When the "light" in "Enlightenment" goes out
By Mel Seesholtz, Ph.D.
Online 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." [italics mine]

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.

Would 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.

Gay 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."

That 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:

Science 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:

It 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 Journal article 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:

The 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 involved.

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 believe.

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 God.

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 "How, for 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 it.

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 life.

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.

The American 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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