I allowed Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe by Simon Singh to sit on my bookshelf for three and a half years, unread. After finally reading this thrilling, enlightening, and entertaining book, I now know that all these years I was missing something great. And holographic.
There are some days, weeks, and months that seem to stretch on forever. The past two years have certainly felt like a lifetime. Our sense of time can feel so warped that the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries can feel like eons ago. In the community of evolution enthusiasts, Charles Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species is (intentionally or unintentionally) hailed as the long-ago beginning of evolutionary thought. But in comparison with many of his evolutionary predecessors, Darwin might as well have published just yesterday.
Imagine that you’re standing in a bookstore or library. You want to learn about human evolution, but you don’t know where to start. You don’t want anything complicated; you just want to know the basics and to find out if it’s an interesting topic. You’re down to two books: either Bernard Wood’s Human Evolution: A Very Short Introduction (or A Brief Insight) or Silvana Condemi and François Savatier’s A Pocket History of Human Evolution: How We Became Sapiens. Which do you choose?
Even as my content and I have both changed and evolved over the years, I always end up finding my way back to the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s teachings on creationism. I was raised in the LCMS and only once I left did I really delve into the details of their beliefs. While it can be frustrating to return to the doctrine of my old church, I think there is something enjoyable in refuting both LCMS doctrine and creationism in general.
As I continue to examine the myths the circulate in the atheist community, it was inevitable that I would come across, and have my eyes opened by, God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science by James Hannam (which in the US goes by the title The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution).
The Piltdown Man hoax is the perfect story for the anti-evolutionists at Answers in Genesis to hold up as proof that evolution is false and its proponents are dishonest. The story has everything they need: faked fossils, infighting between scientists, and 40 years of overlooking a grave mistake right under everyone’s noses. Answers in Genesis claims that something like this is the all-too-obvious outcome of the baseless and backward worldview—they even like to call it a religion—of evolution. If only the men involved had had the right starting point, the Word of God, this never would have happened.
The Piltdown Man is one of the most famous human fossils ever discovered, almost as famous as Lucy. But unlike Lucy, the Piltdown Man never lived, at least not 400,000 years ago like the world’s greatest minds in paleoanthropology used to think. These scientists believed from 1912 to 1953 that the Piltdown Man was the missing link of human evolution when in fact he was a human skull found with a modified orangutan jaw by Charles Dawson in Sussex, England.
This week, I stumbled upon a blog post by a pastor at a church from my old denomination, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The pastor, Duncan McLellan, wrote the post a few days after his church had hosted a “Genesis Seminar” in which “several experts in Creation Science and the Old Testament spent three days at the church, teaching and discussing the flaws with the Evolutionary Model and explaining many passages in the Bible that describe the Creation.” This post was particularly fascinating to me, because McLellan definitely did not come to the conclusion that one might think. But his attitude actually revealed to me a pattern in the LCMS’s views towards creationism.
On the surface, Dick Teresi’s Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science—from the Babylonians to the Maya is an eye-opening and thought-provoking book on the history of non-Western science. It is a book I would recommend to anyone who believes in the “Greek miracle,” who takes Carl Sagan’s words about the Ionian birth of science at face value, and generally anyone who wants to take a less white, less Western perspective on both science and history as wholes. However, anyone who reads this must also be able to question what they are reading, ask for the author’s sources and motivation, and be ready to think for themselves despite the author’s biases.
“Whatever is inconsistent with the facts, no matter how fond of it we are, must be discarded or revised.” – Carl Sagan, Cosmos Episode 13: “Who Speaks for Earth?”
Since first reading Cosmos by Carl Sagan one year ago, I have revered him. I admire his worldview and his way of expressing it. I’ve dedicated many blog posts to him and to the curiosity that he has inspired in me. I’ve shared dozens of his quotes, many of which carry the same sentiment as the one above. This dedication to the truth, this unwillingness to accept facts only because they were propagated by an authority figure, is what brings me to write that Carl Sagan was wrong.