8/2/9 Science v Religion: Irreconcilable Difference; Predatory Urges, Plastic Brains;Will It Rain if You Pray? Creationist Trash

digest note:
While there is absolutely an 'irreconcilable difference' between science and religion -- between reality and superstition -- as the authors below explore, politics { e.g. which class rules] commands science and all spheres of society. Late stage U.S. capitalist-zionist science, built on genetic / biological reductionist phallacies (pun intended) reflects and serves the geostrategic global domination of the bipartisan capitalist ruling class.

Science in the hands of the world's working and oppressed peoples and nations, a critical component of all-round revolutionary struggle to unleash our consciousness and ability to bury this killer political-economic system, will be based on philosophical materialism to grasp the world as it is in order to change it - not on the disabling metaphysical idealism that ennables oppressors to obscure and deny the truth, reality and keep us in servitude.

........

Irreconcilable Differences: The Myth of Compatibility between Science and Religions
by George Ricker / July 30th, 2009
http://dissidentvoice.org/2009/07/irreconcilable-differences-the-myth-of...
It is one of the great debates of our time, the ongoing argument between those who maintain that, ultimately, science and religions are compatible and those who claim they are not. There have been books, blogs, online debates, opinion columns, such as this demurral called “God and Science Don’t Mix” by Lawrence Krauss in a recent Wall Street Journal. Various foundations, such as the Templeton Foundation, which was created to promote the affirmative view, and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which seems favorably inclined to the affirmative view as well, have conducted symposia on the subject. For instance, the Pew Forum’s latest offering in the debate was titled “Religion and Science: Conflict or Harmony?”1

There seems to be a great effort on the part of those who think they have a mission to not only describe but also shape our culture to dampen any signs of disagreement between the scientific and the religious perspectives that have often appeared, to this untrained eye, to suggest some antagonism in the very public battles between them. Thus, many reporters, social commentator’s, religionists and even scientists have held forth on the necessity to promote harmony between these “nonoverlapping magisteria,” to borrow the late Stephen Jay Gould’s phrasing. (See “The trouble with NOMA” for my view of Gould’s description.)

Thus, accommodation between the religious and the scientific is presented as something to be desired, if not at all costs, certainly in the overwhelming majority of cases. And those obstreperous individuals, of whom Richard Dawkins—unfairly, in my view—appears to have become the prototype, who dare to suggest the accommodation may mask a sellout of basic scientific values are just being rude. According to the mavens of accommodation, those who cannot say anything nice about religion should just shut up about it. Now they are not quite gutsy enough to come out and declare such a requirement openly, but it is implicit in their constant insistence that those who won’t “play nice” with religion are damaging our public discourse and doing a disservice to the many believers who are not fundamentalists and who do, for the most part, believe in science.

All of this noise obscures, in the public mind at least, an obvious and, for the religious, uncomfortable fact—the “elephant in the room” that everyone seems to be ignoring. Science and religions are not just different ways of looking at things, they are in fundamental disagreement about the nature of reality. They are, in a word, incompatible.

This does not mean that a scientist may not believe in a god or practice a religion and still be a good scientist. Human beings function at high levels in all walks of life and practically every one of them believes in contradictory and, at times, mutually exclusive ideas. For example, we are very good at compartmentalizing our minds so that our fantasies can coexist with our perceptions and understanding of the real world. As long as we don’t force the issue, the two may cohabit quite peacefully, neither one intruding on the other. People do this sort of thing all the time. However, saying that two ideas may coexist in the same mind, or the same culture, should not be taken as evidence those ideas are compatible with one another. That a scientist may believe in a god says nothing about whether or not his or her religious beliefs are compatible with science.

Science is based upon observation, experimentation and demonstration. In order to be acceptable, scientific evidence must be susceptible to independent verification. When evidence cannot be verified, when experiments cannot be repeated, any conclusions drawn from them are either held in abeyance, pending further study, or disregarded. Science is about asking questions and challenging the answers. As a consequence, science is always unfinished, always contingent upon what we know today and what we may learn tomorrow. Above all else, science is a reason-based process. It is inherently rational. Science is a method of learning about the universe and everything in it through the application of human cognition.

Those who advocate accommodation between science and religions are fond of declaring that science answers the “how” questions and religions answer the “why” questions. They are not, however, very clear about exactly what that means. Sometimes how and why are inextricably intertwined so that it is not possible to understand one without the other. For example, one cannot understand how the human genome works without understanding why it is put together the way it is. It is not possible to understand the “why” of nuclear fission without understanding the “how” of atomic theory.

Of course, religionists will complain what they mean is that religions supply the answers to the “really big” questions of human existence. “Why am I here?” “What is the meaning of existence?” Those kinds of questions. There are, of course, perfectly good answers to those questions supplied by science. The first answer is that I am here because my parents engaged in sexual activity and I was the result. The second is that existence appears to supply its own meaning. Existence is an end in itself and requires nothing more than that to make it meaningful.

“No. No. That is not what we mean either,” the religionists will declare. They claim to be talking about ultimate meanings and that sort of thing. What religions answer are those ultimate questions that cannot be addressed by science. In other words, religions claim to be able to answer questions for which there are no satisfactory answers except by appeal to the irrational and the indefinable. But what sort of answers are supplied thereby?

Here is the rub. It is all well and good to ask “Why is there something rather than nothing?” as many people have. However, there is no way to get to a verifiable answer. Since we cannot see beyond the event, the “Big Bang,” which led to the development of this universe, we cannot know what conditions were before it came into existence. Maybe something always has existed. Maybe the universe is a unique event, a cosmic hiccup that will never be repeated. Maybe universes are as common as galaxies or solar systems. Maybe the universe we occupy was created as a bauble for the children of a species of cosmic overlords, something to keep the kiddies occupied whilst they were in their cribs. Maybe it is the accidental byproduct of extreme flatulence by the Invisible Pink Unicorn. Maybe the answer is simply “Why not?”

Obviously, some of those answers might deserve more consideration than others and one, or maybe two of them are intended only in jest. However, there is no method known to us to prove any of them false. But what sort of answer is “God?” It really is no answer at all. Positing a god as an answer to unanswerable questions tells us absolutely nothing about anything. It is simply a pietistic way of begging those questions.

So what exactly is it about religions that science must accommodate?

This is an important question, one to which I have yet to hear a satisfactory answer. As a method of finding out about what exists, science brings a lot to the table. Religions offer nothing that is helpful in that endeavor. Instead they offer verbal slight of hand, phrases like “the ground of all being” or “a god outside of space and time” or new age gobbledygook that sounds like “the ineffable essence at the core of an inexplicable reality.” That kind of thing. Such language may be appropriate for the ethereal meanderings of theologians who rarely offer anything useful in the real world, but they are scarcely helpful in finding out about what is going on in the universe we all occupy and why it appears to operate the way it does.

