On this Point, I Differ with Dawkins...
Meanwhile, dingleberry Bush exorts us to pray that there are no more hurricanes. (Yeah, read my lips, Mr. Man Upstairs: No New Hurricanes! God, go directly to your room and stay there until I call you! There you are, Mr. President; that is how it is done.)
Truly, I am going to disagree with Richard Dawkins on a small point regarding the importance and the significance of the choice of believing in creationism versus accepting the theory of evolution, as he states his position in an interview with Bill Moyers.
MOYERS: To what extent is this important? I remember the story of the professor who was talking about evolution in class, and the student raises his hand and says, "Professor what difference does it make if some distant grandfather of mine was an ape?" And the professor said, "Well, it would make a difference to your grandmother." But other than that, what is the practical consequence of presuming this?
DAWKINS: Well, I'm not sure about practical consequence. I take a rather more poetic view that when you're in the world, and you're only in the world for a matter of some decades, to have the privilege of understanding where you came from, what your antecedents are, what the reason for your existence is, is such a magnificent privilege. That not to have that, even if it doesn't actually help you in practice, even if the knowledge and understanding of evolution doesn't actually help you to do whatever you do, and you play football, or be a businessman, or whatever it might be.
I am going to argue (and I do think that Dawkins would agree with me) that there are, indeed, very practical reasons for why it matters what one chooses to accept as true. The reason, as it applies to evolution, is not unlike the old adage, "Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it." Well, those who would write our past for us, in direct defiance of scientific fact, are in fact interested in controlling our future.
I am not a scientist, and I grew up quite differently than Richard Dawkins, although it seems that we arrived at atheism via a similar path. My childhood was engulfed by religion and as a result I was exposed to creationism from day one and am less surprised than Dawkins by what is happening in America today (though not less appalled, I'm sure, than he is), and because of this I think I can see the immanent danger more clearly than would he.
Creationism is not mere ignorance, although well-meaning people buy into it due to ignorance. Creationism is, however, a profoundly political idea. Its purpose is to limit and direct the human imagination toward that which serves those who stand above the flock and have ambitions for controlling our jobs, our money, our efforts, and even our private lives. Creationism extends its tentacles into every aspect of one's existence, even into one's thoughts, even controlling the kind of horrific nightmares that a nine-year-old girl can have (or the scary dreams sometimes still experienced by the forty-one-year-old woman that that girl has become).
Creationism does this and, like Judas, it does it with a kiss! Creationism has wide appeal precisely because it sounds so "nice," because it is a superficially "beautiful" idea to those who inexplicably find the fact of our being related to every other living being on earth to be repugnant. Having grown up around people who do shun the theory of evolution with such a visceral disgust, I think that I see creationism's real-world education of the American people in--rather than just as a result of--fascism, more clearly than does Dawkins.
At this point, I need to say something about myself. I do not consider myself to have been well served by the schools that I attended; I am largely self-educated. Unable to stand the other kids with their violence and their noise (I saw drug use in school, and violence, and teen pregnancy, and was the target of bullying), I shut myself away at a young age and read everything that I could get my hands on. That high level of self-motivation, and a certain street-wise cynicism--remember that I do not have a car and thus must take the bus or walk alone at night--has given me the remarkable ability to know when I am being sold a bill of goods, or when I am in danger, even if I don't know exactly how I can know.
And when I hear or read what creationists say, that alarm bell goes off long and loudly. I know they are not telling the truth, even if I cannot figure out if they are outright lying, or are simply and genuinely mistaken. I know that they are telling people what they want to hear not to help people, but to control them, even if I cannot parry their every assertion with facts about evolution from memory. I know that I am in danger, even if I do not know precisely what that danger is.
However, I can speculate as to what this danger is: Creationism breeds incuriosity. If "God did it," then that's it. End of story. Also, creationism breeds a certain fatalism: "It's God's will that my child died, or else it's my fault." In addition, and this is the most important point, creationism makes the human mind extremely malleable. Creationist arguments confuse rather than persuade, and therefore, one's thought process develops a high tolerance for rationalization, for contradiction, and for compartmentalization--all of which, by the way, are common coping mechanisms of those who commit heinous acts (like serial killers, or mass murderers, say).
I do not have proof of this at the moment, but I would go so far as to say that the creationist movement in America is a deliberate and ingenious effort on various fronts (be it Young Earth Creationism or Intelligent [sic] Design) to train Americans to rationalize in such a manner as will be needed in the future to support a mass movement, just as the Brown-Shirt style of the verbal abuse of guests on Fox News trains Fox viewers how to dehumanize and excoriate others in the service of this same mass movement. Yes, we are being groomed, ladies and gentlemen, for a mass movement in this country, one that very well could require us to do violence against each other. Don't believe me? Consider the Iraq War. Who hungered for that? Who beat the drum so vociferously for that? Was it just the President of the United States, just the miliary, just the genuflecting media, or wasn't it really the American people themselves, and aren't the majority of American citizens, the ones who did not oppose this war from the beginning, truly to blame?
