The Evolution of Creationism
I was listening to Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN) last week. With Time carrying us all toward the culmination of one of the most, um, grave religious seasons of the year, when all of Christendom celebrates the resurrection of the man-sized, clown-faced, egg-laying Easter Bunny by filling brightly-colored plastic eggs with candy and then hiding them, Cooper was running a series of... segments, I guess you'd call them, entitled, "What is a Christian?"
In one of these... segments, Cooper was moderating (fueling the fire of) a debate --which on cable news means a verbal splooging of finely-honed dogma that escalates into a shouting match of not so finely-honed dogma before the host cuts them off and reminds everybody that this is, after all, America in the twenty-first century and, therefore, commercialism trumps news or views or discussion, every time, and we'll be right back-- moderating a debate over whether or not the Theory of Intelligent Design should be taught alongside the Theory of Evolution in public schools.
The Theory of Intelligent Design is a prime example of the latest, ahem, evolution in the shaping of the message being pushed by the Religious Right. It is the next step up the ladder from simple spin doctoring-- one of the best examples of which is the labels applied to the abortion issue.
Most supporters of Roe v. Wade refer to themselves as "pro-choice." It's an accurate enough term: While they're not in favor of abortion per se, they are in favor of keeping the option legal, if only for others to use. The implied rhetorical logic, of course, is that opponents of the Roe v. Wade decision are "anti-choice" --which is also accurate. If you need proof of that, all you have to do is read enough bumper stickers that say "It's not a choice. It's a child."
Anti-abortionists, realizing early on that they weren't getting anywhere by labeling themselves "anti-abortionists," or by labeling their opponents "murderers" and "baby killers" --not to mention the hypocrisy of killing abortion clinic employees-- decided to give themselves a positive label: "Pro-life." Apparently, their views on capital punishment are an entirely separate issue.
As I said before, the Theory of Intelligent Design represents the next step-- a far more sophisticated mechanism for introducing theology into the secular world. Fully realizing that they run the risk of being branded as kooks and superstitious crackpots if they do nothing more than thump The Book of Genesis down on the debate table, the Religious Right and others who desperately want there to be something more than a great big empty out there have carefully crafted an argument which they hope will seem more reasonable and be more palatable. It is a somewhat clever (insidious?) argument, because it utilizes one of the basic imperatives of the scientific method itself: The imperative to question and to challenge that which is accepted.
The Intelligent Designists, you see, do make a valid point when they say the Theories of Evolution and Big Bang --no matter how widely they are accepted-- should be continually explored, questioned, and challenged with alternatives. The very same scientific method which led to the acceptance of those theories says so. One thing many people tend to overlook most of the time is that the word "theory," within the realm of science, has a weighty definition: It means that while the evidence would seem to support a particular idea, that while all the data seems to fit, nothing has been proven.
Furthermore, Intelligent Designists are also accurate when they accuse evolutionist of having a knee jerk negative reaction to any theory that isn't Darwinism and the Big Bang. Most evolutionists, seeing a lamb in wolf's clothing --theology in the guise of science-- do have that reaction.
Such was the case last Wednesday night when Anderson Cooper was doing a not very good job of referee-ing the barnyard squabble between an evolutionist named Robert Boston (Americans United For Separation of Church and State) and a creat-- uh, intelligent-designist named Charmaine Yoest (Family Research Council). Had it been a debate competition, held in a vacuum, where it didn't matter who was right or wrong but only how well they represented their assigned point of view... she would have royally kicked his [donkey]. Whereas she came across as reasonable and fair-minded, he was the one who seemed dogmatic, exclusionary and nit-picky. During one near-hysterical exchange, he repeatedly interrupted her-- badgering her about the age of the planet. For her part, she chose to ignore the question on the grounds that her personal opinion regarding any one detail was beside the point of the larger argument.
This debate, however, was not and is not being held in a vacuum, and there are, I think, some important points to be, uh, pointed out...
Among many other things, Yoest, regarding what she referred to as the "censorship of anything non-Darwinian," said: "I think our children have more robust intelligence and, and questioning to be able to cope with looking at all the different theories that are out there."
Then she said: "I just have to ask: What is he [Robert Boston] so scared of?"
Later, as the squabble became more heated, she addressed Boston directly with the same question: "What are you so scared of?"
I was surprised by the question, because it was the very same one I've been wanting to ask people like her for a looong time: What are you afraid of?
Because I'll tell you what I'm afraid of. In fact, I'll go you one better, Charmaine: I'll tell you what you're afraid of, too...
Children --especially young children-- often do have a more robust intelligence than they are given credit for. However, they are sorely lacking in skepticism and critical thinking. In some ways that's good: It fuels creativity. In some ways, though, it's bad: It makes them gullible, impressionable. As children grow into adulthood, some of that early intelligence morphs into "common sense" and rote, the growing skepticism warps into a certain jadedness and, apparently, Charmaine, their critical thinking develops some major-league blind spots. You'd be appalled if you really knew how many walking, talking and otherwise clear-headed people there are in this country who are utterly convinced that all rivers flow south.
The Theory of Intelligent Design presupposes the existence of a supreme being. Any such theory is --by definition!-- theology, not science. Theology belongs in theology class, not science class.
The following passage is from the first chapter of The Book of Genesis: "God made the two great lights, the greater one to govern the day, and the lesser one to govern the night..."
Clearly, this passage refers to the sun and the moon. Notice the poetic --dare I say metaphorical-- use of the word "govern." If the god you believe in does exist, Charmaine, then neither the sun nor the moon govern anything at all-- He does. So much for a literal reading of the text.
Moreover, the moon is not a light source; it is a planetary body whose soil is appreciably reflective. It does not glow with light of its own; it reflects the light of the sun. The Book of Genesis is not a scientific text; it is an ancient collection of often rather stilted bedtime stories. In fact, that's all it was ever meant to be. Why, I got a phone call from God just last week, and he told me that he's very disappointed in all you creationists' failure to grasp the concept of allegory. He finds it strange that the very same people who think He invented, well, you know, Everything find it so hard to believe that He invented storytelling. He wonders why Jesus is allowed to use parables to make a point, but He isn't.
He also thinks Howard is a jerk.
And Dick Cheney, too.
So, Charmaine, what am I afraid of?
I'm afraid of superstitious, fairy-tale believers like you, with your heads in the sand and gaping holes in your critical thinking, filling the minds of impressionable young souls --that are already destined to have low test scores-- with bedtime stories masquerading as scientific fact. I'm afraid of you and your kind pushing this country and its people toward the very kind of theocracy we're supposed to be fighting against in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm afraid that you True Believers are the harbingers of a new Dark Age.
And now, Charmaine, do you know what you're afraid of?
Death. It is cold and dark out there and it lasts a long, long time, and you just can't face the very real possibility that when the end comes it will indeed be The End. You are afraid of the astounding insignificance that bespeaks-- that your existence was an accident to begin with and someday all too soon it will be Over, completely, forever, and your life will ultimately mean no more to the universe than the life of an ant in Timbuktu means to you...
Ah, but take heart: For while most evolutionists seldom speak of God and, indeed, very well may not believe in one, the Theories of Evolution and Big Bang do not preclude His existence. They don't even try to do that. What they try to do is explain the physical mechanics of the world and the universe, nothing more. Oh sure, in doing so they reaffirm that The Book of Genesis is a theological text, neither science nor, for that matter, history. But that's not the end of the world.
Heck, it's not even the beginning.
P.S.... Bud "The Serpent" Selig must go.