James Morrow: We’re not tourists on this planet, we’re citizens

Many thoughts resonate with me in the James Morrow interview in the June issue of Locus, which I excerpted here.


That’s the great gift of the 18th-century Enlightenment, that insistence on a conversation that must never stop, a conversation that must never be shut down by theistic fantasies about the workings of the uni­verse. Absolute certainty is the great malaise of our species, all those clerics and political thinkers who say, ‘Please ignore this pile of bodies over here while I tell you how the world works.’

Here are some other passages that didn’t make it into the posted interview excerpts:

One of my favorite writers and philosophers, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, invented an athe­ist hero for her recent novel 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, and I’m waiting for someone like that to appear on the scene in modern America. Cass Seltzer becomes a culture hero, because he’s charming and charismat­ic, and he doesn’t irritate people, and yet he’s a rig­orous thinker. He’s called ‘the atheist with a soul.’ Today’s atheist movement needs a real-life Cass Seltzer, and we don’t have one. If I were the kind of person who could become a media celebrity, I like to think I might fill that role. We have no really fa­mous, bestselling public intellectual who champi­ons atheism from a philosophical, theological, and literary perspective, who loves his fellow humans and loves those theists and wants to talk to them, and knows that their way of being in the world is neither privileged nor ipso facto delusional.


In Mem­phis I’ll deliver a talk titled ‘The Seven Deadly Sins of Charles Darwin,’ keyed to my new novel, Galápagos Regained. I can’t remember all seven right now. ‘Darwin killed God,’ that’s one of the sins. He didn’t kill God, of course, but he certainly made hash of the teleological argument, the argu­ment from design, which for centuries was the most satisfying of all the proofs of God. Darwin’s real sin was not so much that he killed God but that he replaced God – replaced him with the Tree of Life, which is something far more magnificent and sublime than anything you’ll read about in Scrip­ture. Here’s another sin: ‘Darwin confiscated our passports,’ by which I mean our passports to Heav­en. After Darwin, it’s difficult to believe the human race is on a trajectory to eternity. Ah, yes, but he gave us something in return. He gave us citizenship papers. Darwin tells us we belong here. We’re not tourists on this planet. We’re citizens. The Earth is our home.

And regarding this passage in the post:

In one of his essays Stephen Jay Gould makes the point that William Jennings Bryan and his fellow fundamentalists weren’t the big losers in the Scopes trial. In the decades that followed, there was a resurgence of Evangelical­ism, and a rise in textbook censorship. When I took biology in ninth grade, not a word was said about the theory of evolution, the Tree of Life, or the in­sights of Darwin. It was all about taxonomy.

Through the vagaries of a family move half-way through high school, I never did take a high school biology course. But it doesn’t surprise me that a high-school biology course could easily avoid the topic of evolution. The high school biology texts I’ve seen focus on things like the cell, and the carbon cycle, and human anatomy, and so on. And the threat of fundamentalist objections shies textbook publishers away from confrontations. I did however take a college ‘breadth’ course on some biological subject (the history of infectious diseases, if memory serves), at UCLA, and do remember the instructor advising the class that while some of them may not ‘believe’ in evolution, it was bound to come up in a biology class and they would just have to live with it.

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