The Beagle In Retreat

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The Economist has a truly balanced and fascinating feature about evolution's battles outside the United States.

In Kenya, for example, there is a bitter controversy over plans to put on display the most complete skeleton of a prehistoric human being ever found, a figure known as Turkana Boy—along with a collection of fossils, some of which may be as much as 200m years old. Bishop Boniface Adoyo, an evangelical leader who claims to speak for 35 denominations and 10m believers, has denounced the proposed exhibit, asserting that: "I did not evolve from Turkana Boy or anything like it."

Richard Leakey, the palaeontologist who unearthed both the skeleton and the fossils in northern Kenya, is adamant that the show must go on. "Whether the bishop likes it or not, Turkana Boy is a distant relation of his," Mr Leakey has insisted. Local Catholics have backed him.

Rows over religion and reason are also raging in Russia. In recent weeks the Russian Orthodox Church has backed a family in St Petersburg who (unsuccessfully) sued the education authorities for teaching only about evolution to explain the origins of life. Plunging into deep scientific waters, a spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, Father Vsevolod Chaplin, said Darwin's theory of evolution was "based on pretty strained argumentation"—and that physical evidence cited in its support "can never prove that one biological species can evolve into another."

The first thing I think of here—maybe this is weird—is Mark Steyn's America Alone. One of the theses of Steyn's book is that a wave of Islamic conversions or Muslims outbreeding secular Westerners will snuff out the spirit of the Enlightenment. Well, here we have the the frontier outposts, the Rorke's Drifts, of Christianity, and there's some of the angry science-bashing that Steyn fears from Islam.

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  1. Uh oh. Time for another Hit and Run, Two Minutes and 20,000 Posts Religion Hate.

  2. Best I can tell, any revealed religion by any name that has “a good book” snuffs out such things as the spirit of Enlightenment.

    If they could not exploit the fear of death, there would be no reason for them.

  3. Crappy comparrison, Dave. Christians fight evolution, but you can’t say they are angry science bashers. I don’t know if the moslems are angry science bashers either, but they are definately more dangerous when you upset their religious sensitivities. Rushdie, Van Gogh, the cartoon? I’m still waiting for the christian riots.

  4. Half the point of the enlightenment was taming and humanizing western religions. I don’t expect to see many Christian riots, and that’s a good thing.

  5. In recent weeks the Russian Orthodox Church has backed a family in St Petersburg who (unsuccessfully) sued the education authorities for teaching only about evolution to explain the origins of life.

    rule of thumb: as soon as you see “evolution” and “origin of life” in the same sentence, you’re dealing with someone clueless, or at least someone who hasn’t the faintest idea of what “evolution by natural selection” means.

  6. Problem is, Islam has never had a Reformation.

  7. All this proves to me is that poor, uneducated people will respond badly to any idea that implies that they don’t deserve a better life, and they’ll use whatever convenient ideas are available. Darwinism is a great theory for explaining how the world of trilobites became the world of tyrannosaurs to the world of humans, but it isn’t all the wonderful when people try to apply it to human society. I wonder how much of the opposition to Darwin is based in fear of the changes these societies have experienced in the last 20 or so years.

  8. The data supports evoultion, but I’m more worried about people who stop their TB antibiotic treatment half way than about people who believe the Earth is 5,000 years old.

  9. James Ard said, “Christians fight evolution”

    Tweak: Some Christians fight evolution.

  10. I just read this an hour ago, in an effort to catch up on all of my print copies that keep piling up before I can finish them. The first thing (and last) that came to my mind was what Karen said, more or less.

    Another thing just popped into my head: I have nothing interesting to add.

  11. Err, you do know that Steyn is a Creationist?

  12. Isn’t it ironic that every living human’s ancestor was a nappy-headed ho?

  13. Thank you, Tim Lambert, for that refreshing shot of irony. It balances out the caffeine nicely first thing in the morning.

    The quotes from the spokesman for the Moscow Patriarch – “based on pretty strained argumentation,” “can never prove that one biological species can evolve into another,” are a little too close, even in the phrasing and word choice, to what the IDers put out for my blood.