It is no virtue that the only territory religion can claim for its own is that which is outside the ken of rational inquiry. In that terrain anything is possible, and nothing can be verified. It is the realm of mystic visions, spiritual entities and things that go bump in the night. The gods who populate such regions may be the creators and destroyers of worlds or the ethereal panaceas and placebos who have fed the fantasies of all manner of delusional people. And while it may be impossible to demonstrate that such fanciful notions are false, there is not the slightest bit of verifiable evidence to suggest they are true. Attempting to shoehorn such notions into scientific theories does a disservice to the work of the scientific enterprise as a whole. It also goes a long way toward destroying the credibility of the scientists who make the attempt.

Consider the “fine-tuning” argument so beloved by theists. There is a set of physical properties that need to have the values they have in order for human beings, or any complex life forms, to have evolved. Thus, it is claimed, a divine agent must have set things up so that the universe we occupy would have those values. Ergo, “God”—or whatever you want to call the agent in question—must exist, or we could not be here. Now whether it is expressed as a probability or only a possibility, this argument has no place in science. (For more treatments of this subject and a variety of arguments on both sides of the issue, I refer you here.)

The late Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and other works, once compared this notion to a mud puddle declaring that the hole it occupied must have been created for it because otherwise it could not have fit so well. (Here’s a youtube audio of Adams making the point.) Any universe occupied by complex life must be organized to accommodate that life. There’s no reason to suppose a divine agent had anything to do with it. It’s a bit like declaring that human legs are proof there must be a god because no matter how tall you are, they are exactly the right length for your feet to reach the ground.

We expect to hear this sort of pap coming from religionists. However, it is surprising to hear it put forth by any scientist, whether they have a background in astrophysics or not. Certainly, the constants exist. That’s not the point. The point is that their existence is evidence of nothing except that certain conditions may be necessary for life to evolve. Positing “God” as the source of those constants violates the most basic rules of science. It is not even a good hypothesis because there is absolutely no way to test it. Making declarations about what is necessary for a universe like ours to exist is an exercise in futility anyway. Ours is the only universe we know anything about. You simply cannot form valid conclusions about the conditions necessary for a phenomenon to exist when you have only one example of that phenomenon.

There are no concepts put forth by religions to which science must accommodate itself. However, science puts forth many ideas to which religions must accommodate their own beliefs if they wish to retain any semblance of intellectual respectability. Here in the United States, many religious people deplore evolution, dismiss modern cosmology and declare their preference for ignorance and superstition. Now, people have the right to believe such things. They have no right, however, to require anyone else to respect such nonsense. Religions that preach the world was created by a deity 6,000 years ago (or in any similar time frame) ought not be allowed to influence the way biology is taught in modern science classrooms in public schools because the theory of evolution offends their religious sensibilities. A person’s right to be an ignoramus does not translate into a right to impose ignorance on others.

Religions and science need not be in conflict. When they are, it is usually religions who pick the fight. They pick it because they see their dominance over the minds of humankind slowly being eaten away. For tens of thousands of years, supernaturalism dominated the human narrative and gave us thousands of gods and hundreds of thousands of religions. Religions, like all other human cultural artifacts, have evolved to meet the changing conditions in which they have found themselves. Today, however, modern science has evolved a new narrative that makes the hoary tales told by religions seem quaint and parochial and, at times, destructive. The story science tells us about who we are and how we came to be is far grander and far more inspiring than the puny myths peddled by modern religions.

So religions may well need to accommodate themselves to modern science if they are to have any prospect for survival in the coming centuries. But science has no need and no reason to accommodate itself to the beliefs of any religion. And unless religion can bring more to the party than wishful thinking and unverifiable observations, it would be a violation of its very nature for science to try.

1. If you are interested in this subject and want to track the debate, two of the best sources of information are P.Z. Myers blog, Pharyngula, and Jerry Coyne’s blog, Why Evolution is True. Both could be characterized as anti-accommodationist, I suppose, but their reactions are informed by science, and they cite references, including those to whom they are reacting. Both blogs are well-written and informative, touching on many areas. [↩]
George Ricker is an award-winning weekly newspaper reporter and editor, now retired. He is the author of Godless in America: conversations with an atheist. He can be reached at gricker@cfl.rr.com. Read other articles by George, or visit George's website.

Strong evidence for evolution, none for creationist alternatives
By Paul R. Gross
http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bal-op.inteldesign28feb28,...
AROUND THE country, the debate over evolution in public schools is again incendiary. The new critics of evolution - including those in Cecil County - promote alternative "theories" claimed to deserve the same study in science classes as the evidence-based modern science of evolution. However, the main current competitor, "intelligent design theory," is far from suitable for such a purpose. Cecil County and others should examine the facts before giving intelligent design and similar creationisms time in science class.

Any reading of the literature of intelligent design makes it immediately clear that it is just an argument from incredulity, not a theory in any ordinary sense. The claim is that Darwinian processes cannot account for the history and diversity of life because life shows evidence of complex design, and that Darwinian processes could not produce design without "intelligent" input. Ergo, presumably, there must be, or must have been, an intelligent designing agent. Never mind who. For this claim there is, so far, zero evidence.

By contrast, the evidence for evolution is overwhelming. Modern biology, not just "Darwinian natural selection," is a vast body of interwoven observation, experiment and theory, the product of tens of thousands of scientists active over 150 years. Their product is, precisely, evidence: that the design in living things arises in the course of natural processes.

The description of those processes is not just a theory. There are hundreds of cases of evolutionary change observed in progress and dozens of observed speciations, with mechanisms perfectly clear. That the results of such changes over eons of time - at least 3.5 billion years - include complex molecular machinery is no surprise, except to those trying to manufacture belief in a world conspiracy of scientists against faith, or to scientific illiterates.

There is no scientific evidence for intelligent agency behind biological design. But evidence for the making of designs by natural processes is as strong as any scientific evidence we have - in any field of science. Advocates of intelligent design, such as the Discovery Institute in Seattle, have been selling the same specious anti-evolution argument as though it were valid science for more than a decade. They have convinced not a single widely recognized evolutionary biologist. Yet they prate of "scientists" agreeing with them. Only the naive, or those indifferent to the rules of serious scientific inquiry, are convinced. Children ought not to be misled about what is good science and what is not.
Paul R. Gross is university professor of life sciences emeritus at the University of Virginia and author of Thomas B. Fordham Foundation report on science standards in the states.

