Episode 238 – “The Trouble with Robert Ingersoll: Guilt by Association in a Revolutionary World”

This week on CenterStage, a sweeping presentation that captures the intellectual and religious climate of the Victorian age.

On August 16th and 17th, 2014, the Center for Inquiry presented a conference entitled “Robert Green Ingersoll and the Reform Imperative” at its headquarters in Amherst, New York. This event celebrated Ingersoll, perhaps the best-known unbeliever of America’s Gilded Age. Ingersoll was born in 1833 in Dresden, a village in New York’s Finger Lakes district. The conference placed Ingersoll in context with other freethinking reformers with roots in west-central New York State, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglass, and Matilda Joslyn Gage.

This week, Lauren Becker speaks on “The Trouble with Robert Ingersoll: Guilt by Association in a Revolutionary World.”

Lauren Becker was Director of Marketing at the Center for Inquiry, Associate Director of the Council for Secular Humanism, and the former co-host of CenterStage.

To center stage, bringing you the best from the Center for Inquiry, a nonprofit organization that seeks to foster a secular society based on science reason. Freedom of inquiry and humanist values. 

Presenting lectures and events at its headquarters in Amherst, New York, and in New York City, Washington, Los Angeles and elsewhere. There’s always something thought provoking and controversy along on stage at some center for inquiry. 

Join us now on center stage. 

Welcome to Center Stage. I’m Debbie Goddard director of outreach at the Center for Inquiry. Today on center stage, a sweeping presentation that captures the intellectual and religious climate of the Victorian age. 

And Adam Tom Flynn, editor of Free Inquiry magazine. On August 16th and 17th, 2014, the Center for Inquiry presented a conference entitled Robert Green, Ingersoll and the Reform Imperative at its headquarters in Amherst, New York. 

This event celebrated Ingersol. Perhaps the best known unbeliever of America’s Gilded Age. 

Ingersoll was born in 1833 in Dresden, a village in New York’s Finger Lakes district. 

The conference placed Ingersol in context with other freethinking reformers with roots in west central New York state, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglass and Matilda Jocelin Gage. 

Over our next four episodes, Center Stage will present key lectures from this one of a kind event. 

This week, Lauren Becker speaks on the trouble with Robert Ingersoll. Guilt by association. In a revolutionary world. 

Lauren Becker was director of marketing at the Center for Inquiry, associate director of the Council for Secular Humanism, and the former co-host of Center Stage. 

She is introduced to the Ingersol Conference audience by my co-host, Tom Flynn. 

What can I say about Lauren Becker? An activist, a communicator, more often than not, my right hand especially planning this thing. She’s director of marketing at the Center for Inquiry and its former vice president for outreach, associate director of the Council for Secular Humanism, associate editor of Free Inquiry Magazine, co-host of the Center for Inquiry podcast Center Stage, which you do that with some some jerk or other some kind. You can’t talk and it drops over his tongue. It’s really it’s a good thing she’s there to keep this standard up. She’s a science and nature interpreter and she’s just kind of indispensible. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you learn Becker giving the top what is on your screen. 

Hey, how y’all doing? So I suspect that I might be different from a lot of you in one way in that I have never been a believer. 

How many of you have always been a nonbeliever? OK, a couple in there. Good. 

Most of you, those sounds like you come from a religious tradition. My family was religious. My mother was an organist. And my dad sang tenor in the choir. So my sister and I were always unsupervised during the. So maybe that has some to do. But I’ve never been a believer. It just I don’t know if I made out of Teflon when it comes to that sort of thing. I think part of it stems from the fact that I grew up in Fairfax, Virginia, which is a suburb of Washington, D.C.. Yes, my uncle was always very involved with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. We spent our time going to monuments, learning a lot of Virginia history, that sort of thing. So if there was something that I believed in, it was Jefferson and Mason and Madison and these phenomenal ideas that you read about in the Declaration of Independence. And I just thought religion was the most un-American thing ever. Right. Because how can you have a God and a democracy just doesn’t work. So I chose Jefferson over God. It wasn’t even now that I just. But also, I think, you know, I’m a child of cosmos. Right. We just saw that magnificent sort of second telling of that story. I was 10 when it came out in 1980. In case you’re trying to do math and I remember sitting with the family downstairs actually laying on the floor, my chin in my hands going, wow, this is the most phenomenal stuff ever. So I think, beti, between this Virginian heightened sense of democracy and individuality and individual worth and self value, combined with being a PBS junkie and having Carl Sagan in our living room and having a planetarium down the road in the high school that we would go to on field trips, if you can imagine a bunch of second graders holding a little rope and walking down the street to go to the planetarium. I was just destined to not be a believer. It didn’t stick. Imagine my surprise then when I went to college at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and found myself being greeted with a ha. What church do you go to? Which was interesting enough. But then when I would say wherever mom’s playing the organ, I don’t know whoever has the best music that Sunday was not quite the right answer, but at least I guess I did go to church. But the real challenge for me was I decided to pursue science as an education jigged degree in geography fossick focusing on the physical sciences. And so one of my summers at Tennessee, I was a park ranger at Fall Creek Falls. That’s not supposed to. 

You’re supposed to go. 

