Fortean = anti-evolution? Shouldn’t be.

The topic of creationism nearly makes me retch. I hate arguing about it, I hate even acknowledging that the fight even exists because it shouldn’t. I must vent so indulge me.

The debate between creationists and evolutionists rages on these days over at Cryptomundo in a post opened solely for the two teams to duke it out. I would opine that it was a mistake to do that. These aren’t kids who will give up fighting and make nice. It could end up with hard feelings and people leaving in a huff. I gotta keep telling myself not to read those types of posts and comments, and for all that’s logical and sane, quit responding to the commentary! Alas, I didn’t listen to myself and entered the fray.

The question I wish to examine though is: Why is creationism associated with Fortean topics?

I received a comment to my initial blog page that touched on this very topic. I commend “Shez” for the info. See the post and comment here.

I see anti-evolutionism feeling (of which creationism is one kind) creep into to the discussion of cryptozoology most of all. Explorers claim that if they find a living dinosaur or a supposidly extinct animal, a mokele-mbembe, ropen or plesiosaur, that it will crush the theory of evolution. I hear that if Bigfoot exists, it will be the “missing link”(absolutely hate that term) or it will be a thorn to Darwinists. But I also hear it in other Fortean circles, such as that of William Corliss’ Science Frontiers newsletter (of which I am a huge fan), where he remarks on biological “misbehaviors”, so to speak, as challenges to evolution.

In the case of cryptozoology, I’ve observed interested persons come from different backgrounds and perspectives. Some are scientists, like myself, or nature lovers and curious observers who find the natural world fascinating, awe-inspiring and mysterious in its own right. Then I see the paranormalists and mystery mongers who love the question more than the thought of an answer (which would just ruin everything!). Then, there are true Forteans who carry a disdain for science as dogma. The last is the most curious as, from the comments of “Shez”, Fort himself didn’t buy into any dogma, not the priests of science or the priests of the church. But, some serious Forteans (including creation scientists and some paranormalists) seem to want it both ways. They criticize science whole-heartily but want so badly to be part of that community, be accepted and respected, taught in schools as part of the curriculum, included in textbooks, be the established truth.

For the Forteans who have Charles Fort’s anti-establishment attitude, they likely take offense to the certainty that science holds in evolution. The problem, as I see it, is the same for Forteans as it is for the average person who has trouble with evolution. Evolution appears to be limiting, narrow or strained. But, the idea of evolution is simply just this: populations change over time. It is supported by the history of life on earth. The mechanisms and nuances are debated and contested – natural selection, punctuated equilibrium, genetic drift, etc. There is NO claim that we fully understand how things work out but it is clear that we came from a common ancestor and have changed (in terms of populations) over a very long time.

“Creationists used to get enormous pleasure out of the lack of walking whales…That was before paleontologists started digging up whale feet”. Carl Zimmer “Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea”, p. 324.

I do not proclaim that there is a God or not. Since it is very difficult to imagine what was before time or what is at the end of universe, the concept of a creator is probably the easiest way we humans have of grasping the whole of existence. For the sake of argument, let’s suppose there is a god. He forms the building blocks of the universe and things are put into motion in the confines of various laws of nature. Chemical laws, elements, physics, properties of water, behavior of molecules, etc. are established. Living things are put together and function by virtue of a set of instructions inherant to every one and passed on via copying to offspring. Production of offspring is influenced by what is happening in their environment at the time. Some live to reproduce, others die and don’t get the chance.

God or not – this is the way things work. We know this to be true. It’s absurd if we deny that populations don’t change over time. Science does not acknowledge that a creator has a role in the process since it does not deal with the supernatural.

With the above view, there is scads of room for novel ideas about the details of natural processes and boundless room for all types of organisms carving out niches here, there and everywhere. Why the animosity? The idea obviously touches a nerve.

I can’t comprehend it. Unless, it is due to attitude and willingness to ignore the facts to accommodate an idea that one wishes were true. I cringe when I see a Fortean comment to the tune of “Ha! This observation doesn’t jive with evolutionary theory, therefore, those snobby scientists are wrong and the whole idea of evolution should be condemned!” I thought we wanted to be inclusive!

