ON DARWIN’S 200TH ANNIVERSARY...?
CREATIONISM -EVOLUTION CONTROVERSY...?
"we know absolutely nothing about the texts we chew,
neither do we decide what we chew,
neither do we love or hate what we chew; we just do."
Machado de Assis, Dom Casmurro, P.34
What Evolution has done to Life Sciences was what once the Heliocentric Revolution did to Physical Sciences. The only difference, if there’s any, Evolution Theory has pitted Reason, more forcefully than before, against Faith. The new theory’s domain was smacked right into the heart of what Religions had long considered their inner sanctum and holy-of-holies: the miraculous advent of life, in general and human in particular, on earth with the story of Adam first and Eve next! Evolution theory took upon itself to first understand and then explain life processes, and to answer questions, which, until recently had pertained to the exclusive domain of metaphysics, such as: How to account for the newly discovered history of the world and how to reconcile it with the Scriptures’ versions of events, but more importantly how to explain the origin(s) and the beginning of life and its variety on earth. A wise-man once wrote: "To divide a thing with God is . . . to possess it." With such a leap of fact with a bit of imagination, Life-Sciences have quitted from being mere descriptions of reality and delved head-on into its visceral analysis. With new tools to poke into secrets, which had stubbornly resisted, to uncovering themselves. Such brazenness has ruffled the hackles of those keen on seeing themselves as keepers’ to the old order, and guardians of its soul. These folks have feared that sooner or later a blatant challenge, to the foundations and premises of the domain they long took to contain all the needed absolute and eternal truths. The threat to lose, in particular, the whereabouts of ‘Man’s’ advent on earth, and about life itself in general: its beginnings and its multiplication. But most of all the threat of relativism!
From the beginning of time until Darwin no one dared to challenge the long held mysteriousness of the origins of life. Darwin, more than any of the long line of mold-breakers and paradigm shifters, from Copernicus and Galileo, through Newton and Leibniz, and on to Humboldt, to mention only few, was the first to pose the question of where life came from, and thus has upset the conventional wisdom, and putting under questioning the order where humans stood in the overall scheme of things. With such quests, Evolution Theory was able finally stand humans in their proper niche in the continuous chain of living matter; and thus had pushed, so to speak, the Re-set button of life’s story anew! Man, qua human, is no more that special creation - in the image of God, as the Bible has put him, or as the best of creation as the Quran put it- but merely a loop in the chain, starting from the amino-acids at the bottom and on to humans at the apex of it. The implication of this shifting of the mother of all paradigms has still to be fully grasped. One reason why some entrenched interests are still fighting tooth and nail, a retrograde battle, to salvage the mythical narratives’ eclipsing under the crush of the wracking ball of science -in the process of exorcizing magic from the human story- only to set it up on a different trajectory from that followed so far.
The polarization of opinions and stands between those espousing Reason and those keen on preserving the millennial traditions have pushed further apart the two sides. It’s also kindled a cyclical revival for the reading of the Holy Scriptures literally - as well as to what’s meant and what is not meant- of how life came to be. The wave is still ebbing despite a century-and-half of natural sciences’ unrelenting campaign in collecting and arranging the jigsaw of the puzzle, as well as explaining how life came to be. For this as for myriad of other reasons, the controversy instead of subsiding slowly, has rather been accelerating. Furthermore, with more intrusive techniques and on the edge areas: of genetic engineering, cloning, and stem-cell research, etc. in the pipeline the fight has no other way to go except to pitching battles ahead! As human events ebb and flow so political vicissitudes will rage, here and there, to either intensify, as a strong wildfire, or just keep simmering under the surface until the time comes to explode. The dispute is not going anywhere soon, with flaring up, now and then, here and there, from the rough backwoods of the globe to the much more refined parts of it, no one is excepted, even in those carrying the mantle of civilization, and think of themselves as sentinels on the citadel of modern sciences and technology, as in the U.S. of America!
The crux of the controversy seems to be elusive and so far has escaped a precise definition. The vagueness as in all pervasive issues woks to the advantage of the opposing side, the conservatives. At times it seems to involve anything and everything dealing with life, period! From its miraculous beginnings, to its continuation discretely, in fits and starts, and its multiplication -following the Scriptures’ injunction: God doesn’t let life gets extinguished- to its manipulation (from in vitro fertilization, to cloning, to stem cells’ usage), to the holy-grail of them all (the making of life, ex novo, from the elementary components that went into it). Such ethical stands and challenges have brought, once again philosophy back closer to science while pushed Religion, as usual to oppose both!
