Thursday, February 12, 2009

Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Charles Darwin, Christianity, Atheism and Agnosticism

Alvaro Vargas Llosa tries a little redemptive politics regarding Charles Darwin in his article in The Australian entitled Right should warm to Darwin.

First play of the cards is his assertion "Darwin was not an atheist but a Victorian believer ... Darwin did not set out to deny God".

Stop right there. I know Llosa has fudged Victorian believer (what exactly does that mean?) but it's such a major piece of dissembling, you know at once he's up to no good.

Can he be talking about the same man who said "I am sorry to inform you that I do not believe in the Bible as a divine revelation, & therefore not in Jesus Christ as the Son of God."?

Is this the same man who refused a request by the Archbishop of Canterbury to help harmonise science and religion because he saw no prospect of any benefit arising from it? 

Is this the same man who said he never gave up Christianity until he was forty years of age? Try reading his autobiography: "Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but at last was complete."

At best, you could call Darwin an agnostic, as he himself did, as disinclined to be a leader of atheism as he was equally disinclined to promote any kind of set of religious or spiritual beliefs.

Llosa will have to work a lot harder to sell Darwin to Christians in America, who know the truth about where his theory leads their fundamentalism about the bible. If evolution is correct in its broad approach, where does that leave talking snakes, the garden of Eden, and a short six thousand year history which saw humans mingle with dinosaurs? (And last I heard about one third of the American adult population believes the Bible is the actual word of god, to be taken literally word for word. Amazing but see Gallup on this subject here).

Sure Darwin's theories should make leftists uncomfortable, but they should equally disturb right wingers plunging them into them like they're some kind of ikandy useful in the ideological and religious wars. They're actually an attempt at science, as a way of seeing things as they are and how they came about, and if you go with that, you can understand  just why Darwin felt so uncomfortable about the loons clutching and grabbing at him and his ideas as a way of asserting their passionately held beliefs about the world. Darwin liked to think his thinking wasn't based on emotion or hope or desperation, but derived from scientific methodology to arrive at replicable observable scientific insights.

It seems to me that Llosa, ostensibly a friend of Darwin, is not so far from those Victorian loons in spirit and manner, with his clutching and clawing and trying to make Darwin respectable to the Right, especially when he caricatures and distorts Darwin's thinking. 

When he writes that the bicentenary of Darwin's birth is a good opportunity for those on the right who trash him as an icon of the left to give the author of On the Origin of Species another chance, how much better would it have been to have said that his bicentenary was actually a good chance to find out what Darwin actually said and wrote, and what his dogged determination and genius produced by way of science.

And fuck the cheap point scoring and dumbing down induced by thinking inside the box of platitudinous left and right.

Darwin was better than that, a whole lot better. Back to the keyboard Llosa, and this time aim for the truth, and be damned to your right wing Christian mates and be damned to your desire to shove Darwin up the noses of the left.

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