And yet religions can influence the citizens’ everyday lives not only through ethical stands or the calling into question of those granted rights but also through religious control on politics or education. One does not have to refer to Saudi Arabia, Iran, or the USA… just have a look at what is occurring more and more frequently in Europe.
In western societies, religious pluralism is the rule. This pluralism can lead to different reactions, those of fundamentalism, which has its roots in the 1920s in defence of the founding principles of Christian religions (together with a feeling of fear towards modernity, secularisation, pluralism, materialism), those of “New Age” that takes up again the beliefs of different religions, which makes a kind of spiritual “amateur job”, beliefs à la carte, a religious supermarket (in search of spiritual well-being through paranormal, astrology, macrobiotics, dance-therapy, amulets, meditation, shamanism,..) and those of atheism which analyses in a critical manner religious feelings and advocates radical secularisation.
The fact remains that a lot of people consider too quickly that liberation, gained a long time ago, of the State from clerical supervision is an established fact. They are pretending not to see the more and more conservative stands taken by the Vatican Church, and also by Islamic fundamentalism, Evangelist churches, sects such as Scientology and even Dalai Lama’s Buddhism… They are blind
in front of their attempts to influence the national and European political power.
I‘ll try to develop that opinion through the example of creationism. Creation tales of the different religions seek to explain natural phenomena and link them to a divine will, thus giving a holy characteristic to them. Semitic religions (Christian, Jewish and Islamic) show a linear image of creation, God creating the world from nothingness. Hindu religions (Hinduism, Buddhism) have a more cyclic image.
In evolution and the concepts described by Darwin, what are the concepts that disturb religions and even consider as dangerous?
Essentially, those concepts are related to chance and necessity, to the scale of time and to the Human being.
Chance in evolution occurs in the random character of the emergence of life, mutations and genetics in general, genetic drifting in small populations…all that is therefore contrary to the dogma of an omniscient god.
Necessity is represented in the theory of natural selection and selection of living beings that are the best adapted in terms of survival and / or reproduction. An individual’s “fitness” is related to the presence of characters involving, directly or indirectly, a higher probability to have descendants: this “fitness” is related to special environmental conditions. In that case, it is contrary to the dogma of the Creator’s divine liberty.
The scale of time is considerable in terms of the long geological process of the earth or the origin of the cosmos. It is hard to conciliate with Genesis.
The anthropological problem related to the origin of Man is essential. Man comes from the group of primates and in fact, at a broader scale, from a common ancestor of all living beings.
This scientific fact relativizes the position of Man in nature and bumps “head-on” against the religious dogma of a human being created at the image of God.
Quite often, we are tempted to represent human evolution in a linear manner, because we are so proud of ourselves that we are “at the top of the tree”, undoubtedly the crowning of evolution, or even the ultimate goal of a creator.
In fact, Evolution suggests that Man is nothing else but an animal, submitted to the same evolution laws as any other living species. Since Darwin’s main works, this violation of the special status of Man in nature has made the Darwinian theory of evolution the symbol of a scientific materialism to be defeated.
In spite of the success of some religions, they have begun showing signs of weakening with the development of scientific discoveries. All religions have had to sustain deep adaptations, whether they liked it or not, drifting them away from their founding principles. Overtaken by events, fundamentalists are the only sects that want to keep close to the foundations of their religions.
One of those fundamentalist concepts is represented by creationism, which can take different forms:
- Creationism with a young earth: the Earth was created 6,000 or 10,000 years ago; all the forms of lives were created in six days. So, this is a literal reading of the Bible or the Koran. It could appear strange today, but a majority of Evangelists and practising Muslims stick to that version.
- The so-called “gap theory”: Genesis is a six-day creation, but this is a second creation because there was a first creation which was destroyed by God (which accounts for fossils, dinosaurs, Neanderthal, Cro-Magnon …).
- Creationism where geological antiquity of the Earth is accepted but life is created by God according to biblical Scriptures; each day of Genesis could possibly represent thousands or even millions of years.
- Progressive creationism does not completely reject scientific works and accepts incoherence in Genesis; God would intervene periodically in an episodic process of creation.
- Intelligent Design (ID) where the world is considered as so complex that it is not conceivable without the help of an intelligent “architect”.
- Theistic creationism: God creates life through evolution and somehow leaves it drifting; this opinion accepts biological data, except when it comes to Human being and Human soul.
- Faith in creation: they claim not to be creationists and admit the principles of evolution, the fact that God would have created neither Universe nor life; but Human Spirit would be the work of divine inspiration.