Defending science and science teaching
The Guardian, No. 1250, October 26, 2005
Original location: http://www.cpa.org.au/garchve05/g1250.html
Major Australian science and science teacher organisations made an extremely important contribution to science and truth when they issued a statement last week upholding the scientific method and particularly the theory of evolution. They rebutted the latest attempt of the religious creationists to have their notions called “intelligent design” (ID) included as part of school science classes.
The scientists gave a valuable definition of science, saying that “For a theory to be considered scientific it must be testable — either directly or indirectly by experiment or observation. The results of such test should be able to be reproduced by others to check their accuracy . Finally a scientific theory should explain more than what is already known. It should be able to predict outcomes in novel situations. Evolution meets all of these criteria but ID meets none of them: it is not science.” The scientific organisations went on to call on “Australian governments and educators not to permit the teaching or promulgation of it [ID] as science. To do so would make a mockery of Australian science teaching and throw open the door of science classes to similarly unscientific world views”. They gave as examples astrology, flat-earth cosmology and alien abductions which would “crowd out the teaching of science.”

The struggle between the various creationist theories, which are all based on a god of some denomination, and scientific explanations has been going on for millennia. At first slowly and now rapidly science is explaining the world around us. Science has provided explanations where previously there was ignorance and superstition. Darwin’s theory of evolution gave this struggle a tremendous boost in favour of science.

Religious creeds have fought strenuously against evolution and the knowledge brought by science but they are being forced more and more into a corner. That’s why the advocates of “intelligent design” (ID) seem to have limited their arguments to the more complex aspects of nature and are attempting to create some sort of marriage between science and creationist mythology. Some seem willing to admit that the less complex aspects of nature could be the work of evolution. But such equivocation is nonsense.

Darwin’s theory of evolution and Marx’s dialectical materialism (which gives a general explanation of the processes going on in the world around us) and historical materialism (which relates these principles to society) originated in the 19th century in the intellectual and scientific foment going on at that time as the industrial revolution gathered pace. (Darwin’s Origin of Species was published in 1859 and the Communist Manifesto was first published in English in 1848).

Taken together they were a logical development arising out of the totality of knowledge thus far accumulated and were a tremendous leap forward in the understanding of the world as a whole. These theories qualify to be regarded as science and are testable by experiment and observation. Because dialectical materialism became the ideological outlook of the world-wide revolutionary movement, it also suffered the attacks of the creationists and the ruling class of the capitalist countries as they fought to preserve their power and privileges and the domination of superstition as their preferred explanation of the origin of life on earth. They attempted to banish dialectical materialism (Marxism), first by ferocious assault and more recently by more subtle methods.

Human society is just as much a part of nature and just as much the subject of science as everything else and the attempts to banish dialectical materialism cannot succeed any more than the current and future attempts by creationists to undermine the theory of evolution. New knowledge is continually being added to the pool of scientific understanding and this will inevitably overwhelm the creationists and the conservative anti-communists.

On the home front, Brendan Nelson Minister for Education tried to open the door to ID by talking about “choice”. President Bush — a born again Christian — was more direct. He said at the time of his second inauguration that “we are guided by a larger power than ourselves who creates us equal in his image”. He went on to threaten the “enemies of liberty” with dire warnings, revealing the chilling truth behind all the fundamentalists’ talk of “choice” and “liberty”.

"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."
Karl Marx: Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, 1844

"Religion is the opium of the people" (translated from the German "Die Religion ... ist das Opium des Volkes") is one of the most frequently quoted statements of Karl Marx. Here is what Marx said, in context:
The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man.
Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man — state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.
Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.
The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.
Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true sun. Religion is only the illusory sun which revolves around man so long as he does not revolve around himself.
A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, 1844.

Darwin on Trial
Margaret Talbot: [ Kitzmiller case] was the first time that the constitutionality of teaching intelligent design in public schools was going to be tested, so I knew it was going to be an influential decision for the teaching of science in this country and for the ongoing negotiation between the courts and American fundamentalists. For another, I had a sense that there was a drama—a neighbor-versus-neighbor, even family-member-versus-family-member, debate about science and religion—taking place within this small Pennsylvania town. I hoped that the trail would open a window onto that, and it did. At one point, one of the plaintiffs testified that her teen-age daughter had come home from school one day, announced, “Evolution is a lie,” and demanded, “What kind of Christian are you?” http://www.newyorker.com/online/content/articles/051205on_onlineonly01

Professor beaten; attackers cite KU creationism class
A professor whose planned course on creationism and intelligent design was canceled after he sent e-mails deriding Christian conservatives was hospitalized Monday after what appeared to be a roadside beating. University of Kansas religious studies professor Paul Mirecki said that the two men who beat him made references to the class that was to be offered for the first time this spring. Originally called "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies," the course was canceled last week at Mirecki's request. The class was added after the Kansas State Board of Education decided to include more criticism of evolution in science standards for elementary and secondary students. 
http://www.kansas.com/mld/eagle/living/education/13337930.htm?template=c...

The Wars Over Evolution
By Richard C. Lewontin
New York Review of Books Volume 52, Number 16 · October 20, 2005
The Evolution–Creation Struggle
by Michael Ruse
Harvard University Press, 327 pp., $25.95
Not By Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution
by Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd
University of Chicago Press, 332 pp. $30.00

God, the Bible, and religion in general are not mentioned in the doctrine of ID. Rather, it is claimed that an objective examination of the facts of life makes it clear that organisms are too complex to have arisen by a process of the accumulation of naturally selected chance mutations and so must have been purposefully created by an unspecified intelligent designer. An alien from outer space? But the theory of ID is a transparent subterfuge. The problem is that if the living world is too complex to have arisen without an intelligent designer, then where did the intelligent designer come from? After all, she must have been as complex as the things she designed. If not, then we have evolution! Otherwise we must postulate an intelligent designer who designed the intelligent designer who..., back to the original one who must have been around forever.
1.
The development of evolutionary biology has induced two opposite reactions, both of which threaten its legitimacy as a natural scientific explana-tion. One, based on religious convictions, rejects the science of evolution in a fit of hostility, attempting to destroy it by challenging its sufficiency as the mechanism that explains the history of life in general and of the material nature of human beings in particular. One demand of those who hold such views is that their competing theories be taught in the schools.

The other reaction, from academics in search of a universal theory of human society and history, embraces Darwinism in a fit of enthusiasm, threatening its status as a natural science by forcing its explanatory scheme to account not simply for the shape of brains but for the shape of ideas. The Evolution–Creation Struggle is concerned with the first challenge, Not By Genes Alone with the second.

It is no surprise that Cardinal Christoph Schönborn has recently chosen the Op-Ed page of The New York Times to enunciate the doctrine on evolution of the new Benedictine papacy.[1] Political and cultural struggle over the origin of life and of the human species in particular has been a characteristically American phenomenon for a century, providing Europeans (the French in particular) with yet another example of la folie des Anglo-Saxons. In his essay, Cardinal Schönborn accepts that human and other organisms have a common ancestry and, by implication, that the species on earth today have evolved over a long period from other species no longer extant. That is, he accepts the historical fact that life has evolved. He distinguishes this acceptable fact of evolution from what he characterizes as the unacceptable "neo-Darwinian" theory that, in the words of the offi-cial 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church of which he was an editor, evolution is "reducible to pure chance and necessity." He rejects, as he must, the Newtonian notion of first cause, that at the beginning God only created a material mechanism with a few basic molecular laws and that the rest of history has simply been the consequence of this mechanism.