I’m glad to know you’re not distracted too much by bubbles. That’s good. So I spent a summer as a park ranger at a park called Fall Creek Falls, which is a state park in Tennessee. The main feature of which is this, two hundred and fifty six foot high waterfall. And it’s part of the Appalachians. And you go into the Cumberland Plateau. And so we do this great hike in the mornings. You start up at the top of the falls and described the vista and then we would take an hour hiking down to the bottom. All this time we’re going through layers of rock and it’s really fun. And you get to the bottom. It’s like the three hundred million year old rocks that we’ve been walking through our, like, pages in a book. We can read the history of that. And then you get the book to get that out of. What? So I had heard about creationists, but I’ve never met any before until I went to Tennessee. And that was a real kind of mind game for me, because that was just weird. I thought they had maybe, you know, gone the way of the dodo or something kind of like the flat earth was. Right. The fact that there are still Flattr there is out there that makes my head hurt. So I’m going to skip a bunch of chapters in the life story. Suffice to say that when it came to work here at CFI almost nine years ago. 

Can you believe it’s been almost nine years? 

We are offering a new program across the street, University of Buffalo called Science to the Public. And I was one of the first cohort to take this is out of the Department of Education. And I was thrilled about this because I like science public. Yes, that fits in. I would like to learn more about how to bring these two things together because we struggle with that on a regular basis. And when it came time to do my thesis, I said, you know what? 

I’m going to work a little bit more closely into this very persistent. Forty nine percent creation of the population. That has not changed. Basically a hundred years. Sometimes it’s been a little bit higher. So that was a bit lower. But for the longest time, that’s been about this even split. So I wanted to understand more. And I think this really came from the fact that I had never been a believer. So there’s this huge gap in my understanding of what it’s like to be part of a faith tradition and part of a religion. So as part of my research, I was going to look at the three big science versus religion conflicts that are part of our canon that we talk about. 

First one, Galileo and the Catholic Church. Second one, Darwin and that whole thing. Right. With evolution. And then the Scopes trial. 

So it’s been a joy delving deeper into these things. Part of the reason I tell you this back story is to also reveal that I am not a historian. I researched history, but that doesn’t make me a historian. I very it’s it’s a real honor to be on a stage after having such experts and wonderful historians to bring you this information. But much like a park ranger, most of the park rangers you meet are not going to be biologists. They’re not going to be practicing physicists or astronomers. Our job is to interpret. So what I’ve done is tried to condense all this great stuff that I learned about sort of the history of these conflicts into a forty two minute slide show for you, basically with the idea of wanting to help you come along in this journey that I’ve had to understand what was going on in the world, specifically in the age of Darwin, and then how that also affected the time of Ingersol because they were roughly similar. 

Ingersol came along a little bit later, obviously. But this whole wrong century, the long nineteenth century is what I wanted to share with you guys today. 

I think the screensaver killed it. Area. 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. OK, first question. Notice the date. Seventeen eighty nine to nineteen fourteen. Why do you think we’re starting this century in 1789, French Revolution. Right. And 1914, the other bookend World War One. Right. OK, two conflicts on either side. The short version of all this is that what was going on during this long 19th century was extremely exciting. It was a century full of rapid change, lots of new information, lots of speedy travel. And I thought one of the ways to help you guys understand what that feels like and also to put me in this mindset cause a little bit of empathy helps understand things. Right. 

Is a I thought, OK, I’ll try a new a whole new presentation system for my talk today. And that’ll be kind of keeping me off kilter, just like all the people living during this century were off kilter, trying to deal with the new technology of their day and to help spur that to you. 

I’m going to talk really fast and I’m going to have the slides travel a lot so you get a little motion sick. And that will also help you empathize with the people during this time period. OK, so this is a bit of industrial revolution and certainly wide trade expansion, partly because of the expanding transportation routes. 

But it was also a naturalist’s world. Now, why would that be? When we think of the Industrial Revolution and all these big heavy machines and steam engines, you don’t really think naturalists and throw in stuff like that, right? Well, it truly was. 

So we’re going to zoom in on a very special part of the world at this time to England around 1815 with a fancy guy named William Stratus Smith, who is not a geologist. He was a surveyor for a canal company. So part of his job was to go out and dig canals, which they could do more effectively now because of this new technology of the steam engine and these kind of portable power centers. Right. So he was a curious guy and he noticed as he was cutting ditches everywhere around England that the lines of strata were always the same. 

Like from here, you had this layer on top of A, on top of B, on top of C, on top of D, and then you go a little bit further. And those strata were the same as well. So we thought, that’s interesting that those are the same. And he also noticed that within each of those layers were specific fossils. So you’d get fossils in Layer D that were always in Layer D, but they were never in layer B and vice versa. And he thought that was interesting, too. And between that curiosity and the fact that he was all over the land looking at these layers, he was the one who put together the first geologic map of England isn’t pretty. Geography majors love this stuff. Also, a little bit later came Charles Lyell, who is known as the sort of the father of geology, and he wrote a series of books called Principles of Geology, coming out in several different editions and 90 in 1830. 

And Lyle was kind of unique because he wasn’t just looking at his backyard. He traveled a bit. In fact, one of the places he went was here, OK, where is this? Right. Can you see anything special happening in this picture? Can you tell? Is the resolution. Well? There’s a volcano erupting, right. Anybody know which volcano that is? Who said it first? 

Who? Somebody I. I have a price. 

You already have one who is number two are going to have to make you raise your hands or something. OK. This is what is now sort of a limited edition, Ingersol quote poster. I will read it. Science is the enemy of fear and credulity. 

