma’s crude execution of murderer Clayton Lockett, a stone killer convicted (and by all accounts rightfully so) of shooting a young woman and then burying her alive. There seems to be no doubt of his guilt.

Lockett and another murderer, Charles Warner, were to be executed by lethal injection at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary on April 29. Because the state could no longer get the drugs it had formerly used in executions, it was trying a new combination of uncertain effectiveness.

For reasons explained in the stories linked above, Lockett’s execution turned into a blood-soaked “cluster,” as one of those responsible for carrying it out put it. When Lockett finally died, almost an hour after the execution began, it was from a heart attack.

Predictability, the response to this has been, “So what?” His crime having been particularly cold-blooded, Lockett could hardly have been a less sympathetic figure. Many objected to descriptions of the execution as “botched.” Lockett was supposed to die and he did, and if it turned out to take a little longer and be a lot more painful than expected, so much the better.

The obvious answer to that is the U.S. Constitution forbids “cruel and unusual punishment,” and that what happened in Oklahoma’s execution chamber on April 29 seems to fall into that category.

But there is more to it than that. This is not about Clayton Lockett. It’s about us. It’s about doing things right. It’s about respect for the law and behaving like a civil society and not a lynch mob. The Eighth Amendment is there for a reason.

People who believe the death penalty should remain an option — and I’m one of them — ought to be outraged by what happened to Clayton Lockett, not because of Clayton Lockett, but because it reeks of incompetence and gives impetus to those who believe execution itself is cruel and unusual punishment.

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