Stranger Fruit

Following on from earlier postings (here, here and here) what follows is the fourth and final part of the talk. Enjoy!

Creation History?

To emphasize my assertion of the danger of Creationism to nonscientific areas, it is worth noting that Creationist scholarship outside the sciences is equally as suspect as their science (as will be demonstrated in later chapters). If Creationists wish to write textbooks, they are likely to contain gross errors, sloppy scholarship and indeed blatant deception. I have already mentioned their treatment of Darwin, and the origins of Marxist thought. Morris’ works The Long War Against God and History
of Modern Creationism
offers an insight to the treatment of history and philosophy by the ICR. In particular, I want to examine Morris’ treatment of the scientists Charles Lyell, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck & Julian Huxley.

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, we are told “hated the Bible and Christianity.” We know surprisingly little about Lamarck’s personal life and views, as he did not leave an autobiography, diary or any correspondence. As Burkhardt notes, his contemporaries left only fleeting glimpses of him, and remain dumb on his personal beliefs. Morris’ comment is unreferenced, and we are given no means to ascertain its source. A little detective work, however, provides some information.
In their 1961 work The Genesis Flood, Whitcomb & Morris provide the following support, attributed C,.G. Gillispie, who featured it in a Scientific American article in 1958 “No less severe was [Lamarck's] philosophical hostility amounting to hatred for the tradition of the Deluge and the Biblical creation story, indeed for everything which recalled the Christian theory of nature.” The quote however is actually from the French literary figure, Charles Augustin Sainte Beauvè, who was writing
in his 1834 novel Volupté The Sensual Man. This work is a semi-¬autobiographical psychological work which deals with the period before Sainte Beauvè’s birth in 1804,and is centered around the period 1796 to 1805. In it, the main protagonist describes attending Lamarck’s lectures at the Musée de Histoire Naturelle. Clearly, Sainte Beauvè could have had no first hand knowledge of Lamarck’s lectures at that time (it was in 1800 that Lamarck first lectured on his mechanism for evolution), and Morris’ use
of this fictional piece as an historical statement of Lamarck’s philosophy is clearly flawed. In this light, it is worth noting that Gillispie describes Sainte Beauvè as ‘no biologist” (a fact that cannot have escaped Morris), but who best caught the “spirit of this philosophy” a philosophy which, to Gillispie was “a medley of dying echoes: a striving toward perfection; an organic principle of order over against brute nature; a life process as the organism digesting its environment; a primacy of fire, seeking
to return to its own; a world as flux and as becoming” – no mention for anti-Christian belief, nor of hatred. I suppose that this only proves that you get out of a text that which you put into it. Morris wants to see Lamarck as an anti-Christian, and is willing to use a fictional account to prove his point, akin to a student who uses the musical version of Les Miserables to argue that the peasants behind the barricades spent their time singing of their woes.

As is admitted by all scholars of Lamarck (and even Morris), he was a deist – a believer in a deity who set up the rules by which the universe ran but never subsequently interfered with the system in a supernatural manner. While deism is not the theistic literalist belief in the Bible held by Morris, it is obviously not necessarily indicative of any hatred of Christianity. Lamarck made many references within his publications to his perception of the deity and it’s relationship with nature. He would talk of “an
infinite wisdom … the wish of the sublime Author of nature … the supreme power, creator of all nature … the will of her [nature's] sublime author … the powerful AUTHOR of all that exists”. For Lamarck, the universe would not have come into existence without the action of this deity. God had unlimited creative power, and nature was not the totality of physical matter, nor was it the final cause, for that was God. In so believing, he held the traditional Christian view that God was himself totally separate from
nature. He saw that laws had necessary effects, and laws had no possibility of changing except at the will of the Creator (and this he did not do). His mechanism of evolution particularly attributed the apparent progression from simple life forms to more complex ones, to “powers conferred [on organisms] by the supreme author of all things.” In short, we have little reason to accept Morris’ assertion and his implication that Lamarck was a fiery atheist and radical – of which, there were many at the time and in
the years to follow.

