HOW OFTEN do we hear some variation of: “No wonder we have problems these days. As long as those Darwinists teach our children they come from monkeys, they’ll behave like monkeys.”
Let us politely overlook the fact that such a statement is virtually a confession of brain-death, and then consider how we can respond to such a stunningly ridiculous statement.
Numerous responses are possible — good, rational responses. We could point out that there have always been misbehaving children, even — gasp! — before Darwin. We could point out that we didn’t really “come from monkeys,” or whatever today’s comic-book version of evolution might be. But such responses don’t impress the creationists, so what else can we say?
Let’s dig down and pull out the creationists’ central allegation so we can deal with it directly. What is their central allegation? It’s this: Whatever you teach a child about his origins, that’s exactly how he’ll behave.
When it’s isolated like that it sounds rather silly, yet that premise lies at the heart of creationists’ “They’ll behave like monkeys!” objection. If you tell a child his origins are glorious, he’ll be glorious. If you tell him the opposite (like he comes from monkeys) then he’ll revert to depravity. Whatever you tell him is the controlling factor. That’s the creationists’ premise.
Also, as an additional feature of the creationists’ central allegation, it appears that telling the truth about a child’s origins doesn’t matter. The only thing that counts is what the child is told. Ideally, he should be told the truth, because consistency is a pleasant thing. Thus, a man who is told the truth of his humble origins, like Ben Franklin, will remain a humble tradesman all his life; and a man who truly knows of his splendid Imperial lineage, like Caligula, will inevitably be a tribute to his ancestors. Right?
But even if what a child is told isn’t true, he’ll behave in accordance with whatever he’s told. Regardless of ancestry, everyone who is told that his ancestors were great will become great; and everyone who is told that he has humble — or apish! — origins will never rise above that status. The only thing that matters is what a child is told — or so the creationists claim.
We hope you agree with us that none of this makes sense. We all know that there are numerous examples of people rising above their known origins, or descending far beneath them. What a child is told about his ancestry — even when he’s told the truth — obviously doesn’t control his behavior.
Let us consider what we all know, even without the theory of evolution. Everyone knows that if we trace our ancestors back far enough we’ll find some bad people — maybe a horse thief here and there, perhaps a wanton woman, that sort of thing. Go back further and our ancestors were all pagans. Certainly at some point they were barbarians, and before that they were savages, perhaps even cannibals. We know this is our ancestry, even if evolution were never dreamed of. Not only do we know this, we teach it to our children.
But so what? Does anyone, upon learning our history, decide to be a savage or a criminal? Or a pagan? Even in these days of endlessly stupid excuses, no criminal defends his actions on the grounds that some of his long-ago ancestors were criminals.
We all agree that in the recent past our ancestors practiced slavery. Yet we teach that past, proud of our progress, and we have no fear that our children will run out and become slave traders. Similarly, a few thousand years ago, our ancestors were pagans and savages. We teach this too, without fear that mere education will cause the children to run out and imitate their ancestors. Well, there are new-agers dancing around Stonehenge, but studying history didn’t do that to them.
Why don’t we fear that if we teach the past, it will rise up and reclaim us? Because it’s a foolish fear. We have always taught history, yet it never happens that our children go crazy as a result and decide to regress to an earlier time.
If teaching about events from 5 generations ago (slavery) doesn’t ruin our kids, and teaching about events from 5,000 years ago (paganism and savagery) doesn’t ruin our kids, where’s the danger in teaching that 5 million years ago, our very distant ancestors weren’t yet human?
We can certainly be influenced by our parents, because we know them and learn from them; but the primitive behavior of our extremely distant ancestors is meaningless regarding the kind of people we choose to be.
Source note: The theme for the foregoing comes from Chapter 21 of Darwin’s Descent of Man:
The main conclusion arrived at in this work, namely, that man is descended from some lowly organised form, will, I regret to think, be highly distasteful to many. But there can hardly be a doubt that we are descended from barbarians. The astonishment which I felt on first seeing a party of Fuegians on a wild and broken shore will never be forgotten by me, for the reflection at once rushed into my mind — such were our ancestors.
Man may be excused for feeling some pride at having risen, though not through his own exertions, to the very summit of the organic scale; and the fact of his having thus risen, instead of having been aboriginally placed there, may give him hope for a still higher destiny in the distant future. But we are not here concerned with hopes or fears, only with the truth as far as our reason permits us to discover it; and I have given the evidence to the best of my ability.
Hey, biologists understand evolution, and even they don’t behave like monkeys.
Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.