Thursday, October 21, 2010

Glenn Beck: Half Monkey. Really?

WorldNutDaily is at it again, though this time, they’re merely the conduit.

In an article entitled, “Glen Beck: What if God made us from monkeys?” WND’s Joe Kovacs reports on Beck’s radio show defense of Delaware Republican U.S. Senate candidate Chrisine O’Donnell, and her decidedly creationist views with regard to evolution.

Beck is quoted as saying

“Did evolution just stop? I haven't seen the half-monkey/half-person yet.”


“There's no other species that's developing into half-people.”

He even refers to himself, jokingly, as a "half-monkey."

Beck’s justification apparently attemopts to lay its groundwork at the feet of the founding fathers, and without citing him, to Thomas Jefferson – Beck's reasoning includes nonsense like:

“God didn't create, if things evolve, then your rights evolve. You're not endowed by your Creator.”

I guess Glenn doesn’t know that Jefferson was a Unitarian, who was interested in nature and skeptical about miracles. Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence well before Darwin expounded his theory.

Evolution does not require a denial of the existence of God, though it does not require the existence of a god, either. However, the kind of God that could comfortably co-exist with evolutionary theory is the sort hypothesized by prominent medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas as a prima causa.

This is distinguishable from the God hypothesized by Intelligent Design, which co-opts evolutionary processes but requires the belief that they are “directed” rather than random. Intelligent Design allows believers the hubris of a humanity that is at the top of the chain of evolution, rather than just a different sort of creature. There are many who may even be atheists who also fall into this trap.

While literal Creationism and Intelligent Design ideas are not credible based on the evidence of scientific observation, there are still truths that can be discerned from the Genesis Creation story, as well as aspects that have led many to misleading interpretive conclusions. One does not have to accept literalist interpretations in order to draw out the good.

One of these is the idea of responsible stewardship over the earth and other creatures.

In our everyday lives, it does not matter tremendously whether one individual or another might have a personal belief in a literalist Creation story. Sadly, this is a concept that many literalists, particularly those who believe that the “Rapture” is just around the corner, have abandoned the idea of responsible stewardship. A Secretary of the Interior under Ronald Reagan believed that the sooner we lay waste to the environment, the sooner the rapture would come.

There is a growing movement among responsible evangelical Christians, that is a reaction against the nuttery fomented by the extremists at WorldNutDaily, with their focus on things like teaching creationism in the schools, persecuting gay people, and reducing women to a chattel status.

Before the Roman Catholic Church whipped them up, most evangelicals were neutral on the issue of women’s reproductive rights, and were content with the biblical teaching that taking the first breath was the point at which the soul is infused into a person. Now many of them believe that people are fully human from the moment of conception.

Before the Reaganites whipped them up, evangelical Christians were largely neutral on the issue of politics – preferring to adhere to the Biblical “rendering” teahing – leaving Caesar and God in separate realms. Now, there is a sadly strong Christianist Dominionist movement, braying at how “America is A Christian Nation” and working to impose their religious beliefs on everyone else. They even believe that “freedom of religion” applies only to those with a fundamentalist or at least conservative “Christian” faith, grudgingly including fellow-travelers such as Mormons and Roman Catholics.

Beck, who was born and raised Roman Catholic, is a 1999 convert to the Latter Day Saints. He certainly took a different direction than I, a cradle Catholic who, after being thrown out of the Catholic Church that same year, discarded the non-essential aspects of that faith that require a “suspension of disbelief,” and ultimately settled into Unitarian-Universalism.

Unitarian and Universalist principles grew up out of the same fertile 19th century Northeastern religious fervor that spawned the Mormon churches – and yet these churches evolved in very different directions. The Latter Day Saints invented a fanciful theology that requires a belief that the ten “Lost Tribes” of Israel somehow made their way to the North American continent, where they are supposed to have warred with the native peoples. Unitarians and Universalists evolved and merged into a non-credal religious organization based on a respect for many paths to enlightenment (though not all paths are enlightened), with a moral theology that is inclusive and tolerant.

While faith in an imaginary half-baked “history” is a Mormon theological requirement, the mere belief in it is not harmful in and of itself. I am sure that there are many positive aspects to the LDS faith, but there are some teachings that are immoral and destructive.

And Glenn Beck’s faith has among its tenets stories that are no more fanciful than the stories of miracles and the resurrection of more traditional Christianity, that the Unitarian Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the “endowed by our Creator” language in the Declaration of Independence, razored out of his personal Bible.
The problem comes when people like Beck and other CHristianists take their religious myths and expect them to be taught in the schools as science.

Evolution is a theory in the sense that it is an established and proven from a scientific point of view. Not everything is known about the processes of evolution, but based on the observations and evidence, it’s irrefutable. It’s not as if everything has been learned about how it works, but to date, all the evidence is in support of the theory.