- Modern Christian intellectuals accept the science of evolution; they add a discourse on the “meaning”, supposedly transcending scientific discourse.
As we can see, creationists’ stands can be very differing, even broadly contradictory. Besides, believers often hold different creationist opinions depending on their speeches on the animal realm or Human being.
For political reasons, “modern” creationism is often said to have started in the USA in 1924, when the State of Tennessee, with the Butler Act banning the teaching of evolution. Since then, creationists have tried to expel scientific materialism, and notably evolution, from the curriculum in public education, and replace it with the biblical tale of creation.
Laws were passed notably in Southern States (Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, Oklahoma,etc.) to ban any teaching of evolution. However, in 1968, those laws were deemed unconstitutional (separation Church-State).
This is the reason why, starting from 1968, creationists have seldom attacked evolution directly. Therefore today, creationism has to be more flexible.
- Firstly, proposals are made to spend equal time teaching evolution and Genesis.
- Then speeches have been made on creationist science.
- Finaaly, starting from the 1980-1990s, the same conservative circles have assigned this process to an “Intelligence” (God) whose aim is the coming of Man. This is the theory of “Intelligent Design” (ID). According to that theory, nature is so complex that the characteristics of the Universe as well as that of living beings should be interpreted by an intelligent cause and not by random processes of natural selection.
With this subtle character, it has become more dangerous. Those manipulations, that are able to function among an audience whose members are not trained to scientific debates or to using their critical thinking. Are debates more flexible? What intelligence? How? Inevitably, you are brought back to God and the Bible. And in 2005, at its turn, the “ID” was deemed as being of a religious nature.
Creationists oppose design to chance to explain organs called “of irreducible complexity”. Darwin was aware that complex organs could raise objection and Darwin himself wrote a chapter on those complex organs, such as the eye, to conclude with progressive evolution of the eye as a consequence of natural selection. He concluded in saying that he had not found any organ sufficiently complex as not being likely to be explained by progressive evolution. And since then, no example has been found, in spite of all the desperate efforts made by creationists.
Intelligent Design with its quest for examples of irreducible complexity is therefore contrary to scientific thinking, it is pernicious since it regards as correct to be satisfied when it does not understand. For those creationists, the gaps in our scientific knowledge should remain mysterious, and as a consequence, filled with God. It is God as a “stopgap”, the God of loopholes, which many theologians are rejecting since they are aware that those gaps will disappear with scientific progress and therefore God will not be able to find “a place for hiding”.
Ah! Those wonderful gaps that Saint Augustine had already mentioned: “There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger. This is the disease of curiosity. It is this which drives us to try and discover the secrets of nature, those secrets which are beyond our understanding, which can avail us nothing and which man should not wish to learn” (quoted by R. Dawkins, 2008).
But, once again, this is not a scientific debate but a political debate. U.S. creationists, even if they lose all their lawsuits, have considerable support, including financial support, in the U.S. population and continue their conquering strategy in education.
The Wedge Document of the Discovery Institute (in charge of ID) proves that the ID and its teaching are just one of the aspects of the creationists’ agenda; clearly, the aim is to impregnate political, cultural, moral, and religious life, not to separate scientific and philosophical authorities, to thwart any freedom of thinking and achieve a theocracy without Church-State separation.
In Europe, the situation is not as clear as a lot of people may think; the stands of the different Churches mention different forms of creationism, and creationism has even appeared in the European political agenda.
Attempts to ban have occurred in a number of European countries, as it is the case in countries of
- Catholic origin, in 2004 in Italy, Cyprus, Malta, Lithuania and — be it mentioned — Poland;
- Orthodox origin, Russia, Greece, in 2004 in Serbia, in 2006 in Romania;
- Protestant origin, problems have occurred in the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and even in England;
- Muslim origin in Turkey.
As for religions, let’s review the official stands.
In 1996, at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope John-Paul II finally mentioned that “some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than an hypothesis” whereas the English translation reads “the recognition of more than one hypothesis within the theory of evolution”, adding that the Roman Catholic Church cannot accept natural evolution and that human spirit cannot emerge from materialist evolution.
Besides, the document, Dei Verbum, adopted by par Vatican II, said “For all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God”.
In his speech of October 26, 1996, John-Paul II remained on the image of Revelation on the concept of man created at the image of God. Human dignity lies in his immortal soul, reminding the words of Pius XII: “if the origin of the human body comes through living matter which existed previously, the spiritual soul is created directly by God”.
John-Paul II also said: “…the theories of evolution which, because of the philosophies which inspire them, regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter […] are incompatible with the truth about man. They are therefore unable to serve as the basis for the dignity of the human person”.
