Holdren, Lubchenco and creationism
At last, some cabinet appointees to make progressives smile. John Holdren
-- nominated to head the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy -- and Jane Lubchenco
-- nominated to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees ocean and atmospheric studies and does much of the government's research on global warming -- are both advocates for strong governmental action on global warming. Holdren with also direct the president's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology , along with Harold Varmus
, former director of the National Institute of Health, and Eric Lander
a professor of biology at MIT.
Holdren's position on global warming? "Global warming is a misnomer. It implies something gradual, something uniform, something quite possibly benign, and what we're experiencing is none of those," he has said. "There is already widespread harm ... occurring from climate change
. This is not just a problem for our children and our grandchildren."
In announcing these new nominations, Obama said, "The truth is that promoting science isn't just about providing resources — it's about protecting free and open inquiry. It's about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology."
Perhaps we won't have to worry about those who want to add creationism to our science curriculum anymore!
Speaking of creationism, a recent article in the New Scientist talked about the challenge of teaching evolution in the Muslim world where there is widespread ignorance about what the theory of evolution actually says, and something like 80-85% of the people reject it in favor of creationism. According to the article, many Muslims reject evolution simply because it is Western, and is perceived as the underpinning of Western moral decadence -- a colonialist doctrine that undermined the Christian church and will undermine Islam if allowed (so they think).
Complicating this is the current trend to read the Qur'an very, very literally. For many Muslims, every parabale in the Qur'an is taken as historical fact. While Qur'anic literalism makes more sense to me than Biblical literalism given the different natures of the Qur'an and the Bible, I still believe that the power of the stories in both the Qur'an and the Bible comes from the lessons one can learn from them about spirituality, human nature, the relationship between the Divine and the Mundane.
Whether Adam and Eve are literally the first two humans ever to walk on earth or not, their story of sin, repentance and forgiveness* teaches us all about our own human frailities, how we should confront our mistakes and our wilfull evils, and, most importantly, it shows God's clemency towards us. The power in the story is not about how humanity was made, but about what it means to be human, and the fundamental relationship between god and humankind.
So too, other stories in the Qur'an teach us important lessons, serve as brilliant inspiration whether or not they are literally true. Another example -- Abraham's people trying to burn him alive, his composure in face of this terrible hatred, and his survival unscathed. You can take this as a miracle -- a special boon granted to Abraham by God, proof of how special he was (which is how it is often taught in sunday school) -- or you can look at it allegorically. In this day and age, when many American Muslims feel under fire from their neighbors, the story can inspire us to calm and composure, to steadfastness in the face of our challenges, and give us hope that on the other side of this trial there is wholeness and a position of peace, even of strength.
Of course, it seems so often when Muslim kids are taught these stories, it is the facts of the story that are taught rather than the lessons we can learn from them.
Back to evolution... what I find most ironic is that many of the concepts of evolution were propounded in the 9th century by an Islamic scientist, Al Jahiz
. (Even more ironic is that Al-Jahiz saw black men as the end result of human progress, while the while Europeans of the late 19th century saw white men as that same pinnacle of human evolution...). Anyway, here's to hoping science wins out over Biblical or Qur'anic literalism!
*note: the Qur'anic story about Adam and Eve differs significantly from that in the Bible. Before God ever creates Adam and Eve, He informs the angels that He is making the rulers of earth. The angels object, because we will be a bloody lot, but God tells them that He knows what He is doing. Later, when Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden fruit (and, as a side point, the Qur'anic does not lay blame upon Eve, but upon them both equally, just as they are created as equals, not as prime player and helpmate), they are censured, they realize they were rebellious, seek forgiveness, are granted that forgiveness, and then sent down to Earth as it's caretakers, as God had planned from the beginning. It is not an ignoble banishment, but rather a fulfillment of human destiny to be sent to Earth. Similarly, Adam and Eve's children, like their parents are suspect to evil of all kinds (it's part of having free will), but we are not inherently evil, rather we are inherently good, yearning always for harmony with the Divine, but prone to rebelliousness, mistakes, and willfull violations of our own consciences and moral dictates. God, then, is not there to exact revenge on our innate evilness or to save us from ourselves, but to help us express the inherent goodness we all have within ourselves, and to overcome our weaknesses and failings. And when we do fall down, as we all do, God is forgiving and always responsive.