It invites investigation challenges. The reason stimulates inquiry and welcomes the unbeliever. So very nicely done. 

Yes, this is Mount Etna, so one of the things Robert Lyle figured out was, hey, you know what, geologic processes are still happening. Not only did he sees an activity, but he went onto the volcano and he realized that not all of the layers of volcanic rock, but there were sedimentary rock in between here and there. And that’s kind of weird because sedimentary rock, you know, is sediments at the bottom of water. 

But he was on a volcano. So clearly, things were changing. There was a lot of time involved. And the earth was still very active. Now, this was very important for a couple different reasons. One. Darwin took a copy of Lyall’s book with him on the Beagle. Darwin actually considered himself more of a geologist than a biologist. How many of you knew that? Yeah. OK. Two thirds of his notes from the Beagle voyage were geology notes, not biology notes. So he was very influenced by Lyle. It helps him to have a better understanding of the geology that he saw on his trip. He experienced a huge earthquake which really convinced him that Lyle knew what he was talking about. But in addition to that, they were able to understand that the geologic processes had been happening for a very long time. And this was important for Darwin’s budding theory of evolution, because natural selection takes a long time. So by recognizing the geology and understanding that there was evidence for a very old earth, that meant that there was time for his his evolution and the natural selection system to go. But there were other problems. And I just I love this quote. This is John Herschel, son of William the Astronomer. And this is his views of Darwin’s evolution. It’s a love higgledy piggledy. And this from Darwin. What exactly this means? I don’t know, but it’s evidently very contemptuous. This is from a letter he wrote back to Lyle after he had Redwood, Herschel had said. But the reason I bring this up is because often when we’re thinking about science versus religion, we just assume, you know, religious people are the ones that have the issues. But when Darwin’s book first came out, his ideas were first circulating. They were actually serious scientific objections as well, not just religious or philosophical ones. One of them was a concern about time. So Lyle had said, look, there’s lots of time. But then another guy came along and he did more serious studies. He basically did experiments with huge balls of molten led to see how long it would take those to cool. And then he extrapolated those numbers out to the size of the Earth and determined that the earth was probably between 20 million and 100 million years old, which wasn’t enough time for natural selection. So despite Lyle Darwin was now back in trouble with the time issue, anybody knew who that was? Yes. 


I expect you all to know all the Ingersol questions, I don’t expect you to know all the science questions. The other issue was blending and swamping. So at this point, we didn’t know anything about genetics yet. Right. Mendel’s work was going on, but nobody knew about it until the turn of the century. So there was this worrisome thing. OK. We have two parents and they’re passing down traits. And Darwin was saying those traits carry on from generation and build up enough that you actually get different species. Well, nobody really knew how that worked. The idea, though, was say you have one parent say, OK, let’s two last two miles of water. One’s red one’s clear and they mate and they produce pink and then pink makes with something else. And eventually you actually dilute the color out of the system. But unlike homoeopathy. But they couldn’t figure out why. They couldn’t figure out how that could possibly work. And Darwin didn’t have an explanation for that. So that’s the scientific problem of blending and swamping with his evolutionary ideas. Well, that’s OK, because there’s kind of a middle of the road that made everybody happy. And that’s this guy named Lamark. Every time you see a picture of Wellmark, you also see a picture of a giraffe. And this is because Lamark had this idea of, you know, I bet you that through behavior and effort, we can change our traits. So a great example of this is the giraffe’s neck is long because over the years, the giraffe keeps stretching to get to the leaves. That makes his neck longer. And then those giraffes have baby giraffes with longer next because their dads stretched, a lot of people thought that that was ridiculous. There was a really cruel experiment that was done. And Gladys’s Jacoby is not here where basically a guy said, really? And he would take a rat, cut off the tail and then have the rat, you know, procreate and create lots of ads course. All those new rats had tails. So his point was the physical changes you make to a parent don’t get passed on, too. But here’s the thing. Lamark was a happy middle road because first of all, the time problem through this effort, generations would always be passed down that way. So it didn’t require a lot of time for these sorts of traits to keep going. If Lamarque was correct in how these traits came about, the swamping and blending thing was also solved by this. Right. Because. OK. So if the parents continue and then the offspring continue to stretch and continue to stretch, you’re not going to dilute the trait. You’re going to support it. So little continue on. So that solves some of the scientific issues. It also was a happy middle ground for these sort of religious or philosophical objections. And believe it or not, Charles Lyle was one of the people who had philosophical objections to Darwin’s evolution, not because he was religious, but because he was an enlightenment man. And he just thought humans were too dignified to have come through this natural selection process. He just didn’t like that idea. So he he had some sympathy with Lamark. It also helped with the religious problem, because this main idea, you can keep your fossils and keep your God right, because this is change based on individual effort. And that was very appealing to the people during the Industrial Revolution. This is the Victorian era. Everybody’s excited. There’s progress. People are out and try to improve their circumstances. So this is a very appealing idea. By the way, notice the dates for Lamark. He came up with this idea decades before Darwin and evolution. It was dismissed by the masterful anatomist of his day, a guy named Cuvee, who was basically he owned all the stuff and he had done all the anatomy studies and he said hogwash. And so the mark during his lifetime was never appreciated for this idea, which is OK because it’s wrong. However, that’s why people came back to him later. OK, moving along, good men with good scientific minds had a hard time getting beyond the philosophical implications of Darwin’s good idea. It wasn’t just a religious issue. So when we talk about science versus religion, that’s not really an appropriate dichotomy necessarily. OK. This is similar to Galil and Kepler’s Elipse. They were contemporaries, different countries, obviously. But Galileo was aware of Kepler’s idea about the Ellipse and he couldn’t handle it. He just couldn’t tolerate the idea that the heavens were an imperfect circle, like an ellipse. They had to be circular because that was such a perfect shape. So even the best of the scientific minds would get swayed according to their own beliefs. 

