When the "light" in "Enlightenment" goes out
By Mel Seesholtz, Ph.D.
Journal Contributing Writer
Nov 30, 2005, 01:27
"The Age of Enlightenment refers to the 18th century in
European philosophy, and is often thought of as part of a larger period which
includes the Age of Reason. The term also more
specifically refers to a historical intellectual movement, 'The Enlightenment.'
This movement advocated rationality as a means to establish an authoritative system
of ethics, aesthetics, and knowledge."
That's the beginning of the Wikipedia's entry.
Although "authoritative" is
always worrisome, and "rationality" doesn't encompass the entirety of
human experience, the path The Enlightenment illuminated was basically bright,
a way out of the remnants of the Dark Ages. Today's fundamentalists and
evangelicals claim America has abandoned its "Christian roots."
Nonsense. It's currently embracing the most putrefied of those roots. What's
been abandoned is rationality in ethics, aesthetics, and knowledge.
"Ethics." Antonyms: Tom DeLay, et al. Before his indictment, House
Majority Leader DeLay vociferously and with bare-knuckles enforced his
intention to bring what he called the "biblical worldview" into
American politics. Apparently that "biblical worldview" did not
include ethics. This is not surprising. Ethics were not part of the theocratic
regimes that ruled Europe during the Dark Ages, but torture was.
Vice President Dick Cheney's offered several unenlightened
"solutions" to the ethical dilemma of using torture. In late October
The New York Times reported,
"Amid all the natural and political disasters it faces, the White House is
certainly tireless in its effort to legalize torture. This week, Vice President
Dick Cheney proposed a novel solution for the moral and legal problems raised
by the use of American soldiers to abuse prisoners and the practice of turning
captives over to governments willing to act as proxies in doing the torturing.
Mr. Cheney wants to make it legal for the Central Intelligence Agency to do
this wet work."
Then, in mid-November, retired U.S. Army Col. Larry
Wilkerson, who served as former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of
staff, told CNN's
"Late Edition" that "there's no question in my mind where the
philosophical guidance [for using torture] and the flexibility in order to do
so originated -- in the vice president of the United States' office. . . . His
implementer in this case was [Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld and the
Defense Department." Later in the interview Wilkerson added "the vice
president had to cover this in order for it to happen and in order for
Secretary Rumsfeld to feel as though he had freedom of action." A few days
earlier, Former CIA director Stansfield Turner had labeled Dick Cheney a "vice
president for torture."
Just in case anyone forgot the homophobic nature of the
torture at Abu Ghraib, here's a link.
today's Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals object to William Blake's representation
of Sir Isaac Newton -- who was a deeply religious man -- as blasphemous and
promoting homosexuality? Good chance, since they have ongoing crusades to censor -- as in
remove from schools and public libraries -- "gay literature" and other literature
that includes gay or lesbian characters.
novelist Michael Holloway Perronne sent a copy of his novel A Time Before Me, along with a miniature
shovel, to Alabama lawmaker Rep. Gerald Allen. The Alabama legislator had
proposed legislation to remove from school and public libraries books with any
gay content, no matter how small. When asked what he'd do with all the works by
gay and lesbian artists, and all the other works that refer to homosexuals and
homosexuality, Rep. Allen said, "I guess we dig a big hole and dump them
in and bury them."
would have to be a pretty big hole to contain everything by gay and lesbian
writers and other works that had "any gay content." A partial list of
artists, authors and thinkers to be buried would include Sappho, Socrates, Plato, Alexander the Great, Michelangelo,
Emperor Hadrian, Richard the Lion Heart, Peter the Great, Francis Bacon,
Montezuma II, Virginia Woolf, George Frideric Handel, T. E. Lawrence,
Tchaikovsky, Lord Byron, Florence Nightingale, Tennessee Williams, Andre Gide,
George Cukor, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Leonardo Da Vinci, Christopher
Marlowe, Herman Melville, Horatio Alger, Jr., E.M. Forster, John M. Keynes,
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Noel Coward, King James I, Queen
Anne, Langston Hughes, Hans Christian Andersen, Tom Dooley, Ralph Waldo
Emerson, Dag Hammerskjold, Rainer Maria Rilke, Edward II, Gore Vidal, James
Baldwin, W. H. Auden, Susan B. Anthony, Leonard Berstein, Malcolm Forbes, Henry
James, James Joyce, Georgia O'Keeffe, Marcel Proust, Jean Cocteau, Cole Porter,
Alan Turing, Rudolph Nureyev, Christopher Isherwood, and Aristotle.
It's fitting that Rep. Allen is in
Alabama, a state that is also trying to bury another of the areas The
Enlightenment sought to illuminate, knowledge:
textbooks in Alabama public schools will continue to warn students that
controversy surrounds the theory of evolution. The Alabama Board of Education
recently agreed unanimously to retain an evolution disclaimer that has been in
state biology textbooks for four years. The insert refers to evolution as a
"controversial theory" on the origins of life.
As has been repeatedly pointed out and overwhelmingly
documented, there is no "scientific controversy" about evolution.
