The Dream Vaults of Opar


Caspakian Creationism

     In mailing #30 Tyler McCulloch* suggested that The Land that Time Forgot might not be what most of us have presumed it to be. Pointing to various satirical elements in ERB’s later novels, he asks, “Could 'The Land That Time Forgot' have been an earlier satirical outing, [with ERB] laughing at the idea that man evolved from lower creatures? . . . Was he an evolutionist or a creationist?”
     As an ardent evolutionist myself, it seemed so self-evident to me that ERB was himself a life-long, fervent, full-fledged evolutionist that at first I thought Tyler was indulging in a bit of delectable satire himself. It seemed impossible that anyone could read any two works of ERB without realizing that he was an absolutely committed evolutionist. For a few wonderful moments I thought Tyler was in the process of exposing the fallacies of the Creationists by adopting their own illogical logic.
     After all, evolution clearly happened. Hundreds of thousands of pieces of evidence have been accumulated over the last 150 years from every corner of the globe, and they prove conclusively that evolution has taken place. Some fast-reproducing insect species (fruit flies and butterflies) have even been observed to evolve. No genuine scientist doubts this, and any scientist who says he does is not really a scientist at all, because he is substituting what he wants to believe for what the evidence clearly shows. The fact of evolution is as well established as gravity. (The “theory of evolution,” however, is another matter. An attempt to explain how evolution works, it was originally proposed by Darwin and has since been modified by others. This theory is the subject of continued study, conjecture, and contention.)
     As I read on in Tyler’s contribution, however, I realized that he was quite sincere. I’ve come to think quite highly of Tyler and to respect him for the hard work and uncommon good sense he’s displayed in every mailing. He’s one of those relatively rare people that I admire to such an extent that I would go to considerable lengths to avoid offending. I hope he’ll understand that he baited me into writing this by choosing a topic that interests me as thoroughly as it does him, and by saying things that I can’t let go unanswered.
     “Creationism,” by the way, is a word coined and promoted with political motivation (like a host of Orwellian terms you'll hear spewed out every time you turn on the TV); it is intended to sidestep our constitutional (and grossly abused) separation of church and state with regard to what is taught in schools. (Certainly the Bible should be taught there—as literature or history, or because it’s central to our culture, but not as science). The whole concept of Creationism derives from Biblical literalism, the notion that every word of the Bible is literally true (despite the glaring fact that both Testaments are filled with self-contradictions, including two totally different accounts of the creation—Genesis 1 and 2—and two totally different genealogies of Christ). The Catholic Church has spent the last few centuries distancing itself from this position and trying to reach some sort of accommodation with Science in the ongoing war between Science and Religion; apparently it learned its lesson from the little misunderstanding it had with Galileo about whether the earth goes around the sun or vice versa.
     To Tyler’s credit, he quickly concluded that ERB was indeed an evolutionist, but suggested he must have been a “theistic evolutionist.” Theistic evolution, Tyler explains, is an attempt “to harmonize two contradictory concepts (a) a Creator didn’t act; (b) a Creator did act!” Now, such a statement is what is informally known as setting up a straw man, because it’s designed to be easy to knock down. It is also patently untrue. Theistic evolution is the belief that a Supreme Being set the evolutionary process in motion—created the universe, with all the necessary elements in place to produce the earth and us.
     Then Tyler paraded out the usual Creationist misinformation and list of scientific frauds and errors (as if they invalidate evolution any more than Aimee Semple McPherson, Jim Bakker, or Marvin Gorman invalidate religion). Well, Tyler isn’t a scientist. If he chooses to believe the Biblical account rather than the overwhelming preponderance of scientific evidence and opinion, that’s his right. Nothing I could write would dissuade him, and I'm not sure I care to.
     As to ERB’s personal beliefs, however, there really isn’t any mystery. This is what Porges reveals (p. 283):

In discussions with his sons Hulbert and Jack, Burroughs stated his religious attitude clearly: He did not believe in the Bible, Christ, the Immaculate Conception, or God. He called himself an atheist. . . . At times, especially because of his efforts to be tolerant about other people’s religious views, he gave the impression of being an agnostic. On occasions when he termed himself a “religious” man, he was referring to his objectives of following the moral or ethical precepts taught by Christ or found in the philosophies of the Greeks and the Romans. Concerning the typical religious attitudes displayed by characters in his stories, both of his sons have maintained that these should not be interpreted as representing Burroughs’ beliefs—they are merely inserted as necessary elements in the story, or to create the particular effect he was seeking.
     ERB, it seems, was not a theist at all. And his opinion concerning the Biblical story of Creation is known with even greater certainty. He wrote an article about the Scopes “Monkey Trial,” portions of which are quoted by Porges (p. 366) and Fenton (p. 112). The closing remarks of that article (to which I’ve added emphasis) are the most blistering assessment of Creationism I’ve ever read:
    It really does not make much difference what Mr. Scopes thinks about evolution, or what Mr. Bryan thinks about it. They cannot change it by thinking, or by talking, or by doing anything else. It is an immutable law of Nature . . . which men who had not progressed as far as we have tried to interpret some 2,000 years ago [in the Bible]. It is not strange that they made mistakes. They were ignorant and superstitious.
—September 14, 1991
*Tyler McCulloch is a catch-all pseudonym representing various ERB-APA friends with whom I have disagreed in print. Since only my side of those discussions can be presented here, it would be unfair to use their real names. <back>
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Copyright © 1999 Patrick H. Adkins. All rights reserved.