Friday, May 20, 2011

Darwin's Children

I begin this post by noting that the Neanderthal which plays such an important role in Darwinism was named for the seventeenth century theologian Joachim Neander who was fired from his position for refusing to take Holy Communion. It seems like an appropriate historical reference to the ongoing conflict between religion and science. Neander used to take walks in what became known as Neander's Valley and later on fossils were discovered there. Today a Neanderthal is someone who refuses to see the wisdom of the Darwinian vision of life. They are stuck in the present and cannot learn from the past. They are out of it. They are the ones who would take Holy Communion and think there is something spiritual going on there.

Darwinism does not allow for the spiritual. It's all natural; natural selection explains everything. That's the problem. To Darwinists we are all really just cavemen. In 1871 Darwin published The Descent of Man which presented an entirely naturalistic interpretation of man. There is no difference between human beings and animals. "It's a dog eat dog world" and "it's a jungle out there"- the survival of the fittest, you know. Darwin said that with mankind intellectual faculties were gradually perfected through natural selection so that the more intelligent ruled the less intelligent. This pointed out the problem that the more intelligent were having to support the less intelligent. They were contributing to the well being of society while the less intelligent were just reproducing. Quoting the Scot, William Rathbone Greg with approval, Darwin wrote: "the careless, squalid, unaspiring Irishman, fed on potatoes, living in a pigsty, doting on superstition, multiplies like rabbits... while the Scotsman, selfrespecting, frugal, sagacious, self-disciplined in his intelligence, marries late and leaves few behind... so it is the inferior and less favored race that prevails ... prevails not by virtue of its good qualities but by virtue of its faults... Thus, were sowed the seed of eugenics. It was common knowledge that selective breeding was the answer to growing good stock in agriculture. It was Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton, who coined the term eugenics which means "born well". He founded the Eugenics Society in London in 1907. His idea was that the corruption of the race by weaker specimens could be corrected by the proper use of eugenic technologies. So impressed was President Calvin Coolidge by this idea that he signed the Immigration Act of 1924 restricting immigration to favored races and nationalities. Indiana in 1907 passed a law permitting the compulsory sterilization of the unfit. In Europe, eugenicist Julian Huxley wrote, " We must be able to pick out the genetically inferior stocks with more certainty and we must set in motion counter forces making for faster reproduction of superior stocks... this is not possible without the alteration of the social system." The eugenics system of helping out the "natural selection" process whenever possible was well underway. With an echo of Darwinism, Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, " positive steps must be taken to encourage the flourishing of the fitter because the system itself often works against them." Hitler's National Socialism party took action on these ideas. In 1933 they passed a law permitting forced sterilization based on the work of American eugenicist, Harry Laughlin, who had written of the need to sterilize the socially inadequate classes, including those of feeble mind. [much of the above is taken from Darwin's Pious Idea by Conor Cunningham, pp 179-189]

Marilynne Robinson (her book is The Death of Adam) notes Darwin's belief that the progressive evolution of mankind through natural selection would be perfected by the struggle for survival. He wrote in The Descent of Man, "at some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races throughout the world." He went on to say in the same book that civilized men should do what we can to insure that the weak do not survive. Just as we do not allow our worst animals to breed so the breeding of weak members of society, ie, the imbecile, the maimed, the poor, and the sick, is injurious to society. Darwin noted that vaccinations preserved thousands of a poor constitution who would formerly have died of smallpox. Most people today ignore this later thinking of Darwin but his earlier work, The Origin of the Species, included this thought in it's title: the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. It makes one wonder how "random" natural selection is and if Darwin did not see a greater purpose in his theory, ie, the survival of the favored races. Darwin's influence is felt today far beyond the sciences. Robinson notes an essay in Time by Robert Wright(commenting on the Bill Moyers PBS series on Genesis) in which Wright stated Science (just another name for Darwinism) has replaced the fables of Genesis. Since Darwin we know Genesis is wrong: human nature is not benign, we have that selfish gene instilled by that other "creator" natural selection. So the main traits driving our lives are selfishness and competition no matter what illusions we might hold of other compassionate qualities. Nietzche, of course, saw where this was going. In his Ecce Homo he wrote that if we look ahead ..."that party of life which takes in hand the greatest of all tasks, the higher breeding of humanity, together with the remorseless destruction of all degenerate and parasitic elements" .... and we saw what that looked like in Nazi Germany. Konrad Lorenz, the biologist whose experiments most of us studied in basic science courses, was a Darwinian and a Nazi who compared the "degenerative types in society to "asocial" cancerous cells that destroy the cellular structure. He wrote that in 1943 and as late as 1973 he was still writing that "our sympathy with the asocial defective whose inferiority might be caused just as well by irreversible injury in early infancy as by hereditary defects, endangers the security of the non defective."

