Saturday, January 15, 2005

Stirling Newberry writes about the currently underway co-option of Wikipedia by the right-wing. More specifically, it is about a fight over the Wikipedia article on Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design, of course, is the PR campaign to make creationism seem like a respectable science.

When I entered junior high school, I was an enthusiastic creationist. I often tormented my eighth-grade science teacher, Mrs. Sortwell, with elaborate Henry Morris-inspired proofs of the falseness of evolutionary theory and the historical truth of Noah's flood. I attended a day-long seminar at Wheaton College by Walter T. Brown.

My attendance at a fundamentalist high school ensured that this faith remained secure when I arrived at college. But my college was not an evangelical one. When my history 103 prof -- the brilliant Doug Howard -- pointed out the clearly mythic and ahistorical status of several Old Testament passages, I balked. The gap between the conclusions of the scientific approach of my introductory college courses and those of my evangelical upbringing resulted in a major existential crisis. To me, if evolution was true, then the Bible simply wasn't. As the unimpeachable status of evolutionary theory became obvious -- as well as other problems with evangelicalism, like the authentically edifying status of other religions, and the critical study of biblical literature -- the obviousness of the rightness of my background waned. At the same time, I became aware of the infinte richness of cultural history of the West: Romanticism, Renaissance, Enlightenment, Art, Music, Poetry, etc. The loss of my evangelical faith was overwhelmed by the gain of world culture.

Years later, under the influence of Ken Wilber, my task is very different. To mediate, to integrate, to understand all perspectives from a position of common humanity rather than from one of superiority.

So back to Stirling Newberry and Intelligent Design. Having been a creationist, I can say without hesitation that Intelligent Design has no scientific merit. Speciation happens. Anyone telling you differently is a liar and probably a politician.

And yet, perhaps surprisingly, there is more to the story.

The main factor driving people to embrace creationism-light theories like ID is the overwhelming naturalism of the scientific community. Atheistic naturalism is a reductio ad absurdum to comitted Christians, and in some ways rightly so. That is to say, I agree with Christians that the reductive naturalism of scientists -- the view that all that exists is increasingly random arrays of atoms and energy -- is absurd.

Having said that, I utterly oppose the right-wing. I believe that the agenda of George W. Bush, if applied without compromise, will spell the end of the United States of America as a Constitutional Republic. I believe that the 62 million Americans who voted for him are either befuddled or traitors or both.

So my position is very, very divided. As deeply and widely wrong as evangelicals are on an enormous variety of issues, they are correct in seeing some higher meaning in reality. And as correct as naturalists are on the vast majority of scientific, political and economic issues, they are incorrect on the most important one: they see no meaning or significance to reality other than those created by individual human beings.

The Intelligent Design movement harnesses these concerns over ultimate meaning and mis-directs them to question the theory of evolution. In the year 2005, one might as well be questioning the shape of the earth. Everything from flu vaccines to the hybridization of agricultural products, from botany to finches shows macroevolution, the origin of species through natural selection, to be an absolutely inescapable fact of earthly existence.

The ID movement deliberately manipulates the religious/scientific opinions of uneducated Americans in order to further the right-wing agenda in America. Evangelicals -- who are largely lower and lower-middle class -- are successfully being used to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. So although I empathize with the intellectual/spiritual quest of evangelicals, the ID movement is morally as well as scientifically and philosophically bankrupt. Thus, like Stirling Newberry, I oppose it absolutely.

So if the ID movement mis-directs the concerns of evangelicals over cosmic meaning, what would be an appropriate direction of these concerns? It would be to admit that evolution occurs, and then to ask what that reveals about creation and the creator. Of course, in my opinion, belief in the benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient, seperate god of orthodox Christianity is incompatible with an evolutionary view. I guess that that's why my return to religion and now, to Jesus, had to take the course of turning to other religions and coming back with an entirely different conception of divinity.

The easiest way to describe my current conception of divinity is: Zen. Divinity in Zen, if it exists at all, is simply one-ness, where not even the self exists. Thus it is not theism, but neither is it atheism. There is a mystical faith that the realization of union with non-material, non-mental, non-manifest reality is something to be sought after. The Gospel of Thomas presents a Jesus who thought of God in this way, too.

Christians eventually admitted that the earth is round. Maybe they can handle this, too.

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