I grew up with a healthy suspicion of religious extremists and their bizarre concerns. I was raised in South Africa, where the main white Christian church stood solidly behind apartheid. They said apartheid was based on the Bible and ordained by God. Although religion can drive a noble cause, like anti-slavery, it’s often used to further all sorts of malevolent agendas.
So naturally, I am no great fan of America’s Christian Radicals — Pat Robertson, Dobson, and the like — and their attempt to smuggle religion into our schools’ science curriculums under the guise of Intelligent Design. I started nodding fiercely as I read these wise words, excerpted from a piece by Verlyn Klinkenborg (yes, that’s really someone’s name) in the NY Times:
The universe is perhaps 14 billion years old. Earth is some 4.5 billion years old. It’s been approximately 3.5 billion years since primeval life first originated on this planet. The oldest hominid fossils are between 6 million and 7 million years old. The oldest distinctly modern human fossils are about 160,000 years old.
The truth of these numbers has the same effect on me as watching the night sky in the high desert. It fills me with a sense of nonspecific immensity.
Humans feel much more content imagining a world of more human proportions, with a shorter time scale and a simple narrative sense of cause and effect. But what we prefer to believe makes no difference. The fact that life on Earth has arrived at a point where it is possible for humans to have beliefs is due to the steady ticking away of eons and the trial and error of natural selection.
Evolution is a robust theory, in the scientific sense, that has been tested and confirmed again and again. Intelligent design is not a theory at all, but a well-financed political and religious campaign to muddy science. Its basic proposition – the intervention of a designer, aka God – cannot be tested. It has no evidence to offer.
Accepting the fact of evolution does not necessarily mean discarding a personal faith in God. But accepting intelligent design means discarding science. Much has been made of a 2004 poll showing that some 45% of Americans believe that the Earth — and humans with it — was created as described in the book of Genesis, and within the past 10,000 years. This isn’t a triumph of faith. It’s a failure of education.
There is a destructive hubris, a fearful arrogance, in that myth. It sets us apart from nature, except to dominate it. It misses both the grace and the moral depth of knowing that humans have only the same stake, the same right, in the Earth as every other creature that has ever lived here. There is a righteousness – a responsibility – in the deep, ancestral origins we share with all of life.
It’s really bad, children. Christian Radicals make us the joke of the civilized world. It’s bad enough that the U.S. has the death penalty and Neanderthal healthcare, but being plain STUPID DUMB IDIOTS … jeez. How long will we allow our brains to be hijacked by these well-financed troglodytes? Somehow, 45% of us believing the world was created like Genesis says, and us being plagued by obesity, and us having cosmetic surgery on our vaginas — perhaps even us making “pre-emptive” war on a country as non-threatening as Iraq — it all seems connected.
I don’t know how, but I instinctively feel it does. Maybe on a more basic level than the obvious one, which is that of sheer dumb-assery.
What might this level be? The unstoppable march of a collective dumbing down, fueled by the profits to be made out of a know-nothing, buy-anything citizenry? Jingoistic pride in the total oblivion of ignorance? Countless decades of commodity fetishism, which make a few of us materially rich, and the rest of us culturally deprived?
There really is a failure of education in our country. We are raising a greedy elite on the one hand, and an exceedingly stupid peasantry on the other.
Our airwaves are full of dumbass propaganda, like the local Pravda we call Fox News, lapped up by us average folks, and manufactured for us by elitists like Rupert Murdoch.
We eat shit, we watch shit, we think shit. Are we, among the industrialized nations, the biggest consumers of shit? Yes, we appear to be. Where else do 45% of the people think the world was created according to that scientific book Genesis?
Protestant Christianity, a religion that served us so well (much better than Catholicism served South America), a religion that made us a nation of hard-working, Yankee-ingenuity starters-up of many new things — has it metastisized into something weird and anti-American? Will it lock-step us into a future that will keep us from stem cell research, so we end up having to buy our science from India and Korea?
How can a nation like us, who has led the world in technological advances, allow ourselves to fall behind others in science? Why are we sitting this one out, and watching other nations graduate scientists like fleas on our corpse, while we’re still debating evolution?
It’s time for our nation to call the Christian Radicals what they are — people who are as bad for our freedoms as Islamic extremists are for Muslim countries. Christian Radicals are our Taliban, our blowers-up of Buddha statues, our anti-science Luddites, our anti-progress haters of modernity.
They are a cancer. A virus. A galloping disease that threatens to destroy our natural health and future greatness.
They must be fought tooth and nail. Some millionaire should start financing a 24/7 media attack squad on Christian Radicals. These spreaders of the Dumb Plague want to take us back to the Dark Ages, and they’ve got rich dudes funding their fundamentalism.
Where are the pro-science rich dudes to turn back this attack on our tried-and-true values of scientific enlightenment and progress? The ideas of these Dumb Plaguists will not only impoverish us intellectually, but economically, too. Science breeds wealth. These radicals will make us poor.
Are we going to sit back and watch the Christian Radicals make our entire nation as backward as they are?
(Enjoyed reading this? There’s more stuff like it at Adam Ash.)