An essay on evolution by Bob Boldt
In the movie, Lincoln, we see several examples of the President’s humor. He once said of an especially wordy opponent that he was like the lazy preacher who was notorious for his long sermons. The explanation was “he got to writin’ and he was too lazy to stop.” Hopefully I will not be too lazy and will know when to stop as I also want to allow extra time for questions.
The reference to Lincoln today is appropriate because as most of you know Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on exactly the same day February 12th in the year of 1809. Political history and the history of science owe a great deal to each man. Each in his own way helped to revolutionize our modern world.
In his address to Congress in 1862 Lincoln said. “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise—with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
Similar comments could well be made about our own stormy present as we face a nearly perfect storm of difficulties from global warming, peak oil, population overshoot and universal fiscal meltdown.
The 13th Amendment finally gave substance to the original contention that “ALL men are created equal.” Lincoln was not concerned with the “created” part of the Declaration, (whether created by God or Nature) but only with the “equal” part.
A year before Emancipation Darwin wrote.
“I have not seen or heard of a soul who is not with the North. Some few, & I am one, even wish to God that the North would proclaim a crusade against Slavery. Great God how I should like to see that greatest curse on Earth: Slavery abolished.”
There is one account I have read that Lincoln was not only familiar with the idea of evolution, but was convinced by it.
Both Lincoln and Darwin were products of the nearly universal culture of Christianity and a pretty fundamentalist version of that religion by today’s standards. Lincoln suffered for his calling into question some pretty well understood axioms of both the Old and New Testament’s unequivocal endorsement of human slavery. The industrial North’s abolitionist opposition to black slavery flew in the face of Biblical teaching.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Darwin’s impact on the creation myth of Genesis was no less revolutionary. Each of these men sought to disenthrall humanity from the quiet dogmas of the past, including the Bible’s evil, stupidity and mendacity. Both men’s associations with Christian worship and doctrine were strictly pro-forma. Neither man believed in a personal Christ who saved souls and redeemed sin. Both men, for prudent, practical reasons, chose not to make an issue of their disbelief or lack of faith in the dominant superstition of their time.
The ostensible goal of our celebration here this morning on the occasion of our annual Evolution Sunday is to emphasize the compatibility of science and religion, reason and faith. The Dali Lama was asked, if science and Buddhism came into conflict, which would win. His Holiness answered that religious belief would have to yield to science. Would that other religious leaders were equally as sanguine when it came to the science/religion debate. Last year Gallup reported, “Forty-six percent of Americans believe in the creationist view that God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.” Clearly there can be no reconciling of science with this religious view. While we are at it, according to the most recent survey, 62 percent of leading scientists said they are either atheists or agnostics.
That means that a majority of scientists do not believe in a personal god. Compare this with the fact that not one professing atheist currently serves in Congress, on the Supreme Court or in the White House. Last year there were rumored to be 28 stealth atheists in the Congress but these members were more loath to confess their lack of belief in God than to criticize Israel.
But what about the religion of enlightened, secular Christians? Is there not an equal, if less obvious, conflict between all monotheist religions and science? Religious evolutionists like their irrational fundamentalist brethren still assert the primacy of homo sapiens in the universe. They would also assert that God has set up the evolutionary process of simpler forms yielding to the more complex as evidence that our own little tribe of hairless apes has somehow fulfilled the cosmic destiny to be the favored species in the eye of the Almighty. I would like to assert that this view, albeit more rationally palatable and intellectually satisfying, may still be in conflict with the evidence and may be threatening our survival. Liberal monotheism is always inclined towards Mankind as special and more important than other life forms.
In the attachment to your program I have listed quotes by some of the most advanced scientific thinkers our culture has produced. They are unanimous in their belief that the precepts of evolution and science cannot possibly reconcile with popular religion the way it is practiced in our society. In fact most of them would consider a belief in science and a belief in a personal God as essentially irreconcilable. I have included these quotes by way of showing that the preponderance of scientific evidence while not always denying the existence of God certainly considers a belief in His existence irrelevant to modern thought and conduct. I must hasten to add that I neither believe in this assertion or hold that it represents many of the most interesting trends in modern scientific and philosophic thought. I do believe however that they are spot on in rebelling against the particular God and the religion most believers practice in modern society. This is the kind of religion we must disenthrall ourselves from.
But who today has the courage of a Lincoln and a Darwin to lead us out of the dogmas of the present into the stormy future where we may yet prevail? I think the scientists that denounce all religions are as myopic as are the religious fundamentalists who reject science? So what kind of religion would I consider appropriate and valuable to both the tenants of modern science and the spiritual needs of a species staring extinction in the face?
For the majority of human history we lived in ways that would be nearly unrecognizable to generations raised in the industrial world. Without attempting to romanticize the noble savage, the dominant religion of these pre-agricultural, pre-historic cultures was shamanism. This theology, if you can call it that, is also prevalent in present so-called “primitive” cultures that have not been completely decimated by modernity. Shamanism has dominated pre-civilized cultures around the globe for the first 50,000 years of our history.
Modern religions especially the monotheist preoccupation arose with the rise of the giant imperialist agricultural civilizations of the old and new worlds. Whereas modern monotheism emphasizes man’s separateness from God and Nature and encourages analysis rather than experience of the Divine. Shamanism and the religion of pre-civilized cultures had a direct experience of the Divine. It’s connection to all Nature was direct, respectful, relational and connected. Man is neither separate from Nature, God or other humans. For precivilized culture there is no doubt as to the existence of Divinity and higher levels of reality. The guiding influences for this culture centered around the shaman, psychoactive plant substances and altered state inducing behaviors like repetitive ritual, dance, sensory deprivation, fasting, etc. Aspects of this experiential variety of religious experience survived the onslaught of civilization’s monotheism finding refuge in activities like mysticism, Liberation theology and certain ascetic and ritual practices. It might be said that modern monotheism insofar as it is commonly practiced appeals to the worst angels of our egos. They promise personal immortality, the practice of material aggrandizement through faith while suppressing doubt and any question of their dubious evidences for the existence of a personal deity. Nearly all popular religions today offer the antithesis of authentic connections with either a god, Nature or true ecumenicism.
“The world is not an unsolved problem for scientists or sociologists, the world is a living mystery. Our birth, our death, our being in the moment, these are mysteries.
“These are doorways. They are opening onto unimaginable vistas and mysteries. Our culture has killed that. Made us products of shoddy ideas and shoddy ideals.
“And the way to get away from that is to return to the authentic experience of the body, it means sexually empowering ourselves, and it means getting loaded, it means exploring the mind as a tool for personal and social transformation.
“The hour is late, the clock is ticking. We will be judged very harshly if we fumble the ball. We are inheritors of millions upon million of years of successfully lived lives and successful adaptations to changing conditions in the natural world.
“Now the challenge passes to us; it means that the yet to be born will have a place to put their feet and a sky to walk under. And that is what the psychedelic experience is about, it’s about producing an experience that honors the past, honors the future and honors the power of the human imagination.
“There is nothing as capable of transforming the mind and the planet as the human imagination. Lets not sell it short. Let’s not sell ourselves to nit-wit ideologies, lets not give our control over to the least amongst us. Rather claim your place in the sun and go forward into the light.
“The tools are there.
“The path is known.
“You simply have to turn your back on a culture that has gone sterile and dead, and get with the program, of a living world.
“And a re-empowerment of the imagination.”
Terrence McKenna from Eros and the Eschaton.