It's a fact of life on planet Earth. Species evolve, and most go extinct:
had a head like a bullet with jaws, the body of a crocodile and 52 serrated
teeth, and it lived 135 million years ago. . . . Like all such prehistoric
beings, confronting us out of the depths of time, Dakosaurus is yet another
reminder that most of the life that has ever lived on Earth has gone extinct. .
. . Then something like Dakosaurus comes along, reminding us that the record of all the life forms on this planet is
far from complete, and far stranger than we could ever have guessed. We
would be at an utter loss to make sense of this diversity, of all the ways life
presents itself, without the theory of evolution to explain it. [italics mine]
In a previous Online
about the sham of "intelligent design" and the efforts by the Kansas
Board of Educations to extinguish the light of science by redefining it, I made
the following statement:
new Kansas standards allege a "lack of adequate natural explanations for
the genetic code." A "lack of adequate natural explanations"
strongly suggests science should embrace supernatural explanations contrary to
the very definition of "science." The other obvious fallacy in such
thinking is the unspoken assumption that all the evidence for evolution -- all
the fossils and other hard evidence -- has been found. That's a nonsensical,
childish assumption for anyone even remotely familiar with the sciences
The article drew a fair number of responses from irate
readers who supported ID and/or dismissed "science," as did this
writer albeit in a somewhat convoluted statement:
[Seesholtz] doesn't know that
"science" is about people, like himself, who choose a self indulgent,
self gratifying, sometimes very perverse "life"-controlling "Me
first", "taker" philosophy in a little corner of the mirror of
their existence, and believe the rest of the world is just getting, simply the
purest, most accurate representation of what they are seeing and what they can
People "can believe" whatever they want. That's
not the "scientific" issue at hand. Dakosaurus and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer
made the case: Dakosaurus by its
discovery and Krauthammer in "ID
insults both religion and science":
Intelligent design may be interesting
as theology, but as science it is a fraud. It is a self-enclosed, tautological
"theory" whose only holding is that when there are gaps in some area
of scientific knowledge -- in this case, evolution -- they are to be filled by
But what happens when those "gaps in some area of
scientific knowledge" are filled in by a discovery such as Dakosaurus? Religion gets pushed out and is
further marginalized from any connection to reality (if that's possible given
Young Earth Creationists' claim that T. rex was a passenger on Noah ark).
Moreover, when a religion-based theory such as intelligent design masquerades
as science, religion must deal with "scientific" questions such as
example, does the 20th century's biological revolution influence the Christian
concept of virgin birth? Where did Jesus get his DNA? His Y chromosome?"
Krauthammer was also right on target about the Kansas Board
of "Education" decision as well:
To justify the farce that intelligent
design is science, Kansas had to corrupt the very definition of science,
dropping the phrase "natural explanations for what we observe in the world
around us," thus unmistakably implying -- by fiat of definition, no less
-- that the supernatural is an integral part of science. This is an insult both
to religion and to science.
The Enlightenment illuminated the difference between the
supernatural and the natural, between metaphysics and physics, between the
irrational bigotry that underwrites religious dogma and the rational, civil
responsibilities of secular governments. It showed the way out of the
theocratic Dark Ages. The Enlightenment celebrated humanity and the essence of
being human, rather than condemning them.
It celebrated the human mind and its intellect, rather than damning them.
Since the evangelical Christian Right gained control of this
country, America has been moving steadily backwards into the good old Dark Ages
when those who disagreed with religious dogma were suppressed by state
authorities. As their predecessors in the previous Dark Ages, today's
fundamentalists have convinced the flock that their religion is under attack,
and that they must dogmatically fight back:
On the topic of intelligent design, the theory that the universe is so
complex that it must have been created by a higher being, 56 percent favor the
teaching of intelligent design or creationism, alongside the theory of
evolution in public schools. Among fundamentalist/ evangelical/charismatic
Christians, 70 percent favor creationism, compared to 28 percent who opposed
And 57 percent said "the Bible" was "a more likely
explanation for the origins of human life on earth" instead of Darwin,
compared to 31 percent who believe Darwin is a more likely explanation.
Eighty-seven percent of evangelical/fundamentalist/charismatic Christians
favored the Bible over Darwin as a better explanation of the origins of human
Historically speaking, the Bible was cobbled together by men whose
motives and reasons for including some "scriptures" and rejecting
others are unknown. Scriptures were texts written by men for their own
purposes. Many tracts in the Bible preach hate and call for violence and murder and were
used to justify slavery and segregation when those practices were deemed
"traditional values." The interpretation of biblical scriptures
depends on time and place, who's doing the interpreting and for what purposes.
That 57 percent of those polled believe the Bible is "a more likely explanation for the
origins of human life on earth" does not make creationism or intelligent
design "science." But it does, no doubt, delight America's
fundamentalist and evangelical leaders. It certainly helps their theocratic
agenda. It also signals something else.
republic -- a product of The Enlightenment -- is devolving and embracing the
same "Christian roots" that fed the theocracies of the Dark Ages,
when science was heretical and equal access to and treatment for all
under the law was a ridiculous idea widely acknowledged as an immoral
perversion of "God's law," as that law was interpreted and espoused
by religious leaders in privileged political positions.
As George Santayana wrote in Reason in Common Sense, "Those who cannot remember the past
are condemned to repeat it."
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