In the evolutionary process, he writes, there must have been "an internal finality," the Divine plan. He calls attention to the fact that John Paul II, who endorsed the science of evolution in his 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, nevertheless insisted in his other writings that there must also be such a principle of finality and direction built into the material process. Such internal finality and direction cannot be omitted from the minimal Christian position. For if evolution is only the consequence of random mutations, none of which needs to have occurred, and if the subsequent fate of those mutations is subject only to the relative ability of their carriers to reproduce and to survive catastrophes of the environment that eliminate species and make room for new ones, then rational beings capable of moral choices might never have come into existence. But without such beings the concept of Redemption is unintelligible. Christianity demands, at the very least, the inevitable emergence of creatures capable of sin. Without a history of human sin, there is no Christ.

Everything else is up for grabs. Neither the Vatican nor much of quite conventional Protestant theology demands that one take the story in Genesis 1 literally. Even William Jennings Bryan, famous as the prosecutor in the Scopes trial in 1925, when called as a witness for the defense, confessed that he did not much care whether God took six days or six hundred million years to create the world. Moreover, even the minimalist Christian position does not require the abandonment of the neo-Darwinian view of the mechanism of evolution. It is quite possible to argue, as some of my believing religious colleagues do, that God set the stage for evolution by natural selection of undirected mutations, but that He reserved the ancestral line destined to become human for special preservation and guidance.

What, then, is the source of the repeated episodes of active political and socia agitation against the assertions of evolutionary science? One apparent answer is that i is the expected product of fundamentalist belief, which rejects the easy compromise of liberal exegesis and insists that every word in Genesis means exactly what it says Days are days, not eons. But there's the rub. A literal reading of Genesis tells us that i took God only three days to make the physical universe as it now exists, yet nuclea physics and astrophysics claim a very old stellar system and provide the instrument for the dating of bits and pieces of the earth and of fossils spanning hundreds o millions of years. So why aren't Kansas schools under extreme pressure to change th curriculum in physical science courses? Why should physicists be allowed t propagate, unopposed, their godless accounts of the evolution of the physica universe? Something more is at stake than a disagreement over the literal truth o biblical metaphors

One way to understand the particular vulnerability of the science of biological evolution to religious attack is to blame it on the biologists. That is the message of Michael Ruse's The Evolution–Creation Struggle. Ruse, a well-known philosopher of science, is not a creationist and is careful to align himself with the Darwinian explanation of the origin and evolution of species. He identifies his position on the existence of a higher power as "somewhere between deist...and agnosticism." That is, he is committed to giving natural explanations of natural phenomena as a methodological principle, but he is not absolutely sure that every aspect of the world is, in fact, nothing but the interactions of matter according to natural laws.

His chief quarrel is not with evolutionary biology as a technical scientific discipline, or even with its claim that the evolution of species has been a purely material process, but rather with what he calls "evolutionism," a commitment to a principle of universal long-term progress in the biological, social, cultural, and political worlds. He identifies evolutionism as a form of religion and portrays the conflict between creationism and evolutionism as a fight between two religious doctrines, a struggle between premillenialism, the doctrine that earthly perfection will only be achieved after, and as a consequence, of the Second Coming, and postmillenialism, the view that Christ will return, if at all, only after earthly paradise has been achieved. Ruse sees evolutionary biology as having been permeated by the idea of pro-gress and so, as a rhetorical device, iden-tifies it as "postmillenial," but without any commitment to the Second Coming.

Ruse is certainly correct that notions of progress have recurred repeatedly in evolutionary biology, especially in the nineteenth century. However, it is not the ideology of progress that has characterized evolutionary theory, not even at its nineteenth-century origins. Rather it was change, ceaseless change, that was the ideological leitmotif of a revolutionary era....

The Wars Over Evolution
By Richard C. Lewontin
New York Review of Books Volume 52, Number 16 · October 20, 2005
The Evolution–Creation Struggle
by Michael Ruse
Harvard University Press, 327 pp., $25.95
Not By Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution
by Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd
University of Chicago Press, 332 pp. $30.00

God, the Bible, and religion in general are not mentioned in the doctrine of ID. Rather, it is claimed that an objective examination of the facts of life makes it clear that organisms are too complex to have arisen by a process of the accumulation of naturally selected chance mutations and so must have been purposefully created by an unspecified intelligent designer. An alien from outer space? But the theory of ID is a transparent subterfuge. The problem is that if the living world is too complex to have arisen without an intelligent designer, then where did the intelligent designer come from? After all, she must have been as complex as the things she designed. If not, then we have evolution! Otherwise we must postulate an intelligent designer who designed the intelligent designer who..., back to the original one who must have been around forever.
1.
The development of evolutionary biology has induced two opposite reactions, both of which threaten its legitimacy as a natural scientific explanation. One, based on religious convictions, rejects the science of evolution in a fit of hostility, attempting to destroy it by challenging its sufficiency as the mechanism that explains the history of life in general and of the material nature of human beings in particular. One demand of those who hold such views is that their competing theories be taught in the schools.

The other reaction, from academics in search of a universal theory of human society and history, embraces Darwinism in a fit of enthusiasm, threatening its status as a natural science by forcing its explanatory scheme to account not simply for the shape of brains but for the shape of ideas. The Evolution–Creation Struggle is concerned with the first challenge, Not By Genes Alone with the second.

It is no surprise that Cardinal Christoph Schönborn has recently chosen the Op-Ed page of The New York Times to enunciate the doctrine on evolution of the new Benedictine papacy.[1] Political and cultural struggle over the origin of life and of the human species in particular has been a characteristically American phenomenon for a century, providing Europeans (the French in particular) with yet another example of la folie des Anglo-Saxons. In his essay, Cardinal Schönborn accepts that human and other organisms have a common ancestry and, by implication, that the species on earth today have evolved over a long period from other species no longer extant. That is, he accepts the historical fact that life has evolved. He distinguishes this acceptable fact of evolution from what he characterizes as the unacceptable "neo-Darwinian" theory that, in the words of the offi-cial 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church of which he was an editor, evolution is "reducible to pure chance and necessity." He rejects, as he must, the Newtonian notion of first cause, that at the beginning God only created a material mechanism with a few basic molecular laws and that the rest of history has simply been the consequence of this mechanism.

In the evolutionary process, he writes, there must have been "an internal finality," the Divine plan. He calls attention to the fact that John Paul II, who endorsed the science of evolution in his 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, nevertheless insisted in his other writings that there must also be such a principle of finality and direction built into the material process. Such internal finality and direction cannot be omitted from the minimal Christian position. For if evolution is only the consequence of random mutations, none of which needs to have occurred, and if the subsequent fate of those mutations is subject only to the relative ability of their carriers to reproduce and to survive catastrophes of the environment that eliminate species and make room for new ones, then rational beings capable of moral choices might never have come into existence. But without such beings the concept of Redemption is unintelligible. Christianity demands, at the very least, the inevitable emergence of creatures capable of sin. Without a history of human sin, there is no Christ.

