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Conundrum

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the riddle of life is not a puzzle when you have faith and insight


The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist fears this is true.

- James Branch Cabell

The Enigma Of Infinity

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Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell

May 13, 2000

How evolution became a religion Creationists correct?: Darwinians wrongly mix science with morality, politics

Michael Ruse
National Post

In 1980 the young governor of Arkansas, one Bill Clinton, neglected his constituent base and was defeated in his run for re-election. He learned a lesson never to be forgotten, regained office in 1982, and remained governor until he was elected President. During the two-year interregnum, the governor's mansion was occupied by a man called Frank White, whose surprise at his election was equalled only by his inadequacy for the job.

Uncritically, Governor White signed into law a bill promoted by an evangelical Christian state representative, a bill debated by the legislature for less than half an hour. This "balanced treatment" bill required that children be taught not only the theory of evolution, but also the Bible -- taken absolutely literally. Countering the claim that we are all descended by Charles Darwin's glacially slow process of development from very simple organisms, children were also to be told, in their biology classes, that Adam and Eve were real people, and that Noah's Flood once covered the whole earth.

The U. S. constitution separates church and state. Whatever its pedagogical merits -- and they were few -- the Arkansas law was clearly unconstitutional. The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law, and before the year was out a trial was held and the legislation struck down. Appearing as expert witnesses for the ACLU were the famous -- Stephen Jay Gould, Harvard professor, paleontologist, and America's best-known evolutionist -- and the not-so-famous -- a philosophy professor from the University of Guelph, yours truly.

I still remember arguing in the Arkansas court house with one of the most prominent of the literalists (now generally known as creationists). Duane T. Gish, author of the best-selling work, "Evolution: The Fossils Say No!," resented bitterly what he felt was an unwarranted smug superiority assumed by us from the side of science.

"Dr Ruse," Mr. Gish said, "the trouble with you evolutionists is that you just don't play fair. You want to stop us religious people from teaching our views in schools. But you evolutionists are just as religious in your way. Christianity tells us where we came from, where we're going, and what we should do on the way. I defy you to show any difference with evolution. It tells you where you came from, where you are going, and what you should do on the way. You evolutionists have your God, and his name is Charles Darwin."

At the time I rather pooh-poohed what Mr. Gish said, but I found myself thinking about his words on the flight back home. And I have been thinking about them ever since. Indeed, they have guided much of my research for the past twenty years. Heretical though it may be to say this -- and many of my scientist friends would be only too happy to chain me to the stake and to light the faggots piled around -- I now think the Creationists like Mr. Gish are absolutely right in their complaint.

Evolution is promoted by its practitioners as more than mere science. Evolution is promulgated as an ideology, a secular religion -- a full-fledged alternative to Christianity, with meaning and morality. I am an ardent evolutionist and an ex-Christian, but I must admit that in this one complaint -- and Mr. Gish is but one of many to make it -- the literalists are absolutely right. Evolution is a religion. This was true of evolution in the beginning, and it is true of evolution still today.

One of the earliest evolutionists was the eighteenth-century physician Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles. He was no atheist, believing rather in God as "Unmoved Mover": a being who decides right at the beginning on the future course of nature, lays down unbreakable laws, and never acts again.

Rightly, Erasmus Darwin saw this "deism" as challenging Christian theism, which takes God as ready always to intervene miraculously in His creation. For Erasmus Darwin, evolution was simply confirmation of his commitment to a law-bound process of creation set down by a non - interventionist God. It was part and parcel of his alternative religion.

To this vision, Darwin's grandfather added an enthusiasm for social progress -- as embodied by the Industrial Revolution -- which progress he then read right into his science. Erasmus saw social progress as a rise from a simple village-based society to the complexity of the modern city, and analogously he thought evolution rises progressively from the simple, the undifferentiated blobs of the first life forms (known as "monads"), to the apotheosis of organic complexity, the human race.