    Methinks Steyn’s western, post-enlightenment, post-reformation Christianists are going forth and undermining science abroad.

  14. Of course, Weigel doesn’t let the fact that some Christians (Catholics, no less!) have supported Leakey’s Kenya exhibit get in the way of sweeping denunciations of Christianity.

  15. I’m more worried about people who stop their TB antibiotic treatment half way than about people who believe the Earth is 5,000 years old.

    Heh. Better to deny evolution than to help it along, right?

  16. When you believe in things,
    That you don’t understand,
    Then you suffer.
    Superstition ain’t the way.

  17. It balances out the caffeine nicely first thing in the morning.

    Which begs the more relevant question: why would you want to balance out the caffeine? That’s the only reason TWC gets out of bed.

    MMMMMMMMMMMMM. Cofffffffeeeeeeeeeeee.

  18. Apparently the coffee hasn’t quite kicked in yet–which explains perpetual italics.

    Or does it?

  19. Where’s the sweeping denunciation? I think you are a little too eager to read into what he said. He basically says at the end that “some” of the fringes of Christianity are not immune to what we fear from Islam. That’s “sweeping”? How exactly? And he pretty clearly quotes the section which says that many Christians oppose the creationists. Looks like a pretty darn weak case you have against him.

  20. Maybe you descended from the Monkees, but I kept my pants on during the 1960’s.

  21. Richard Leakey, the palaeontologist who unearthed both the skeleton and the fossils in northern Kenya, is adamant that the show must go on. “Whether the bishop likes it or not, Turkana Boy is a distant relation of his,” Mr Leakey has insisted. Local Catholics have backed him.

    Yeah, crimethink, it’s not like Weigel quoted the above passage or anything. He totally should’ve quoted the paragraph about how local Catholics are backing the paleontologist! Weigel is obviously a shill for Big Reading Comprehension!

  22. Look into Al Ghazali, and Averroes’ refutation of his thought.

    There has always been a divide in Islam between those accepting reason and science as given by God and those who believe it an enemy.

    Instead of presenting a monolithic radical Islam caricature that doesn’t exist, how about a more nuanced historical view?

  23. Individuals are allowed to hold stupid beliefs and we are allowed to make fun of them. It only becomes a problem when government decides whose beliefs will be enforced by law. That is why people fear Islam. Because Islamic countries typically enforce stupid beliefs by law.

    Secondarily, how about we flip the tables and say that if you don’t want your kid taught creationism send her to a private school? Got a nice Scientology school right up the hill here that doesn’t teach creationism and has a stellar academic reputation. Course there is that pesky bowing toward L Ron Hubbard’s grave five times a day.

    What?

  24. ed,

    “Problem is, Islam has never had a Reformation.”

    It’s a little more complicated that that, ed. Many of the advances that were brought into Christendom through the Reformation already existed in Islam, almost right from the beginning, but were later overtaken by backwardsness. They were ahead of us for centuries in art, architecture, civil rights, science, and reason. Much of the Enlightenment, after all, consisted of the introduction (or reintroduction) of civilization from the Islamic world to the west.

  25. “Well, here we have the the frontier outposts, the Rorke’s Drifts, of Christianity, and there’s some of the angry science-bashing that Steyn fears from Islam.”

    Anyone who has objectively taken a close look at the phenomenon of salvationist religion should not be the least bit surprised by the above.

    And Plunge is too right. I want you kneejerkers who accused Dave Weigel of any sort of sweeping denunciation of christianity to go back and re-read his commentary paragraph 3 or 4 times until it registers. crimethink, I’m looking in your direction.

    Ed is also right, but the reformation doesn’t mean that christianity is immune from science-bashing and bending over backward to cherry-pick certain “gaps” in the scientific record as “evidence” that the theory of evolution is wrong. The reformation is why christians no longer lock entire towns of pagans inside their own city walls and kill every last one of them. The reformation is why most christians today cherry-pick from the new testament to serve their own ends, but mostly ignore all the horrible stuff in the bible. But the reformation still hasn’t stopped christians from basing their outlook on life on a singular collection of words rather than a mountain of observable scientific evidence. The civilizing power of the reformation can only go so far.

