The War is Over

David H. Bailey has posted a wonderful blog entry which makes an analogy between Hiroo Onoda, who continued holding his ground according to the commands he had been given during WWII for almost 30 years after the war ended, and young-earth creationists. Here’s a taste:

Unlike the history of World War II, the last holdouts in the battle over the age of the earth and evolution have not yet given up. Even in 2013, numerous groups are proposing state laws that would require “equal time” for creationist or intelligent design precepts, or would require that “all sides” be taught on “controversial” topics such as evolution.

This is in spite of the fact that all such laws have been struck down by court decision, which have uniformly ruled that such material and requirements are tantamount to specifying that unscientific religious dogma be taught in public schools (see Court cases).

This is also in spite of the fact that the scientific evidence is unequivocal — the earth is many millions of years old; biological species on earth today did arise through a long evolutionary process that is largely, if not exclusively, the result of natural processes (see Evolution).

But don’t we admire “heroes” in this war, just as some admired Onoda’s tenacity? Perhaps. But think for a moment over what is lost in the wake of this long-lost war. Millions of persons are confused over the increasingly nasty public rhetoric between holdout creationists and certain leading scientists. And the U.S. is increasingly is falling behind tenacious international competitors in training its youth in the latest scientific research and technology.

Time for a graceful surrender

Indeed, now is the time for the holdout creationists to gracefully concede defeat: acknowledge that the world of science won the war over the technical details of the creation many decades ago, and it is time to move forward.

After all, true religion is not about technical details — there is not a single verse in the Bible or any other revered work of religious scripture that is even remotely in the style of the precise, quantitative, data-driven style of a modern scientific research paper…Great religion is about grander themes. Leave the technical details to science.

I would add that many young-earth creationists show every indication of being unlike Hiroo Onoda. Even though Christians who work in the fields of biology, geology, astronomy, and other relevant areas tell them they are wrong, that they have lost the war, they refuse to stop fighting.

And the potential result is that they will continue to inflict harm on both other Christians whom they accuse of compromising by accepting that the war is over, as well as others who are driven away from the Christian faith by their insane behavior.

But let us hope that, even if there may be some who hold out, increasing numbers will come to understand. The war against science is over. It is time to move on.

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  • arcseconds

    There was a Laurel and Hardy movie which involved Laurel still being at his post many years after the war had stopped. He had a huge pile of empty baked-bean tins which he’d toss the most recent empty onto as he prepared his next meal.

    I think those of us who have some admiration of cases like Onoda (or at least like the story) like the tenacity and the loyalty shown, but also like the romance of it. Modern society has a certain insistence that we all be pragmatists, but a lot of us while we might be no less pragmatic than expected, have a part that really wishes we weren’t like that.

    So maybe I should reconsider my attitude towards creationists?

    Well, there’s an important disanalogy here. Onoda specified the conditions under which he’d abandon his post, which were achievable, and then he did abandon it. What’s more, from the story here at any rate, he didn’t insist that anyone else should join him in continuing WWII long after hostilities had recently ended.

    And I would have some considerable respect for a creationist who was honest about their relationship to the evidence and didn’t insist that I shared it, continuing in their quixotic doomed rebellion against the modern era. How existentialist!

    (how is one supposed to react to finding oneself confronted by the shackles of reason in heartless universe ruled over by an unfeeling God, anyway?)

  • Mary

    What is frustrating is that not only is the war over, it has been over for hundreds of years, waaay before Darwin came along. It started with those “heretic” astronomers who had the audacity to say that the earth was not the center of the universe. Unless you live in a cave, you have to know that the earth is not square and flat, it is not sitting between layers of water and on four pillars. The stars, moon, planets and the sun are not placed in a solid “firmament” above us. Some people try to claim that the bible does not say those things, but they are fooling themselves. Our imodern idea of the cosmos is completely different from those who wrote the bible. For instance, the idea that heaven is in another nonphysical dimension is part of our modern mythos . But stories like the Tower of Babel clearly show that they believed that heaven was a real physical place suspended right above the earth..Why else would God be afraid that if the Tower was completed his lowly sinful creatures would invade his heavenly kingdom?
    Since we have satellites orbiting around the earth I think we can be certain that the bible is wrong on that. The only other argument that might work is to see the story as a symbolic text, but that is not satisfactory for most biblical inerrants. They want to make the bible into something it is not. My guess is that a great deal of their resistance to the truth is that fundamentalist Christianity is less than a religion and more of a political movement. The roots of Christianity have had to do more with controlling the masses rather than a devotion to personal spiritual development. If people are allowed to think for themselves then the whole power-structure falls apart. A lot of leaders would lose power, money, and prestige which is their true motive for existing. So they have to convince the “true believers” that science is a threat. And they are right. It is a threat to the massive bloated egos of the leaders of the religious right.