In his progressivism -- especially in his belief that we humans ourselves can and do improve our overall well-being -- Erasmus clearly stood in yet another way against Christianity, which stresses that salvation can come only through God. For the Christian, our greatest gains "count for naught."

Evolution therefore came into being as a kind of secular ideology, an explicit substitute for Christianity. It stressed laws against miracles and, by analogy, it promoted progress against providence.

And so things continued. In 1859, Charles Darwin, the father of modern evolutionary thought, published his great work On the Origin of Species. With this book, Darwin hoped to change things and make a less ideological system of evolution. He offered a systematic survey of the biological world, showing how many different factors -- the fossil record, the geographical distributions of organisms, the discoveries from embryology -- point to evolution. At the same time, he proposed his celebrated mechanism of natural selection: thanks to population pressures, some creatures flourish and have offspring and some do not and, over the ages, this "survival of the fittest" leads to full-blown change.

But almost at once Darwin's efforts were frustrated by (of all people) his greatest supporter, his famous "bulldog," Thomas Henry Huxley. When Jesus died he left no functioning religion. This was the work of his supporters, especially Saint Paul, and as we all know the Christianity of Saint Paul was not exactly identical to the Christianity of Jesus. Like the great apostle and Christianity, Huxley -- one of the most prominent scientists and greatest educators and social reformers of his day -- had begun by denying evolution, and when converted had the same enthusiasm as Paul.

But like Paul also, for all that Huxley venerated Charles Darwin, he could see in the master's writings only a glimpse of what he himself needed for his own purposes. And in working to his own ends, Huxley was led to the same consequences as Paul: a functioning system, but not that of the man in whose name he worked and preached.

Origin appeared at just that time in Victorian Britain when it was necessary to transform the country from a rural-based, near-feudal society and to fit it for an urbanized, industrialized future. There was need for reform everywhere: in the civil service, merit had to count, not connection. In medicine, doctors had to stop killing patients and start curing them. In education, learning had to be for today and not to glorify the past. Huxley and his fellow reformers were in the thick of all this -- Huxley himself was a college dean, served as a member of the new London School Board and on numerous royal commissions looking into the state of things.

Correctly, Huxley saw Christianity -- the established Anglican Church particularly -- as allied with the forces of reaction and power. He fought it vigorously, most famously when he debated Samuel Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford. (Supposedly, on being asked whether he was descended from monkeys on his grandfather's side or his grandmother's side, Huxley replied he had rather be descended from an ape than from a bishop of the Church of England.)

As a social reformer therefore, Huxley, known in the papers as "Pope Huxley", was determined to find a substitute for Christianity. Evolution, with its stress on unbroken law -- which could be used to reflect messages of social progress -- was the perfect candidate. Life is on an upwardly moving escalator. It has reached Victorian Britain. Who knows what glories and triumphs might lie ahead? Thus the vision of Saint Thomas -- something to be preached far and wide. Working men's clubs, popular scientific congresses, debating societies, university convocations were Huxley's Corinthians and Galatians.

Indeed, recognizing that a good religion needs a moral message as well as a history and promise of future reward, Huxley increasingly turned from Darwin (who was not very good at providing these things) toward another English evolutionist.

Herbert Spencer -- prolific writer and immensely popular philosopher to the masses -- shared Huxley's vision of evolution as a kind of metaphysics rather than a straight science. He was happy to insist that even moral directives come from the evolutionary process itself.

"Social Darwinism" (more accurately, Social Spencerianism) took evolution to entail struggle and success for the few, and so the moral message was understood as enthusiasm for laissez-faire individualism. The state should stay out of the running of society, and the best should be allowed to rise to the top. Failures deserve their fates.

Of course, there were differences between Social Darwinians. Socialists, Marxists and anarchists also justified their beliefs in the name of Darwin. The point is that the harnessing of evolution to ends that were explicitly moral, even political, went on right through the nineteenth century.

