Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Evolution and authority

I ran this quotation about a year ago, but with the release of Expelled, it bears repeating:
Scientific creationists are part of a movement that seeks to establish through government policies a particular religious doctrine contrary to the principles of the United States Constitution. The movement is strongly authoritarian, patriarchal, militaristic, and opposed to public support of social welfare programs. This New Religious-Political Right represents not just a disagreement about scientific interpretations but a serious effort to buttress the economic and political power of the traditional American bourgeoisie. The debate over evolution versus creation is at once a side effect of the movement's world view of antitheses and a means of identifying those who will follow authority in the movement. To put one's signature to a declaration that one accepts on faith the "absolute inerrancy of the Bible" is public witness of one's willing submission to authority. Nothing scientists outside the movement can say can change the minds of those who have declared their a priori commitment to "Biblical revelations (as) absolutely authoritative." Scientists who feel compelled to challenge the movement must look to the political arena.

Alice B. Kehoe, Scientific Creationism: World View, not Science (1987)
That's really all there is to it. There's nothing terribly bad about evolution per se from a theological perspective. Religious theodicy has subsumed plagues, earthquakes, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, the genocide of the Armenians and American Indians, cancer of the rectum and jock itch; theology can handle evolution without too much trouble.

A large number of religions are authoritarian, to a greater or lesser degree, with priests and prophets acting as proxies for the ultimate authority, God. All authorities require a shibboleth, and the most tyrannical of authorities require some proof of submission, proof that his supposed authority is not vacuous, like that of the Little Prince's King, who commands the stars to do what they would do anyway.

Evolution is a perfect candidate not because it poses any theological difficulty but precisely because it is so well established. A reasonable, educated person not in thrall to a religious authority cannot rationally deny the scientific validity of evolution. Therefore, an authoritarian submissive denies evolution to prove his submission overrides his rationality and education.

Heliocentrism, quantum mechanics, General Relativity, any of these ideas could suffice almost as easily; evolution happened to be the controversial idea facially at odds with religious dogma at the time of the American religious revival in the early 20th century.

Evolution denial has very little to do with either science or theology. It's all about the authority.

15 comments:

  1. I've always thought the "error of your ways" and "God's patience is not infinite" [Oh, really, asshole? How do you know?] stuff thrown at me indicated this. I mean, they fucking call their god "LORD" in big-ass capital letters and command us to "fear" and "obey."

    I'm the kind of person who, as a kid, called the vice-principal by his first name just to tweak his nose. These exhortations do not impress.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Larry, thanks very much for bringing this beautiful quote to my attention!

    But, where can I find the source? I can't seem to find much, beyond other books quoting from it. Is it a pamphlet, an article, or a long out-of-print booklet by an apparently quite prolific author?

    I did manage to find an interesting-looking book of hers that I've added to my cart: Shamans and Religion: An Anthropological Exploration in Critical Thinking

    ReplyDelete
  3. Indeed, religious theology has subsumed evolution, at least if you are a Catholic. It has been official Catholic policy since the early 1900's to teach evolution in its schools' science classes, and it has been official Catholic doctrine since the early 1900's to solemnly intone, "evolution is a matter of science, not of faith" and basically say "we have no opinion, that's a job for scientists" when asked their opinion of evolution.

    But of course the same anti-evolution forces against teaching evolution in schools also think that the Catholic Church is Satan's own handmaiden, a nestbed of idolatry and heresy all of whose members are going to Hell, so... (shrug). But there's nothing, theology-wise, preventing them from making the same statements as the Catholic Church. They just find it in their best interests not to do so, since widespread knowledge of science tends to undermine belief in rank superstition such as invisible sky demons with a habit of killing first-born sons, razing cities, sending great floods, and so forth.

    As for us Tuxologists, we believe that all of the above shall be sent to Hell, Michigan upon their death, thereupon to be flogged for eternity by penguins armed with limp herring, so there we are :-).

    -- Badtux the Tuxologist Penguin

    ReplyDelete
  4. James: The exhortations are not intended to impress you. They are intended to impress the gullible, credulous, stupid and submissive; whatever your other faults, these are not among them.

