Springtime for Darwin

By JAMES PARKER  |  May 7, 2008

So what’s the problem? The problem is that if you’re Richard Dawkins, or William Provine, or Greg Graffin, that isn’t what evolution means. Their evolution doesn’t allow God some straw-hatted and green-thumbed supervision of the natural process — it goes right back to the beginning, and erases Him. Maybe, when you get to the bones of it, there is no “compatibilism” in the evolution war — any more than there is “compatibilism” between a couple of blood-darkened Ultimate Fighters prowling the Octagon. Detoxify the rhetoric? It might not be possible: in this particular argument, everyone lost their tempers 150 years ago. Moderation? The meek shall inherit the Earth, but they rarely win the debate.

Why not, instead, just let the thing blow? Let it rip. Let every voice roar. Much, everything perhaps, remains to be learned. And there’s nothing to be afraid of — evolved or specially created, we’re already here. As the waggish husband told his wife, upon being asked how she was looking in her new spandex outfit: the worst is behind you.

True pluralism, of course, is not in everybody’s interest. The makers of Expelled, pursuing their conceit of academic censorship, found it necessary to do a little pruning of their own. Dawkins, Provine, and the biologist PZ Myers are all unhappy with the movie’s rather selective portrayal of their views, and Provine nearly took legal action against producer Mark Mathis. “In the first view of me,” Provine wrote me via e-mail, “I said ID was boring, boring, boring. That was certainly true, but I also said that ‘natural selection’ made [into] this or that is equally boring. Turning natural selection into a teleological agent explains nothing, same as ID . . . boring, boring, boring. In the second view, they used a soundtrack from my library interview and transposed it to my presence on the stage where I teach. That is not how I teach. They asked what I believed. I do raise all these issues in my class, but I also invite ID and creationist speakers who raise their issues for my class (non-majors in biology). Under a threat of a lawsuit, [the producers] added me at the end inviting all students to my class no matter what their beliefs are on evolution or totally rejecting evolution. I love them all.”

And you, gentle reader, what kind of an “-ist” are you? Allow me to make mention here of my own modest school — the school of elasticism. The principle is obvious, perhaps: the elasticist can stretch. The elasticist is not overwound. The elasticist keeps his mind tensile and tuned, in the awareness that at any moment he might be catapulted from between its ding-dong polarities and into . . . God knows what.

James Parker drinks regularly in a pub called The Beer Garden of Eden. He can be reached at jparker@phx.com.

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