  26. I’m still waiting for the christian riots.

    You are right. Christian fundamentalists do not go on angry demonstrations when their religious sensiblities are challenged, they just go and shoot people at abortion clinics.

  27. I amazed that Christians think that “Atheism” exists as a natural kind with definite characteristics and, by the same token, that Atheists think that “Christianity” or “religion” exist as natural kinds that are out there in the universe. Any sweeping denunciation of either side by the other is at best a useful heuristic and at worst pure, unadulterated bologna (probably the pickled kind they eat here in Hoosierland too – yuggh): think certain posters’ paranoia about believers and others’ equally paranoid assessment about atheists. (It’s funny too how often if you changed a few words, like swapping Christian for atheist and vice versa, the statements from these paranoid sorts read exactly the same and have the same evngelical fervor.)

    At most there are “atheisms” and “christianities”, but the more accurate description is that there are individual atheists and individual Christians who hold their own idiosyncratic views that may or may not correspond to any official dogma/school of scientific thought. Just as there are Christians who accept evolution, I’m sure there are atheists who don’t accept it (for whatever reason). (I even recall one Evangelical fellow whose name I forget writing a book-long apologia for Darwinian evolution in which he argued that his evangelical brethren were denying scripture in fighting evolution. He certainly didn’t fit the stereotype here of all religious figures as “mouth breathers” who blindly accept what they’re told and ignore evidence.)

    I think one ground for discussing religion/atheism should be the recognition that the cartoon caricatures/stereotypes we like to bandy about don’t describe anything except our own fantasies about what those we disagree with are. The extent to which they correspond to anything anyone real holds is an accident of coincidence.

  28. But the reformation still hasn’t stopped christians from basing their outlook on life on a singular collection of words rather than a mountain of observable scientific evidence.

    Now there’s a nice, accurate picture of all Christians. It’s about as accurate as the old saw that all atheists are perverts who don’t believe only to excuse their bad behavior. The latter probably does apply to someone, somewhere, and therefore it must be true of all atheists, right? Sure, there are know-nothing Christians, but there are others who are deeply interested in science and, to a large extent, do base their “outlook on life” on “a mountain of observable scientific evidence.”

  29. they just go and shoot people at abortion clinics.

    Well, at least two or three did.

  30. Untermensch:

    What a long statement. You could have saved yourself some time and simply said “the stereotypes of theists and atheists are inaccurate and exaggerated”. It’s all about post efficiency!

    Question: is “most christians believe that a collection of stories called “the bible” is more correct than the mountains of scientific evidence in support of evolution” an accurate or inaccurate “stereotype”?

  31. Anon, I’m no christian, but I can see the difference in shooting someone who you believe has killed an innocent life, and someone who has said something that offends me.

  32. Question: is “most christians believe that a collection of stories called “the bible” is more correct than the mountains of scientific evidence in support of evolution” an accurate or inaccurate “stereotype”?

    How the hell should I know? It doesn’t describe most of them I know: they end up adapting their views to match what science discovers. It certainly doesn’t describe all Christians. It most certainly is a stereotype based on the conflict seen by certain fundementalists and certain atheists. There are other Christians who see no incompatibility between the two because they engage in reading modes of scripture that are not of the most banal, literalist sort…

  33. Question: is “most christians believe that a collection of stories called “the bible” is more correct than the mountains of scientific evidence in support of evolution” an accurate or inaccurate “stereotype”?

    I’d say inaccurate, because I don’t think that it’s most, it’s just the noisiest.

  34. You could have saved yourself some time and simply said “the stereotypes of theists and atheists are inaccurate and exaggerated”. It’s all about post efficiency!

    Hmm, I guess none of the other points I was making were worth it then?

  35. I thought I’d offer a statement from those of us in the “apathetic agnostic” camp:

    Meh.

  36. …the most complete skeleton of a prehistoric human being ever found,…

    That’s incorrect for two reasons: first, Turkana Boy was not a human; second, plenty of complete prehistoric human skeletons have been found.