So there was a lot of science going on. There’s a lot of other change going on and a lot of revolution going on. We started talking about the beginning of the century being bookended by 1789 and the French Revolution. I’ve ever heard the phrase the American Revolution created light and the French Revolution set everything on fire. Right. And there’s a difference. And the French revolutions tried to bring the ideas of the American Revolution over to Europe. It’s. Enough good. Quickly went pretty bad and other revolutions happening sort of as offshoots and his responses to these changes in Europe. So we have the Napoleonic Wars and then the end of the Holy Roman Empire. Empire ended in 1886, which had been going on for quite some time now. So it’s kind of good to finally get rid of that. You all know the Saturday Night Live routine, but the Holy Roman Empire being neither Holy Roman or. And then up to 1815. What happened in 1815? 

Waterloo. Right. So defeated Napoleon. So that was a big to do. No, no, it’s not a science question, man. Posters are for science questions. OK. 1815. We’ve seen that date before. What else happened in 1815? 

Yes. But what were we talking about earlier? 

Was 1815 William Smith, who said it all. 

You are to have a poster. OK, but yes, look, Congress of Vienna in 1815, and this is important because this is when they basically all got together and redrew the map of Europe. And what was going on here was it was the conservative people who were redrawing the map of Europe. We had a couple of decades of upheaval with the French Revolution and then all of the Napoleonic wars and all this other crap going on. And they said, listen, this is nonsense. We’re gonna have to fix this. 

So I show you this map, which is old from sixteen forty eight y sixteen forty eight. 

It’s not a scientific answer, but try even though you’re not going to get a poster. Sixteen, sixteen, forty eight. The Treaty of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years War, which was the massive conflagration between the Protestants and the Catholics that pretty much destroyed Central Europe, Germany, that Holy Roman Empire. So this is what things looked like in sixteen, forty eight. And it’s important because look how solid all of the normal countries are. And look at this mess that is Germany. What we now call Germany. This is what was left after that because of all the individual five items, kingdoms, Protestants, Catholics splitting things up. Italy’s not even wholly formed yet. 

So this is what it was when we get to the Congress of Vienna. We get this now. 

It’s a little better, but it’s still not quite right. And I’m going to point this out because this is going to cause trouble later. German confederation, lesser German states or a poor rural Germany, WESSER, it’s they’ve got a complex already. OK. And this will come back to cause a great deal of trouble in the world. But this is the result of the Congress of Vienna. And what they were trying to do is maintain order and pull back these big spheres of influence and, you know, push down the teenagers and the rabble rousers and put the adults in control again. And by adults, they meant all of the royalty leaders who had been kings and queens of these countries before the revolutions kicked in. 

Well, that didn’t really go so well. We move up to 1848 and this little book called A Communist Manifesto, which really got under people’s skin and caused some really big revolts in Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Italy. And around the same time, there is a big movement happening in Britain called the Chartist Movement, which had gone on for a couple of decades, actually started in the 18th thirties, but accumulated culminated in 1867. It was a movement to extend suffrage, extend the vote not just to wealthy or noble or royalty, but to the middle class. 

And this was one of the effects of the industrial revolution. You had a lot more people getting money. We had a rise of a middle class. People were doing more jobs. There was more wealth that was being created that was being spread around. So you had sort of a merchant class in a labor class that really wanted to be involved in these civic decisions. So the Chartist movement. That’s what that was about. And they succeeded ultimately in their goal to extend the franchise still to males, not to women. But you didn’t have to be of the noble class in 1867, effectively doubling the electorate in England in one day from three million to six million imagined the effect that that would have on politics, on everything. Right. So that was a huge to do over in England. Meanwhile, Germany is trying to resolve its inferiority complex. So Bismarck is looking around. I don’t one Bismarck. He’s actually in charge of Prussia at this time, which is one of the. And so he knows that the best way to unify your people is to bring him together to fight somebody else. Right. So but you’ve got to make sure that that aggression is going the right direction. So he wasn’t about to go attack other people. So he very cunningly manipulated the scene in Europe to get all three of these countries to attack him. And it worked. And the end result of this was the unification of what we now think of as Germany in 1871 with the conclusion of this last bit. 

And this is this is another series of wars. So here we were with the little German lesser German states. And by the end of Ottoman, sorry, not hummin of auto Bismarck’s sort of manipulation. This is what we have. 