Robinson writes that in place of Biblical Adam Darwinists have substituted a creature who shares essential attributes with whatever beast has recently been observed behaving shabbily in the state of nature. Genesis tries to describe human exceptionalism and Darwinism tries to discount it. From Malthus (an early influencer of Darwin) to Nietzsche to Darwin to Hitler to Freud the impulse has been to desacralize humankind. There is no place in this line of thought for the human soul, for that which makes humans different from animals. The Bible is so little known today that the works of Darwin's latest popularizers like Dennett and Dawkins go largely unchallenged. Similarly, Darwinism is so accepted today as fact that when we hear people talk about natural selection as the answer to everything human, we barely bat an eye. "The modern fable is that science (Darwinism) exposed religion as a delusion and more or less supplanted it." (Death of Adam, 71). "But science cannot serve in the place of religion because it cannot generate an ethics, or a morality... it can give us no grounds for preferring what is excellent to what is sensationalistic ... and that is more or less where we are now." (71)

The End of the World

According to some Christians, this could be my last post (not that many people would notice) because the rapture is supposed to happen tomorrow. Believing Christians will be taken out of the world as massive earthquakes terrorize those left behind. Over the next five months while Believing Christians enjoy the perks of heaven the rest of the world will endure hell on earth before the earth is destroyed in October. An article in the NY Times today shared the beliefs of a family in Maryland whose parents are committed to be ready for May 21 and the end of the world. The mom quit her job two years ago to go on her mission of spreading the news (good news?). The father kept his job with the federal government at the energy department. They stopped maintaining the house and saving for college for their kids who think their parents have gone slightly loopy. Yet, they go along with it helping their parents pass out tracts in NYC and playing along lightheartedly, like, Mom, do I have to clean my room if the world is going to end.

This doomsday prophecy is the work of self appointed prophet Harold Camping who owns a bunch of radio stations (Family Radio Network) and who has predicted the end of the world a couple other times. Now he says he has it right, exactly 7000 years after the Great Flood in Genesis. Not to spend too much time on Camping's exegesis or theology (dispensational pre-trib rapture which has been around only a short time considering the history of theology), the most interesting phenomenon is the numbers of Christians who are ready to follow Camping's prediction with a radical change of life. Thousands of people across the country according to the Times have spent the past few days making preparations and saying good byes. Tomorrow they will be glued to the tv so they won't miss it.

Now we could begin reflecting on Camping's prophecy and the mini exodus he has created by pointing out Jesus said no one knows when the end will come. Then, we could point out that most Christians throughout history have taught that Jesus is coming back to usher in a new heaven and a new earth, not to destroy the old one and take all the Christians somewhere else. The return of Christ is certain St. Paul said, so we should be ready any time and he exhorted us to be ready by living for Christ daily in the here and now which means you shouldn't have to change what you're doing. There are probably many reasons why some Christians hope to be raptured out of the world tomorrow, high gas prices being one of them, but that is not the way most Christians have read Scripture these past couple thousand years. So, tomorrow, I will be doing some yard work if the rain ever stops and maybe take a bike ride and if the tv is on I will be watching the Yankees - Mets baseball game. If Christ does return, I'll be ready.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