Everything else is up for grabs. Neither the Vatican nor much of quite conventional Protestant theology demands that one take the story in Genesis 1 literally. Even William Jennings Bryan, famous as the prosecutor in the Scopes trial in 1925, when called as a witness for the defense, confessed that he did not much care whether God took six days or six hundred million years to create the world. Moreover, even the minimalist Christian position does not require the abandonment of the neo-Darwinian view of the mechanism of evolution. It is quite possible to argue, as some of my believing religious colleagues do, that God set the stage for evolution by natural selection of undirected mutations, but that He reserved the ancestral line destined to become human for special preservation and guidance.

What, then, is the source of the repeated episodes of active political and social agitation against the assertions of evolutionary science? One apparent answer is that i is the expected product of fundamentalist belief, which rejects the easy compromise of liberal exegesis and insists that every word in Genesis means exactly what it says Days are days, not eons. But there's the rub. A literal reading of Genesis tells us that i took God only three days to make the physical universe as it now exists, yet nuclea physics and astrophysics claim a very old stellar system and provide the instrument for the dating of bits and pieces of the earth and of fossils spanning hundreds o millions of years. So why aren't Kansas schools under extreme pressure to change th curriculum in physical science courses? Why should physicists be allowed t propagate, unopposed, their godless accounts of the evolution of the physica universe? Something more is at stake than a disagreement over the literal truth o biblical metaphors

One way to understand the particular vulnerability of the science of biological evolution to religious attack is to blame it on the biologists. That is the message of Michael Ruse's The Evolution–Creation Struggle. Ruse, a well-known philosopher of science, is not a creationist and is careful to align himself with the Darwinian explanation of the origin and evolution of species. He identifies his position on the existence of a higher power as "somewhere between deist...and agnosticism." That is, he is committed to giving natural explanations of natural phenomena as a methodological principle, but he is not absolutely sure that every aspect of the world is, in fact, nothing but the interactions of matter according to natural laws....

If we accept that evolutionary biology is not, in fact, committed to progress, then we cannot accept Ruse's central contention that in both evolution and creation we have rival religious responses to a crisis of faith—rival stories of origins, rival judgments about the meaning of human life, rival sets of moral dictates and, above all, rival eschatologies [i.e., premillenarian vs. postmillenarian].

Flowing from his view that scientific evolutionary biology can be turned into a kind of religion, Ruse is worried that the commitment to using only natural phenomena in the attempt to explain the history and variety of organisms is a "slippery slope" down which evolutionists may glide from the firm surface of hard-minded methodology, of which Ruse approves, into the slough of unreflective metaphysical naturalism. We demand that our scientific work be framed with reference only to material mechanisms that can, at least in principle, be observed in nature because any other method would lead us into a hopeless morass of uncheckable speculation that would be the end of science. But we should not, in Ruse's view, confuse that rule of conduct with a revelation of how the world really works. Maybe God is lurking out there somewhere but He doesn't leave any residue in our test tube, so we will be tempted to assume He doesn't exist.

This is a philosopher's worry that does not, as far as I can tell, correspond to the way people really acquire their views of reality. Some may have had mountaintop conversions at some point in their lives, while others experience a crisis of faith as they mature. Theodosius Dobzhansky, the leading empirical evolutionary geneticist of the twentieth century, who spent most of his life staring down a microscope at chromosomes, vacillated between deism, gnosticism, and membership in the Russian Orthodox Church. He could not understand how anyone on his or her deathbed could remain an unrepentant materialist. I, his student and scientific epigone, ingested my unwavering atheism and a priori materialism along with the spinach at the parental dinner table.

2.
The present struggle over evolution is often seen by defenders of Darwinism as a culture war in which creationism is a part of a general right-wing ideology that justifies an authoritarian, traditionalist society, protecting "traditional values" against assaults from social revolutionaries intent on overturning long-held moral values. It is certainly true that creationism is far more popular in the rural South, the Midwest, and the Southwest among supporters of the present Republican administration than among urban Northern Democrats. But the evolution/creation struggle has a complex history. Before World War II the science of evolution was virtually absent from school curricula everywhere in America, although explicit creationism was characteristic largely of the rural South and West. Then the atomic bomb and, later, an immense increase in the public funding of science as a response to the alarm raised by Sputnik resulted in a revolution in teaching science. With support from the National Science Foundation, evolution became a regular part of biology textbooks and science instruction in the public schools and remains so in most places.

In response, among those who had never lost their traditional fundamentalism, an active creationist reaction began, slowly accelerating to its present prominence. According to a series of polls taken over the last twenty-five years, about 50 percent of Americans believe that "God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years."[5] There have been repeated recent attempts in Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and Kansas to make the study of challenges to evolutionary biology part of the mandated public school science curriculum. These have so far not succeeded, but Kansas seems on the verge of passing a statewide requirement that a new variant of the Creation myth, "intelligent design," be part of the discussion of evolution in public secondary schools. Intelligent design (ID) has itself been intelligently designed to circumvent legal challenges to the teaching of biblical creationism, challenges based on the constitutional requirement of a separation of church and state.

God, the Bible, and religion in general are not mentioned in the doctrine of ID. Rather, it is claimed that an objective examination of the facts of life makes it clear that organisms are too complex to have arisen by a process of the accumulation of naturally selected chance mutations and so must have been purposefully created by an unspecified intelligent designer. An alien from outer space? But the theory of ID is a transparent subterfuge. The problem is that if the living world is too complex to have arisen without an intelligent designer, then where did the intelligent designer come from?....

3.
Metaphorical Darwinian models of cultural and historical behavior do not contain genes, but contain cultural variants that arise like gene mutations and that are somehow differentially propagated over time in human minds and institutions, resulting in cultural evolution. The first, rather simple formulation of such a model in 1982 by Richard Dawkins[7] contains elementary particles of culture, memes, playing the role of genes, which are propagated to greater or lesser degrees because they are more or less appealing to people. The memes might be ways of pronouncing the letter r, or whether the color associated with death is white or black, or whether one prefers Luther to the Pope. In this model human beings are the carriers of the cultural particles, the physical propagators of these particles through communication, and they provide the environment that determines which memes are successful.

