Amazing gibberish

Renew America, the bizarrely, deeply, weirdly conservative web site founded by Alan Keyes, really had to struggle to find someone crazier than Pastor Grant Swank and Fred Hutchison and Bryan Fischer and Wes Vernon (let alone Alan Keyes himself), but they have succeeded. They have Linda Kimball writing for them. She has written the strangest history of evolutionary biology ever — I think she was stoned out of her mind and hallucinating when she made this one up. It’s called “Evolutionism: the dying West’s science of magic and madness“. The title alone is enough to hint at the weirdness within, but just wait until you read where evolution comes from.

Though taught under the guise of empirical science, naturalistic evolution is really a spiritual concept whose taproot stretches back to the dawn of history. It was then, reports ancient Jewish historian Josephus, that Nimrod (Amraphel in the Old Testament) used terror and force to turn the people away from God and toward the worship of irrational nature. Moving forward in time to the Greco-Roman world, evolution serves as the mechanism of soul-transference in metempsychosis and transmigration of souls. In the ancient East, the mystical Upanishads refine evolution and it becomes the mechanism of soul-movement in involutions, emergences, incarnations, and reincarnation. In that both rationalist/materialist/secularism and its’ counterpart Eastern/occult pantheism are modernized nature pseudo-religions, it comes as no surprise that evolution serves as their ‘creation mythos’.

It’s a little surprising that Josephus isn’t regarded as a member of the Greco-Roman world, but I had no idea that I was teaching about metempsychosis and reincarnation. The students are going to be really shocked when I put that on the exam next year.

Kimball’s grip on the history of the last century is no better than her understanding of prior millennia, either.

Today, in addition to original Darwinism — which many scientists have already rejected as useless — there are three other versions of Naturalist evolutionism: neo-Darwinism, punctuated equilibrium, and panspermia, the notion that life was seeded on Earth by highly evolved beings either from another planet, or from another dimension. The latter two versions are favored by powerful Transnational Progressive New Age occult insiders such as Marilyn Ferguson, Robert Muller and Barbara Marx Hubbard as well as by channeling cults who are excitedly ‘receiving revelations’ from discarnate entities calling themselves the Space Brothers, the Council of Nine, Transcended Masters, and more recently, the ancient Ennead of Egypt.

Uh, neo-Darwinism is Darwinism with genetics and population genetics; it’s an evolution of the original theory proposed by Darwin. Punctuated equilibrium is a much narrower subset of evolutionary theory that describes the distribution of observable change in a fossil lineage. It’s nowhere near the same footing or the same scope as neo-Darwinism.

Panspermia isn’t even on the radar.

How come the Space Brothers, the Council of Nine, Transcended Masters, and the ancient Ennead of Egypt never show up at any of the biology conferences I attend (is anyone else confused by the conjunction of “recently” with the ancient Ennead)? And they never publish!

Then there are the conspiracy theories. You knew there had to be conspiracy theories.

Whereas occult pantheism quietly flowed beneath ‘red-colored’ atheist-materialist-communism and Nazism during the twentieth century, that order is quickly reversing. Today, ‘green-colored’ occult pantheist-socialism is brazenly striding onto the world-stage in full public view while materialist-secularism slowly fades to black. Already, zealous High Priests and Priestesses of the occult arts are calling the U.N the world church and the world mind, while other madmen such as David Spangler, demand that everyone submit to a satanic-initiation to qualify for entry to the coming green New World Order.

Back away slowly, everyone. This one needs the tranq gun and the rubber room.

She seems to have confused us godless atheistic materialist evilutionists for a bunch of New Age wackaloons. And her bottom-line message is that we have to prop up good old Christianity, because otherwise the tree-worshipping Satanists are going to take over.

Oldie moldies that are pretty darned fascinating

The Royal Society of London is releasing free pdfs of some of its best-known papers — and we’re talking real classics. Check out their timeline which lets you scan for papers in chronological order; the oldest are a pair for 1666-1667 by Robert Boyle and Robert Hook(e), which will horrify modern audiences: they describe experiments in blood transfusions and examinations of the lungs in dogs. I would not have wanted to be a dog in 17th century London, that’s for sure.

One that is particularly interesting is this account of a new technique in preventative medicine from 1736: “An Account of Inoculation by Sir Hans Sloane, Bart. Given to Mr. Ranby, to be Published, Anno 1736. Communicated by Thomas Birch, D. D. Secret. R. S.” It describes the use of small pox vaccinations, and contains this prescient closer:

i-c3d1dd8193b134bc9e66f7ccc76364f2-inoculation.jpeg

He’s using “wonderful” in an archaic sense of “strange and astonishing”. And isn’t it strange that still today we have people fighting vaccination through “dread of other diſtempers being inculcated with it, and other unreaſonable prejudices”?