  37. “Tweak: Some Christians fight evolution.”

    How does one “fight” evolution? Plastic surgery to get a big, sloping neanderthal-style forehead?

  38. Wow, didn’t take long for Timbo Lamberto to show up.

    Don’t worry, folks, he makes his own reality!

  39. The same issue of the Economist has an article about this guy, BTW

    http://www.livescience.com/othernews/ap_051118_ID_vatican.html

    “Vatican Astronomer: Intelligent Design is Not Science

    {SNIP}
    God in his infinite freedom continuously creates a world that reflects that freedom at all levels of the evolutionary process to greater and greater complexity,” he wrote. “He is not continually intervening, but rather allows, participates, loves.”

    The Vatican Observatory, which Coyne heads, is one of the oldest astronomical research institutions in the world. It is based in the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome.”

    So much for ‘Christians dont do science’ Jesuits have been fighting for/contributing to science for hundreds of years.

    Of course, the pope keeps changing his mind about the issue, and fired this guy for undermining “teahing the controversy” (i.e. none)

  40. They were ahead of us for centuries in art, architecture, civil rights, science, and reason. Much of the Enlightenment, after all, consisted of the introduction (or reintroduction) of civilization from the Islamic world to the west.

    Absolutely. Christianity was still wallowing in mud during Islam’s golden era.

    the reformation doesn’t mean that christianity is immune from science-bashing and bending over backward to cherry-pick certain “gaps” in the scientific record as “evidence” that the theory of evolution is wrong

    Indeed.

  41. How does one “fight” evolution? Plastic surgery to get a big, sloping neanderthal-style forehead?

    By preventing people with successful traits from reproducing.

  42. “Christianity was still wallowing in mud during Islam’s golden era.”

    Yeah, but what have they done lately?

  43. That must explain my sophmore and junior years in college. Since free will is an important part of my religious creed, I choose to believe that.

    Dame evolution-fighters!

  44. mediageek,

    I’m not engaging in a “Be True to Your School” pissing match about which civilizaiton is better.

    My point is that the model of primitive Christianity -> Enlightenment -> PeacefulHappyFreedom isn’t quite applicable to Islam.

    The Reformation was about innovation, whereas Islam actually has a history of the tolerance, freedom, and respect for reason in its past to draw on.

  45. These snake oil salesmen packaging their mythology as science really make me ill.

  46. Pro Lib: if I may steal a concept from Love & Rockets, people who battle evolution by preventing people with successful traits from reproducing are part of evolution too.

  47. ‘My point is that the model of primitive Christianity -> Enlightenment -> PeacefulHappyFreedom isn’t quite applicable to Islam.”

    No disagreement here. But pointing out that Islam had a highly advanced civilization thousands of years ago does kind of cause one to wonder where they went wrong.

  48. Lamar,

    Are you positing some sort of divine right of evolution?

    Actually, I was just attempting to make a smart-ass remark–I had the same thought when I posted it.

    joe,

    You know, I occasionally read some historical works that cover earlier Islamic cultures. There’s substantial evidence that the Arab Renaissance was actually more of a Persian one. Which means that only one subculture actually had that enlightened period. That’s not really to take away their accomplishments–our Enlightenment, for instance, wasn’t universal in Europe–but it explains part of the reason that period was so short. Also, there’s every reason to believe that the fanatical Christians fired up the smoldering fanaticism of the Muslim world during the Crusades. It’s a lovely feedback loop–they fire us up, we fire them up.

  49. joe:

    Much of the Enlightenment, after all, consisted of the introduction (or reintroduction) of civilization from the Islamic world to the west.

    While there is a nugget of truth contained in this platitude–particularly regarding some maths and astronomical texts–I think the truth of the matter is that the greater Islamic contribution to the development of the West can be found in the sacking of Constantinople. Scholarly refugees from the crumbling Byzantine Empire who took up residence in Florence played a crucial role in kicking off the Renaissance.