In a further attempt to revise the history of biology, Morris states that it was “[Charles] Lyell’s deliberate intention to prepare the ground for evolution by publishing his Principles of Geology, leaving the theory itself to be promoted by someone else at a later stage.” He was “motivated primarily by hatred of the Bible” and was a believer in “the evolutionary theories of Jean Lamarck, the French botanist who was bitterly anti-Christian.” Lyell, we are told, “may have been persuading [Darwin] toward
evolution” and may have been responsible for Darwin’s abandonment of Christianity. He was “motivated at least as much by hatred of the Bible as concern for science”. We are left with the image of yet another anti-Christian evolutionist. Lyell was the British geologist who was primarily responsible for pioneering uniformitarian geology (as opposed to its catastrophist predecessor).
Lyell’s work, Principles of Geology, was first published in 1830, going through eleven editions before his death. It is clear from reading this work that he was not an evolutionist and that if he did “prepare the ground” for Darwin’s biological evolutionary theory, it was most emphatically not his “deliberate intention” to do so. A number of scholars have highlighted the opposition Lyell felt to French transformist ideas, and some have pointed out that it may have been from Lyell’s negative review of Philosophie
Zoologique
that Darwin first seriously encountered the works of Lamarck. Like many before Darwin, Lyell was an essentialist, that is he believed in unchanging eternal essences that were the animal groups we see today. To an essentialist, change cannot happen – squares cannot change into triangles, and apes cannot change into humans. In Lyell’s view, all nature consisted of constant types, each created at a definite time -

“It is idle … to dispute about the abstract possibility of the conversion of one species into another, when there are known causes, so much more active in their nature, which must always intervene and prevent the actual accomplishment of such conversions.”

As Ernst Mayr rightly points out, in no place does Lyell tell the reader the nature of these causes that prevent change. Clearly, Lyell in the 1830’s believed that species could not change and therefore, by definition, he could not have been an evolutionist. Even fifty years later, he felt that the creation of each species was a carefully planned event, occurring so as to allow the species appear for an appointed time in an appointed place. Lyell, like all
deists of the time, saw a universe of perfect and wise design, one that was totally under the control of natural law, and he was very much situated within the Palyesque tradition of Natural Theology. As he stated in Principles – “in whatever direction we pursue our researches, whether in time or space, we discover everywhere the clear proofs of a Creative Intelligence, and of His foresight, wisdom and power,” and this comment remained in all eleven editions of the book that Lyell oversaw. In Principles,
he retained a somewhat attenuated version of the Noachian flood, but believed that there was nothing to invalidate the opinion that the whole earth had been flooded in the past three to four thousand years. By the tenth (1867-’68) edition of Principles, Lyell gave tentative support to Darwin’s ideas but remained opposed to the idea that mankind was descended from beasts. He would however admit that man’s hope of finding an “ideal parentage” was illusionary, yet in so doing, he would appeal to a sudden
discontinuous (saltative) origin for humankind, in an attempt to preserve his belief in the human soul, a stratagem shared somewhat by Wallace and Pope John Paul II.

Clearly, Lyell was a deist who believed in limited supernatural intervention, a global flood which was not responsible for the totality of the geologic column, and discontinuity between man and the rest of nature. While his uniformitarian geology greatly influenced Darwin, he cannot be perceived as advocating evolution or planning a path for the development of Darwin’s biological ideas. Morris’ assertions stem from his willingness to see Lyell as a non-believer and thus as an ‘evolutionist’. Like Lamarck, Lyell’s
deistic beliefs were different from those espoused by Morris, yet they were not indicative of evolutionary beliefs.

What then was Darwin’s debt to Lyell? Several works have shown the importance for Darwin of Lyell’s work as a theoretical and methodological model. To Lyell, geology had an preferred model for explaining observable phenomena and deciphering the Earth’s history – a model which involved the study of present processes, assuming they were characteristic of past times, and using those processes to explain how the present geology of the Earth came into being. This model (termed ‘actualism’) is favored by geologists
to this day. It was this idea, teamed with Lyell’s advocation of vera causa (a “true cause” that can be demonstrated between an observation and a physical force) that attracted Darwin, and led to him explicitly applying the ideas of his early geological studies and eventually to his biological observations.