There have been a number of more or less complex variants on this original elementary metaphor for genetic evolution and it is generally agreed that the most nuanced and sophisticated version is contained in the work of Robert Boyd and Pete Richerson, and laid out in considerable detail in Not By Genes Alone. The title is meant to suggest that cultural evolution is not simply like, but is part of, the entirety of human evolutionary change. The authors begin by asserting, quite correctly, that culture is part of human biology partly because evolved neural structures that underlie psychological states must have some influence on what people believe and perceive and partly because the culture creates an environment in which future physical evolution by natural selection takes place. We could not have our present automotive culture without a certain minimum of depth perception. Moreover, since automobile accidents are the leading peacetime cause of death, by far, among people of reproductive age in technologically advanced countries (about one death per one hundred persons in this age group per generation in the United States), genes that favor short reaction time to perceived danger must be increasing in our population, slowly but inexorably.

Richerson and Boyd reject the simplistic model of gene-like "memes," but they are rather vague, as they must be, on how to recognize culture or its structure. They are aware that one aspect of culture will change in reaction to and in concert with other aspects of culture, that there is a complex network of causal dependency among parts of culture. Changes in technology, occupation, education, political attitudes, division of household labor and parental responsibility, leisure activities, and styles of speech and dress are connected as both causes and effects within and between generations....
In Richerson and Boyd's formulation, cultural elements, ideas, tastes, languages and attitudes are properties of individual human carriers who acquire them by a great variety of processes including conscious and unconscious imitation of others, direct teaching by parents, learning in formal educational settings, or by exposure to variou forms of communication. Changes in frequency of cultural variants among specifi populations occur by two basic mechanisms. First, there are biases in the transmissio of cultural elements, some elements being more popular or easier to learn or simpl more frequent among those from whom we acquire our culture. That might explain the spread of, for example, hard rock. Second, in a purely Darwinian mode, th carriers of some cultural variants may survive better or have more children. All othe things being equal, the religious beliefs of those who oppose contraception o principle ought to be spreading like wildfire. The differential rate of reproduction an the biases in transmission are, of course, dependent on environment, but Boyd an Richerson recognize that the human environment is itself largely a consequence of culture so that cultural change is both the cause and effect of further evolution

This model has some shortcomings. One is that much of one's culture is not acquired from other persons. When I walk down the street in Florence I do not have to hear anyone speak or read any sign to know that I am not anywhere in America. Buildings look strange, streets look strange, things have a strange smell, people carry their bodies in an unfamiliar way. I become conscious of a culture different from my own, a culture that I acquired throughout my development simply by walking down the street and being bombarded by sense impressions. Another is that no model of cultural evolution of which I am aware takes account of power. The people of Bavaria are predominantly Catholic while Westphalians are Protestant, not because somehow Lutheranism was more appealing to northerners but because at Augsburg in 1555 the warring German princes and the Holy Roman Emperor made peace using the rule of cuius regio, eius religio, which allowed rulers to enforce their own religion in their own dominions and to expel those who were recalcitrant.

The most important question is why we should use a Darwinian model at all for history and culture. The population model of variation, inheritance, and different rates of reproduction has been specifically designed to explain a particular set of natural phenomena that have a well-known empirical and mechanistic base. Even Darwin, who had no idea of genes or of the rules of inheritance, knew that organisms were reproduced only by other organisms, that offspring resembled their parents more in concrete physical characteristics than they resembled individuals not related to them, and that more organisms were reproduced than could survive to reproductive age. That was no guarantee that his model for evolution would have to be entirely correct because it might have turned out that there was significant inheritance of acquired characters.

Cultural evolutionists have no set of phenomena of comparable concreteness. They can't even reach an agreement on how to define and describe their objects of interest. The arguments offered by Boyd and Richerson for adopting a Darwinian model of cultural change are all epistemological: they serve an intellectual interest but cannot be said to accord better with the phenomena that they are meant to explain. They say of their arguments, for example, that "they provide islands of conceptual clarity in the midst of otherwise mind-numbing complexity and diversity"; that "they are productive of further work"; that they are "economical" of human intellectual labor; and that they will "increase the chance that we will detect useful generalizations in spite of the complexity and diversity of human behavior."

That a theoretical formulation is desirable because it makes it easier and more efficient to write more articles and books giving simple explanations for phenomena that are complex and diverse seems a strange justification for work that claims to be scientific. It confuses "understanding" in the weak sense of making coherent and comprehensible statements about the real world with "understanding" that means making correct statements about nature. It makes the investigation of material nature into an intellectual game, disarming us in our struggle to maintain science against mysticism. We would be much more likely to reach a correct theory of cultural change if the attempt to understand the history of human institutions on the cheap, by making analogies with organic evolution, were abandoned. What we need instead is the much more difficult effort to construct a theory of historical causation that flows directly from the phenomena to be explained. That the grand historical theorists of the past tried and failed to do this does not foreclose further efforts. After all, Darwin was preceded by eminent failures and even he did not get it all right.

Notes
[1] "Finding Design in Nature," The New York Times, July 7, 2005.
[2] "Qui sçait les races d'animaux qui nous ont précédé? Qui sçait les races d'animaux qui succèderont aux nôtres? Tout change, tout passe, il n'y a que le tout qui reste." Le Rêve de d'Alembert.
[3] As compared to the book of an eminent anthropologist of the last generation, Earnest A. Hooten, Up from the Ape (Macmillan, 1946).
[4] Indeed, life on earth is about half over. It has been around for about two billion years and from our knowledge of the changes that occur in stars, the sun will become a "red giant" destroying the earth and other planets in another two billion years or so.
[5] Otis Dudley Duncan and Claudia Geist, "The Creationists: How Many, Who, and Where?" Reports of the National Center for Science Education, Vol. 24, No. 5 (September–October 2004), pp. 26–33.
6] Ron Carlson and Ed Decker, Fast Facts on False Teachings (Harvest House, 2003).
[7] Richard Dawkins, The Extended Phenotype: The Gene as the Unit of Selection (Freeman, 1982).

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Miracles, Wars And Politics: Will It Rain If You Pray?
By Pervez Hoodbhoy
http://www.countercurrents.org/ipk-hoodhoy111004.htm
The history of myths and miracles in pre-Reformation Christianity, of their growth in earlier phases, and their decline under Renaissance thinking, ian extremely interesting and relevant subject for those who wish to understand the state of science and society in Muslim countries today. The fundamental question then was, and remains today, the following: does God
suspend the laws of physics in response to the actions of human beings (in which case miracles can happen)? Or has God turned over the day-to-day matters of running the universe to the laws of physics that he put into place at the beginning (in this case miracles cannot happen)?

Following the lead of European Renaissance thinkers, Muslim reformers of the 19th century, particularly Syed Ahmad Khan, argued that miracles - as commonly understood - cannot and do not happen. As a religious scholar who wrote a tafseer (interpretation) of the Qur'an, Syed Ahmad Khan insisted that the miracles mentioned in the Qur'an must be understood in broad allegorical terms rather than literally. Following the Mutazillite traditio of early Islam he, together with various 19th century Arab modernists, insisted on an interpretation of the Qur'an that was in conformity with the observed truths of science, thereby doing away with such commonly held beliefs as the Noah's Great Flood and Adam's descent from heaven. It was a risky proposition that brought them closer to modern scientific thought, on the one hand, and severe condemnation from the orthodox of those times. But those 19th century battles appear to be forgotten today. Looking at thes old writings, one wonders how those Muslim thinkers dared to engage so boldly in such controversial matters. But they did, and today we dare not. This is an indication of the profound philosophical and intellectual egression of the Muslim world over the last two centuries.