  50. Evan!,

    The reformation is why most christians today cherry-pick from the new testament to serve their own ends, but mostly ignore all the horrible stuff in the bible.

    I believe you’ve got this backwards. The Catholic Church had adopted a highly “spiritualized” (metaphorical) reading of the Old Testament long before the Reformation. This goes back as far as Philo of Alexandria, Origen, and Augustine and was solidified by Aquinas. The Reformation Churches, on the other hand, tended to place far more emphasis on the Old Testament in an attempt to demonstrate that they were a more authentic variety of the Christian faith than the corrupted Roman Church.

  51. E.A.H.,

    The re-introduction of Roman and Greek classics was no small potatoes, either. Especially since Aristotle’s works were the foundation of science in the West.

  52. ed,

    Absolutely. Christianity was still wallowing in mud during Islam’s golden era.

    This is true of the western half of Christendom, but it surely doesn’t hold for the Byzantines.

  53. I like the Rorke’s Drift metaphor. Does that mea that the leading edges of Objectivism are Roark’s Drifts?

  54. SPD, thanks for the “apathetic agnostic” link. Interesting site.

    I guess that makes me something like a “percolating agnostic” — I don’t know, but I still enjoy thinking about the possibilities.

  55. Everybody always forgets Byzantium. Many works and ideas were preserved there, too.

  56. Nobody expects the Byzantines.

  57. Pro L, good point about the Persians, who have had a high civilization going on 3,500 years now. There was also, in the Muslim world, the Abbasid period from, I think, the late 800’s through the Mongol conquests in the 1,200’s. Abassid civilization centered on Baghdad, and is responsible for, among other things, preservation of the oldest manuscripts of the Old Testament. (I’m developing a really geekiness about this subject, replacing my old enthusiasm for Egyptian trivia.)

    Also, I think the Enlightenment has less to do with some magic inherent in Christianity than it did with urbanization, which allowed a lot of smart people to be at one place at one time. Europe urbanized before any other place did because of market cities like the old Hanseatic League. To the extent that the Church had much to do with this, it was because it built all those cathedrals, which allowed cities and markets to grow up around them, and because episcopal courts and monasteries were also important foci for development. Philosophy played a part, but physical plant played a bigger one.

  58. You know, I occasionally read some historical works that cover earlier Islamic cultures. There’s substantial evidence that the Arab Renaissance was actually more of a Persian one. Which means that only one subculture actually had that enlightened period.

    I don’t know that I’d agree; Islamic Spain and Morocco were both outposts of culture and pluralism despite being separated from any direct Persian influences. Even if it didn’t start in Arabia, it certainly took off there, and they also carried it elsewhere, at least in the begining. Though I’ll grant it certainly didn’t touch the Turks in any serious way, which didn’t bode well for the future of Islam when they took over the Caliphate.

  59. Maybe I missed something, but these examples seem rather benign to me: a bishop exercising his fundamental human right of free speech, and a couple who objects to the rigid curriculum of the State schools and peacefully tries to object through the system.

    Isn’t the former the exact example that someone with a libertarian mindset should take? Exercise free speech rights and object to curriculum that they find offensive being forced on their kids by the State schools (and having money seized to pay for it, to boot)?

    Shouldn’t we be opposed to State schools in general? And as long as the bishop and those who are likeminded don’t escalate speech into violence, what exactly is the big deal?

  60. Fucking Christ, doesn’t making that same point ever get old to anyone? We’re not automatons, we like discussing things and not just deciding what the party line is and shutting off our brains.

    Drink!

  61. CFisher,

    (Loved you in The ‘Burbs!)
    The magazine is titled “Reason.” Sometimes it’s not that things should be determined by law, but that people are ignoring reason.

  62. Granting your point, highnumber.

    I guess the main sticking point for me is that it seemed a bit weird to even casually link these two examples with Islamic extremists whose responses to ideas that conflict with their own have tended to escalate beyond words into violence.

    Shem, I don’t recall asking you to shut off your brain, I was making a comment about libertarians and public schools with a specific general qualifier that left room for disagreement. If you’re for public schools or the option of public schools or just like being contrary and arguing for them even if you don’t support them, then more power to you.