An insult to secularists! An insult to evolutionists, lacking personal dignity!
Fortunately, all Christians do not agree with this speech. Thus, Jean Guitton, a Christian philosopher, (Dieu et la Science. Grasset, 1991) claims: “Spirit and matter comes to the same and single reality”.
In Encyclical Spe salvi, Benedict XVI promotes a fatalistic passivity moderated by “acting” as far as it is enlightened by expectation: God has no responsibility in human suffering, this is human responsibility (“A world marked by so much injustice, innocent suffering, and cynicism of power cannot be the work of a good God. A God with responsibility for such a world would not be a just God, much less a good God”).
Yet, reforms are illusive (undertake radical reforms, i.e. manage that no god does or is able to do, is preposterous and presumptuous)! Those responsible are progress, science, reason and even the ideal of liberty, expectation is also taught in suffering (“It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love”).
In 2007, in a book titled “Creation and Evolution”, Pope Benedict XVI greets the role of science in the advancement of reason but he remains opposed to the works of Darwin and those who persist in “seeking an explanation for the world in which God has become unnecessary”. In his opinion, the theory of evolution would not be proved and could not exclude faith. He admits that Darwin’s theory has “a certain level of likelihood”. “Science offers a reduced conception of the creation of humankind. Evolution raises philosophical questions which science cannot answer”. He asserts that Darwin’s theory cannot be proved in the last resort and that science offers a reduced conception of the creation of humankind!
Each of us is the fruit of a thought of God. He uses arguments that are at least two centuries old and dear to 18th century deists: Evolution is not scientifically proved! It is not provable!
Cardinal Christopher Schönborn, a close friend of Pope Benedict XVI, stated, in the New York Times in 2005, that he refused compatibility between evolution and the Catholic faith.
Concerning the Arab-Muslim world, it was teeming with intense intellectual periods, notably during the Middle-Ages when the European world was still cooped up in mysticism. But what contrast with the current Muslim world! Recently a kind of radicalism has appeared clearly: even in Europe, European Muslim organisations have demanded the implementation of Islamic regulations. A Muslim kind of creationism has been set up in Turkey: it has ordered a number of publications under the name of Harun Yahya, including the Atlas of Creation.
Muslim creationism often refers to it: it is a book with a luxury printing, the real design of which is not arguing but rather distilling doubt and seducing; the aim is to dazzle by evoking the unfathomable beauty of Creation. A real intellectual daylight robbery! At a scientific level -but how could we talk of science?- the work is poor and riddled with identification mistakes. It all amounts to compare pictures of fossil animals with present animals, concluding that they were much alike and therefore evolution was a swindle. “In each detail of life, the incomparable creation and the infinite science of our Lord are so obvious that they cannot be concealed”. Only the Koran is at the basis not only of Truth, Peace between the peoples, morality, tolerance…and also of all genuine science.
Although we all know that Harun Yahya is not a theologian, all those Muslim students constantly refer to him, instead of theologians.
Those Turkish intellectuals that have opposed this Atlas have been disparaged and even threatened.
Until when will intellectuals in the Muslim religious space not dare express their opinions freely?
Will culture remain closed to modernity? Will ideology remain linked to a theological ideology? Will the interpretation of the Koran be limited to the repetition of the Koran letters? Modernity and sciences are no longer the only ownership of the former colonizers: they are the world human heritage and every culture can therefore acquire and adopt them. .
Some contemporary Muslim scholars are heading in that direction. Abdelwahab Meddeb, a Franco-Tunisian author and professor at Paris X University, calls upon Muslims to get rid of Sharia and jihad (holy war),”one of the most maleficent legacy of Koran”. Abdelwahab Meddeb, wellknown for his reasoned defence of Muslim heritage, depicts the current situation as being “the darkest age in the History of Arabs with the Arab world like a cultural desert marked with illiteracy that amounts to 50% among women, while only 300 books are translated every year”.
Djemila Benhabib, an Algerian author of “My life against the Koran”, in a speech at the French Senate, on November 13, 2009, stated notably: “The worst female condition in the world is that of those who live in Muslim countries”. “There is also this relativist current of thinking which claims that in the name of cultures and traditions we should accept regression, which confines the other one in a status of perpetual victim and ourselves feel guilty for our choice of society, calling us racists and islamophobes when we defend gender equality and secularism”. “Political Islam is not
the expression of a cultural specificity, as it is heard here and there. It is a political issue, a collective threat which attacks the very foundation of democracy by promoting a violent, sexist, misogynist, racist and homophobic ideology”.