My discussion in a recent seminar in Lahore of the history of miracles, cause-and-effect in ancient Islam (there was greater acceptance then than today!), and description of rainfall as a physical process that cannot be influenced by prayer, drew an angry reaction from a professor at an elite university. Subsequently, an email was circulated to the entire student body
and beyond, an excerpt of which is reproduced below:

The fact that rainfall sometimes is caused in response to prayers is a matter of human experience. Although I cannot narrate an incident directly,I know [this] from the observations of people who would not exaggerate.. The problem is that Dr Hoodbhoy has narrowed down his mind to be influenced by only those facts that could be explained by the cause-and-effect
relationship. That's a classic example of academic prejudice.. Our world is not running on the principle of a causal relationship. It is running the way it is being run by its Master. Man has discovered that, generally speaking, the physical phenomena of our world follow the principle of cause-and-effect. However, that may not always happen, because the One who
is running it has never committed Himself to stick to that principle.

I responded with the following points:
· Prof. X admits that he has never personally witnessed rain fall in consequence to prayers, but confidently states that this is 'a matter of human experience' because he thinks some others have seen unusual things happen. Well, there are people who are willing to swear on oath that they have seen Elvis's ghost. Others claim that they have seen UFOs, horned
beasts, apparitions, the dead arise, etc. Without disputing that some of these people might be sincere and honest, I must emphasise that science cannot agree to this methodology. There is no limit to the power of people's imagination. Unless these mysterious events are recorded on camera, we cannot accept them as factual occurrences.

· Rain is a physical process (evaporation, cloud formation, nucleation, condensation). It is complicated, because the atmospheric motion of gases needs many variables for a proper description. However, it obeys exactly the same physical laws as deduced by looking at gases in a cylinder, falling bodies, and so forth. Personally I would be most interested to know whether prayers can also cause the reversal of much simpler kinds of physical processes. For example, can a stone be made to fall upward instead of downward? Or can heat be made to flow from a cold body to a hot body b appropriate spiritual prompting? If prayers can cause rain to fall from a blue sky, then all physics and all science deserves to be trashed.

· I am afraid that the track record for Prof. X's point of view on rain is not very good. Saudi Arabia remains a desert in spite of its evident holiness, and the poor peasants of Sind have a terrible time with drought in spite of their simplicity and piety. Geography, not earnestness of prayer, appears to be the determining factor.

· Confidence in the cause-and-effect relationship is indeed the very foundation of science and, as a scientist, I fully stand by it. Press the letter 'T' on your keyboard and the same letter appears on the screen; step on the accelerator and your car accelerates; jump out of a window and you get hurt; put your hand on a stove and you get burnt. Those who doubt
cause-and-effect do so at great personal peril.

· Prof. X is correct in saying that many different people (not just Muslim) believe they can influence physical events through persuading a divine authority. Indeed, in the specific context of rain-making, we have several examples. Red Indians had their very elaborate dances to please the Rain God; people of the African bush tribes beat drums and chant; and orthodox Hindus plead with Ram through spectacular 'yagas' with hundreds of thousands of the faithful. Their methods seem a little odd to me, but I wonder if Prof. X wishes to accord them respect and legitimacy.

Why Science Does Matter
Specious theological beliefs, together with reliance on miracles and superstitions, have acted as a brake on social progress and often rendered peoples vulnerable to the depredations of science-based imperialism. Muslims have been the worst sufferers. Suffocated by Western colonizers on the one hand, and the weight of tradition on the other, 19th century Muslim modernizers across the Muslim world sought new ways to revive their societies. Reconciling Islamic theology with science was an important challenge because, for these pioneering individuals, science was the key instrument for promoting rational thinking on political and social matters. Mohammed Abduh, Rashid Rida, Jamaluddin Afghani, Syed Ameer Ali, Syed Ahmad Khan, and other intellectuals, sought to deal with issues such as polygamy and purdah in Islam, the question of slavery, the permissibility of interest, etc. Their success - limited as it was - was important in eventually creating a large Muslim elite that broke with traditional norms and forms of social behaviour.

But today Islam is once again regressing into pre-scientific thinking and behaviour - thousands of websites on science and Islam promote the most egregious examples of scientific crackpotism. But Muslims are not alone. A similar regression is evident on a global scale with anti-scientific thinking neatly dovetailing with, and providing justification for, aggressive forms of social and political behaviour.

This primitivism is starkly evident in George Bush's America which promote Creationism and Christian notions of the human foetus. According to the National Science Foundation's biennial report (April 2002) on the state of science understanding: 30% of adult Americans believe that UFOs are space vehicles from other civilizations; 60% believe in ESP; 40% think that astrology is scientific; 32% believe in lucky numbers; 70% accept magnetic therapy as scientific...This vast base of ignorance allows for the rise of American neoconservatism and the blueprint for the New American Century; preparations for Armageddon; and for General Boykin in Somalia to say "my God is bigger than theirs".

In India, superstitious beliefs were actively cultivated by the BJP and it allies. These included the creation of astrology departments, promotion of "Vedic" mathematics and cosmology, and a revamping of the school curricula. Mass hysteria - promoted by orthodox Hindus - accompanied the sighting of the "Monkey Man", followed by Muhnochwa the "Face-Scratcher", and then the elephant-like Lord Ganesh's alleged drinking of milk. Charged with the notion of Hindu superiority, and of wild notions that Hindu deities had been born under certain mosques, Hindutva forces organized the razing of mosques and tombs, and massacred Muslims and Christians.

In Israel, Jews have been the pillars of a state that is built on the notion of religious exclusion.... certain American cattle tycoons have for years been working with Israeli counterparts to try and breed a pure red heifer i Israel, which, by their interpretation of chapter 19 of the Book of Numbers, will signal the coming of the building of the Third Temple. If they were to
succeed, it could intensify the already strong movement within Israel to rebuild the Temple, the event of which would ignite the Middle East, as any new Temple must be built on the Temple Mount current home of the Dome of The Rock, a Muslim holy site.

