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Author of this essay:

Ming Zhen Shakya, OHY
(Oct 6, 2005)

by Ming Zhen Shakya

"For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction," said Isaac Newton. The concept is unambiguous; it's identifying the action that often presents problems in clarity.

Christian anti-Evolutionists are pushing hard to have Intelligent Design, their version of the origin of the species and the descent of man, inserted into the public school curriculum. An assortment of opponents have begun to push back.

Unfortunately, many of these opponents are misperceiving the nature of the action; and so they're failing to apply that "equal and opposite" force that Newton's 3rd Law stipulates. Worse, in a very real way, their efforts are serving to increase the very force they are trying to oppose.

The Christian anti-Evolution antagonists, currently spearheaded by TV evangelist Pat Robertson, insist that the material world is too complicated to have fashioned itself and must, therefore, have followed a set of divinely drawn plans and specifications. They are uncomfortable with the idea that human beings have a lineage that traces back to wriggling protozoans in the primordial biosphere. Those of us who would be proud to have such relatives cannot imagine why this should be so upsetting. Nevertheless, that is what is bothering them, and so they seek to have their Biblical pedigree legitimatized.

The equal and opposite of a lie may be a contradicting truth, but Intelligent Design is religious dogma and, as such, does not allow for equal and opposite anything - except another religious dogma. It is not a claim that science should even attempt to refute. Things that lend themselves only to belief can be opposed only by other things that lend themselves only to belief, and Evolution is not a belief.

In order to use Evolution's scientific evidence to counter the claims of Intelligent Design, Evolution must be reduced to religious dogma; or, conversely, Intelligent Design must be elevated to a competing scientific explanation for material existence. It is the latter alternative that has inspired Christian anti-Evolutionists to cajole school boards into introducing Intelligent Design into public school science classrooms. Scientists, accustomed to thinking about things in logical terms, usually present their objections instructively. They want to educate the anti-Evolutionists, and rigorously to explain the descent of man by citing a century's worth of evidence adduced in support of Darwin's discovery. Naturally, this is precisely what the proponents of Intelligent Design want them to do. The presentation of an argument creates the notion that there is a debate about Evolution. There isn't.

What is in jeopardy here is not science, but law. On purely Constitutional grounds, lawyers, not scientists, should be trying to prevent religious doctrine from being introduced into public education. The issue isn't teaching Evolution. The issue is teaching religion.

Science needs to take a lesson from the actions of the good people of Dover, Pennsylvania.

When the citizens of Dover viewed the problem, they did not see it as Darwin versus Genesis. They saw it as the insertion of one religion's beliefs into what should be a religion-free public school system. The School Board, whose job it was to see to it that the barrier between public education and private religion should not be breached, allowed it to be breached. In response to this dereliction, the people voted the School Board out of office. This wasn't a victory for Science. It was a victory for Law. Religious citizens who wanted to preserve the integrity of their own religious beliefs saw the wisdom in preserving the separation of Church and State.

When the issue remains one of Constitutional Law, what can Pat Robertson and Company say in rebuttal? Can they say, "The People have spoken"? When scared religious fanatics are confronted by the Constitution, they cannot pound their chests and bellow, "In God we trust!" because that assertion is precisely imbedded in the Law. When elected officials take their Oath of office, they vow to preserve and protect the Constitution, "so help me God." When it comes to the Constitution, God is on the side of Law, not the 700 Club. In Dover, it wasn't because the School Board members believed in Intelligent Design - or because the people didn't - that caused the School Board to be defeated. It was because they failed to do the job they had laid their hand upon a Bible and swore to do, i.e., to preserve and protect the law of the land.

After the Dover vote, all Pat Robertson could do was to act like a child who had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Sans cookie, he closed the lid and hissed that Doverites better not ask God for help when they needed it... because "they had rejected God." This came as news to the religious folks of Dover.

Although Robertson's inane response served to sustain the people's objection, foolish is not necessarily impotent. This was a setback for him and his cause. To forestall another such embarrassment, they will surely revise and strengthen their efforts. The anti-Evolution Christian juggernaut will keep coming, and the scientists who instinctively oppose it need to understand that they cannot do so by launching a juggernaut of their own. No matter how perfectly constructed and elegantly designed their machine is, it is a puny and pathetic toy in the path of that powerhouse of fanaticism. It will be a cold day in Hell when scientific cogency defeats religious zealotry. Ask Galileo.

When scientists consider mounting a juggernaut defense, they might want to keep in view certain aspects of the force that is militating against them:

First, money. It takes money to fuel and maintain a machine. The Christian proponents of Intelligent Design have very deep pockets; and the Scientists do not.

Any large and prosperous religious group already has a built-in advantage. They can deduct from their income taxes the money they donate to their religions. If they have an ambitious evangelical agenda, they can then use that money to further their own religious causes - by media control or by supporting at every possible level of government - from school board to senate - the political ambitions of persons whose beliefs replicate theirs. If this were not enough - and it certainly ought to be - they can simply tell an elected representative that if his agenda is not consonant with theirs, they will find a way to vote him out of office.

The money problem extends also to all pro-Evolution spokesmen who serve, to any degree whatsoever, at the pleasure of those who may be proponents of the religious agenda. A young teacher, for example, may find himself denounced "from the pulpit" and out of a job if he disseminates a truth that his overseers regard as heresy.

Second, organization. By definition, a religion is an organized group of people who share a single body of belief, an existing message which they are so motivated to spread that they will pay dearly for the privilege of doing so. A science is not an organized group of people, especially a group that works together for a common goal. (People who believe that it is have never spent five minutes in a faculty lounge.)