  63. Shem,

    That’s a fair criticism of my comment. I was thinking about the Middle East proper rather than the whole Wonderful World of Islam. I do think that the pinnacle of the scientific and mathematical achievement was Persia and the Persian-influenced regions, not to mention that those areas also were most instrumental in retaining and building upon the classics, but it is unfair to discount the western outposts of Islam.

    What’s interesting to me is the importance of geography to all of this. The Middle East was influenced by Rome and by the earlier Hellenization of the region (to varying degrees) but also by the contact with India. Hybrid vigor really shows up when cultures are mixed and matched.

  64. “Hybrid vigor really shows up when cultures are mixed and matched.”

    tasty food, too!

  65. What’s interesting is that China had a far more advanced civilization at the time than either medieval Christendom or the Caliphate. Ultimately, much of the technological advance in the West filtered in very slowly over the Silk Road. The real question is why the Chinese stagnated. The short and easy answer is that the Qing Dynasty happened, but that’s not a sufficient answer, since the Ming didn’t keep up the pace of advancement, even if they didn’t reject modernity the way the Qing did.

    BTW, love it how some folks nominally devoted toward the beauty of individualism can so casually paint religious folks with a broad brush.

  66. CFisher-It wasn’t your comment about schools, it was the way you phrased it; the whole “why do supposed libertarians care about this instead of just believing that people should have a right to do what they want if it doesn’t hurt anyone.” The short answer is, because we want to talk about the merits. If you want to talk about the merits also, then calling into question the libertarian cred of the people here is a lousy way to start, because, as my reaction showed you, it tends to irritate, as typically that’s the way that trolls try to stir up irritation.

    ChrisO-Chinese civilization was deeply traumatized by the Mongol invasion and occupation of the 13th and 14th century, to the point where it became the obsession of the Ming Emperors. The Ming were incredibly xenophobic (they built the Great Wall, after all) and if it hadn’t been for one Emperor making the effort to explore then they’d be much better known as the inward-looking dynasty they were. Then by the time the Qing came to power, it was too deeply ingrained to excise, especially for a “foreign” dynasty, who couldn’t afford to rock the boat. If they had just avoided giving into fear back in the 1400s, they probably would have remained at the top of the world. There’s a lesson for modern empires in that, I’d say.

  67. Why did the Islamic world and China stagnate and the West didn’t? Well, it has a lot to do with the fact that every other civilization in the Eastern Hemisphere (China, India, the Caliphate, what is now Russia) got invaded and sacked by the Mongols.

    The two exceptions are 1) the West, and 2) Japan. Isn’t it weird those are the two places that modernized first?

  68. Dunno if I’d say the Japan modernized “first”. They did get fed up with the missionaries playing politics, crucified a bunch of them, then slammed the door shut for 200 years. I’d say Japanese suspicion did a pretty good job of keeping Japan pretty “stagnant” until Perry and the Black Ships, at which point there was a heck of a lot of modernization that Japan had to catch up on.

    Also, the “Renaissance” occurred in several waves–there was a renaissance in Roman law that started back in late 900s, then there was Thomas Acquinas, which is the way that Aristotle came back in (and let’s not forget Averroes), increasing urbanization (which is what put the kibosh on anti-usury legislation), the invention of securities and banking (Crusades, Templars, and the Medici, bunch of other people up in Holland), the continuing fragmentation of papal power (Schism), the increasing political plays of papal power (Avignon Papacy, John XX, Italian Crusades), Humanism and the rise of the vernacular (Dante, Plutarch and that crowd), and then we finally get the collapse of Constantinople which was just one more wave of new immigrants with new stuff. The Renaissance was well on its way by the time Constantinople fell.

  69. Err, you do know that Steyn is a Creationist?

    Err, can you furnish a citation as evidence for that?

    Don’t read him much, but I’ve never actually seen him make any statements on the subject.

    Err, you do realize that when some Xians (even very conservative ones) refer to God’s creation they are not necessarily talking about the Genesis version?

    You may be right but You’ve made a glib assertion.