As I’ve said before, I’ve been to both sides on many issues, this one included. I learned the Genesis story long before I had biology classes. Sadly, I didn’t learn much evolution in school, not even in college (although by paleontology class, you were expected to have a general idea of shared traits). I learned much of it on my own. It was then that I realized two things: 1.) It’s no wonder no one knows much about evolution, we aren’t given proper instruction, and 2.) Genesis is only a story (actually two stories that contradict each other), a metaphor for the beginning of life just like there exists for every other religion and mythology. Evolution happens and it is just as secure as every other scientific axiom.

There is little value in evolution vs creationism debates. The same issues get rehashed over and over. Same examples. Both sides use different definitions for evolution, theory, evidence, and random. Logic is on one side, belief is on the other. One side collects evidence every day. One side holds on to one book in various translations. Check out this graphic courtesy of Wellington Grey Blog.

No doubt, cryptozoology has an element of belief or hope. However, evidence, not belief, holds sway. Perhaps Forteans are so frustrated with the scientific establishment discarding evidence of anomalies, shunning the ideas, ridiculing those who wish to study it, that they are contemptuous of everything science represents or holds dear. Science fails to adequately recognize some things but no method is perfect. Let’s face it: science has done a good job of figuring out the way the natural world works. Religion has not. I say leave religion and belief out of our attempts to explain the natural world. One and all.

  • When I met Judge John Jones (of Kitzmiller vs Dover Area School Board), I told him how wonderful it was to get a touchdown for our side (science as the method to explain the natural world). His decision was an awesome piece of work. It should be force fed to all those who ever try to bring this horrid topic up again at any school board meeting. It’s settled. Move on.
  • I really enjoy studying anomalies of nature. But, I don’t consider myself a Fortean at all. I think Charles Fort had a neat idea of presenting the ignored data and challenging why it was discarded, but I think his dismissal of scientists and all that is methodological was presumptuous, abrasive and tiresome.
  • I heartily recommend the following book for those new to the concept of evolution: “Get a Grip on Evolution” by David Burnie. Time-Life Books, 1999. It’s easy to read and explains it all for young adults and grownups alike.
  • Everyday, research goes on and results are produced using evolution as a basis. Those results lead to more results, and so on, eventually to discoveries that benefit society. Where does creationism lead us in the lab? God did it. No further research or experimentation necessary. End of science.

5 thoughts on “Fortean = anti-evolution? Shouldn’t be.

  1. Part of the problem is that, to so many people, Darwinian evolution is simply defined as an unguided and unplanned process. I think it’s easy to understand why that is disconcerting to theists: There is not a shred of evidence to support the conclusion that evolution is an unguided, unplanned process. For some it is tantamount to saying that the God they believe in can’t possibly exist, with no evidence to support that conclusion. It seems to me like it would be simple enough to admit that Darwinian evolution is a process that may be planned or guided or may not be, and that we have no immediate knowledge of how this guidance occurs if it, indeed, does. That seems a far more scientific approach, as it is based on the objective reality: that we don’t know if it’s an unguided process or not. One still has the option then of not believing it was guided or planned, of course, so it is neither supportive of religion or the lack thereof.

  2. I think the idea that the “one-who-runs-the-universe” has laid down the laws of nature is a good one for everyone to buy into. I can not hide my very strong opinion that those who say they don’t believe in evolution are very off base. They may be missing the point because they either never learned it correctly or they are willfulling in denial because they don’t want it to be true. I might forgive the former if they are willing to consider before dismissing but have a strong aversion to the latter.

    Loren loved that the Cryptomundo piece got lots of comments. It’s just because everyone has an opinion on that topic and wants their say. No one came to cyber-blows but there was blatent ignorance and denial going on there. It quickly turned into discussions about God because it naturally leads there. Then it spirals around and round, with the same old arguments. If you’ve been in one of those discussions, you’ve seen them all. Worthless for anything accept entertainment. But, as I’m “doubtful with hope” I always hope that one or two people may have paused and said “hmmm” that’s a good point, and it leads to enlightenment.

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