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Creation and Evolution

February 9, 2018 | (1,412 words)

Most of us made up our minds on this subject years ago.  So we have no need for, nor do we pay particularly close attention to, the periodic announcements that continue to pop up in the news from time-to-time, of fossil finds that purport to fill in yet another piece of the archaeological record, accompanied by carbon-dating evidence that irrefutably proves the age of the Earth to be millions, even billions of years old.

No doubt there are some professorial types who still avidly follow such announcements with baited breath.  But for the vast majority of us who have no scientific interest in the matter, the generic concept of a really old world that made possible our gradual ascent from humble inarticulate beginnings is appealing on strictly ideological or philosophical grounds.  It allows us to embrace a most important social, non-scientific corollary, namely that “things are always getting better.”  This could also be described as the “March of Progress” view of history, which has supplanted the more circumspect “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” view of history.  Besides flattering ourselves no end, this cements our hubris, which is a word one doesn’t hear as often as one should these days.

It was the descended-from-apes thing that proved to be a pivotal moment in the long-simmering feud between reason and faith.  The religionists who were quite okay interpreting observable developments in plants and animals as the hand of God at work in creation simply could not accept that humans shared a common ancestry with monkeys.  And the rationalists were only too eager to trumpet this revelation as evidence mankind is not special in any way, was not created in the image of God, and does not possess an immortal soul.  A classic case of two groups whistling past each other in the dark, as their claims are mutually exclusive and in no way contradict each other.

Science’s greatest strength, the way it questions everything in order to make new discoveries, is also at times its greatest weakness, in that it can’t believe the evidence of its own eyes.  Something obviously happened in the development of humanity between the most advanced Cro-Magnon specimen, and, say, the Old Testament prophets.  The long sought after “missing link” remains elusive to the scientists.  And the religionists obviously cannot pinpoint the exact moment when the creator of the universe, the unmoved mover, touched the human race and imbued us all with an immortal soul.  But why does that lead some of the most intelligent among us into refusing to consider it ever took place?

Denying the Imago Dei and the existence of an immortal soul just so happens to throw everything else up for grabs.  The adversarial relationship between faith and reason was instigated by non-scientists who wish to assert there is no such thing as truth.  Or Logos, as the Greeks would have it.  After that, the dominoes fall of their own accord.  If there is no truth, there can be no such thing as right or wrong, which means there is no objective moral order to creation.  The ground-breaking work of Charles Darwin and those dedicated practitioners who have followed in his footsteps did not necessarily have to play out in a way that supports such radical assertions in the social realm.  But the tenor of the times dictated that it would.

Our contemporary application of “science” as a sort of all-purpose antidote, seen as the liberation of reason and common sense from blind faith and superstitious belief, represents a complete reversal of the attitude taken by the parson-naturalists who dominated the “center of the universe” field prior to Darwin’s emergence.  They considered scientific work as “religious natural theology.”  The post-Darwin change in our sense of what science is, and what it stands for, has had important ramifications in a variety of other disciplines.

Such as how the thought process of your average “informed” and “educated” cohort has been successfully diverted from a simple, observable fact:  No matter how old the world might be, and no matter how we came to populate it, there exists a unique quality to our species that can only be described as “human nature.”  This nature has not changed one iota throughout recorded history.  Proof of this is the ongoing relevance of literature from the past.  Those writers continue to speak to us because we are the same people, at heart, as they were.

Psychologists believe a reasoned, non-superstitious acceptance of the broad outline of evolution theory permits what amounts to an unsubstantiated side-bar:  There is really no such thing as an indelible, immutable human nature.  We are merely a collection of responses to biological stimuli that can be measured and quantified over time.  What is conventionally thought of as human nature is nothing more than a social construct, formed by and subject to the whims of those who hold power at any given time, in any given society.

We could allow these folks their professional indulgence, if only it did not impede attempts at solving society’s problems.  While progress in the social realm has always been hard to come by, the modern tendency to deny or write-off the thornier aspects of human nature as something that be “managed” by implementing complex systems and programs of incentives, is why we struggle in a special way with finding solutions to our most vexing problems.

Which is certainly not to suggest these problems did not exist in pre-modern, pre-scientific times.  They have always been with us.  As have the seven deadly sins.  But as “science” triumphed over “religion,” the former became the rhetorical weapon of choice among those who wish to challenge a traditional understanding of human nature, and in the process denigrate traditional religious belief that so ably communicates this profound understanding.

In promoting science as a strictly secular undertaking, the “scientific method” of “questioning everything” has been installed in the public mind as the only valid approach to deciphering every aspect of human existence.  This “value neutral” method is cast as the sworn enemy of an historical understanding of fallen human nature.  As a result of what we confidently view as a supremely rational analysis of the various ways and means that motivate our troubled masses, we have inadvertently condemned our efforts at society-wide improvement to abject failure.

As one 20th century Pope famously quipped, “There can be no social progress outside the moral order.”  This is a worthy catch-phrase that deserves to be better known, and referenced more frequently.  According to this decidedly contrarian worldview, society’s ills cannot be solved without acknowledging the existence of and trying to align our actions with the objective moral order of the universe.  Regardless of how old the world might be, or how we humans came to inhabit it.

Yes, we know, it is precisely the idea of “morality” that is now thought to have held back the social progress of the down-trodden over the course of many centuries.  Emerging from the Christian age is now celebrated as humanity reaching the light at the end of the tunnel, after being suppressed by clerics for so long.  This commonly held view is perfectly expressed in the names our history books give to previous eras:  Dark Ages, Renaissance, Enlightenment.  But isn’t this verbal gerrymandering just another one of our conceits?

Consider how we accept the minutiae of physical evolution largely on faith, without any critical questioning of how an eye, or a wing, can “evolve” from a simpler organism.  In much the same way, we take it on faith that our nature is malleable, and history represents an uninterrupted march of progress in human affairs.

We may have little, if any, familiarity with the elaborate philosophical lineage of the last five hundred years that has created the current consensus in these matters.  Nor are we possessed of the objectivity required to notice that we accept what is presented to us as a dispassionate, intellectual consensus largely on the basis of an unexamined, emotional faith.  The very qualities we think we left behind once and for all, when turning our backs on those dark Christian days.

As Americans, the “March of Progress” has been enshrined in our country’s mythology and goes by the name, “The American Dream.”  Disputing the current consensus is frowned upon throughout the entire West, however, and dismissed as a brazen challenge to the secular implementation of the scientific method, which has come to be revered above all else.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
February 9, 2018

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