    Incidentally googling “Mark Steyn, creationism” turns up nothing by him on the subject. Substituting “creationist” gets nothing. Adding Christan gets nothing.

    Like I say, care to cite some evidence.

  70. “Dunno if I’d say the Japan modernized “first”. They did get fed up with the missionaries playing politics, crucified a bunch of them, then slammed the door shut for 200 years. I’d say Japanese suspicion did a pretty good job of keeping Japan pretty “stagnant” until Perry and the Black Ships, at which point there was a heck of a lot of modernization that Japan had to catch up on.

    Well it certainly was the first place outside of the Euro-Atlantic world to modernize.

  71. skippy, don’t know if this helps.

    http://timlambert.org/2005/09/mark-steyn-creationist/

    i suppose the source is questionable, but there is probably more available. His wiki bio says he attends a baptist church.

  72. Monty | May 1, 2007, 12:44pm | #

    Nobody expects the Byzantines.
    ———————————-

    Our chief weapon is surprise — and Greek fire!

    Our two main weapons are surprise, and Greek fire, and — I’ll come in again.

  73. I don’t know about this statement:

    “most christians believe that a collection of stories called “the bible” is more correct than the mountains of scientific evidence in support of evolution”

    But I do know something about Americans: 45% of them think humans were created more-or-less as-is in the past 10000 years or so. That’s a consistent number over lots of polls: 45%.

    Heck, here’s the first Google hit: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/061110.html

    So let’s not act like these people are an exception to the rule. They’re the plurality in the States.

  74. ChrisO-Chinese civilization was deeply traumatized by the Mongol invasion and occupation of the 13th and 14th century, to the point where it became the obsession of the Ming Emperors. The Ming were incredibly xenophobic (they built the Great Wall, after all) and if it hadn’t been for one Emperor making the effort to explore then they’d be much better known as the inward-looking dynasty they were.

    This is true, but from the little I’ve read the Mongol emperors actually encouraged continuing innovation in China (unlike the other Hordes that conquered to the west), and part of the Ming xenophobia actually encouraged increased military technology.

    The economic explanation that you imply is probably the correct one, though. A xenophobic, paranoid society is not likely to advance economically, and that is the backbone of technological and cultural advancement. One wonders if modern China has a ceiling on such development unless they open up their society.

  75. This is true, but from the little I’ve read the Mongol emperors actually encouraged continuing innovation in China (unlike the other Hordes that conquered to the west), and part of the Ming xenophobia actually encouraged increased military technology.

    The Mongols encouraged continuing innovation, but they didn’t have a whole lot of continuing effect on China after they were kicked out. They were seen as being foreign, and so anything Mongol was viewed with suspicion after the collapse and the coming of the Ming. And the Ming advances were confined almost entirely to one single Emperor, the Yongle in the 14th century. After he died, the faction who wanted to close off the borders and become an inward-looking empire won out, ending the influx and adoption of foreign technologies that had made China the center of world scientific advancement. It also caused them to destroy their most magnificent military technology, like the ships that were 400 feet long and 200 feet wide, with compartments for fish and fresh water. The Qing came to power promising the hard-liners a return to the Ming’s old ideals of segregation, which appealed to conservatives who had long ago forgotten about the roots of the glorious past, and so Ming xenophobia continued until the European powers decided to be jerks about it and force the issue. Since they had destroyed their military tech centuries before, they had to meet British gunboats with junks designed for harbor patrol, so it’s no real surprise to modern audiences that they lost. Really, all their problems can be traced to that one faction winning out and building the Great Wall instead of continuing the exploratory expeditions.

  76. One wonders if modern China has a ceiling on such development unless they open up their society.

    Missed this at first, but I’d definitely agree. Unless China makes some serious changes to their government and the way it interacts with their society, they’re going to hit a serious wall in the next 20 years; think Japan in the 90s, only without the safety net that kept people from taking to the streets chucking Molotov cocktails. That’s why all this talk of “The New Superpower” is premature at best and ridiculous at worst; there are a half-dozen reasons that suggest that it’ll probably never happen.

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