    • Claude

      Much of what you’ve written here is beyond dispute, but I would quibble that the “roots of Christianity” did not have more to do with “controlling the masses rather than a devotion to personal spiritual development.” That was a later development of both orthodox Christianity and its appropriation by Constantine. The early roots of Christianity revolved around the conviction that Jesus had been raised from the dead, and, as articulated by St. Paul, was therefore the Messiah and the “first fruit” of a general resurrection that would occur on the imminent Day of Judgment. The early roots of Christianity also spawned widespread Gnostic sects exclusively concerned with personal spiritual development. Needless to say, movements to recover the pre-authoritarian roots of Christianity persist to this day.

      • Mary

        I tried to respond to this days ago, but it wouldn’t post. You are correct in the fact that Christianity was more fluid in it’s early years, however as I understand there was some structure. I suppose I should do some reading because I am basing some of what I said on the fact that Paul set up a patriarchal structure which in my view has a lot to do with the controlling attitude present in Christianity today. I guess I would also consider the fact that the main thrust of Pauline Christianity was not personal spiritual development, but rather to make more Christians. I see this as a big obstacle for the church because has translated into the judgmental attitudes that we see from Christians today. Being too outwardly focused precludes any chance of growing spiritually because you are always trying to fix others, not yourself.
        I am aware of the Gnostic sects so you are correct that not all of the Christian sects were authoritarian.

    • James F. McGrath

      I would point out, though, that changing ideas of the cosmos did not always provoke the sort of controversy they did for beleaguered churches from the time of the Reformation onward. Paul shows clear signs of having updated his view of the cosmos from the three-tiered model reflected in the Hebrew Bible to the Ptolemaic view current in his time, and shows no indication that anyone would think the move controversial.

      • arcseconds

        Probably not ‘Ptolemaic’ in the sense of being derived from or influenced by Ptolemy. Ptolemy was born around 90 CE. Now I think about it, I don’t really know when Paul was supposed to have been active, but as he apparently knew James, it’s very difficult to make this work even Ptolemy was a boy genius and wrote the Almagest when he was 15 and Paul was in his 80s when he wrote his letters.

        • James F. McGrath

          Yes, the term gets used even for the viewpoint as evidenced before the time of Ptolemy. He was a systematizer and promulgator of the model, and not the originator of the earliest form of a geocentric model envisaging multiple heavens as spheres around it.

          • arcseconds

            Sure, Aristotle has his famous crystal spheres, and the view predates him, too. Plato certainly thinks the Earth is a sphere, and the planets move in endless cycles, although I can’t remember exactly whether he’s explicitly a geocentrist or not.

            (He does have Timaeus say that the planets are in eternal motion, that being the closest thing to eternity that’s possible in material creation, which sounds almost modern. )

            I’m pretty sure the stuff I’ve read in the past distinguishes the two, though. Ptolemy has epicycles and equants, which makes it quite different from the comparatively (and attractively) simple view espoused by Aristotle.

      • arcseconds

        Say, does the evidence suggest that Paul himself changed his viewpoint on this?

        I would have thought being an educated Greek would mean he’d just have believed in a spherical geocentric model for his entire adult life..

        • James F. McGrath

          He probably did think about the universe that way his whole life. My point was less that Paul individually had consciously made the shift, as that Paul provides evidence that there were Jews, including among Christians, who updated their understanding of the cosmos to the best and most recent available model.

          Of course, not all seem to have – the author of the Book of Revelation still talks about “heaven, earth, and under the earth.”

  • leigh copeland

    Festinger 1957 uses this story to illustrate his theory for the resurrection stories. They were, he says, suffering ‘cognitive dissonance’: they couldn’t except Jesus’ defeat. N. T. Wright shows how this theory cannot work in “The Resurrection of the Son of God”, chapter 18.

  • GakuseiDon

    James, the problem I see with Bailey’s article is it seems to perpetuate the myth that Christianity was completely Creationist (and therefore literalist) and that gradually we have slowly abandoned that position, until only a few holdouts remain.

    But this is not true. The first wave of creationism started around the end of the 19th Century. This came more as a response to textual criticism rather than a question of an old earth or evolution. This first wave was defeated by the mainstream churches of the time, which caused the Creationist churches to split away (note that it was the Creationists who split from the mainstream, not the other way around!)

    But Creationism came roaring back in the 1950s, and has been gathering strength since. Today they are stronger and richer than ever. Intelligent Design has offered them new avenues to press into schools’ science curriculum. And they are exporting their views to Europe, Australia and in particular Africa. That is the frightening thing.

    So I don’t see ‘the last Japanese WWII holdout’ as a valid analogy. I can’t think of one off-hand, but it would be a scarier one than that.

    • James F. McGrath

      Thanks for making this important point, with which I agree completely. Perhaps I had assumed Bailey meant a war that began much more recently, maybe even reading in things that were not there. There is certainly no historic war against science in Christianity – that is a relatively recent phenomenon, no matter which slightly earlier minor skirmishes one does or does not consider part of the war proper.