This is a repost from bycommonconsent.com, July 2009. I’ve got something coming that requires this context, so rather than link to it (which no one will read), I’m going repost in its fullness. There are some fundamental misunderstandings by the science attackers (and make no mistake an attack on evolution is an attack on science as such). What’s at stake is the rational inquiry that has driven the successful scientific advances of the last few centuries. But these new perspectives can be hard to contextualize. This can be devastating. It requires new ways of thinking. Sometimes, when one of our youth enters the university to study the modern life sciences, and some well meaning, but basically biologically uniformed, person throws up strings of out of context quotes from general authorities to attack the solid and well-founded life sciences, they give the impression that the student must choose between the gospel and science. Because these new students have not developed the resources to handle such logically and spiritually flawed approaches, they wander away. Some never to return. People who conflate the role of science and religion do immense damage to both faith and science. Let’s start here and talk about what it takes to sometimes reorient in a new world in which a fundamental restructuring of simplistic creationist literalism is necessary.
I’ve been thinking about evolution of late. Not so much about evolution as such, but about people’s resistance to it. I’ve been thinking about the fear that some experience as they face the prospects that a new scientific age is bringing to an end their way of seeing the universe. The simple creationism of a Harry Potter-like God that was appropriate in the Seventeenth Century, and which we borrowed from the Greeks, is giving way to more complex conceptions and more Mormonism-informed perspectives. These are leading to even deeper engagements between science and religion. These require readjustments, however, to our ways of dealing with the natural world and its history. I’ve not been very sympathetic to the difficulty of the kinds of reframings that have been required of Mormon creationists nor perhaps understood their difficulty—being as seeped in evolutionary theory as I am 24/7. But I want to help those still embracing these creationist ideas that are largely right out of the neoplatonist views of Plotinus. Cheap creation is not part of the restoration, as much as people want to hold on to it.
The book, Radical Hope has opened new vistas to me in regard to doing the kind of deep reframings necessary when large cultural shifts are inevitable. The book is subtitled, “Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation.” and it explores surviving the complete loss of the ones cultural perspective. It explores it through the life of a Crow visionary named Plenty Coups. Plenty Coups’ life straddled the time between the traditional Crow way of life and the take over by the US Government of all Indian affairs. He was raised in a culture in which everything was couched in terms of their continual war with the Sioux. Young children were raised with the idea that being a warrior and counting coup (a way of letting your enemy know that it was you, a Crow, who was the one killing him by touching them with a stick before striking them down) was the highest good and the aim of a well-lived life. Women did not just prepare food for the people, but they nourished the warriors. Plenty Coups’ world began to collapse as the buffalo disappeared and within a few short years his way of being was completely gone as the white settlers took over more and more of their lands. They joined the US Government in their fight with the Sioux, their traditional enemy, and in the end were the only tribe that was allowed to settle on their original tribal lands. Of course the other tribes looked at this a betrayal, but to the Crow, the US was just a powerful people, with whom they had no real quarrel, while the Sioux had been their mortal enemy for over two centuries.
In any case, suddenly everything they had lived for changed. The buffalo and the beaver on which they depended had been hunted to nothing. The other tribes, who had fought against the US, had been parceled out to reservations and their culture had been destroyed, and in fact made illegal. As a result many of the native peoples did not know how to live in the new world imposed on them. Plenty Coups, however, provided a way to help his people reinterpret their old ways in a new context that was unique among these native tribes. The change was severe; everything they had believed in had become meaningless. In fact, Plenty Coups said that after the US had taken control of their lives “Nothing Happened.” The book is an exploration of what he meant by this.
What Plenty Coups meant, goes beyond the fact that his way of life had become meaningless. They were even more lost than that, they had even lost the context where meaningless or meaning could be conceptualized. The ground and context for meaning itself had been destroyed. That’s why “nothing happened” nothing could happen, all categories had been wiped out. Even though he went on to lead his nation in learning to farm, promoted education among his tribe members, and in fact became a representative of Native rights in Washington DC, ‘nothing happened.’
In readjusting to a world where evolution is real, things are not so bad as that. Still there are huge readjustments that are necessary in order to view the world through both scientific and religious lens. The book suggests that the way to handle this is through courage in the face of risk. He argues that as finite beings we are always face to face with the fact of our finitude and our abject and absolute vulnerability to forces beyond our control. Including the risks that new information and new understanding brings. Courage means to face boldly the reality that we are always at risk and there are things we cannot control. The difference between Plenty Coups and the other Indian leaders was he saw clearly that the buffalo and beaver were gone. He saw that the European settlers were unconquerable, while other Native American leaders kept a false hope alive that they would drive the Europeans out, or that an Indian messiah would arise to free them, or that by doing the Ghost Dance they could bring spiritual help from the other side that would defeat the settlers. The book shows that by not facing the reality of the situation, by having a ‘hope’ that focused on winning or beating the white settlers the other chiefs actually worked against their people.
Facing the reality of a religious world that includes the evolution of humans, is hard to face for some. And it has been hard for me to recognize the pain that others face in dealing with these new realities. And it does require painful readjustments. But as Plenty Coups showed, facing realities is the best way. To face these new risks of reinterpreting our deepest understandings of fundamental things requires courage.