House Hunting

In the vast wasteland of cable tv programming, I still manage to find a few shows on which to waste some time. I rationalize that it is for relaxation before I go to bed (although when I read in bed I am usually asleep in minutes). Or, I tell myself I watch this stuff for the stories they tell. One such show is Househunters on HGTV. Every episode tracks a person, couple or family as they begin their search for a new home. They may be leaving their home and homeland because of a new job or a new relationship or to start a new life somewhere else. You meet these people and hear about their lives - at least a few minutes of their lives- and then you are invited into their search with a savvy realtor who is going to help them find the house that best meets their wish list. Some of the episodes follow Americans who are relocating to some exotic place like Mongolia or some tropical island where they will have to settle for much less than they are used to. Even many European countries offer an opportunity to downsize. Most of the shows however feature Americans who are moving within their own borders. They begin their home search with a wish list: big master bed room, upgraded kitchen with granite counter tops, large master bath, big bedrooms, bonus room, spacious dining and living rooms, and a deck/porch/secluded back yard for entertaining even it's just the pets that are being entertained. The helpful realtor is given the wish list and then he shows them three homes and he and we viewers are allowed to listen in on their critical thinking process. And it is critical, most of what they see they don't like. The kitchen needs upgrades (mostly those granite countertops), the master bathroom needs to be bigger, the closets don't come close to meeting the need for all their clothes, and the back yard is small or lacks privacy. All of the houses shown usually need work which adds on to the asking price which is already at the top of their budget. The impression I get is that these people come with a learned sense of entitlement. The American dream of home owning is one that expects you can own a new home or one with upgrades like a jacuzzi tub, hot tub and granite counter tops - just because you should. How dare some one try to pawn off a home that needs work or has a small bathroom. I feel sorry for the poor realtor who has to listen to their complaints many of which sound pretty petty. "Oh, the colors are awful." What, no double sinks in the bathroom?" I don't know if we can live where we can see the neighbors house from our back yard!" It makes you think that most Americans have a low threshold for suffering. I wonder if most home buyers are like that. It is tv, after all and reality tv is not always what it claims to be. So, I watch it with a grain of salt. Then, I go to bed, happy that I have a bed to go to. First, I turn down the heat, glad I can live in a heated home. When I get up and use the bathroom and take a shower, I am thankful for running water in our house. Then, I make my way to the kitchen which has a coffee maker that runs on electricity and as I sip my first cup it is with gratitude for my Mr. Coffee four cupper. I make my oatmeal on our electric stove and toast a piece of bread in our electric toaster and feel blessed I am not living in a tent. What else do you need? Watching Househunters reminds me what is really important. That's reality.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Dawkins on Life

I worked on a post for a while yesterday and today I got to work early to finish it - only to discover that Google Blogger had been down and nothing was posted yesterday! It was gone! Bummer! Joys of technology. In the old days I would have had my handwritten draft on my desk and commenced to rewriting with all its crossouts and dangers of wrist injury and cramped hands. I love word processing but technology does come with its own set of frustrations.

I was blogging about a book I'm reading called Darwin's Pious Idea by Conor Cunningham who is the assistant director of the Centre of Theology and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham, England. He has authored other books and wrote the BBC documentary, Did Darwin Kill God? which aired in 2009. He is a smart guy. This book is deep in science and philosophy and theology yet it is accessible to those who are not quite as deep - like me. In this book he takes on Richard Dawkins who wrote The God Delusion and is on a one man mission to make God irrelevant (which he believes He is already anyway - he believes religion is an illusion and the Church is the result of a virus in the human mind). He calls Dawkins and his cohort David Dennett ultra Darwinists who have not only got Darwin wrong but have badly muddled their forays into philosophy and theology as well.