    Insofar as these exhortations are directed at you, they are intended to mark you unequivocally as the enemy.

    Micah: I've never read the work in question; like you, I've found only citations of the quotation. I employ it not as substantiation, but merely an eloquent expression of my own thoughts.

    BadTux: They just find it in their best interests not to do so, since widespread knowledge of science tends to undermine belief in rank superstition...

    The existence and nature of the Catholic Church argues against this hypothesis.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Barefoot: no I totally, totally get that. It just strikes me that someone who is able to cut through the bullshit so gracefully, and so eloquently express what ID and biblical literalism and (...) is, probably had several other very lucid things to say, and it's a real pity I can't find the source book. I expect to be on the lookout for it, though.

    ...Hm. I just turned up a chapter she wrote entitled "The Word of God", in the book Scientists Confront Creationism; maybe I can settle for that in the meantime.

    Oh! Just found it: it's part of an out-of-print book, a collection like Scientists Confront Creationism: Cult archaeology & creationism. (iPac link, rather than Amazon, so you can see that it indeed contains Kehoe's work, as Amazon's info is sparse.)

    ReplyDelete
  6. The existence and nature of the Catholic Church argues against this hypothesis.

    Well, the Catholic Church tried that whole suppression of science thingy already, and found out that it didn't work. The Catholic theocrats are nothing if not practical. If suppression of science doesn't work (because it gives the advantage to non-Catholic folks who don't suppress science, like, oh, the Ottomans in that era), then they obviously had to patch their theology to route around that pesky "science" stuff.

    Unfortunately, when you're talking about the tighty righty evangelicals, they don't possess that institutional memory (and the Catholic Church has a *long* institutional memory, they are, after all, the world's oldest currently-extant bureaucracy with all that entails). They dumped all that overboard when their forefathers broke off from the Lutheran or Episcopal churches. Their leaders don't see -- or maybe don't care -- that attacking science in order to pump up their rank superstition is going to be counterproductive over the long run because those who embrace science will end up conquering them and putting them to the sword to convert them to Tuxology and force them to participate in the Sacrament of the Herring or be condemned to the dungeons of the Ice Cathedral to be flogged with herring unto death bwahahahah! No, they are just looking at the short term and saying to themselves, "science threatens our power, and thus we must destroy science." And so it goes.

    -Badtux the Tuxologist Penguin

    ReplyDelete
  7. As attractive as you present Tuxology, I think I'll stick with Pastafarianism and the Beer Volcano.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Your post is, unfortunately, entirely accurate. This nonsense is not confined to the religious wingnuts in this country, either.

    "It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics." -RAH

    It makes me wonder why we - as a species- continue to tolerate this sort of behavior when it is clearly not survival-oriented. Cultures and societies which follow this type of anti-intellectual path invariably end up destroyed or consumed by societies which do not.

    Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded—here and there, now and then—are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.
    This is known as "bad luck."
    -RAH

    ReplyDelete
  9. Archvillain: While I find Heinlein's aphorisms often appealing, I will repeat my observation that authors of fiction are not the most reliable guide to philosophical or ethical truth.

    The first quotation, "It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law..." is only half right, and the it's the wrong half. Everyone will legislate his ideology into law; that's what law is: the enforcement of some ideological position. The problem with religions is not that they will legislate their creed, it's that the creeds they would legislate are invariably stupid.

    The second quotation, "Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded... are the work of an extremely small minority," is false, ahistorical and an example of Heinlein's own Libertarian ideology.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Your point is well taken.

    I thought the quotes were appropriate to the topic at hand. I agree with you on the merits of fiction authors as the basis for ideology. That's how we ended up with $cientology, after all.

    The second quote was relevant to my comment that religious wingnut behavior is contra-survival from a cultural viewpoint. Societies which tend toward ideological interference with advances in knowledge and technology rapidly fall behind societies with less of that tendency.