The even greater point is that it continued to go on right through the twentieth century. Evolutionary ideas were to undergo a great transformation in the 1930s and 1940s, when a professional science of evolutionary studies was developed -- a professional science which stood on its own legs by its own merits, having no need for an alternative career as secular ideology. But this secular ideology or religion hardly folded its tents and crept away. One of the most popular books of the era was Religion without Revelation, by evolutionist Julian Huxley, grandson of Thomas Henry. First published in 1927, the book was revised (for a second time) and reissued in the 1950s.

"All thought and emotion," Huxley wrote, even the highest, spring from natural mind, whose slow development can be traced in life's evolution, so that life in general and man in particular are those parts of the world substance in which the latent mental properties are revealed to their fullest extent." As always, evolution was doing everything expected of religion, and more.

Today, professional evolution thrives. But the old religion survives and thrives right alongside it. Evolution now has its mystical visionary, its Saint John of the Cross. Harvard entomologist and sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson tells us that we now have an "alternative mythology" to defeat traditional religion. "Its narrative form is the epic: the evolution of the universe from the big bang of fifteen years ago through the origin of the elements and celestial bodies to the beginnings of life on earth."

Faithful to the oldest tradition of evolutionary theorizing -- reading his morality and politics into his science and then reading it right back out again -- Mr. Wilson warns us that we have evolved in symbiotic relationship with the rest of living nature, and lest we cherish and preserve biodiversity we will all perish. Drawing on the dispensationalism of his Southern Baptist childhood, with the eloquence and moral fervour of Billy Graham, Mr. Wilson begs us to repent, to stand up and acknowledge our sins and to walk forward in the ways of evolution. We have but a short time, else moral darkness will fall on us all.

The language of Stephen Jay Gould is hardly more tempered. We learn that evolution "liberates the human spirit," that for sheer excitement evolution "beats any myth of human origins by light years," and that we should "praise this evolutionary nexus -- a far more stately mansion for the human soul than any pretty or parochial comfort ever conjured by our swollen neurology to obscure the source of physical being."

Mr. Gould ultimately rejects traditional readings of evolution for a more inspiring, liberating version: "We must assume that consciousness would not have evolved on our planet if a cosmic catastrophe had not claimed the dinosaurs as victims. In an entirely literal sense, we owe our existence, as large and reasoning mammals, to our lucky stars." If this is not to rival traditional Judaeo-Christian teaching -- with its central belief that we humans are not just random happenstances, but a major reason why God created heaven and earth -- I do not know what is.

What is the moral to be drawn from all of this? You might think that the time has come to save evolution from the evolutionists.

Darwinism is a terrific theory that stimulates research in every area of the life sciences. In the human realm, for instance, discoveries in Africa trace our immediate past in ever greater detail, while at the same time the Human Genome Project opens up fascinating evolutionary questions as we learn of the molecular similarities between ourselves and organisms as apparently different as fruit flies and earthworms. Surely this is enough.

There is no need to make a religion of evolution. On its own merits, evolution as science is just that -- good, tough, forward-looking science, which should be taught as a matter of course to all children, regardless of creed.

But, let us be tolerant. If people want to make a religion of evolution, that is their business. Who would deny the value of Mr. Wilson's plea for biodiversity? Who would argue against Mr. Gould's hatred of racial and sexual prejudice, which he has used evolution to attack?

The important point is that we should recognize when people are going beyond the strict science, moving into moral and social claims, thinking of their theory as an all-embracing world picture. All too often, there is a slide from science to something more, and this slide goes unmentioned -- unrealized even.

For pointing this out we should be grateful for the opponents of evolution. The Creationists are wrong in their Creationism, but they are right in at least one of their criticisms. Evolution, Darwinian evolution, is wonderful science. Let us teach it to our children. And, in the classroom, let us leave it at that. The moral messages, the underlying ideology, may be worthy. But if we feel strongly, there are other times and places to preach that gospel to the world.

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All is not lost - the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield.

- John Milton, Paradise Lost

The Christian World View Of Science And Technology

A Creationist Review of Darwin's Origin by Timothy R. Stout

Theory of Evolution by Stu Pullen

The Difference of Being Human by FRANCISCO J. AYALA, Ph.D.