So now we have all of these wonderful power structures right in place for that other date, 1914, that we were talking about. And one of the things that also the Bismarck setup was a bunch of secret alliances with different countries. And if you know anything about World War One and hopefully been paying attention because we’re on a rather momentous anniversary right. Of the start of World War One, this is where that groundwork came from. So this long 19th century was sort of schizophrenic in a way. We had great progress and innovation and invention and a lot of hope for the future. Well, being very industrious and the good things that come from that. However, it also meant we had laissez faire capitalism, a lot of colonialism this century. This is the Victorian age, right. At this time, Britain basically claimed the citizenship status of one in every five people in the world. And that’s one of the reasons, actually, why Darwin was able to sort of jaunt around the globe without too much trouble cause there were British ports all around the world. Colonialism, imperialism, bitter national rivalries like we’re seeing with what Bismarck was doing, intense nationalism, militarism, protectionism. 

Well, into this fun stuff comes Darwin and his little book. So as if things weren’t tumultuous enough, right? So we all know what happens with this. 

And what’s most relevant to the general topic was at this particular time period, something called a discipline. Hopp, is how I’ve come to look at it. When Galio was having his struggles with a church. Right. This was a problem because the church was the dominant authority and Gallia was going up against that. Now, though, science had a lot more credibility. And at this particular time, people were coming to science to say, hey, what have you got for us? We have these philosophical theories. We have these economic theories. We have these social theories. What can science add for this? The science was a required and sought after voice in discussions about the truth. Very different from what Galileo was dealing with, right? Galileo, the church in the Bible and God was the truth. And also, science is being called upon to create new non science theories. And this is what got Darwin a lot of trouble because people would take his ideas and then mold them and pick and choose and kind of cafeteria line all these different ideas to fit their preconceived ideas of political, economic and social situations. We got a little bit of this and some of the talks. Earlier today, Darwin was not a part of this. Darwin was pretty single minded in his sense, sticking with the science of the biology of evolution. He wasn’t responsible for people taking his ideas and doing crazy things with them, like Herbert Spencer, like Ernst Hackle in Germany, who, you know, eugenics and all this stuff. But this is sort of where this guilt by association idea comes in that caused a great deal trouble for him. 

But as much as we’ve, like, focused on this idea of Darwin and evolution, having such an impact on this time period, that paled in comparison to the impact that this little book had on Europe at this time. Four months after Darwin published Origin of Species, this little book came out called Essays and Reviews. And on the surface, it doesn’t look like much. It’s basically a few church members from the Church of England getting together to write about different ideas that from the Bible and who wrote it and historical comparisons of archeology and stuff like that. However, what it really was was an attack, a science based attack on the Bible. What they had done was like, OK, we’re gonna take these scientific tools, archeology, some of the history that was going on, but mostly archeology and some biology and also some of the social studies of how stories get passed down. And essentially, they said, you know, Moses and these people didn’t actually write these books. This didn’t actually happen. We went over here. There’s no evidence that this ever happened. This is the Bible is just stories written by men who were in certain historical situations and therefore were writing their views of that. It was not divinely inspired. 

Right. Yes. However, this didn’t really go over so well. 

This little book, essays and reviews sold 20 thousand copies in two years. It would take Darwin 20 years to sell that many copies of Origin of Species in the next five years. After this was published, over 400 books and tracks were published to argue against it. And what this was essentially the iteration of an idea called higher criticism, which was applying these scientific rigors of study to biblical history and essentially proving it wrong. 

So revolutions, economic revolutions, political revolutions, social upheaval, scientific support for the idea that this is not all controlled, this is just sort of natural selection. Things happen. And oh, by the way, the Bible isn’t true either. So where does that leave us? Am I going fast enough to make you a little uncomfortable and stressed then? Didn’t know what to do with me in Tennessee when I started talking, they were like, wait, wait, wait, what? 

I was like, no, I’m from Northern Virginia. I talk like this. 

OK. So it was a very disturbing time. Part of the issue that really was at the heart of this disturbance sort of comes out of comp’s positivism. How does one reorganize human life, respectively, of God and King? Those were the previous things. Organizing the world right with God’s plan is equals. 

What if something is this way? It’s God made it. It’s part of his plan. It’s the way it’s supposed to be. Don’t mess with it. This sort of idea is what kept kings on the throne and kept peasants in the fields. Right. It’s just the way it is. Guess what God said. 

So we kick out all those other authorities and now we have science coming along as the arbiter of truth. So science is this is where the hell’s the art going to come from? Right. What do we do with this? This is morality. What do we do with this? So I tell you this story so I can tell you a different story. 

That’s a Cosby line. Have you ever heard that Bill Cosby’s routines? The reason I told you that story was I could tell you this story. OK. So this is why I use this program, because it lets me hop around maps and establish a little bit of distance and understanding all of the stuff that was happening in Europe was certainly being felt in the United States. We are seeing a lot of stuff crossing the pond. There is also a great deal of expansion and industry happening United States. So how was that affecting things in the United States? How did the United States experience all this turmoil ever quote for you? 

Alfred Russel Wallace, who also sort of discovered evolution independently about the same time that Darwin did. He visited the United States in 1886. And this is in part what he wrote after his visit here, a nation the United States formed by immigrants from several of the most energetic and intellectual nations of the Old World. The very circumstances which drove them to immigrate led to a natural selection of the most energetic, the most independent. In many respects, the best of their several nations. Such a people would almost necessarily develop both the virtues, the prejudices and even the vices of the parents stuck in an exceptionally high degree. 