Lastly, Morris emphatically states that Julian Huxley was “probably more responsible than any other single individual for the so-called ‘modern evolutionary synthesis,’ or ‘neo-Darwinism’.” A brief review of the relevant literature makes it obvious the modern synthesis cannot be attributed to the efforts of any one individual above others. It is true that Huxley, the grandson of Thomas, coined the phrase “modern synthesis” in 1942. As Depew & Weber
note, his book Evolution: The Modern Synthesis was only one of a series of works published during the 1930’s and 40’s which announced the genetic theory of natural selection, and heralded the acceptance of Darwinism. Other works of note included Theodosius Dobzhansky’s Genetics and the Origin of Species (1937), Ernst Mayr’s Systematics and the Origin of Species (1942), and George Gaylord Simpson’s Tempo and Mode in Evolution (1944). Other important figures included Sergi Chetverikov,
J.B.S. Haldane, Ronald A. Fisher, and Sewall Wright. Ernst Mayr himself expands this list to include Bernard Rensch and Lenyard Stebbins (among others). The historian of science, William Provine lists fifteen works as being the “major works of the synthesis”, all published between 1930 and 1954. Three of these are indeed by Huxley, although it must be noted that two of these are works in which he served as co-editor. Provine highlights the fact that Dobzhansky felt that Chetverikov, Fisher, Haldane and Wright
(all geneticists) “may be considered founders of the modern analysis of evolutionary phenomena”. Naturalists have rejected the attribution of the important works to geneticists, and as Mayr notes, the evolutionary synthesis was far more complex and many-stranded than literature on the history of genetics alone would indicate. Clearly, Morris’ bland assertion is problematic. One must therefore ask why he wishes to attribute the synthesis to the single figure of Julian Huxley. Quite simply, Huxley’s vocal support
for secular humanism, and his directorship of UNESCO, allows Morris to draw a connection between humanism and “the worldwide humanistic religion of evolution.” It is this use of Huxley’s personal beliefs allied with his scientific support for evolution, that makes Huxley important to Morris, allowing him to emphasize the perceived association between evolution and the unsavory (at least for Protestant Fundamentalists) idea that, to quote Huxley, “man is just as much a natural phenomenon as an animal or plant;
that his body, mind and soul were not supernaturally created but are products of evolution, and that he is not under the control or guidance of any supernatural being or beings, but has to rely on himself and his own powers.” Morris, like many Creationists, fails to be able to separate the scientific ideas supported by the individual from the religious or socio-political beliefs they hold. The literature is full of references to Stephen Jay Gould’s apparent Marxism and Richard Dawkins’ avowed atheism as being
logical addenda to their scientific viewpoints. In assuming (for rhetorical reasons) that Huxley represents all evolutionary biologists, Morris makes a serious error.

Clearly, on these points relating to the history of evolutionary thinking, as seen by mainstream historians of science, Morris’ assertions are deeply flawed and just simply false. In particular, Morris plays fast and loose with the very definition of evolution(ism) making all that are apparently opposed to his viewpoint a homogenous group. Thus, we see, for example, Lamarck & Lyell, Fascists & Socialists, secular humanists & liberal Christians, as being all part of the evolutionist problem. Lamarck
and Lyell become puppets in a conspiracy that would eventually spawn Darwinism. Thinkers such as Marx and Nietzsche become mere shadows of Darwin, incapable of independently deriving their ideas. Darwinism would support humanism and the New World Order (as exemplified by UNESCO), and lead inexorably to the Holocaust. In more than a sense, Morris is revising history. So intent is he to see a ‘long war’ that he manipulates facts and events until they become mere shades of the truly rich and intricate tapestry that
is history.

Comments

  1. #1 J-Dog
    March 21, 2007

    Excellent reportage – I always knew Morris was a lying weasel scumbag, but prior to your fisking was not aware of the extent of his scumbagginess. Give yourself a shot of Jameson’s and a pat on the back.

  2. #2 CanuckRob
    March 21, 2007

    Good post, thank you. It is clear that creatkionsist and Biblical literalists will go to any lengths to shore up their position. The mindset seems to be that if the evidence does not support your beliefs then attack the evidence by any means possible rather than modifying or abandoning the belief. This is the real danger of Christian fundamentalism, it encourages a view of the wrold that does not match up to reality in any way.

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