In my lost blog I was quoting Dawkins to reference his beliefs regarding human nature that develop from his firm conviction that there is no god. I have not read The God Delusion but Dawkin's thinking process is quite amazing. Because there is no god, Dawkins substitutes the human gene as the primary cause of human growth and behavior. Actually it was the gene that came up with the idea of you. Our bodies, our lives, are merely vehicles to transport genes which have a life of their own to perpetuate. He wrote about this in his book, The Selfish Gene. So, what is at the "heart" of human behavior is not a heart or a spark of life but information technology (from The Blind Watchmaker). Though this might sound strange it has caught on in the popular imagination so that we readily speak about "how we are wired" to explain why we do the things we do. That is pure Dawkins. In fact, it explains everything, especially sex. For Dawkins men are made to sow their seed. Dawkins says: " a male can never get enough copulations with as many females as possible, the word excess has no meaning for a male." (from The Selfish Gene). So, the casual, recreational sex portrayed in so many movies is "just normal" behavior. It should be noted that Dawkins is not the only proponent of this point of view. It is standard evolutionary psychology doctrine. It is how we are wired and we are wired to perpetuate the species. First and foremost, British biologist Ben Greenstein says, "man is a fertiliser of woman." Interesting take on life and relationships. Keep these guys away from our daughters. Must be a fun group to hang with at the local pub.

And this is life for the Darwinian crowd. Here is Dawkins take on life before Darwin. Dawkins says: Intelligent life on this planet came of age when it first worked out the reason for it's own existence. If superior creatures from space ever visit Earth, their first question will be - in order to assess the level of our civilisation - Have they discovered evolution yet? Dawkins is amazed, as he says, that humans lived on earth for three billion years before the truth finally dawned on one of them. Of course, that one was Charles Darwin. Our savior. Darwin, Dawkins says, was the first human who put together a coherent and tenable account of why we exist. (from The Selfish Gene). Is this guy serious? With that one statement he disposes of Moses, Jesus, St Paul, St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Karl Barth, and so on and on. Who were they, chopped liver? I guess so. George Simpson in an issue of Science in 1966 wrote this stunning sentence when discussing the most important question that can be asked, What is Man? - Simpson said: " the point I want to make now is that all attempts to answer that question before 1859 are worthless and that we will be better off if we ignore them completely." Yikes, doesn't it scare the daylights out of you that these guys are running around out there and being mistaken for signs of intelligent human life! Sadly they are and their form of intelligence does have an impact on the rest of us. If this post gets posted - more from Cunningham's book on Darwin's children, sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. Or pick up the book yourself and make it your summer reading project!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Adult Sunday School

We were doing a study of Bible translations. It was adult Sunday School. Most Christians think Sunday School is for children so when you graduate from childhood you don't have to go anymore. How did we get this idea? I don't remember ever saying it. Maybe Christians don't think that. I just think they do. Maybe they think the Bible is boring or maybe they are intimidated by the Bible and they think that the adult Christians who do go to Sunday School must know a whole lot more than they do so they don't want to be embarrassed showing how much they don't know. Maybe most of their reading now that they are adults are manuals and forms for work and when they read for pleasure, if they ever do, it is internet reading which is like reading with ADD. Maybe they think they just don't have time, the time you would need if you were going to read God's Word! Now, that's an intimidating thought! What if I don't get it? What if I had to write a paper on God's Word and didn't pass? What if God looked surprised at how bad I did? And said, you can't come up here where I am until you get smarter about My Word? But, what if I did get it? And then left my job and became a missionary or pastor or an adult Sunday School teacher? That's risky stuff. Better off not rocking the boat.

So we are doing this class on Bible translation and as I hinted not too many adults came. Now, some were camping since it was the first nice Spring weekend we have had this year. Some were traveling with school sports teams or music teams. Some were off the island visiting family. This is graduation season from colleges. But even if all that was not going on we still would have had a small group, as I said. I was hoping for more people. It was a good study. The Bible is a cool book and it is fascinating to think about the whole translation process. I think, anyway. I would've thought God would've got the word out to people to be there. But, then I wish He and I were on the same page more often than it appears we are.

There are lots of Bible versions. It seems like there is a new one every year. Why do we need so many of them? I mean isn't the King James Version enough? I used to think so. Back when I didn't read the Bible much. Back when I didn't know why I would want to read the Bible much. Back before I knew it was such a cool book. Now, I read Bible commentaries for pleasure! Is that odd or what? How many Christians do that? Is it just a pastor thing? We have to do it for our work, for preparing sermons but no one else has to! But, I think it would be cool if they did. What if Christians were so excited about the Bible that they bought and read Bible commentaries for pleasure reading! Wouldn't that be something! But, somehow that is related to the question about why adult Christians don't go to Sunday School.