Zealots of all persuasions - Muslim, Hindu, Christian, and Jewish - welcome attacks on science and reason. Social constructivists, postmodernists, and even some feminists, have unwittingly given them yet more ammunition by inventing specious arguments. Improvement of the human condition demands a return to critical reasoning and scientific analysis, a rejection of cultural relativism, and willingness to accept still-evolving universal norms of ethics and human behaviour.
Pervez Hoodbhoy is professor of physics at Quaid-e-Azam University,Islamabad, Pakistan. He may be contacted on hoodbhoy@lns.mit.edu

“Creationism” and the Devolution of the Intellect.
By Ernest Partridge
Co-Editor, "The Crisis Papers."
http://www.crisispapers.org/essays-p/devolution.htm
It seems that you can't keep a bad idea down. Readily refutable dogmas, such as astrology, "trickle-down" economics, and creationism all seem to possess some Dracula-like immortality, and no matter how much logic, experience and demonstrable proof is arrayed against them, scientists and educators seem unable to drive in the fatal stake and dispatch them, once and for all.

Consider "creationism." Despite the Scopes Trial and numerous court decisions barring "creation science" from the public classrooms, not to mention the phenomenal advance of the life sciences, this ancient dogma refuses to die and stay dead – as is evident to anyone who pays even casual attention to cable TV and radio "talk shows." Numerous public opinion polls report that about half of the US population does not accept evolution including, we are told, the present occupant of the White House. (See "The President of Fantasyland: Bush vs. Science" ).

In 1999 creationism was given new life when the Kansas State Board of Education voted to remove evolution from the required public school curriculum. This so embarrassed and outraged the intelligent citizens of Kansas, unaccustomed to voting in School Board elections, that they were motivated to throw the troglodytes off the Board, whereupon evolution was restored to the curriculum. But that was not the end of it. Until recently, biology textbooks in Cobb County, Georgia, were required to bear a sticker warning that “evolution is a theory, not a fact.” A law suit put a stop to that – for awhile at least. But then the school board in Dover, Pennsylvania, mandated the teaching of “intelligent design,” an “intelligently designed” incarnation of creationism, alongside of evolution. This decision was subsequently overturned in a landmark ruling, Kitzmiller, et. al. v. Dover.

Is there any point in going over the arguments for evolution one more time? Probably not. Those who accept evolution, need not hear a retelling of the evidence, and those who do not accept evolution will surely not have their minds changed by anything I might say here. Still, these few "meta-scientific" reflections might be of some use to those who are willing, once more, to join the good fight for enlightenment. (For more, see Scientific American's "15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense," The November, 2004 issue of National Geographic, and an excellent bibliography from the National Academy of Sciences)....

...How is it possible that seemingly intelligent (and manifestly clever) individuals can, given the weight of evidence and theoretical scope, reject evolution? It seems incredible, so long as we see creationists as misguided quasi-scientists and scholars, who have somehow read the evidence differently from the mainstream of bio-scientists. But such a view misses the point that "creation science" is an oxymoron, and not a "science" at all. Instead, creationism is religious apologetics, and as such the very opposite of science.

PREDATORY URGES, PLASTIC BRAINS AND EMPOWERMENT
By David Cromwell,
Media Lens Cogitations
One of our readers wrote to us recently quoting historian Mark Curtis' accurate observations that: „Britain is a major, systematic contributor to much of the world's suffering and horrors and this contribution arises from the basic economic and political priorities that governments pursue at home and abroad. These fundamental policy stances are the result of planning broadly determined by the domestic structures of society which define national interests‚" (Curtis, The Ambiguities of Power, Zed Books, 1995, p. 4)

But, sadly, our reader suggested that such horrors were unsurprising, even inevitable. His reasoning ran as follows: "in our highly civilized cultures‚ our predatory nature manifests itself in theft, murder, manipulation, abuse, and other sociopathic behavior." There is a strong innate tendency, ran his argument, for governments to prey on each other as well as individuals; a tendency that stems directly from the predatory instinct in humans. In short: "We are hopelessly enslaved to our DNA's predatory urges." This is the classic depiction of our species as "killer ape" Richard Davidson and Anne Harrington note that has been "the dominant note of the biobehavioral sciences in the West... a tragic-machismo approach that focuses on our potential for violence, genetic and biochemical bases for selfishness, depression, and anxiety."...

But, as careful investigators have pointed out, we have to be cautious not to make categorical statements on human nature; particularly such a flawed and sweeping thesis of humans as predatory "killer apes" The German psychoanalyst Erich Fromm (1900-1980) wrote:

"Human nature is not fixed, and culture thus is not to be explained as the result of fixed human instincts; nor is culture a fixed factor to which human nature adapts itself passively and completely.‰ (Fromm, Man for Himself‚, Routledge, 2003, p. 15) It is dubious practice to identify attributes of society, such as rapacious capitalist behaviour, with supposed fixed characteristics of the human species, such as innate aggression. Fromm cautioned: „Human nature can never be observed as such, but only in its specific manifestations in specific situations."(Ibid., p. 17) Human nature is dynamic, displaying considerable variations according to circumstances and context, rather than being fixed, predetermined or static. Our reader‚s depiction of homo sapiens as „predatory‰ is therefore one-dimensional; or worse, plain wrong. ...

Escaping Our Hardwiring
The influential American black activist Malcolm X once observed that we can become locked into static patterns of thought and behaviour that cut off options for individual growth, renewal and empowerment: "Children have a lesson adults should learn, to not be ashamed of failing, but to get up and try again. Most of us adults are so afraid, so cautious, so safe‚, and therefore so shrinking and rigid and afraid that it is why so many humans fail. Most middle-aged adults have resigned themselves to failure." (The Autobiography of Malcolm X‚ Penguin Books, London, 1965/2001, p. 37)

A major finding in neuroscience in recent years is the extent to which our brains display advanced levels of neural plasticity‚. We are not forever hardwired‚ for rigid modes of behaviour; we are not static slaves‚ to our DNA. [digest note For the best brief critique see Not in Our Genes by Richard Lewontin]. There is a remarkable degree to which we can change ingrained patterns of thought, intention and practice...

Thus, the notion that we are "hopelessly enslaved to our predatory urges" is unfounded.

As well as insights from evolutionary science, psychology and neurobiology, we can look at human history. There are, of course, plenty of examples of horror, cruelty and violence. But consider, too, the fundamental desires of people everywhere, throughout history and across all cultures, for peace and freedom. As Howard Zinn, author of The People's History of the United States‚, puts it: "People are not naturally violent or cruel or greedy, although they can be made so. Human beings everywhere want the same things: they are moved by the sight of abandoned children, homeless families, the casualties of war; they long for peace, for friendship and affection across lines of race and nationality.‰ (Zinn, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train, Beacon Press, 2002, p. 208)

The reader who wrote to us about humanity's universal "predatory urges" was right in one respect, however: that people can, and do, combine to create oppressive institutions and [class] structures in society. The transnational corporation is one prominent example, as are the powerful governments who act as agents for corporate interests. But there are people around the world who are resisting these organs of brutal, illegitimate power....In short, there is an integral link between "lighten[ing] our gloom" and the potential for societal improvement. Just as we, as individuals, are not hardwired for selfishness and aggression, so are injustice and oppression not necessarily fixed features of human society.
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