My favorite paper of the bunch, and the one that ought to be required reading for biologists, is The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme”. If you haven’t read it yet, you should…maybe right after you finish browsing the collection of olde curiosities on that page.

Hitler’s library

This is a fascinating article about Hitler’s library: he was an avid collector and reader, and part of his collection still exists, and you can even stroll down to the Library of Congress and ask to browse through the stockpile. The bulk of the books are about military strategy and tactics, and a subset are Hitler’s personal favorite light reading, cowboy stories. But there are also many religious texts that give insight into the way his mind worked.

Experts since then have been of two minds on the matter of Hitler’s spiritual beliefs. Ian Kershaw argues that Hitler consciously constructed an image of himself as a messianic figure, and eventually came to believe the very myth he had helped to fashion. “The more he succumbed to the allure of his own Führer cult and came to believe in his own myth, the more his judgment became impaired by faith in his own infallibility,” Kershaw writes in The Hitler Myth (1987). But believing in a messianic myth is not the same as believing in God. When I asked Kershaw in 2001 whether he thought Hitler actually believed in divine providence, he dismissed the notion. “I don’t think that he had any real belief in a deity of any sort, only in himself as a ‘man of destiny’ who would bring about Germany’s ‘salvation,'” he declared. Gerhard Weinberg, who helped sort through the Hitler Library back in the 1950s, likewise dismisses the notion of Hitler as a religious believer, insisting that he was driven by the twin passions of Blut und Boden–racial purity and territorial expansion. “He didn’t believe in anything but himself,” Weinberg told me last summer. Most historians tend to agree.

Some non-historians, however, have different views. In the 1960s Friedrich Heer, a prominent and controversial Viennese theologian, identified Hitler as a misguided “Austrian Catholic,” a man whose faith was disastrously misplaced but nevertheless sincere. In a dense, 750-page treatise Heer saw Hitler the Austrian Catholic at every turn: the nine-year-old choirboy catching his first glimpse of a swastika in the coat of arms at the Lambach Monastery; the beer-hall orator whose speeches resound with biblical allusions; the Führer of the Reich who re-created the splendor of the Catholic mass at the annual Nuremberg rally. Even his virulent hatred of Jewry found sustenance in those roots. Fritz Redlich, an eminent Yale psychiatrist, asserts in his book, Hitler: Diagnosis of a Destructive Prophet, that Hitler acted from a profound belief in God. Noting Hitler’s own words “Man kommt um den Gottesbegriff nicht um” (“You cannot get around the concept of God”), Redlich told me last summer that he was certain Hitler believed in a “divine creature.” He rejected suggestions that Hitler’s invocations of the divine were little more than cynical public posturing and insisted that we ought to take Hitler at his word: “In a way, Hitler was a terrible liar, but he was a tactical liar. In his essential line of thinking he was honest.”

I tend to favor the opinion that he was a lousy Catholic…but an even lousier atheist.

Happy Anniversary, Origin…some good news

Today is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and a few sites have taken notice.

A new science blog, The Whirlpool of Life, opens today.

CNN has published a brief retrospective from Richard Dawkins. It focuses entirely on “militant atheism”, which is odd since the book itself did not promote unbelief, but also indirectly appropriate, since the concept did end up undermining the argument from design, and contributed significantly to making god irrelevant.

And…that’s about it. No fireworks, no triumphant announcements, no scientists standing outside in candlelight vigils singing hosannas to Chuck. That’s about right, I think — it’s a great book, it made a difference in the intellectual world, but it ain’t religion, thank dog.

Ron Numbers—Anti-evolution in America, from creation science to Intelligent Design

Ron Numbers gave a brief history of creationism, reminding us that perhaps a majority of the people in the world reject Darwin, and he also emphasized a few facts in that history that many would find surprising.

There was no organized opposition to evolution until the 1920s, when it was marshalled by William Jennings Bryan, who was most concerned about the ethical implications of evolution. He made the point that the popular movie about the Scopes trial, Inherit the Wind, was historically inaccurate. One of the most memorable moments in the movie was when Darrow pinned Bryan down on the date of the creation to 4004 BC…but Bryan had no such preconception. The primary strain of creationism at that time had absolutely no problem with the age of the Earth, and Bryan plainly stated in interviews and speeches that he was a proponent of the day-age theory, in which the “days” of creation week were not required to be 24-hour modern days.

These early creationists had no bone to pick with geology at all, and were unperturbed at the thought that the world was hundreds of millions of years old. The two dominant explanations were the day-age theory, which stretched out the time-span of creation week to cover the whole of geological time, and gap theory, which argued that between the creation of the world mentioned at the beginning of Genesis, and the account of the 6 creation days, there was a long undocumented period of time in which geological history occurred. The latter model was also popular because it was presented in the Scofield Reference Bible, which specifically placed the geological column in a ‘gap’ in the account, and stated that the 6 days referred to the creation of Eden.

