Archive for April, 2014

No Idea How It Happened

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Thank you very much for sending me the following musings from a much-published scientist. As you doubtless expected, they only serve to confirm my own philosophical doubts concerning evolution:

I will tell you, as a scientist and synthetic chemist: if anybody should be able to understand evolution, it is me, because I make molecules for a living, and I don’t just buy a kit, and mix this and this, and get that. I mean, ab initio, I make molecules. And I therefore understand how hard it is to make molecules. I understand that if I took Nature’s tool kit, it would be much easier because all the tools are already there, but ab initio it’s very, very hard.

I don’t understand evolution. Is that OK, for me to say, “I don’t understand this”? You might just say I’m really unusual. But let me tell you what goes on in the back rooms of science—with National Academy members, Nobel Prize winners. I’ve sat with them, and when I get them alone, not in public—because it’s a scary thing, if you say what I just said—I ask, “Do you understand all of this, where all of this came from, and how this happens?” If they’re afraid to say yes, they say nothing. They just stare at me, because they can’t sincerely do otherwise.

I was once brought in by the dean of the department, many years ago, and he was also a chemist. He was kind of concerned about some things. I said, “Let me ask you something. You’re a chemist too. Do you understand this? How do you get DNA without a cell membrane? And how do you get a cell membrane without DNA?” We have no idea; we have absolutely no idea. “Isn’t it interesting that you, the dean of science, and I, a chemistry professor, can talk about this quietly in your office, but we can’t go out there and talk about it?”??

I understand microevolution, I really do. We do this all the time in the lab. But when you have speciation changes, when you have organs changing, when you have to have concerted lines of evolution, all happening in the same place and time—not just one line; concerted lines, all at the same place, all in the same environment—this is very hard to fathom.? I was in Israel not long ago, talking with a bio-engineer, and he was describing to me the ear. He was studying the different changes in the modulus of the ear. And I said, “How does this come about?” And he said, “Oh, Jim, you know: we all say we believe in evolution, but we really have no idea how it happened.”

You asked whether I’ve ever heard of the author of these words, Professor James Tour of Rice University. Indeed I have. As I matter of fact I knew him many years ago, when he was teaching at the University of South Carolina before moving to Rice. He came to my attention when a student we had in common told me, “There’s this chemistry professor, Dr Cutsinger, who puts Biblical quotations on his exams, and who, when he writes a chemical formula on the board, turns to the class and says, ‘You know, this didn’t just happen!'”

I was intrigued, of course, and invited Dr Tour to have lunch with me one day. I was already an associate professor with tenure, but he was still a lowly, untenured assistant prof. So I felt obliged to admonish him, gently pointing out that he might be risking his career by being so outspokenly critical of evolution and so obviously “religious”.

He smiled rather shyly and said he didn’t think he needed to worry, given his grants. I discovered only later that he had in fact more external funding at that point than anyone else at USC—not just more than the other chemists, but more than anyone else in any discipline. Millions and millions were already pouring into his lab. So no, he had, and presumably still has, very little to worry about!

I was naturally sad to see him go, but I’m delighted to hear he’s still challenging the scientistic status quo.

Harrowing Hell

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Yes, your question is certainly well-timed, and thank you for your season’s greetings, which I gladly return: Christos anesti !

The only place I know of where Schuon speaks of Christ’s descent into Hell is in the chapter “The Particular Nature and Universality of the Christian Religion”; this may be found, as you know, in The Transcendent Unity of Religions, and I have also included it in my anthology The Fullness of God: Frithjof Schuon on Christianity. He is speaking about “the identification of historical facts with principial truths” in Christianity, “and the inevitable confusions resulting therefrom.” He continues as follows:

“For example, when it is said that all human souls, from that of Adam to the departed souls of Christ’s own contemporaries, must await his descent into Hell in order to be delivered, such a statement confuses the historical with the cosmic Christ and represents an eternal function of the Word as a temporal fact for the simple reason that Jesus was a manifestation of this Word, which is another way of saying that in the world where this manifestation took place, Jesus was truly the unique incarnation of the Word” (pp. 8-9 of The Fullness of God).

As for Orthodoxy, its teaching on the subject is, as usual, less juridical and more mystical than that found in the West. The Orthodox certainly agree with the Catholics that Christ “harrowed hell”, but rather than thinking He descended to the dead in order to liberate a specific number of souls, namely, those of the “righteous”, Orthodoxy construes the “event” to be a conquering of Death as such; hence the Paschal troparion, sung every Easter: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”

The icon of this “event” is most interesting: Christ is pictured pulling Adam and Eve, and by implication all of humanity, out of Hades. The figure of Christ appears inside a mandorla (this is the blue, star-studded, almond-shaped outline around the figure of Christ you see here). In the symbolic “language” of Orthodox iconography, this signifies that what is therein pictured was not an event occurring in space and time and that it could not have been “seen” with the empirical eyes. The “universal” implications of this image are obvious.