Third, motivation. A creationist fervently believes that God is going to reward him with eternal glory for his efforts. A scientist can look forward to receiving a little peer applause for his witty or cogent refutation of pseudo science. Let's weigh these expected benefits: God and eternal joy in Paradise on one hand and the fleeting approbation of colleagues on the other. These rewards are hardly in the same league.

Science is in essence cerebral and religion is in essence emotional, a kind of logos versus eros. Emotion is something religion has plenty of and science prefers to be without. Religion sees things in terms of salvation and damnation, good and evil, divine and human - all big-ticket items any one of which can incite a mob to violence. Science proceeds usually by seemingly "nickel and dime" discoveries - the anatomical differences between Indian and African elephant ears.. how far bees fly - important but hardly the stuff that rouses the common folk into staging support rallies.

But misperceiving the nature of the force they seek to oppose is still the greatest disadvantage scientists face. Intelligent Design has nothing to do with Evolution as such. It is simply a doctrine jury-rigged to hold in place the members of a group.

People who have not yet become spiritually independent must, almost by definition, resort to the security of the Herd. They need to congregate, to gain the comfort and sustenance of a group environment. They need to belong, to be connected, to have friends and see themselves reflected in the eyes of others. There is nothing abnormal or unusual about this. There are times when a person feels insecure and needs to reach out and feel the comforting touch of others.

Religion understands this very well. This is why religions use familial appellations. Joining a group means being given, figuratively speaking, a family coat-of-arms - a new and honorific escutcheon. Such congealing titles as Mother, Father, Brother, Sister are all spread about to keep the wealth securely in the family. If a person failed in his previous secular identity, he can procure a new "inclusive" name when he joins the group.

Often the need to gain such group support is temporary, and when life's stresses are relieved, the person feels strong enough to leave the group environment.

But for those persons who persist in requiring the safety of the group-herd, it then becomes necessary to maintain their allegiance to the group and to do so in a way that encourages their continuing financial support.

All people, but particularly those who feel insecure, harbor negative shadow feelings. When people seek refuge in a religion it is usually because they are combat-weary, sick to death of daily conflicts with family, coworkers, neighbors, or even their own bad behaviors they developed to help withstand the constant warfare. They do not leave years worth of anger, fear, and resentment at the refuge's door. Those hostile feelings remain immersed in the heart; but they are not dormant. Their force, de profundis, is in no way attenuated by the familial breezes that waft across the coronary surface.

In all group activity - no matter how elite the membership or common the purpose - there is an ever-present danger of infighting. If left untended, a group may implode in internecine strife, i.e., by the members projecting their individual shadow elements upon each other. It therefore becomes the function of the pastor or leader to gather all the individual shadow elements together and then to cast them outside of the group onto some hapless individual or group. Race, religion, nationality, economic class - any target is a good target if it serves as a receptacle for this venom. Common hatred is the glue that holds a religious group together.

If a target has grown stale, such as witches, hippies, homosexuals, feminists, or communists, a new target is easily created or an old one, such as "Darwin's theory of Evolution," is revitalized. This is done in all religions.

Fundamentalist Christians have not cornered the market on spleen-projection. (Buddhists could easily see this poison in many postings on chat lines - a problem which, at long last, the moderators are beginning to correct.)

But there is more that scientists need to appreciate before they try to engage in combat with religions. They need to appreciate the fact that religious leaders are well aware of the dynamics of group action.

It is no secret, for example, that the Vatican is much annoyed with the U.S. of A. Americans of any religion tend to be litigious, but Roman Catholics, particularly in response to priestly child abuse, have depleted many diocesan treasuries with awards granted to compensate the damages done them. (regarding this annoyance, see our essay: Cross Purposes http://www.zatma.org/Dharma/zbohy/Literature/essays/cross1.htm )

We have seen how in recent days a few Vatican spokesmen have entered the debate about Intelligent Design in a way that, at the most charitable, can be called "trouble making." They know precisely what they are doing. They are professionals.

If science should not pit itself against a religion's beliefs, even less should another religion enter the debate by pitting itself against those beliefs, unless, of course, it, too, has a hidden agenda.

After the Dover vote, the Vatican weighed into the debate by "siding" with Science.... sort of. Vatican astronomers denigrated Intelligent Design as an explanation for material existence; but the official position was somewhat muddled when Cardinal Poupard, Head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, noted, "The Genesis description of how God created the universe and Darwin's theory of evolution are perfectly compatible, providing the Bible is correctly read. The fundamentalists want to give a scientific meaning to words that had no scientific aim," he explained, adding, "The real message in Genesis is that the universe didn't make itself and had a creator."

I, for one, am relieved that they took such a clear, decisive stand.

What surprises me is that the Vatican ostensibly directed its oracular pronouncements to American Roman Catholics - as if these Catholics were either scientifically "challenged" or in danger of succumbing to Pat Robertson's proselytizing contagion.

Expanding the problem to include inter-religious debate serves only to strengthen the position of Intelligent Design proponents. For now, not only have they garnered the support of their own group, they stand to glean the support of those who despise the intrusive religion. People will interpret an oracular statement in any way that suits their "comfort zone." And those Protestants who despise the Vatican will be inclined to be less harsh with extremist propaganda. (The friend of my friend is possibly my friend; but the enemy of my enemy is definitely my friend.) It is an old story.

When competing religions voice their argumentative opinions, the pros and cons adhere to the opinions' source - not to the merits of the argument.

And when the people of Dover, Pennsylvania, stood in the path of that fundamentalist juggernaut, they recognized the force's action and formulated an equal and opposite reaction. They placed in its path the majesty of the Constitution

There was no contest.

Humming Bird
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