So, yeah, between 1860 and 1880, the amount of railroads the United States tripled and then it tripled again between 1880 and into 1910. We were talking about all the industry in Europe. Around the same time, the United States manufacturing and industry was generating three times the industry output of Germany, France and Great Britain combined on steroids. Right. According to Wallace, this was evolution run amuck. His view was that we just had too many resources. We had so many resources. We didn’t have a check on our activity and that was going to cause problems. And I found this great picture because you are. How many of you this is the first time to Buffalo. First time to western New York. 

A few. OK. I don’t know how much you enjoy history or American history. If maybe you know the 16 miles on the Erie Canal song from elementary music ed. This is the Erie Canal. So here you are in Buffalo. And it is the canal that made Buffalo the heyday city shuffle off to Buffalo. 

This this was the place to be. And you’re just a couple miles from where the canal actually is. It’s now a waterway, sort of a trail, recreational trail. This is a. So this is the canal. It runs all the way over to the Hudson River in Albany, which then goes down to New York City. So is this massive shipping route that nobody thought could be done? The thing’s only four feet deep. Right. 40 feet wide. Four feet deep. But it completely changed the country because of its ability to move things across the Appalachian Mountains. Right. So this is one of those things where New York was incredibly lucky because we had a glacial runoff cut through the mountains right here. You have the Adirondacks up there. I’ll try not to go. I’ll park ranger on you. Really great. Unrelated mountain range, the Adirondacks and the Catskills. And then it’s just Appalachians all the way down. The next decent cross across the Appalachians is in Alabama. So this seemed like a good place to connect over. And that was important because all of the goods and farming and everything that was going to start growing in this region needed to get to the Atlantic. And the easiest way to do that was through Buffalo and then out to canal and then down. 

So this was very important. There was a lot of other stuff happening, even on a bigger scale. 

So what was the next big thing? The canal was opened roughly 1825. But there was another super highway transportation thing that opened up a little bit after that. And where you suppose that was the transcontinental railroad? Right. So this was massive. And this is where we really developed our sense of this manifest destiny. Right. And this is where the real religion of America kicks in. We have this whole new world. It’s a new promised land, right. It’s relatively empty thanks to awful diseases and the evil, militaristic people who came before us before these people got here anyway. But it just seemed like this land was meant for us, this very providential. And what a great place to act out all of those extreme characteristics that Alfred Wallace was thinking. We’re just going haywire. Individuals and progress, power agency, invention, effort, control, expansion, speed, industriousness. This was our world and this was our new land. And after some really easy wars and Mexico and the British backing down in the Oregon territories and a nice arrangement with Napoleon and the Louisiana territories, and we also that California rather easily and for not very much money, it just seemed obvious that this is what we’re supposed to do. 

This is a really fun definition of manifest destiny. I love this combination of words, geographic entitlement and provincial oversight. Basically, God gave us this land. We better not screw it up. And that was important because Jesus was coming. We had to get busy. Right. So this very much ties in with the mood of what was going on and what was discussed earlier with these very fervent sort of millennialist ideas. 

And one of the questions that came up earlier was why was the United States so different in this? You know, why were all these wacko religions coming up in the United States? And I have a theory about this, a bounce it off of. You tell me what you think. Part of it relates to what Wallace was saying about how this very exceptional stock. Right. The people who originally came over here were very individualistic. They were already bulking the traditional authorities of the church. They’re also already creating their own religion. So that just sort of runs in America. Right. We want to do our own thing. 

But I think the other aspect is that in the United States, we take God personally. 

We have a personal relationship with God in the United States. That’s what individuals do. Right. So this is one of the reasons why one of the other things that was very much a part of the early. 19TH century was all kinds of awful stuff against Catholics because the Catholic hierarchy was. I know Tom’s looking at his watch. So I just talk faster because that works. So the you know, they had to their loyalty was to the pope. How undemocratic is that? But, of course, a lot more Catholics are coming in because of immigration. But the United States religion was a personal, real personal link, a personal relationship with God. And in the United States, we all individuals, we all have our own agency. So we’re gonna do what we want and we’re going to interpret the Bible and create our own thing. 

So that’s fine, except that also means we don’t have answers for that is odd question. It also means that we have individual answers for the is our question. And when you combine that with this fervor and this general idea that this is the new promised land, then you also want to sort of legislate that morality. And that is something that really not only was causing issues in the 19th century, but certainly in our time today, it’s the continuation of this idea that I have. I know what’s right because I have a personal relationship with God and I’m going to influence you with that. This is very different from religion in Europe, right? Whether it’s the Church of England or the Catholic Church, there was no personal relationship with God. No. That’s why people left Europe to come over here. So it’s a very different way of approaching that. Think how arrogant that is. I have a personal relationship with God. No wonder people were doing their own thing and creating their own religions and coming up with their own philosophies. 

