So in the late Middle Ages there was this twisted group of clerics (and entire underworld of them it turns out) who wanted information from God. But they felt the Deity was being a little cagey about dispensing with his almighty power and wisdom, so they put on their thinking caps and pondered, ‘How can we get God’s knowledge when he won’t tell us any of the really useful info we want to know?” Well, they came up with a creative albeit malevolent solution that didn’t even involve God. Ask demons! The Devil’s followers know all this great stuff from the preexistent world from which they fell, so why not bind them and constrain them to give up the goods? Demons are subject to the clergy, right? So back in the 15th century they wrote a manual on how to use all this dark power to corner the market on the world’s secrets. A manuscript found in Munich is full of recipes for all kinds of wacky hidden forbidden knowledge. For example, say you wanted a cloak of inevitability (and who doesn’t by the way) all you have to do is:
When you wish to become invisible and insensible to all beings, both rational and otherwise, first, under a waxing moon on a Wednesday in the first hour of the day, having remained chaste for three days beforehand, and with cut hair and beard, and dressed in white in a secret place outside of town, under a clear sky, on level ground, trace a circle such s appears here with a magnificent sword, writing these names and everything shown along with them.
When this is done, place the sword toward the west, on . . .
Then it goes on with the detailed instructions, gives the names of the demons you must bind and words you must say to constrain them to your will and then wham, there you have it, a cloak of invisibility. You dismiss the spirits that brought it to you. However, on the third day you have to give back the cloak or you will be dead in seven days. Nasty business this.
I was thinking about the people who invariably actually tried this. I mean, I am pretty sure they didn’t get their cloak of invisibility. But I doubt they realized that their mistake (other than messing with demonic powers that is) was that they did not have the correct picture of how the world worked. I bet they focused on trying to get the ritual perfected. There are a lot of things that could go wrong with this ‘experiment’ (that’s what they really called them (in Latin of course)). For example, how round of a circle does it have to be? Are you sure you have a magnificent sword? How true to west? Are you sure your hair was cut properly short? How clear does the sky have to be? What if there is just a little cloud in the sky way out there, does it still count is clear? How level is level? I can just see the seeker of the invisibility cloak scratching his head wondering what he did wrong when his yard-goods Ring of Gyges doesn’t appear.
His hypothesis is probably that there is something wrong with his execution. There is no evidence, or fact of the matter, he will accept that will convince him that he just is missing something about the way the world really works. He’s brought his beliefs about the cloak into the experiment so strongly that he is looking in all the wrong places for what is souring his attempts to score an uber-cool cloak. Indeed, the poor fellow could even do a certain kind of passé science on his efforts, using the hypothetico-deductive method (if you think this is all there is to science you are living in the 1920’s)—rejecting hypothesis after hypothesis on what went wrong assuming all the while getting your invisible cloak is possible, you just have to get the ritual correct. Getting right how the world works, both physically and spiritually, turns out to matter.
Hence the invention of science was such a powerful ally, in getting the world right. It uses lots of things to bear on finding out how the world works, including, logic, testing, trail & error, creativity, memory, falsification, confirmation, influence of current theory and paradigms, apprenticeships, refining technique, discussion, argument, going back to the drawing board, imagination, doubt, belief, asking questions, challenging convention, and, yes it’s true, even doing experiments where possible. But its biggest strength, despite well-acknowledged weaknesses, is that it is self-examining and self-correcting. People are in active engagement to find its flaws, reinterpret its findings, and expose its weaknesses. It’s a powerful tool. That’s why our medicine today is better than our grandparents and will likely not be as good as our grandchildren’s.
One can hardly start talking about the underbelly of an evil clerical underworld, though, without the mind being drawn into thinking about the Intelligent Design Movement (ID). I mean the Dover Judge was quite struck with their sneaky dishonesty [Keep in mind that ID is neither the idea that the creator is intelligent nor that the universe has a purpose, it’s an evangelical attempt to get creationism taught in the schools.]. ID is a danger to this method and a throw back to the Dark Ages. Really. And they appear to have captured an invisibility cloak, because for many in the US their methods have become “invisible and insensible to all beings, both rational and otherwise.“
They have no interest in getting the world right. This is apparent in the dialogue between Science and ID, which has gone something like this:
ID: I overwhelm and harm you with ‘irreducible complexity’ power.
ID: Mousetrap-and-Flagellum-Happy-Shield smashes your attempts at response!
ID: Why will you not engage with us? Do you fear our power? Your silence reeks of conspiracy. We will defeat you!
Science keeps saying, “What?” because they have offered no testable hypothesis, no interpretation of data, no publications in a scientific journal, offered no actual explanation of any real thing that evolution has not already explained, made no predictions, and offered no insights that unite multiple disciplines (for example, evolution unites geology, paleontology, genetics, embryology, anatomy, physiology, neurology, biodiversity, biogeography, agronomy, pharmacology, immunology, epidemiology, neurology, and psychology to name just a few, not to mention its practical confirmation though its use to solve real world problems in computer science, engineering and mathematics).
The danger is these ID arguments have taken on a scientific gloss that is overwhelming State Legislatures across the country with its ‘irreducible complexity’ power. No big surprise there, given what we see from most state legislatures, but what is surprising is the ID movement seems to making inroads in the LDS community. Why? Who knows. Maybe the name sounds like things we just ought to believe. Sort of like if a new psychology arose called, The “God Loves Us” Movement—it just sounds like something we ought to believe in. Never mind its content.
If evolution is true, that’s the way the world works. We have to deal with it. We may need to readjust how we think about creation, but evolution certainly does not negate either creation, that the universe has a purpose, or that God is intelligent. Evolution does not touch our doctrines. We may have to reinterpret some of our literalisms. Sure. But I think that’s part of what it means to have an open cannon.
So if you don’t want to believe in evolution, fine. Just don’t buy into letting ID be taught in the schools unless you really, really, want your children to find that invisibility cloak.