A few examples will show there’s still a wide rift between the conflicting claims of Creationsim and Evolutionism! There’re still some doubts lingering in Evolution even in what otherwise vibrant and transparent societies. Creationism traditions are still standing in Reason’s path. The holy-than-thou crowed has never lost its dislike to progress in infringing on their traditional turf. In the USA, for instance! less than 50-years from Darwin’s death, down in Tennessee -in the center of the Bible Belt- there was the Scopes Trial, the so-called Monkey Trial, of 1926. John Scopes, a teacher of biology in High School, was accused of teaching evolution according to Darwin’s theory, which was banned by that State’s legislature for conflicting with the Bible’s story of Creationism. More than three-quarters of a century later, up in Pennsylvania -in the heart of the Rust-Belt- in Dover’s Trial of 2005. Some "Intelligent Design" advocates, helped by the Discovery Institute of Seattle, Washington, and a Professor of Biochemistry by the name of Michael Behe, of Lehigh University(PA), mounted a campaign to discredit the Theory of Evolution’s rank to a mere opinion. The Dover’s Trial did end in the same way the Tennessee Trial had done before: to lose once more. Science and progress, if not civilization itself, once more, have been rescued from the cunning of those intent on stifling anything, which, according to them, smacks of ‘heresy!’
If the Bible’s Genesis description was graphic, the Quran’s narrative of creation was more in the metahistorical vain. Furthermore, the Bible’s time seems to be bound by the 24-hours cycle, while the Quran’s time verges on the non-linear category. However, both share the same story of Adam and Eve’s advent on earth. Though the lore which had surrounded the first humans differs a bit in its details from one to the other -in the image of God, Original Sin, etc. in the Bible; the Quran rather bounces around these same details without specifics. The Quran redacted most of the descriptions of creation’s events, the Bible has in the Genesis’ narrative. Instead of the chronology of the Six-Day-Creation story, the Quran vaguely mentions some of these events, in a concise way, scattered here and there throughout its 114 Suras. Thus Quran appears to have left a wider latitude to its interpreter- than the rest of the holy-trinity- to expostulate on its exposition. Nonetheless, Muslims have yet to pose some of the vexing questions evolution has brought and implied, and which the rest of humanity still wrestling with.
While, both Bible and Quran have agreed on the descriptions leading to Adam and Eve’s advent on earth -the Creation Story said both were molded, in heaven, from dust (clay) and the soul (life) was miraculously blown into them- their practices throughout history and the present stands of their followers -vis-a-vis the beginning of life on earth- are, to say the least, still chaotic and uncoordinated. Science’s stretch to explain the perceived reality is seen, by Religions, as prelude to indulging in the realms of the unknown and the unknowable. In view of these, science is trespassing, the invisible barriers separating questions pertaining to sciences, what life is, from those transcendental questions pertaining to Religions, as life’s purpose and meaning. Muslims, perhaps more than others, still cling more forcefully to the notion that says not all phenomena in the universe are susceptible to rational explanations. They still prefer Religion’s rarified character than indulging themselves into the fray of cause-effect’s tediousness of the concrete. To these folks, Religion stands guard against the unwanted consequences of Science’s unrestrained advance into realms far above pale of human Reason, of explaining life’s minute details, and the attempt to muster life itself from the elementary particles hurling around in the universe.
It’s fair to say that cultural patterns of denial were not exclusive to any particular group, creed, or level of development. Culture undercurrents seem to feed on the vulnerabilities so pervasively in man, and which had driven him to hang onto illusions of his own making, than on the strengths to ponder the unknown. This had given way to multiple hang-overs, from the early ages down the slippery lane to our own days, not only to sow but also to cling to an alternative reality -as attractive and as seductive as it may be- which consisted in fanciful yarns and elusive myths that still condition human memory, since they made themselves part and parcel of the fabric from which the stuff of history was woven. Until it became virtually a stubborn second nature! It’s becoming extremely difficult sidestepping the mythological understanding of the world without a prolonged and costing fight.
The matter with Religions was never in their existence per se, but in the exclusive allegiance they demand and in the sweeping brush with which they painted realty, as either/or, in black and white. Organized Religions’ leading of the multitude through the thick and thin of times, in their journey had made themselves integral part of the cultural stew. Beyond the rituals and daily practices, there are also the ideological stands and overtones of the interpreters of these Texts in bringing, first to the understanding of the world, and second to its manipulation. Religions’ total encroachment on life’s have left no room for other competitors; even the state, for all practical purposes, fell under their auspices. Until they became state itself, with trappings, regalia and all. This power grab necessitated perhaps to prevent any claimant strengthening thus their grip to enforce their dictates. But the appropriation of power directed mainly to monopolize knowledge in all of its forms both of the Hereafter and the here-and-now. Until they became truly wholistic systems. As all wholistic systems to maintain their grip n power, they have to ward off any vacuum left open. Thus brought another phenomenon, Religions, just as states, don’t welcome precedent setting events, for their domino potential effects. Hence the tendency of Religions to favor the so-called reconstrutionists’ exegesis, in most of recorded history, on the time-bounded deconstructionists’ dispositions and expostulations.