So to me, this is especially tragic and it relates back to Ingersol, because that is our question. I think it’s something that Ingersol have figured out. And I think it’s one of the reasons why Ingersol and until the Jocelin Gaige have been pushed out of history because their narrative didn’t fit with this right. It doesn’t fit with the idea of what how people wanted to perceive. This is our new promised land for the new Americans. And that makes me very sad. And that’s why I’m so glad that all of you guys are kind of pushing and promoting Ingersol a little bit more for me being more of a science person. I come to a lot of the similar conclusions that Ingersol did. I don’t mean to compare myself to Ingersol. That came out wrong. But this idea of this is a problem that arises so much from Darwin’s work and then is how that’s been interpreted and sort of corrupted both in Europe and the United States. I find a different way of talking about that. So I just want to close by giving you a few thoughts on how we in our time can maybe continue some of the ideas that Ingersoll was talking about, about just being good. Right. Not needing religion, not even this authority. Just be good to one another to sort of demonstrate how we’ve been able to come up with this acceptable and very positive way of doing that is all question and dealing with that moral anguish that comes from not from separating those things during this long nineteenth century. These ideas actually started when I was researching a talk for Darwin Day, just reading lots of other different things. I came across a book by a guy named Steve Silberman called The Fully Immersive Mind of Oliver Sacks. You all know Oliver Sacks. Yes. Good. So this book kind of seemed unrelated to what I was doing, but I went ahead and picked it up anyway and kind of was going through it and it ended up being very helpful. So if you know anything about Oliver Sacks, you know that he’s kind of best known for this book called The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. That’s what really put him on the radar. Lots of really great books since then. But this book was fascinating. If you haven’t read it, you must. He’s got all these great stories in here describing patients who are struggling to live with these conditions, such as Tourette syndrome or autism, musical hallucinations, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s. And he’s he’s writing about all these remarkable people who are able to figure out how to live with that. So we get a Tourette’s patients, for example, who becomes a successful surgeon. We get an autistic patient who flourishes as a doctor and engineer. Who’s this? You’ve probably heard of her before. Temple Grandin. Right. And autistic patients who flourish as sorry. Pager’s who go through this brain injury, but then somehow see more clearly when they lose their color vision. So the way Silberman describes Sax’s work, he says at a time when diagnosis of these sorts of conditions was the end goal of the clinical studies, Silberman says it Sack’s went beyond the naming of a disease to figure out how the patients might survive it. So I cut this problem. What am I going to do with it? You know, how are they going to go on living despite this chaos in their minds? Well, faced with a new challenge and a challenging condition, how could they discover a new identity in a world completely changed by their disorder? 

Sound familiar? You see where I’m going with this. 

So each story in Sacks’s book is there. These drill triumphs of success is understanding this acceptance, this growth in this adaptation. By digging deep into the mind, by reforming and retraining functions of the brain, and by mastering new skills, Sachs showed how patients could redefine their existence and become whole again. And in some cases actually more well than before they got sick. Along the way, he discovered that the act of recovering one’s own story was itself healing. 

This is our camp inquiry, where kids come and learn their own story. 

So we all know that Darwin and his ideas of descent with modification and natural selection, these caused problems from the very beginning. The implications of his research seem to say that man might be descended from monkeys. This was, of course, heresy against the well established truth of the day. Namely, that man was the child of God created in his image special and set apart from earthly life monkeys. 

Ridiculous. Who is he? Is. Who does he think we are? These are anybody I know. Do you recognize these pictures? 

You get two posters. 

One of the things that Darwin studied were emotions. And so he had people demonstrate different kinds of emotions that you take picture and then he would look for these sorts of expressions across the animal kingdom. 

So that’s what this is, a cartoon making fun of Darwin. But that’s what those two pictures are. No poster for you. 

Of course, Darwin wasn’t a. First, science to challenge the status quo, scientists to challenge the status quo. Who’s this guy? 

Sorry, Kepler. 

Yohannes Kepler. Right. He looks what you. Lipsky Right. Good. So Kepler discovered mathematical consistency in the music of the spheres. He found patterns in what had been thought of formless void. And he gave us the first inkling that the mysteries of the universe might actually be knowable. So now there’s a pattern. But the heavenly either was still separate from the four baser elements of nature. Thank you, Aristotle. 

And one of your worst ideas. Air, fire, earth, water. Until we get to Isaac Newton, who pretty much demolished the artificial boundary between heavenly and earthly figured out. Yeah, the earth and the moon. They’re made of the same stuff and they fall for the same reasons. So with the heavens no longer an unknowable mystery and no longer set apart from the earth, the stage was set for Darwin to show us we are no longer made of God, but rather of earthly matter. 

What’s the matter with matter? Right. So the the loudest attacks, at least in our generation against Darwin and evolution come from a group of Christians specifically, usually the creationism, intelligent design advocates. Now, like many faithful people before them, their identity is really bound up in this relationship they have with God. Right. This personal relationship with God, there is a tension, his love. This relationship defines meaning in their lives. And it brings purpose to their existence. We’ve heard this before. Right. We atheist can’t possibly have meaning or purpose without a relationship of God. So the problem is each time science research pushes humanity another step further away from special creation. They attack us for diminishing man’s relationship with God for faithful believers. Science, and especially the implications of scientific discoveries, causes an identity crisis. It creates a disorder and it becomes this kind of mental chaos and worldly confusion. By the way, stop looking at your watch, by the way. 

If you really like this picture, you can buy it online at Fine Arts America dot com. 

So current publications reveal all of this anxiety, we’ve seen it for a decade or more now. Right. This is their coping mechanism as a wedge strategy. The purpose of which is defeat scientific materialism and destructive moral, cultural and political legacies. All that stuff we’ve been talking about to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God darn it. 

Right. OK. But here’s the thing. Thanks to Darwin, we now understand that we are material beings. We are made of matter. We are part of the earth. We are an animal species among millions. Part chance, part natural selection. And just the most recent bipeds to be part of it, to grace the planet. I don’t know that I could go with Cody and actually get a tattoo of something like this, but this is cracked me up ever since I found it years ago. So with humanity now removed from the comfort of the special hollowed ground at the right hand of God. Many blame Darwin for bringing about a sort of cultural depression, degradation, nihilistic decline in morals and morality and all that stuff you hear about if you watch Fox News. Right. It’s artful. 

