From the earliest days of this humble blog, which is primarily about The Controversy between evolution and creationism, we’ve written about the reasons for our opposition to creationism — see Enemies of the Enlightenment, and also The Infinite Evil of Creationism. We’ve tried to make it clear that our opposition isn’t to religion, per se, nor even belief in some miracles — see The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Miracles.
Our concern is for preserving the Enlightenment and the benefits it has brought us. Despite our tolerance of them, creationists always claim that those of us who advocate science are at war with God and morality. We’re not aware of that as the actual motivation for any scientist, despite some intemperate things a few may sometimes say in their understandable exasperation.
We think the underlying conflict is very much like one we have experienced before. Consider the transition from humanity’s original way of life, hunting and gathering, to the subsequent improvement provided by agriculture and the domestication of animals. It wasn’t easy. For millennia there were battles between societies that practiced the traditional way and those that adopted the new way. History is filled with such accounts. Societies whose culture and accomplishments we admire were continuously at war with what they described as barbarians — those who retained the old nomadic ways of hunting and gathering — and of course, pillaging.
If a barbarian who regarded himself as a great hunter wandered into an ancient city, with its markets and merchants, where abundant goods were available, his abilities were of no use at all. The skills and rituals he learned as he grew to adulthood, and of which he was proud, were meaningless in an urban society, where he was regarded as hopelessly ignorant. He must have felt such attitudes as an assault on everything he valued. Antagonism was inevitable.
Echos of this ancient transition to urban society can found in the tale of Adam & Eve, who acquired forbidden knowledge. They were expelled from the Garden, where their existence is nostalgically recalled as effortless, and condemned to till the soil — “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.”
Historical accounts of conflicts between urban and hunting societies are numerous. We all know about the barbarian invasions and the fall of the Roman Empire. Probably the last significant time this conflict occurred was in the American West, where the newcomers, with their farming and ranching, were opposed by the original inhabitants of the land, whose culture was based on the virtues of a hunting society. The old ways don’t yield easily to the new, in spite of what we now see as their overwhelming advantages.
As it was with the conflict between the ancient culture of hunter-gatherers and the new culture of farmers and ranchers, so it is with our new methods of thinking now firmly established as a result of the Enlightenment, of which science is but one — albeit the most outstanding — example. The old way of thinking was the foundation of earlier societies. All their values are rooted in pre-Enlightenment modes of thought. Although followers of the old thinking live among us, and benefit from science, history teaches that old ways don’t easily yield to the new. As the hunter resented the city-dwellers, so too does the creationist resent the scientist.
And so, dear reader, although we must be vigilant and uncompromising in order to preserve what we have won, perhaps we can allow ourselves some sympathy for those still trapped in the past — who, like a bewildered hunter wandering through a Babylonian marketplace — must surely feel lost in a strange new world. Nevertheless, when the barbarians are at the gates, we gotta do what we gotta do, and of course we can never have sympathy for the charlatans who prey upon their followers’ confusion.
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