Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Evolve This!

So, another Darwin Day has snuck up on us. And we didn’t even get our traditional Darwin Day decorations up this year. My, how time flies.
It does, however, give me the opportunity to post this video again. It’s my late brother Tom, who wrote, performed and produced this song (and put the video together) under his erstwhile stage name, Tom Younger, a little more than a year before he passed away. Say what you will about the song itself, the guitar playing is pretty solid.
Anyway, it’s interesting that this year’s Darwin Day occurs on the heels of the Pope’s announcement that he’ll step down at the end of the month. Interesting to me, at any rate, because we were raised Catholic – all eleven of us – and, as this song suggests, at least some of us jettisoned the faith along the way. In an odd sort of way, if you’re raised Catholic you’ll always be Catholic, at least on some level, even if you become as vehemently atheist as my brother Tom became later in life. Catholicism, I think, is more than a religion; it’s a kind of ethnicity that stays with you even after the religion seeps out of you. Or maybe that’s just the Irish in me.
About this song, though. You know, there was a time when being Catholic and believing in evolution were hardly at odds with one another. Our generation of Catholics – at least, our generation of big city Catholics – were raised to believe in science. At Loyola University in Chicago, where my father taught psychology, there were Jesuit priests who taught evolutionary biology, and no one thought that was odd. In fact, even as recently as 2005, the Vatican’s chief astronomer – that’s astronomer, people; not astrologer – vocally supported the teaching of evolution:
The Vatican’s chief astronomer said Friday [Nov. 18, 2005] that “intelligent design” isn’t science and doesn’t belong in science classrooms, the latest high-ranking Roman Catholic official to enter the evolution debate in the United States.
The Rev. George Coyne, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, said placing intelligent design theory alongside that of evolution in school programs was “wrong” and was akin to mixing apples with oranges.
“Intelligent design isn’t science even though it pretends to be,” the ANSA news agency quoted Coyne as saying on the sidelines of a conference in Florence. “If you want to teach it in schools, intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science.”
And that was how it was when I was growing up. We never regarded the Bible as a scientific textbook. Most of us barely regarded it as history textbook. Regardless, you studied science as science; you employed the scientific method and you followed where the results led you, without allowing external biases to affect your understanding of scientific fact.
Yes, well. As I say, that’s how it used to be. Because less than a year after Rev. Coyne’s utterly sensible comments about evolution and “intelligent design,” this happened:
Pope Benedict XVI has sacked his chief astronomer after a series of public clashes over the theory of evolution.
He has removed Father George Coyne from his position as director of the Vatican Observatory after the American Jesuit priest repeatedly contradicted the Holy See’s endorsement of “intelligent design” theory, which essentially backs the “Adam and Eve” theory of creation.
As for my brother Tom, he had a lot of reasons to abandon religion generally and the Catholic Church in particular. The Church’s turn away from science wasn’t the only reason, but it sure didn’t help. We spent a fair amount of time talking about science and religion as he stared down a long, painful death from lung cancer, and he was unwavering in this: Given the choice between the two, he’d put his faith in science, thank you very much. It didn’t save him in the end, but neither did all those prayers from all those well-intentioned religious folks whom he indulged as politely as he could.
As for me, I don’t really know and I don’t really care. If I had to guess, I’d say Tom was probably right vis–à–vis the deity question, but I’m too tired to fight about it. Because that’s what religion is anymore, especially in America. It’s a constant fight. Worse, it’s constantly re-fighting the same battles we’ve fought and settled before. Like evolution.
So, I’m done with it, you know. I’ve had my fill. Years ago, we fought the religion-vs.-evolution battle, and evolution won. As long as religious people want to keep fighting that battle, over and over and over again, like they want to fight every battle, they’ll have to carry on without me.
Meanwhile, as a Chicago deejay used to say: If your Elvis is dead, try ours:

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