Archive for Darwin

Early Challengers to Creation Myths

Posted in Atheist, belief, humanity, life, nature, random, religion, science, thoughts with tags , , , , on March 8, 2010 by chouck017894

During the early 1800s the long-held notions of humankind being a special creation began to be seriously questioned by the general public.  Openly questioned were such things as why there were so many different species of plants and animals, how had they originated, and why would God indulge in such extravagant diversity?   The public interest was as though such questions had never occurred to anyone before.  The theory of evolution was alien to the public, and the priestly explanation was that nature was an orderly and elegantly harmonious system that functioned under divine law.  Even naturalists of the time explained that all species were purposefully adapted to the places for which God had destined them—a weak variation of God’s ambassadors who had always claimed that everything was due to divine intervention.  But they neglected to explain why, if a species was “perfectly adapted,” had God found it necessary at times to intervene and cancel some species.

One of the great landmarks in mankind’s exploration of the living world was the discovery that all things—plant or animal—were composed of cells.  In 1838 Mathias Jacob Schleiden, a German botanist, described how all plants were composed of cells.  At nearly the same time a German anatomist, Theodor Schwann, found that cells were the basis of all animal tissue.  The truth of cell composition being the basis for all life was set firmly into place in 1864 by the French scientist Louis Pasteur.  His experiments demonstrated conclusively that every cell—even the smallest bacteria—is the product of other cells.  The secret of life was shown to be the creative power that is held in the infinitely tiny, self-replicating, self-sustaining biochemical energy of the cell. 

While scientists were discovering the cell to be the basic unit of all life, it was a naturalist who advanced the theoretical conclusion that the cell was the origin of all life as well.  That was Charles Robert Darwin who advanced the theory of evolution by natural selection in his book The Origin of Species in 1859.  Needless to say, there was much uproar, especially among the devout, for the theory was an apparent contradiction of the supernatural explanation offered in holy scripture.

The Aristotelian concept that nothing ever really changes was embedded so deeply in man’s taught religious view of life that the evolution theory was deemed blasphemous.  Nonetheless, such men as biologist\scholar Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) and German scientist Ernest Haechel (1834-1919) were strong champions of organic evolution.  Biblical creationists found themselves disorganized and numbed into near silence as men such as these contributed their theories to textbooks which would inspire and instruct new scientists who would throw open the doors to remarkable discoveries in the twentieth century.

In the 1900s  new discoveries in astronomy stimulated people’s rethinking about the evolution of life.  The atmosphere of the planets Saturn and Jupiter, it was discovered, had no oxygen, but was composed of methane and ammonia.  This got astronomers, naturalists, philosophers and others to wondering if Earth had once been similar to those planets before the advent of life.

In the 1920s two independent researchers published papers on how organic compounds could have arisen out of such conditions.  One was a Russian biochemist, A. I. Oparin, and the other was J. B. S. Haldane, a British biologist.  Both had reached the same conclusion independently that organic compounds could have been created by vast amounts of energy generated by the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation upon such an atmosphere. They pointed out that another active principle in activating life would have been the tremendous electrical storms that repeatedly charged the atmosphere over millions of years and the compound would become charged with self-replicating properties.  The supernatural explanations so long offered by religious myths began to crumble under provable demonstrations of cause and effect.

And yet even in the closing days of the twentieth century so rich in technological wonders the stubbornly “faithful” remained convinced that it was all due to Intelligent Design and some being saying “Let there be….”

Taking the Fun Out of Fundamentalism

Posted in Atheist, Bible, culture, faith, history, random, religion, thoughts with tags , , , , , on January 17, 2010 by chouck017894

Fundamentalism is the belief in some old “sacred” literature—usually composed by authority-hungry authors—as being literal truth and factual historical record which commonly includes elements regarded as uncontroversial prophecy.  In Christian fundamentalism, stories from the Jewish Torah are used as a springboard for the doctrine of Creationism, blended with such “miraculous” accounts as virgin birth, the physical resurrection of a world savior, and his anticipated physical “second coming.”

With such unnatural and improvable assertions accepted as fact, there was set in place the basis for unswerving and unalterable principles of religious-philosophical belief.  Unfortunately, unswerving belief and rigidity of a doctrine does not insure its value as truth.

The Christian fundamentalism that we see today in the early 21st century America took root in the early 20th century as a movement to counter the Darwinian evolution theory and the threat of liberal (nonjudgmental) theology.  It was around 1909 that a group of protesters began circulating a publication called The Fundamentals that avowed five key points regarded as holy and fundamental.  1) The infalliblity of Scriptures, 2) the Virgin birth of the Son of God, 3) the physical resurrection of Jesus, 4) Jesus as replacement in atonement for mankind’s sins, 5) and the return of Jesus in a judgmental rendezvous.

By 1925 the frenzy of fundamentalism was so infectious that a teacher in the state of Tennessee—J. T. Scopes—was brought to trial for teaching the science-based theory of evolution.  In the so-called “monkey trial” the teacher was convicted for exposing his pupils to truth.  The fundamentalists took strength from the verdict and throughout the rest of the 1920s attempted to rid churches and schools of any scientific inquiry of what they regarded as the perverse modernism of evolution. 

Fundamentalists found their cause a bit more challenging than they liked and through the 1930s, with the broader public snickering at them as extremists and anti-intellectuals, they began to pull apart, settling into various independent churches or becoming splinter denominations.  In the next decade, however, the fundamentalists attempted a new tact to attract wider following: they would present their belief in a pseudo-scholarly way, and the movement became referred to as neoevangelicalism.  It was a tact that picked up steam to develop into the political steamroller that now flattens a broad swathe across rationality in 21st century United States.

If nothing else, the fundamentalists do know how to kick up a fuss and present a facade of righteousness—just as the “prophets” of the Old Testament intentionally disturbed the things as they existed and sought to change them for their own ends.  All this was obsessively indulged in and fertilized by persons with inflated egos (Billy Graham comes to mind), and in the 1950s they discovered television and the wealth it could siphon in.  By the 1970s the fundamentalists were worming their way into electoral and legislative politics, and waxing profusely against secular humanism and happily passing judgment on such things as communism, abortion, feminism, homosexuality, and the constitutional safeguard of separation of church and states affairs. 

The exercise of control is the fundamentalists’ aim, theocracy their goal.  In that pursuit they have found it convenient to discard many teachings of the teacher as presented in the earliest New Testament books.  They claim to be devoted to a government based on Biblical examples—Old Testament blood and guts style—being careful to stifle its many glorifications of inhumane conduct, wars, deceits, enslavement and injustices that allegedly met with God’s approval.