Reasons To Believe

Science, Creation, and Evolution

Who's Afraid Of The Big, Bad Bible? by L. M. Berkowitz

The Death of Darwinism

Darwinophobia I - by Steve Sailer

PBS's 'Evolution' series is propaganda, not science by Josh Gilder

INSULATION FROM REALITY
by John Guthmiller

I thought I'd wait to the last second to write my Y2K piece. I've always been an avid procrastinator. In a case like this, it does wonders for your credibility. Before the end of the year, I expect everybody from Click and Clack to Heloise to have aired their opinion either pooh - poohing or exaggerating the coming crisis that will almost certainly (or not) accompany the end of the millennium. But actually, I don't intend to make any prognostications about The Next Millennium. This column doesn't address the coming apocalypse (or not). It deals with the fact that a flip of the cosmic sedan's odometer has us all living in fear.

Just the other day, I heard someone say - I hope jokingly - that this turn of the millennium wouldn't be any big deal because "the last one wasn't so bad." Although it seems laughable at first, think about those words. The last one WASN'T bad, because the things that will make this one bad (or not) didn't exist then.

In the year 1000, the Magna Carta hadn't been signed. The Battle of Hastings hadn't been fought. Martin Luther hadn't posted his Theses and the Crusaders hadn't trotted off to the Middle East. The printing press hadn't been invented, nor had gunpowder, cotton candy, or contraception. People lived in a small world, where many were born and died - often with little time intervening - in the same house. The vast majority of humanity lived a subsistence - level existence, scratching out a meager meal from the pittance of earth surrounding their hovel. Sanitation was unthought of, the result being that thousands died each year from eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. If you were lucky, you had two pairs of clothes. You wore one during the summer and changed into the other in the fall, when you finally either washed the first pair or burned them and hand - made another set.

Your house stunk, probably because you shared a living room with a few chickens and goats. If your teeth weren't gone by time you hit puberty, the townspeople thought you were a witch. And for leisurely activities, you could go down to the public square and watch some poor schmuck get his hide flogged off.

You lugged water from the village well, or from a nearby spring. You scavenged twigs for firewood, or bought it from the woodsman, if you had enough coin to spare. And the next day, you got up at the break of dawn and did it all again. It was a hard, grinding life that left little time for leisure pursuits or deep contemplation.

But you didn't have to worry about your power going out just because the calendar flipped. (Of course, the calendar hadn't been invented either, at least not as we know it.) You didn't have to worry about thugs rioting because the local constabulary's computers were down and they were unable to dispatch a squad car. You didn't have to worry about the fruitcake next door hoarding kidney pie because he was sure the end was near. And the town crier wasn't strolling the streets hollering messages of doom to all and sundry, aggravating an already unpredictable and volatile situation so that he could make more money.

No, in those days there was no virtual world. If you wanted to escape from the harsh realities of life, you could throw a noose over a nearby tree, but that was about the only way out. So you dealt with those realities, harsh though they were. You found a way to manage, and ultimately, you passed that knowledge on. Someone finally figured out that it wasn't wise to excrete where you eat, and they lived longer. When the spoonful of land you were given by the local aristocrat proved inadequate for your survival, you allied with your neighbors and burned down the manor house. After enough manor houses had burned down, the remaining aristocrats were more willing to allow you some minimal property rights.

In short, you were capable because you had to be. In today's world, we rely on someone else to do almost everything for us. Sure, it wasn't easy to make a two - mile trip to the village well everyday to draw water. But you knew that the bucket would be there, and that if there was water there, you'd get some of it. Nowadays, if we turn on the faucet and a fresh, clear stream of water doesn't pour forth at our bidding, we just stand dumbly and stare at the tap. We could no more go to the village well and draw water than we could spin our own cotton. For one, the village well is now a strip mall, and for two, the EPA, the DEQ, and a hundred other alphabet agencies would cap the well in horror, and take your children away to boot, if you tried to drink something that didn't come in plastic.