As we can see, Islam is not monolithic, it is plural. It goes from Islamism and fundamentalism attached to a concordat interpretation of the Koran to humanistic interpretations. It goes from a conception of blind and fanatical submission to Allah’s will to a humanistic conception referring to freedom of thought of the Andalusian period. Those Muslim Humanists, by the way like moderate Catholics, can only live in a democracy if they want to express themselves: they need a secular society separating religions and the state, and an open society tolerating all opinions.
It goes without saying that we should absolutely keep clear of a populist discourse in the style of Muslim=Islam=Islamist=terrorist; this is a caricature which we absolutely ought to fight, naturally. However, that should not prevent us from exercising our critical thinking and being strict on respect of human rights, especially concerning the values of equality between men and women. Islamism leads to setting up walls of separation, but fortunately the Muslim world is moving and the need for liberty and democracy is being felt and it is highly desirable to defend the Enlightened Muslims.
If Europe has an audible voice, it is not with valorisation of its religious roots, but instead that of the gains in terms of freedom of conscience, equal rights, gender equality, fight against prejudice.
European culture has a vocation to emancipate and not to confine oneself in cultures of closed traditions and communalism.
The Catholic Church has demanded that the Christian roots be mentioned in the preamble of the European Convention. This heritage is more or less ambiguous; should we also refer to the atrocities which were committed in the name of religions, and why not mention the Enlightenment, Humanism in Greek philosophy, or even the Arab elements in our civilization?… if you want to mention roots at all cost, you have to refer to all and in an equal manner.
A whole presentation could be made on the hold of religions over European politics, including Article 17.
The European states are willing to methodically withdraw the state from its social missions; the trend is to encourage religious associations to relieve the state, and replace social justice with charities.
The spiritual Free Thought is perceived as a threat for all dogmas. The Churches expect, or insist on, the faithful to be blindly obedient and intellectually submissive. The Churches do not admit the claim for self-liberation and getting rid of dogmas, Scriptures, clergy. Isn’t Luther’s quotation still relevant? “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but—more frequently than not—struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”
The trouble is that the hierarchy of the churches has always considered that compromising on its Truths, considered as revelation, amounted to losing power. The trouble is that the Church does not take into consideration in its teaching what Catholic scientists say, for instance, according, undoubtedly, to the principle that it would be better to ignore what is disturbing.
The growing influence of North-American Christian thinking, African Evangelists and Islam are all phenomena which strengthen the presence of religion in our society. And disaffection, or backward movement, of a number of Christians and Muslims with their churches or mosques, does not prevent them by no means from gaining visibility. And this increased visibility is not harmless; it is designed to send a series of messages through the mass media, including messages that are clearly addressed to national and European lawmakers.
What is so disturbing indeed in the proposal of freedom of conscience?
Democratic harmony has always been an uncompleted task; it requires that we maintain our principles of secularism. We have to defend those principles, even if in our society secularism is tolerated especially when it keeps silent, does not make too much fuss, and does not disturb by raising embarrassing questions.
We cannot give up our concern for universal progress (because giving up that idea would amount to giving up ideals of justice and equality). Our task remains the eternal struggle of knowledge against ignorance, tolerance against fanaticism, prejudice. Universality cannot be posed in cultural terms. All cultures have a right to live in genuine freedom, in freedom of conscience, equal treatment of all the citizens, in equal rights made credible with social justice. Such an ideal is not specific to one or another culture.
Freedom of conscience implies to right of expression. But freedom of expression cannot prohibit critical analysis. Respect for individuals cannot imply respect for ideas: the debates of ideas should not be muzzled. Creationism is an attitude, possibly religious, but certainly political and social, which we should oppose without complex, regardless of the religion it comes from. Why should we oppose, rightfully, the more and more conservative speeches by Benedict XVI, US fundamentalists, fanatical Jews or Orthodox, and not Muslim fundamentalists? Indeed, some people tend to confuse race and religion and consider that any critic of the Muslim world amounts to an attack against a social vulnerable group and therefore “racial hatred” against this group. I would be inclined to believe in the opposite: being tolerant in intolerable situations is a form of latent racism, because it is considering that Muslims are too underdeveloped to understand the concepts of evolution, too backward to become integrated into democracy and implement the principles of secularism.
Ideas are not made to be respected; instead, they are made to be heard, improved, debated, and criticized. A tolerant society is a society of permanent debates, critics and controversies.
The fact that life and evolution do not have finality does not mean that we should not give a sense to our life and to that of humankind. Seeking Light means seeking to see. Not seeing corresponds to being in darkness. To see, you have to watch and to watch, you have to be vigilant.