RE: an article on the creationist's plea "teach the controversy"

From: Judy Diamondstone (
Date: Mon Oct 11 2004 - 12:32:57 PDT

Jay, Steve, Michael, and all,

While I, too, am concerned about undermining the Constitutional separation
of church and state (if I have to choose a dogma, this is one I would
choose), I am very grateful to Jay for challenging the orthodoxy of both the
scientific and educational establishments, and I will exacerbate whatever
nervousness the ID proponents stir up by invoking Gregory Bateson, who will
be commemorated next month in Berkeley, at a conference held in his honor,
and in San Francisco, in several panels at the concurrent Anthropology
meetings. Bateson had little to say about politics or history (he thought
Marxism was the consequence of an error in logical typing), but he certainly
thought and wrote a great deal about evolution. I have posted a series of
quotes, below, mainly from the introduction to "Angels Fear," the book that
Catherine Bateson pulled together from bits of manuscript Gregory left
behind, in a partly posthumous dialog with her father:

"[Bateson] had become aware gradually that the unity of nature he had
affirmed in *Mind and Nature* might only be comprehensible through the kind
of metaphors familiar from religion; that, in fact, he was approaching that
integrative dimension of experience he called the *sacred.* This was a
matter he approached with great trepidation, partly because he had been
raised in a dogmatically atheistic household and partly because he saw the
potential in religion for manipulation, obscurantism, and division. The mere
use of the word *religion* is likely to trigger reflexive misunderstanding.
The title of the book [(where) Angels Fear] (to tread) therefore expresses,
among other things, his hesitation and his sense of addressing new
questions, questions that follow from and depend upon his previous work but
require a different kind of wisdom, a different kind of courage. I
[Catherine] feel the same trepidation. This work is a testament, but one
that passes on a task not to me only but to all those prepared to wrestle
with such questions....."

and later,
"...A great many people, recognizing that Gregory was critical of certain
kinds of materialism, wished him to be a spokesman for an opposite faction,
a faction advocating the kind of attention they found comfortable to things
excluded by atomistic materialism: God, spirits, ESP, "the ghosts of old
forgotten creeds." Gregory was always in the difficult position of saying to
his scientific colleagues that they were failing to attend to critically
important matters, because of methodological and epistemological premises
central to Western science for centuries, and then turning around and saying
to his most devoted followers, when they believed they were speaking about
these same critically important matters, that the way they were talking was

"....Given what we know about the biological world (that knowledge that
Gregory called "ecology," with considerable cybernetic revision of the usage
of this term by members of the contemporary biological profession), and
given what we are able to understand about "knowing" (what Gregory called
"epistemology," again within a cybernetic framework), he was attempting to
clarify what one might mean by "the sacred." Might the concept of the sacred
refer to matters intrinsic to description, and thus be recognized as part of
"necessity"? And if a viable clarity could be achieved, would it allow
important new insight? It seems possible that a mode of knowing that
attributes a certain sacredness to the organization of the biological world
might be, in some significant sense, more accurate and more appropriate to

And finally, as Cathy discusses it, Bateson felt that "a constellation of
issues" including questions of "the sacred," "the aesthetic," and of
consciousness, "needed to be addressed in order to arrive at a theory of
action in the living world, a cybernetic ethics..."


As I understand Catherine's version of her many conversations with her
father and as I remember my own conversations with him, Gregory (trained as
an anthropologist) saw in the procresses of DESCRIPTION an implicit
ethics -- implying a faithfulness to what cannot be described (the thing
itself) as well as a commitment to form. Insofar as we can describe our
world according to that implied ethic, we are trading in a sacred and
aesthetic realm, one that is immanent in consciousness, but depends on
non-Cartesian premises. In order to produce the kinds of truths that science
aims for but can never achieve, those truths that go on being true --
knowledge useful to the continuity of life on earth -- we have to change our
relationship to what it is we want to know.....

I suspect that these insights are supported by much of contemporary science.



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