That dependency has bred a culture that not only accepts dependency, but promotes it. We willingly sacrifice our liberty if we can just get a hot shower and a bagel with the morning news. We have to build an infrastructure so complex no single person can understand it, let alone manage it. Yet our existence relies heavily on that mysterious machinery that dispenses light, heat, comfort, and security. Only when it is threatened does the fear dawn that we are not the masters of our destiny anymore. When the microscopic machinations of silicon wafers command such great potential for wrecking our lives, maybe our reliance has grown overwhelming, and we've become too willing to let someone - or something - else do our dirty work.

It's easy to get caught up in celebrating the liberating effects of technology. But there are also costs.

Our insulation from reality is also insulation from each other. Technology may remove us from the grind of daily existence, but it also removes us from human contact and rearranges our sense of community. With the Internet, we can interact with a student in Japan, a stockbroker in Pretoria, a machinist in Reykjavik, and the Space Shuttle astronauts in high earth orbit. But in all probability, we don't know the name of the guy living next door. Our desktop theme has pictures of a cool mountain lake resplendent with snow - laden pine boughs and a frisky rabbit tracking across the foreground. But we don't even go outside to mow the lawn anymore; we pay the neighbor kid to do it, whenever he can pull himself away from his Nintendo.

Americans don't make good dependents. We were forged from self - reliant stock. Most Tories in the Revolutionary days were so because they feared the sacrifices they would have to make if Mother England cut off her largesse. If a few liberties were the cost of a fine new waistcoat, well, those rebels were just unkempt rabble - rousers who didn't know how good they had it anyway. A dependent society is a compliant society. Only when we could fend for ourselves could we cast off the English chains and govern ourselves.

I don't know that I want a return to the days of chopping wood, toting water, and plowing my 5 acres of hardscrabble with a flea - bitten mule. I'm too intimate with my Barcalounger to become a Luddite. But I don't think it would hurt us to dispense with some of the gilding, lest we become prisoners to our own inadequacies, and to a thin sliver of silicon. It's important that we don't let this technical hierarchy go inverted and end up the servants instead of the masters.

Our insulation from harsh reality is fragile at best; the Y2K bogeyman shows just how fragile. Maybe our progress is an illusion. It certainly comes at a price. I personally vow to be much more self - reliant by the time the next millennium rolls around.

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Personal Preference Type Test

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Modern man lives isolated in his artificial environment, not because the artificial is evil as such, but because of his lack of comprehension of the forces which make it work - of the principles which relate his gadgets to the forces of nature, to the universal order. It is not central heating which makes his existence 'unnatural,' but his refusal to take an interest in the principles behind it. By being entirely dependent on science, yet closing his mind to it, he leads the life of an urban barbarian.

- Arthur Koestler

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Never tell a man you can read him through and through; most people prefer to be thought enigmas.

- Marchioness Townsend

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THE CASE FOR GLOBAL COOLING by Phil Brennan

FRIENDS OF THE EARTH - ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE by Phil Brennan

The Browning of America by Phil Brennan

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ARCHAEOLOGY

Archaeology Resources

Guide to Archaeology on the Internet

Archaeologica News and Information

Graham Hancock

ARCHAEOLOGY OF THE AMERICAS

Educational Guide for Archaeologists

Mesoamerican Archaeology

Meso American Directory

Special Photograph Collection of Meso-American Sites

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LAMANAI ARCHAEOLOGICAL PROJECT

Native American Archaeology Resources

UCL - Institute of Archaeology

Archaeological Cover-ups - A Plot to Control History?

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Thus the sum of things is ever being renewed, and mortals live dependent one upon another. Some races increase, others diminish, and in a short space the generations of living creatures are changed and like runners hand on the torch of life.

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura,II. 75

Ancient History Sourcebook

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There are innumerable questions to which the inquisitive mind can in this state receive no answer: Why do you and I exist? Why was this world created? Since it was to be created, why was it not created sooner?
Samuel Johnson

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