In the second chapter of Darwin’s Watch, we discuss the ever-changing nature of science in comparison to fundamentalism. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Science of Discworld III.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of religious cults and religious abuse
Ah, a much, much longer chapter, and there’s a whole bunch here to talk about! While some of “Paley’s Watch” retreads familiar ground—these books have discussed the link between hypotheses, theories, and scientific rigor before—it does so in a way that directly relates it to an issue that is very personal for a lot of us. This shouldn’t be a surprise at this point, since I’ve spoken about it so frequently, but I related a lot to the talk of how religion can be used to suppress the act of asking a question. That initially appeared in my life through my mother’s control of the household, but later, when I converted to Catholicism, I had many of the same problems. And in terms of the whole cultural system in place where I grew up, it basically was a less comical version of the radio chat-show that Cohen and Stewart overheard.
One thing I’ve heard a lot from people around my country, and especially when I’ve traveled to Canada, the UK, and throughout Europe, is a similar refrain: is your country really like that? How much of that is exaggerated by the media? How much should people believe? Look, the US is a massive place, and it’s fucking weird, and it will always be hard to fully describe it or categorize it to anyone. I still have people here on the East coast who become excited when I say I’m from California because their image of my life is of palm trees and beaches and great Mexican food everywhere. And they’re not exactly wrong! But they have no concept of anywhere in the state that isn’t a coast or LA or San Diego or the Bay Area. (And they don’t truly understand the Bay Area either. Or they think Los Angeles is like… a few miles across in any direction.)
Obviously, though, most people are talking about the culture. While there are religious fundamentalists the world round, American ones seem… special? But I grew up with people who truly thought it was “evilution.” Who believed that to question was an act of heresy. There were other issues going on with my mother that compelled her to create a controlling, repressive atmosphere, so I can’t lay that at the feet of religion or faith, though I also can’t ignore how much her religious beliefs informed her behavior.
On less of a personal level, the environment I grew up in not only discouraged question, but the idea that you weren’t religious? Oh, that was just unacceptable in every way. I probably would have identified as an atheist much earlier if I had not been tormented by the shame drilled into me, the shame that made me fully believe I was destined for Hell. So, imagine living in that sort of environment, and you can easily complicate it further by considering how this affected my sexuality. Or my racial identity. Or ANY OTHER FACTORS. But for the sake of discussing this chapter, I wanted to just focus on religion. I was taught that the universe was designed perfectly, that God Himself was perfect, and that no part of His creation was imperfect. Except… me? Oh, yes, that part about the world was definitely imperfect, and it’s easy to see why I was such a terrified and confused kid. How could I not be? Religion was used to abuse and suppress me, and it’s why I’m not into anything that purports to be unquestionable. Everything has to be questioned. Everything! Because I’ve lived the alternative, and it’s a nightmare.
So, coming from that place, there’s a lot that I related to in this chapter. (Though one of the most interesting groups of people that is largely left out of this chapter is scientists who are intensely religious. Because there are a lot of them, and they have some very, very fascinating things to say about evolution, creationism, and the like.) I was raised amidst immutable things: the word of God, the rules set forth in my life, and my future if I didn’t comply with those rules. I “knew” things about the world because that’s what I was taught, not because I sought out that information and learned it for myself. So yes, I used to be one of those people who thought the world was just a few thousand years old! Admittedly, I wasn’t super dedicated to that; I loved dinosaurs too much. SERIOUSLY. And they were old!!! Even I was aware that there was something deeply flawed with this kind of thinking, and yet, I bought what I was sold. (And it’s easy to do that when it’s sold alongside fear and shame.)
All that being said: the world changes, and our understanding of the world changes. That happens to all of us. So, the Roundworld is about to be dealt a major change, one where we’ll get to experience “a Victorian society that never happened.” I don’t know what the shape is in Darwin’s room, and I don’t know what affected the Roundworld and created this change. Hell, I don’t even know what version of the Victorian age we’re about to see. (Does that explain the quotes in the epigraph?) How will things be different this time around? How will Darwin’s work change things? Will there still be a theory of evolution?
I’m guessing that Stewart and Cohen intentionally introduced Paley’s watch theory at this point. We’re supposed to be thinking about intelligent design and a “designed” universe. I’m not actually familiar with Darwin’s path from a theologist to a grumpy agnostic, but will that change? Will he continue to believe the world was designed or that evolution isn’t real? That would be a significant change to the timeline, enough to derail us into a new Victorian England. But I’m also curious if the authors are going to bring up Social Darwinism! That was more of an American thing, if I remember my Poli Sci days well, but Darwin’s theory had terrifying (and super bigoted) ramifications in our society.
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