“A child born today in the United Kingdom stands a ten times greater chance of being admitted to a mental hospital than to a university … This can be taken as an indication that we are driving our children mad more effectively than we are genuinely educating them. Perhaps it is our way of educating them that is driving them mad.”
R D Laing, ‘The Politics of Experience’, 1970
Now the Archbishop of Canterbury here in the UK is joining in the debate about whether creationism (or “intelligent design”) should be taught in schools. Although the debate here seems to spark nothing remotely approaching the levels of hysteria seen in the US, it’s a doctrine that’s now found its way into the curriculum in the two city academies founded by the evangelical Christian businessman Sir Peter Vardy and several other schools.
What seems so astounding is the number of people firmly attached to the idea that it has to be one or the other. Or, like the Archbishop of Canterbury, sidestepping the issue by insisting on the preservation of perceptual fragmentation: religion and science cannot mix. Yet Darwinian evolution does not preclude the presence of a guiding intelligence. And neither does a guiding intelligence preclude the evolution of species along the lines Darwin proposed.
What seems to be the problem here is not so much the fundamental incompatibility of evolution and creationism, but more a clash of cultures – between the assumptions, imagery and assorted ideological trappings that come, like limpets, firmly attached to each concept. In one corner, representing the biological sciences and sporting a fetching ideology which has completely sidelined the role of life in the study of living things, stands the venerable figure of Charles Darwin. In the other, representing a rather fundamentalist interpretation of the Christian religion, stands an equally venerable figure of an anthropomorphised paternalistic craftsman-creator that most small children tend to equate with Father Christmas. Super bearded being versus bearded super-being. Neither image seems to represent a particularly accurate or appropriate rendition of the actual territory.
Living things behave with intelligence and meaning, so it seems quite natural that there should eventually be some kind of reaction against a dominant ideology (“science”) that ignores or even tries to deny the existence of it. And as much as science was originally a reaction to fundamentalist religious doctrine and dogmatic Aristotelianism, so now it’s fundamentalist religious doctrine that returns as a backlash against the lifelessness of science. The heat of the debate merely highlights the extent of polarisation of each viewpoint as each side declaims the evident unreason of the other.
Looked at from the perspective of the blind men and the elephant however, the answer seems almost embarassingly plain. Shave off the beards – the cultural trappings and the extreme imagery – and what’s left? The idea that the life force in each and every one of us has intelligence and has a role in guiding the evolution of species.
Is that really such a hard concept to face up to?