The dissenters from this position were a tiny minority, the Seventh Day Adventists, who were regarded as weird by the majority of fundamentalists. The Seventh Day Adventists credited a source of divine information other than the Bible, the prophecies and visions of their founder, Ellen White, who was the source of the idea that Genesis had to be describing a literal six 24-hour day creation occurring 6000 years ago. Her disciple, George MacReady Price, came up with the idea of wedging all of geology into the Noachian Flood. These were not popular ideas.

The mainstreaming of literalist creationism occurred in the 1960s, when John Whitcomb and Henry Morris wrote The Genesis Flood. It’s basically the same nonsense he Seventh Day Adventists were peddling, but Whitcomb and Morris were not SDAs, making it possible for conservative Christians, who regarded Seventh Day Adventism as a freaky cult, to coalesce in the formation of the Creation Research Society. These people had no ambition to convert the research community, but instead wanted to wean bible-believers away from what they considered the compromises of day-age and gap theory.

Another consequence of this shift was that it opened up hard-core creationists to a kind of hyper-evolution: they had to explain how a small ark of fixed size could contain all the animals in the world, so they had to postulate a small number of created “kinds” that diversified into new species after the flood, at a pace evolutionary biologists consider absurd.

In the early 1980s, these new, literal creationists got ambitious and started trying to push into classrooms by legislation, efforts that got stymied by major court decisions in Arkansas and Louisiana, which ruled that mandatory teaching of creationism was unconstitutional. One consequence of the Arkansas decision was that, when the creationists had been anticipating victory, they had begun assembling a creationist textbook. When they lost instead, they had to rewrite to remove the word “creationism” and replace it with “intelligent design”.

Numbers talked a bit about Intelligent Design, and argued that it was different from the previous version of creationism…but not in a good way, or in a milder way. The brainchild of Philip Johnson, Intelligent Design was far more radical than the previous iterations — Johnson opposed methodological materialism, and specifically wants to incorporate god into science. While arguing that ID is something new, though, he also made it clear that it is not because ID is a secular theory — it’s an extraordinarily religious idea, backed by religious proponents, and funded by theocratic extremists like Howard Ahmanson.

He ended by giving us the discouraging news that 65.5% of Americans believe in creationism, and that the movement is expanding beyond US borders to the Islamic and Jewish world, too. Bummer, man. He could have at least offered some hope for the future.

Dialogues with Darwin

Perhaps you don’t know this, but Philadephia has a very large collection of Darwin literature — it only makes sense, since in the early years of our country that city was the center of science and philosophy in the US. The American Philosophical Society Museum is having a major exhibit of those artifacts, so you should get down to Fifth Street and amble through. If you can’t make it (regretfully, I’m stuck in Morris for a while), they have an online tour.

Roger Ebert doesn’t review Creation

There’s a new movie coming out about Darwin that does something different: instead of talking about the science of evolution, it’s about Darwin’s personal life. Roger Ebert has seen it and offers a few thoughts on the subject matter (it isn’t a review, though!), and it sounds interesting — I’ll be seeing it if it appears in Morris, which isn’t likely, or when it’s available on DVD, which is much more likely. I’m not worried that it will provide comfort to creationists, but I am a little concerned that it may Hollywoodize history a little bit.

Ebert points out that it focuses on the difficulties he had with religion, and how it colored his marriage and work. I don’t know how well it represents reality, though. It’s a lens we use to look back on the 19th century, but it may not be entirely fair to Darwin’s views.

Fearing to offend his wife, he was shy about extending his belief to the evolution of mankind itself, but it is certainly what he privately thought. He denied being a atheist, but said agnosticism came close to reflecting his views. Apart from his research and ideas about science, that conflict in this marriage and with the conventional religious of his times was the most significant thing about him.

I have my doubts that the conflict with religion was a major issue with Darwin. He avoided it very effectively, and did not make public pronouncements on religious belief. He differed from his wife’s opinion, but here’s the thing: there isn’t the slightest hint in any of his writings that he was even tempted to disagree with Emma, and the impression I get is that at every step his priority was to accommodate his ideas with his wife’s beliefs.

Yes, I said it: Charles Darwin was an accommodationist.

I don’t think the most significant thing in his life was the conflict with religion at all — his family and his happy relationship with his wife and children was #1, and I don’t think ‘conflict’ was a word that applied (although, of course, it would have to be emphasized in a movie).

It also leaves something out: Darwin himself said that his greatest talent was as a businessman. Over his lifetime, he invested carefully and wisely and grew a small seed of money given at his marriage into a huge fortune. If anyone wants to sort out what contributed most to his scientific work, I think that fact should loom much larger than a slight tension on matters of religion in which he always deferred to his wife.