Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Cultural Myth

Evolution is more than a religious idea. It is true that religious concerns motivated evolutionary thinking in the eighteenth century Enlightenment period, but since then it has influenced a wide variety of fields. Science, philosophy, theology, history, law, public policy, journalism and education all substantially conform to an evolution-is-true perspective. This wide reaching influence makes evolution more of a cultural myth than merely a religious idea.

But the various fields that conform to evolutionary thinking do so at their own peril. When philosophers tell us that evolution makes for the right kind of inquiry and any alternative must be dismissed, they are dumbing down their own discipline. When historians tell us of evolution's progress they are creating history as told by the winner rather than the true history. When scientists tells us that the world must have arisen on its own, they violate basic scientific principles. When judges make law based on imputed motives rather than actions then the result is bad law.

Religious mandates from three centuries past are yielding their fruit. And it is a plentiful harvest. Today it is difficult even simply to keep track of the number of histories, theological doctrines, scientific hypotheses, philosophies, legal ordinances, media interviews and lesson plans that abandon common sense and logic in conforming to evolutionary thought.

This week, for example, Jerry Coyne recounts the popular myth of Galileo. The evolution-is-true rewrite of the seventeenth century Galileo affair goes something like this. Galileo discovered that the Earth, rather than sitting at the center of the universe, circles the sun along with the other planets. But he was persecuted by the church which was spurred on by scripture and the pride of humanity, both mandating that Earth must reside at the center of the universe.

And recently journalist Chris Matthews has taken to interrogating politicians about their allegiance to evolution, equating it with the scientific method. These absurdities from Coyne and Matthews are but a few samplings of a cultural myth that has become ubiquitous. Religion drives the culture, and it matters.