    ReplyDelete
  11. That's really all there is to it. There's nothing terribly bad about evolution per se from a theological perspective. Religious theodicy has subsumed plagues, earthquakes, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, the genocide of the Armenians and American Indians, cancer of the rectum and jock itch; theology can handle evolution without too much trouble.

    You are right BB. Theology should be able to handle evolution. I think there are a lot of faiths that have made their peace with it. For those that haven't, I think the biggest roadblock is their blind fundamentalism.

    ...the most tyrannical of authorities require some proof of submission, proof that his supposed authority is not vacuous, like that of the Little Prince's King, who commands the stars to do what they would do anyway.

    Evolution is a perfect candidate not because it poses any theological difficulty but precisely because it is so well established. A reasonable, educated person not in thrall to a religious authority cannot rationally deny the scientific validity of evolution. Therefore, an authoritarian submissive denies evolution to prove his submission overrides his rationality and education.


    Again, I have to agree, but don't all faiths require a certain degree of submission? Why have some chosen evolution as one of the 'great evil' and others haven't?

    Evolution denial has very little to do with either science or theology. It's all about the authority.

    Interesting take. I shake my head at the evolution denial, but for me the greatest concern is the evangelical side of the ID movement. It's one thing to doubt good science, but it's another thing to ask for spiritual beliefs to be taught in a classroom.

    ReplyDelete
  12. PC: [D]on't all faiths require a certain degree of submission?

    Perhaps. I suspect so. I'm not sure though. Some faiths require a lot of submission.

    Why have some chosen evolution as one of the 'great evil' and others haven't?

    I would imagine that accident, historical and personal, has a lot to do with the difference.

    It's one thing to doubt good science, but it's another thing to ask for spiritual beliefs to be taught in a classroom.

    We're in agreement. Imagine that!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Progressive Conservative said: "Again, I have to agree, but don't all faiths require a certain degree of submission? Why have some chosen evolution as one of the 'great evil' and others haven't?"

    Because the others aren't fundamentalists who insist on the inerrancy of scripture. For them, the TOE presents two problems:

    1. It contradicts the events in their creation story.

    2. It contradicts their concept of what it means to be human: a being specially created by God for His pleasure, not "just another animal" that evolved extraordinary intelligence.

    Christians who accept Genesis as at least partly metaphorical, and can just shrug their shoulders at evolution and say, "I guess that's just how God did things," have something the fundamentalists lack: imagination, humility, and common sense.

    ReplyDelete
  14. So, I got a copy of the book (previous owner was a library), and read the full article by Kehoe. A decent article, but far and away the best bit is the snip you quoted. Most of the rest won't tell you anything you don't already know. There's an interesting bit on the origins of Scientific Creationism, but a much better source for that is Ronald Numbers' The Creationists. I have a copy of that, but haven't had the time to delve into it much yet.

    BTW, my copy of the Pat Condell anthology arrived today. Thanks so much for bringing that to my attention; I can't wait to pop it in later tonight!

    ReplyDelete

Please pick a handle or moniker for your comment. It's much easier to address someone by a name or pseudonym than simply "hey you". I have the option of requiring a "hard" identity, but I don't want to turn that on... yet.

With few exceptions, I will not respond or reply to anonymous comments, and I may delete them. I keep a copy of all comments; if you want the text of your comment to repost with something vaguely resembling an identity, email me.

No spam, pr0n, commercial advertising, insanity, lies, repetition or off-topic comments. Creationists, Global Warming deniers, anti-vaxers, Randians, and Libertarians are automatically presumed to be idiots; Christians and Muslims might get the benefit of the doubt, if I'm in a good mood.

See the Debate Flowchart for some basic rules.

Sourced factual corrections are always published and acknowledged.

I will respond or not respond to comments as the mood takes me. See my latest comment policy for details. I am not a pseudonomous-American: my real name is Larry.

Comments may be moderated from time to time. When I do moderate comments, anonymous comments are far more likely to be rejected.

I've already answered some typical comments.

I have jqMath enabled for the blog. If you have a dollar sign (\$) in your comment, put a \\ in front of it: \\\$, unless you want to include a formula in your comment.