The View From The Hill

darwinIf you don’t accept that evolution is a fact then please leave now. Just click the back button and go and find a post which conforms to your world view. Having spent a number of years in this country I am no longer willing to accept the argument that faith is equal to fact. According to the gallop polls 46% of Americans have chosen creationism over evolutionary science and to be honest I’m tired of fighting it.

During my time here in the States I worked as a guide and education assistant for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. As a garden designer it was a good fit for me in terms of putting something back into the community and also gave me something to keep busy in the quiet months. I loved my time there but in the end was becoming more and more frustrated by the apologist attitude the garden took. Rather than stand on its international reputation as a major scientific organization we were told to be careful when addressing one of the displays, especially if we were leading a tour for school children. Why? Because it dared to display the evolution of plants from the primordial ooze to modern flora. Even its positioning within the conservatories was interesting. As you walked into the main entrance it was straight in front of you and yet strangely hidden by the architecture, with no explanatory signs it was just a wall of fairly unexciting plants with a few fossils in the fake rock work.

Now I would have thought that plants were the least likely living beings to cause offense and were in fact a wonderful way to prove beyond a doubt that evolution happens. After all garden seed suppliers bring out new hybrids every year which we cram into our gardens to make our displays bigger and better. Don’t we? But several schools came with the explicit warning that the evolutionary wall was best avoided. I swear several times I was taken by the spirit, of Darwin, and had to force myself not to lead kids through the area and spend the whole time explaining the blatantly obvious.

It’s not surprising that the majority of people who objected to the display were either very forthcoming about their faith or teachers and students from religious schools. I have had rabbis talk over as I show the development from fern to conifer to flowering plant. I have had to defend the information I am trying to give when against a library full of scientific research I have been told “its written in the bible or the torah and so can’t be challenged.” There was no debate, no reason, just a belief that couldn’t be challenged. In the most brash of cities, New York, I find it especially worrying to find that kind of resistance to logic.

As a child I as taught the creation story. I still love it as a myth of how the world came into being. But seriously, six days? Its a story written by people who didn’t have the science we have now to explain how the world around them was formed. As man evolves in his understanding of the world around him new stories are written to explain what we see and experience. Where once a god or goddess was credited we have replaced them with a chemical, physical, or biological explanation. After all we no longer explain lightening as being the work of Zeus or fire as being the gift of Prometheus. They may be stories that enrich us as humans and allow us to dream beautiful dreams, but in the same space we understand the truth behind the myth and no one gets upset that Zeus is not credited.

I also had a father who liked to take us fossil hunting and would tell us the stories of the fossils we found. The two never clashed, I never had a moment of doubt that both could coexist, because science and faith were allowed to be separate and yet somehow compatible. Then at around the age of fifteen I discovered another book which made so much sense that I could bring my faith and science to a place where I could see the beauty of life and still believe that there was a god. The book was “The Voyage of the Beagle”, an account of Darwin’s journey and the process he went through to develop the origin of the species. Like the story of creation in the bible it wove a story of how life on earth came into being, but unlike the creation story it demonstrated every stage with facts that didn’t rely on a deity to ensure the mix got all the right ingredients. It also allowed life to be beautiful because it could change, adapt, and even improve as circumstances demanded.

What’s not beautiful is the language of creationists. Rather than show the beauty of the world all it does is limit it and chop off the pieces that don’t fit the story. By placing everything in an absolute state creationism diminishes life rather than raising it up. To be told that I am wrong because one book tells me that it happened in a particular way rejects that I have any number of books that support my belief. To my mind it is a ridiculous statement because the bible itself is proof of evolution. Let me explain. The bible is not the same series of words as it was when it was written. There was no one moment that the bible came into existence. It was added to over centuries rather than being handed down at one moment in time as a perfect and absolute volume. Over time it has been translated, retranslated, altered, parts have been removed and added for political reasons. It is no longer the word of god but a series of words that bear very little resemblance to the original texts.

Like the human appendix, the bible has shrunk over the years as people have decided what god didn’t actually say. When I was a kid my bible included the Apocrypha. Now its been thrown out. If the bible is the word of god dictated to man and an absolute truth how can man decide what goes in and what stays out? In the end it has been used to limit and diminish anything that is different or beautiful and still is. Anyone who isn’t white, anyone who isn’t male, anyone who isn’t heterosexual, in fact anyone who dares to think differently has been condemned and vilified because of a book that has been altered and prostituted for political reasons over the centuries. In fact it is now nothing more than a political tract for supremacists. The word of god is now the word of man and is used as a cudgel to control and condemn.

In the end I have to accept that there will always be a percentage who reject facts for faith. When I ask for proof I am told that I must accept that their faith is better than facts. I don’t deny the existence of god but I do deny the way that he is portrayed. My god is a god of love, who accepts me for who he created and works with me moment to moment. Because it is a personal journey it removes my right to judge others. Phrases like “I love the sinner but not the sin” become like dust on my tongue because I have to accept my own sin and deal with that before I can even comment on someone else’s. But when I do need to correct someone I have to be able to prove why I am right. So for me it will always be facts over faith. What worries me is that the religious right is still dictating to the world how it should think and behave without any evidence that theirs is the true way to live.

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