I watched a show from NOVA about the battle between Intelligent Design and Evolution. Evolution won, which is good. We really don’t want to go back to the dark ages as far as science goes. Creation Science isn’t science. But at the same time, the battle between Evolution and Creationism always troubles me, a bit. We always want stories about how we originated, but what if we’re looking at it all wrong? Many Buddhists, for instance, don’t have a problem with Evolution. If we are evolving, we might as well affect that evolution as beneficially as possible. But I have also heard many Buddhists claim that evolution is still just a story we tell ourselves about ourselves. That’s not to say they believe in Intelligent Design, but simply that we are only viewing the surface of our existence when we talk about Evolution.
I have long been a proponent of Evolution and first came across the idea that Evolution is a modern myth in a Shambhala Sun magazine. I don’t remember wrote the article now. I wish I had kept it because it was another one of those punches in the stomach. The author of the article wasn’t trying to discredit Evolution, he/she was simply trying to put evolution into perspective.
There are certain levels where science and rationalism are absolutely spot on. But there are other levels that science and rationalism cannot claim. These levels are not irrational, they are transrational.
I’ve had a book by Vine Deloria Jr. for years and finally got around to reading it after watching the NOVA film: Evolution, Creationism, and Other Modern Myths. He has a knack for busting American prejudices and I think he may be right that the current battle between Creationism and Evolution exists because of something most of us have failed to notice: both are based on the exact same cultural bias.
I think this is exactly what Nietzsche was calling our attention to over 150 years ago. The Western notion of an abstract God/Reality is dead, yet no one has noticed! Not the fundamentalist theist nor the atheistic scientist. Both are still stuck in the same mindset that was handed down to us through medieval Christianity and that mindset no longer serves us! Deloria says the following set of absolute beliefs have been uncritically accepted by science and that they have reistricted our intellectual horizons for over a century:
- Monogenesis – the idea that all life must come from one source, held to be a creator in religion, determined to be an arbitrary, unseen process in science.
- Time as real and linear – derived from Christian theology and uncritically accepted by science as the uniformitarian, homogenous passage of time.
- Binary thinking – derived from Aristotlean logic (either/or) and Christian missionary zeal (“those not for us are against us”)
- Stability of the solar system – nothing has changed in our solar system since god created it or produced our sun.
- Homogeneity and interchangeability of individuals – we allege to believe that all atoms and particles are the same, and that all humans are equal – derived from Christian theology and Greek philosophy. (Read any popular article on science today, and you will find these assumptions taken for granted – without the slightest hint that perhaps they are mistaken.)
Deloria goes on to say, “It may be possible to formulate a new understanding of the world that is not Darwinian, but to do so we must move from these pointless confrontations and let the data speak for itself. We already have a massive amount of data on how things act. Do we need to have a story on how they became what they are? Deep down, since we have no way of knowing, could we not simply admit that the question itself is impossible and invalid?…Do we need a beginning to make sense of the world?”
That is an excellent question. It is only Western society that insists we have a beginning to our story. When the Evolutionists are asked about a beginning on the witness stand, they claim they aren’t interested in the beginning, only about how things have changed. Deloria claims this is a bogus claim. The entire premise of Evolution requires a beginning and a linear progression of time.
The Ancient Greeks don’t claim a beginning. Their story is one of constant creation – societies coming into and going out of being. Perhaps there is a sort of evolution going on, but there isn’t an end. Once we finally make it to the golden age, we are destined to make our way through the darker ages again. That’s Nietzsche’s three stages (camel, lion, child). The stages never actually begin nor do they conclude. It’s an ongoing process of becoming.
Deloria says we need to ask ourselves: “What is the nature of our ability to understand the natural world?” He sites three levels (which reminds me of how Huston Smith has dealt with this subject). At the micro level, Western science has had the most spectacular success. This is all of the stuff that is smaller than us – the atoms, DNA, RNA, etc. At the micro level, scientific formulas work because we have so much control over the data. The macro level comprises everything larger than us: space, weather patterns, continental plates. This is the opposite of the subatomic level because, unlike the micro level, we have no control over the data we are observing and have to accept what it is the universe gives us.
At both levels, time and space have little meaning. They are just handy mathematical devices we use to describe what is otherwise completely meaningless to us. It is the meso level that is the most difficult to comprehend. This is the level where everything is “man-sized” and where the critical element is participation. Participation necessarily alters experimentation and Deloria says we should honestly admit that we have virtually no objectivity at the meso level because our participation in the experiment alters the outcome. Everything we say or think about the meso level is therefore subject to cultural blinders. We should not assume science has the same success on the meso level as it does on the micro and macro levels. That science refuses to recognize its blinders at this level has made it the reigning religion of today. Its basis is belief, not unbiased empirical data.
Heisenberg warned: “When we speak of the picture of nature in the exact science of our age, we do not mean a picture so much as a picture of our relationship with nature. We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” Deloria says that much of what passes for scientific certainty is simply the personal belief that entities exist because they help explain mathematical equations. And what we Westerners call religions in other cultures (Buddhism, Shinto, Native American spirituality) is often far more empirically based and less biased than is Western science. We Westerners, on the other hand, were converted to monotheism by force and coercion which required a manipulation of belief and we have yet to let that manipulated belief go – even within science.
It’s a very interesting argument!