So, there are lots of Bible versions. And they are all pretty good. They fill a purpose. Some are for different audiences. Some try to capture the literal meaning of the words and phrases. Some focus more on communicating the meaning of the words and phrases. Words are pretty dynamic. Like what is the literal meaning of the word, key? Well if I am coaching basketball and I tell a player to get down to the key, he better know what part of the court I am talking about or he will learn the word bench real quick. But, if I tell my wife to remember the key when she leaves the house she will not be dismantling part of the basketball court to take to work. So, what is the literal meaning? There is none. The meaning of the word key depends on the context, the relationship it has with other words in the sentence. In Bible translation so many words are like that. They have a range of meaning. And different Bible versions capture part of that range. But, so often one English word just cannot convey what the original Hebrew or Greek means. So, it's good to use several versions to get the full meaning of Scripture. And there is all kinds of stuff going on in the Bible: puns, riddles, poetry, allusions, similies and metaphors and so on. Like, in John 10, which we call the Good Shepherd chapter in John, Jesus actually starts out by saying he is the gate to the sheepfold. Now, Jesus is not really a gate but good shepherds used to lay down and act like a gate to keep the sheep in at night and keep the bad guys or animals out. So, he is a gate in that sense. Just one little example of the richness of the Bible. Then, you have all the ways the Old Testament is woven into the New Testament. Why is Jesus called the Son of Man, or the Son of David? I mean there's a lot of this stuff you just don't get from reading a small portion of Scripture at the Sunday morning service.

There's a lot more to it. A lot more. And it is cool. So, maybe, just maybe, I will ask adult Christians that question, why don't you come to Sunday School? Then, maybe we will know for sure and maybe we can do something about it.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

In the News

The death of Bin Laden at the hands of an American commando team is the news this week. Trump's birther conspiracy theories have been forgotten. Even gas prices are no longer front page news. People seem to be either jubilant over Bin Laden's death or contemplative. There is a facebook posting gone viral that attributes a quote to Dr. Martin Luther King which is actually the product of a 24 year old English teacher in Japan who used part of a King quote which she added to her own thoughts. In this facebook/twitter age it's a good idea to always check your sources before reposting. There is another posting that links you to photos of a dead Bin Laden. But, this is spammish and if you click on it you have just sent it to all your facebook friends. Under your name which might make people think you would post something you would not. Used to be so much simpler to follow the news. And just talk to people about it.

There is no end to the Bin Laden media frenzy in sight and in addition to the media sources you can read what everyone else thinks of it, too. Thank you facebook/twitter. What did we do before we had access to everyone's instant, earnest thoughts on every subject of the day. Used to be you might talk about the days news with a friend or spouse. Now all your "friends" weigh in.

The weather is still in the news. Tornadoes in the South and flooding in the North. The Army Corp of Engineers blew a huge hole in a levee in Illinois to avert catastrophic flooding. Yet, in parts of Oklahoma they have not had rain in 122 days raising fears of another dust bowl. One town, Boise City, is down to about 1200 people and most of the downtown is boarded up. The funeral director doesn't have enough work so he had to open the town's only cafe. There are few jobs and people have to move to find work. Farms are not producing due to the lack of rain. To make matters worse, the state is completing a bypass that will divert the truck traffic around town further reducing the town's revenues. In the midst of all of this bad news, Huston Hanes, 87, who lived through the dust bowl has no plans to leave town. He told the NY Times, "We have had hard times before, but any place you go, you're going to have some adversity, he said with a shrug, "We don't have that many tornadoes."

Perspective is important in these days of adversity. Reinhold Niebuhr was no optimist but he was a realist like Huston Hanes. He lived at a different time with different challenges but his words ring true to me today.

"Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in the immediate context of history, therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness." (from The Irony of American History, 1952, and newly re-issued with a new foreward by Andrew Bacevich)

BTW, I double checked the source of the quote and it is 100% Niebuhr and 0% me. The Hanes quote came out of today's NY Times. The reference to the facebook MLK quote gone viral is from and the spam reference was from a personal conversation with my son. Whatever is left is mine.