Today the literalist interpreters of the Bible still insist on dating the age of earth -and what is in it- to be no more than 6,300 years, when Natural Sciences -geology and biology in particular- have found that age to be in the billions of years. The question that begs itself: Who to believe the storytellers or the scientists -and how to bridge the ever widening abyss between Faith and Reason? What makes matters a bit unsettling is the fact that Scientists can demonstrate their contentions, while the clergy can only repeat what is in the Scriptures! Worse Faith’s tendency to blur the boundaries between premises and conclusions has made Reason’s syllogistic acrobatics more appealing. Sciences, unlike Religions, have no way to survive if hadn’t sloughed the tour de force, specious reasoning of the non-sequitur type characteristic of religious expositions, which are in the habit of reaching conclusions without questioning the premises. In part due to the persistence of that old cliche, which say there are two sides to the coin. Polarizations fed the duality further. The dichotomy between Religion and Science has only re-enforced the perhaps mistaken belief that they’re doomed to irreconcilability. The structural rift between Faith and Reason is here to stay.
Islam has lagged behind contemporary civilization. The Arab world, as the hub of Islam, is still in slumbers. Arabs are left hanging in limbo between an illusive past, no longer providing any true frame of reference, and a delusional present. Without Islam’s Reformation, it would be almost impossible to expect modernization to integrate a backward and religion-bound society into the main stream of civilization. Modernity is synonymous with modern sciences and technology. These are still in suspense, hesitantly imported only to be superimposed on arcane and archaic forms of frayed culture and its decayed scaffolding. If Arabs want to enjoy the fruits of sciences and technology, and not only their crumbs, they must embrace their logic. Accepting science and technology wholeheartedly and without the reservations still lingering about their consequences. Notwithstanding the fact that science and technoloy were never value free -from the cultural values of their makers- their neutrality and objectivity reside in adapting them to the specific contextual circumstances, with the proviso that will always be a matter of degree. It’s unfortunate that the advent of science and technology to the Arabs had come with their objectivity tainted by the stink of Western domination and Imperialism, but their future shouldn’t hang on being purged from that legacy. Being cautiousness to adopt and adapt to such value ridden human products doesn’t warrant the wholesale rejection for the rest of the basket of modern knowledge.
The persistence of traditional modes of seeing and thinking in the Arab World have reinforced further cynicism. The structural weakness of their Humanities curricula in the various educational systems of the Arab World have only made things worse. The hodgepodge and wishy-washy that still characterized Arabs’ approach to modernity, could only be attributed to the lack of a deep understanding of what it means to be human. What does it mean to be human ain’t sciences’ pursuit or quest. But without the notion about what are life’s pursuits and objectives, it’d be extremely difficult for anyone to strategize individual and thus social needs and priorities. Arabs’ modernity, was no more than the juxtaposition of the modern on top of the archaic, which so far has aggravated the already chronic problems with new ones, and thus has also added to the confusion and apparent lack of direction in these societies to grapple with modernity and its demands.
Texts never existed in a cultural vacuum. The milieu makes all the difference in the world. Despite Quran’s apparent wide latitude, it has not mollified the rigidity of cultures it joined. This raises an important question: If Religion cannot be set aside, then how where its proper place? In placing sciences curricula side by side religion’s indoctrination, without any attempt to reconcile some of their rough edges must only add to the confusion of young minds. For example, how to deal with Evolution Theory and Creationism? Are they exclusive or reconcilable? Adam & Eve’s story versus Primates trudged parenthood? Et cetera . . . In training and educating future scientists -scientists, physicians and engineers- the objective is not only to prepare them to face their world, with open and critical mind, but also to be cognizant of the still contradictory stands and unsolved problems. Clarity of mission leads to the clarity of mind first. Good education requires the grain to be sifted from its chaff before the process of training has started. To this day, for instance, as far as can be ascertained, scientific education, in a country like Libya, has no clear set goals nor objective criteria to evaluate it, nor metrics to measure its progress. Chaos in the sciences, as in politics, roams rampant in the ‘State-of-the-Masses!’ There is not method to Qaddafi’s madness. In the same vain, no line in the sand has ever been drawn between what’s and Caesar’s and what’s to God’s; or between what’s to Religion and what’s to Sciences. Therefore, no true scientific quest can be embarked on in that country. To teach Sciences and Religion in the same breath is play with young minds, by adding mud to already muddled and confused minds. Coherence is the first requisite in training young minds. Irreconcilability and incoherence to the nascent minds add nothing but lack of seriousness on the part of those responsible for their education.