That isn’t to say that evolution on earth and in our known universe might only be the result of certain local conditions, much as Euclidean geometry and Newtonian physics are local explanations that test well on the human scale, but not in the large ((relativity) and small (quantum) realms. Indeed, large-scale bridge building has to take into account the curvature of the earth – towers that are perpendicular to the surface of the earth but a quarter mile apart are not parallel to each other, and Newtonian theory does not explain the bending of light by gravity, an explanation that makes Einsteinian theory useful on the macro scale.

The principle of natural selection as a random process, basic to evolutionary theory, still makes sense. People often get misconceptions as to the idea of the “survival of the fittest,” imagining competition a being one of “tooth and claw.”

Properly understood, evolutionary theory is simple and elegant, and is borne out by the paleontological record as well as by contemporary observation in shorter-lived animals.

Beck and O’Donnell both assume that we should be seeing monkeys evolving into humans in a short period of time, such assumptions are folly. They fail to realize that gross evolutionary change occurs over millions of years, and then there is also punctuated equilibrium, as creatures react evolutionarily to changes in their environment – those that fail become extinct. We do observe evolutionary change in reaction to environmental pressures occurring in short-lived species.

One bit of evidence for recent evolution among humans comes with the genetic distinction between Tibetans and the Han Chinese with whom they share a common ancestry. Most Tibetans have a genetic makeup that allows for thriving at high latitudes, while these genes are rare in Han Chinese. As with all humans, the evolutionary differences are not sufficient to make Tibetans and other humans into separate species. Even so, the development of these differences came over thousands of years, while the differentiation of primate species takes millions of years.

Perhaps Glen Beck might like to explain what makes Tibetans different from Han Chinese, and how Creationism explains the genetic changes. Han Chinese and Tibetans are both human, but there are differences that are explainable by evolutionary theory, but not by Creation theory, which does not take into account genetic differences among any people alleged to have been descended from a single couple who are supposed to have existed about 4,000 years ago.

In the article, Beck is quoted:

Beck explained, "If God didn't create, if things evolve, then your rights evolve. You're not endowed by your Creator."

"Just like you go from a monkey to a man, you go from simple rights to higher rights and somebody has to take those rights and give them to you and take them away or change them. This is again the evolutionary thinking of progressivism."

The philosophical basis for the idea of inalienable rights, while written in the societal context of a then-pervasive creationist deism, does not depend on a deity, but rather on a principle of self-evident truths.

These lofty-minded principles are assumptions. The idea that “all men are created equal” may well have meant, using the idea of “original intent,” to encompass only white, anglo-saxon, protestant property owning males, particularly because of the existence of slavery, the limitations on voting such as poll taxes and literacy tests, and the non-inclusion of women in colonial times. Jefferson himself was a slave owner, and treated at least one of his female house slaves as a concubine with whom he fathered children, and not necessarily with her informed consent, particularly because of the relative power between master and slave,

However, as much as Glenn Beck pooh-poohs the idea of the evolution of ideas, and the evolution of inalienable rights, we have seen the arc of history bend ever so slowly toward justice.

While today, we assume that “all men” uses a meaning of “men” that includes women and the descendents of former slaves, that was not self-evident to the founding fathers.

No one has to “give” us these rights, but as society gradually becomes more civilized, it begins to recognize these rights as being more pervasive.

Gays have just as much of an inalienable right as anyone else to serve in the military and get married – the problem is that the law does not in most cases currently recognize the essential justice of the situation.

Biblical literalists once asserted that the enslavement of racially non-white Africans and their descendants was based on the Word of God as found in Genesis – and they would refer to their slaves as “the children of Ham.” (Bible-based racism can be found in the early history of our space program – our first chimp in space was named Ham, for example.) Today they want their religion-based creationism taught in schools, and they want their particular brand of Christianist faith to be the basis for the secular law.

Yet African Americans were freed from slavery, only to find themselves after a few brief years of Reconstruction to be relegated to a second class status by reason of the separate and quite unequal doctrine of racial segregation that was permitted by the federal courts. Even today, there are lingering effects of a continuing and insidious institutionalized racism that permeates the United States like an evil stench, largely not noticed by whites but still an affliction.

Racism, Heterosexism, Patriarchism , Cisgenderism and Dominionism are all examples of barriers to an inclusive understanding of the principles on which the nation was founded. Glen Beck complains because he thinks that evolution gets in the way of our inalienable rights. The problem is that Christianist thinking is perhaps the biggest obstacle to our rights. Christianity is fine, Christianist oppression is not. Beck, like the folks at WorldNutDaily, does not get the difference.

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