Without a heavenly father and the meaning he brings to our lives, we must just be orphans were left alone. We’re drifting. 

We have no purpose, no direction wrong. Kepler gave us direction. Newton gave us force. 

And Darwin gave his company six billion cousins. Right. Every day should be a big family reunion. 

Darren has given us our diagnosis. We are matter. We are of the earth. We are not special creations, but we’re part of a vast continuum of life. These are actual pictures, by the way. No longer children of God. We are children of nature. This is our condition. If we’re lucky and it’s a warm day. But if this new understanding is a disorder, if it’s caused an identity crisis, then science, too, as in so many other cases, offers relief. How do we find a new identity in a world so utterly changed? How might we go on living despite Darwin’s diagnosis? Remember Dr Sacks? We know we have an innate capacity for recovery and growth, creativity and adaptation, the very adaptation that has enabled us to come this far, despite all the stupid and awful things we as a human species do. Darwin’s work is and has always been a shot across the bow because it challenges our cherished beliefs, our definitions of both God and ourselves, as Adam Phillips explained in his book Darwin’s Worm, which is very good, he writes, Because of Darwin, we must rebuild our identity and retool our hopes, but also because of Darwin, we know we can. He has given us our story. It’s not a nightmare of meaningless existence, though. Darwin tells us stories about what like what keeps life going. So if the reality of evolution cuts little too deep, Darwin’s given us the freedom to discover our own story and thereby begin to heal. We might even become more well than before we got sick, just like Dr Sachs’s patients. Far from crisis and despair, the hope and promise of Darwin is that the world we live in is made more livable because of his description of it. By sharing his stories of human nature, we discover who we truly are. Prepare for transformation and come back to life. 

Seven minutes at. 

I will leave it up to Tom to decide if we have any Q&A time or if you just want to head right into Margaret Downey’s DJ Grothe. I don’t know how short the video that he was mentioning earlier is. 

I’ll be here all weekend. You’ve been just minutes. Five more minutes. OK. Five minutes, a Q&A. Anybody? 

This is where we play Stump the Ranger. 

The fundamentalists are trying to get religion taught in the public school system. And one of their arguments is that science is teaching atheists. And so religion ought to be able to come in and at least teach that the supernatural is also an alternative course. I don’t believe that at all. But I wondered what you thought about it. 

I think they have a misunderstanding of the term neutral. You’re absolutely right. And we all know, in fact, that’s one of the reasons that I wanted to come work for CFI, was because as somebody as a science educator, that was extremely concerning to me, that they were going to be teaching religion in a science class. It’s a categorical mistake, right? Religion is fine. Put it in a religion class or philosophy class or world history class, not in a science class. So they keep pushing it, though, because they they equate science with Athie ism for the reasons we’ve just kind of been discussing. And they see Athie ism as the opposite of religion, which is somewhat true. But Athie is and is not. The absence of something is a neutral position. It’s not an opposite position. But we’re still I don’t know if you follow how closely you follow, see if I am especially skeptical choir, but also depending on the issue on the battle, rather free inquiry. Absolutely. Still fighting that. But it’s it’s a long slog. But hopefully some of the stuff we’ve been talking about here will help you get a better understanding of where they’re coming from. So this idea of no, we just need to teach the science, you know, just keep teach the scientists completely. It’s an incomplete understanding of the problem and it makes us less effective. I think, when we’re trying to deal with those challenges. 

Hey, Fred, I think that the fundamental problem with these orthodox dogmatic religions have is now with the teachings of science or evolution or any of these other things. But with the scientific concept itself, like, for instance, there was an evangelist who was bothered by the teaching of hell, and then he felt he had to feel this was a revelation from God because he couldn’t claim he thought it out, because he thought it out obviously would be complete heresy. But I think he basically was thinking logically, well, he has a personal relationship with God, right? 


So what it was well, he finally came to the logical conclusion that if you have a god of infinite love who wanted to save everybody, he, in fact, would. Now, the problem were that if Christianity has been wrong in teaching there for thousands of years, maybe it’s wrong about other things. He was taking millions of dollars and all of a sudden his whole ministry collapse because he started teaching this. Now, here’s what the problem is. OK. You got a minute. A problem would be if you take logical thinking and start to apply it to Christian dogma and other religious teachings. You’re going to fundamentally change that. So it’s not evolution and stuff that’s a threat to these religions. It’s a very logical process itself. 

But it’s the whole principle. It’s the method more so than the actual information that led to it or that came from that method. OK. I think we’re going to wrap it up. Thank you, everybody. 

We’re going to need about two minutes to get set up for Margaret’s talk. So stay with us. 

We have heard Lauren Becker present the trouble with Robert Ingersoll, guilt by association in the revolutionary world from the Ingersol conference held at Amherst, New York, in August of 2014. 

The original recording was engineered by Monica Harmsen. The music was by Adam Fields. Postproduction was by Inquiry Media Productions. 

This has been episode 238. Visit us again on center stage. 

Center Stage is a production of the Center for Inquiry, a nonprofit organization that seeks to foster a secular society based on science reason. Freedom of inquiry and humanist values. 

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