I am not gratified that the war is so unpopular in America now, being that I sense that it springs not from a suddenly acquired ability to think critically, but from popular disappointment that we did not kick Iraqi ass hard enough. The same people who are now willing to accuse the President of lying about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (which he did and still is lying about) are not willing to accuse the President of lying about science (which he did and still is lying about) when Bush advocated the teaching of Intelligent Design! So, so much for the "betrayed" American people playing Hop on Bush; George W. Bush is the idiot that we chose, against Dawkins' reasonable advice, to order us around a second time!
Poor Richard Dawkins was good enough to be surprised by the response, by the “sheer naked hatred” in the letters and the e-mails that he received from the good citizens of Clark County, Ohio, who subsequently voted for Bush out of sheer spite. (And are they sorry now? Have they apologized to Dawkins for their shameful and cowardly threats? No, they blame Bush, now! It’s never our fault.) I submit this as one early manifestation of the burgeoning mass movement that I mentioned: this constant antagonism that we Americans routinely carry in our hearts, day in and day out. We are the most violent nation on earth, and yet we subscribe to beliefs of such yucky sentimentality! We believe in such sickeningly maudlin things as angels, miracles, a personal Jesus who helps us with our morning workout, puppies that can talk, penguins that can dance, etc., and then we shoot guns at each other, run each other down on the street, beat each other up on the playground, and send threatening missives to a guileless scientist as if he were Einstein and we were the Third Reich! Is this not a good example of how ordinary Americans are becoming inured to our own totalitarianist leanings?
Dawkins is correct, of course, in everything that he tells Bill Moyers. He goes on to say:
Yet, you die impoverished. You die having not had a proper life if you have failed to understand what's on offer. And what's on offer today, in the 21st century, is a huge amount, far more than any of our predecessors in previous centuries had. And so I think it's rather like saying, "What's the use of music? What's the use of poetry?" They may not be useful, but what's the point of living at all if you don't have them. To me, that is firmly planted in the real world. The real world is so wonderful that I don't want more than that. And I think there is no more than that. But anybody who thinks they want more than that, I'm inclined to say, "How could you possibly want more than the real world? If you only you could understand how grand and beautiful and immense, and yet still incomprehensible the real world is. How can you want more than that?"
Obviously, my quibbling with his answer is on a small point--but an important one, I think. The struggle about evolution is a life and death struggle, I think. It is really a fight about the future, just as the struggle about abortion is really a fight not for the "unborn" but for the distant goal of being able to dictate who can have children at all, and for the right of elites to prevent certain women from bearing children (for proof I refer you to the bill introduced in the Indiana legislature by Republican Senator Patricia Miller requiring women to file a "petition for parentage" to guard against "unauthorized reproduction").
Dawkins hosted "Root of All Evil?" a two-part television show that was too short for the amount of material that it attempted to cover. In it, he attacked "the process of nonthinking called faith," and for his courage I applaud him. He is so close to the answer--and yet I must add this caveat: There is a lot of thinking behind the nonthinking of faith. It is not rational thinking, but plotting; the participant in fascism, who willingly surrenders his or her individuality, paradoxically does so for purely individual and selfish reasons, in order to fulfill unacknowledged needs that are neither spiritual nor beautiful.
(Think about it--why do people join these repulsive mega-churches in order to have a "personal" relationship with God? They don't want a personal relationship, with anyone; members of a mass movement rarely care about each other. They want to have an impersonal relationship. They want to disappear to themselves, to join some amorphous mass in which, no matter what the group does, nothing is ever anyone's fault!)
Fascism doesn't just happen. I don't agree that the various creationist movements that have sprung up in America are simply grassroots efforts--that is a part of the myth being sold to us along with creationism. Participants in fascism always believe that they participate freely, and they are always wrong, for in fact they indulge themselves in their need to be controlled by an authority, which obligingly absolves them of their personal responsibility. No matter how many soccer moms there are jumping around to pop tunes in American mega-churches, and who will tell you how "liberated" they feel, it is the few at the top who control, direct, and will ultimately benefit from the future that they have already written for us.
And while I have the greatest admiration for and gratitute to Richard Dawkins, I think that he has a certain naïveté about human motivations, and in this innocence--which arises out of his natural honesty and decency, and which does him credit--he does not see how truly evil the intentions of certain people can be.