Krauze drew attention to a BBC documentary in his blog Intelligent Design on BBC's Horizon, to which I'd begun a reply that got way too long. So I'm posting this separate blog to make a point about the BBC's own claims about their documentary, and to tie that into psychological studies about the apparently innate nature of religious-type beliefs in the human psyche. First, some issues and questions about the BBC documentary:
The promotional blurb on BBC's 'Horizon' website betrays an ideological bias that obviously doesn't belong just to reporters, but indicts a certain segment biology itself, or at least indicts the way it's sold to the public. This sets up a historical review I'll post in this blog, and introduce the psychological studies in a follow-up post.
Paragraph 4 from BBC: To its supporters, intelligent design heralds a revolution in science and the movement is fast gaining political clout. Not only does it have the support of the President of the United States, it is on the verge of being introduced to science classes across the nation. However, its many critics, including Professor Richard Dawkins and Sir David Attenborough, fear that it cloaks a religious motive "“ to replace science with god.
Operative concept: "fear" that ID intends to "replace science with god."
Paragraph 1 from BBC: When Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution nearly 150 years ago, he shattered the dominant belief of his day "“ that humans were the product of divine creation. Through his observations of nature, Darwin proposed the theory of evolution by natural selection. This caused uproar. After all, if the story of creation could be doubted, so too could the existence of the creator. Ever since its proposal, this cornerstone of biology has sustained wave after wave of attack. Now some scientists fear it is facing the most formidable challenge yet: a controversial new theory called intelligent design.
Operative concept: Darwin "replaced god with science."
Now, this is an odd conceptualization even though we do know that Darwin personally fretted quite a bit over the religious implications of his theory to certain interpretational factions of the dominant faith of his era. Though the fact is, natural selection (Darwin's formalized concept) was always an uncontroversial factor of life and death on planet earth effecting the geneology of future generations. People have been practicing selection on purpose for livestock breeding ever since animals were first domesticated. So how could the idea of natural selection "replace" God? Obviously, it did not.
Variation is uncontroversial as well. Variation has always been the fodder humans have used to facilitate purposeful selective breeding. No "modern science" necessary to grasp the facts, thus no religious tradition arising from among human populations who had known about (and purposefully used) variation and selection as part of their normal lives would have denied them. I have never heard of one that did, so the attempt to re-write history on this point is transparent. Organismic variation upon which selection acts to accomplish organismic change over time has never been controversial enough to "replace" God in the psyche of humanity.
So what was Darwin's dangerous idea that BBC insists "replaced" God? It could only have been the idea that one species gradually turns into another, thus challenging the idea that God zapped creatures into being as-is and they never change. But was that belief ever a serious tenet of the great monotheistic tradition arising from the ancient Middle-East? Answer: No. Such a literalist belief has never held predominant sway in Judeo-Christian theology, in Darwin's time or any other time in the entire history of monotheism (Jews didn't take their creation mythologies literally, so 'orthodox' Christianity didn't either).
[Warning: theological historical background to follow]…
Biblical literalism – and specifically the holding that the first chapters of Genesis are a literal description of absolute scientific fact – is a recent development in Christianity, and it has never represented a majority view. For ~1300 years after Christianity gained power enough in the Roman Empire to avoid mass martyrdom, the faith was highly monolithic. Tenets were defended zealously against heretical interpretations by the absolute power to kill anyone who appeared to hold alternative beliefs.
None of the tenets so jealously defended included literal Genesis, since for all that time the actual scriptures were unavailable to the general public and individual interpretations were discouraged on pain of death. Why? Consensus view of biblical historians is that the fathers and priesthood were concerned that if the scriptures were available to the rank and file it would be impossible to prevent individual interpretations. And if individual interpretations were allowed, the church would explode in a thousand different directions. A concern that in hindsight seems wholly justified.
So we see that the historical developments that led to splintering of the Christian faith into those thousand different directions did enable the anti-authoritarian rise of the Baptist concept of a "Priesthood of Believers" positively encouraged to interpret scripture for themselves. And that this inevitably developed into the peculiarly unorthodox belief that the separate oral traditions recorded in Genesis I and II (Hebraic creation mythologies) are a literal and scientific description of divine creation. Which, aside from being anti-realist, also ignores the meticulously recorded discrepancies in the differing tribal accounts.
So while there has never been Christian theological consensus on the Hebraic creation mythologies being literal/scientific accounts, lilteralism is the only splinter of Judeo-Christian tradition that could ever have been seriously threatened by a scientific theory of origins postulating variation and selection as mechanisms for organismic change over time.
So. Why do we see BBC and other media – as well as entire contingents of Dawkins-ists – still claiming that the idea of evolution somehow "replaced God with science" when that claim is very obviously predicated upon a scarecrow [straw man]?
Why do we see the BBC engaging in this sort of confrontational propaganda, when the fact is that the state religion of Britain is Anglican (which is not and never was literalist/Baptist)? Heck, the Baptists were persecuted in Britain so severely they came to America to escape it! Most perplexing of all, why is 'science' (or, particular outspoken, anti-religious scientists claiming to "speak for science") using a particular, sectarian interpretive peculiarity to make a grand claim against the whole of religion/spirituality itself?
In follow-up I'll introduce a psychological study blogged about over on Cognitive Daily published in 2004 that concludes certain religious/spiritual beliefs are NOT acquired through social learning, which suggests they may come standard with human equipment. Stay tuned!