One Fine Discussion along Bob Dylan’s Evolution Row

At the daily text discussion, the question was posed: What if you are a young person in school, all your classmates believe in evolution, and you want to defend creation? It was the application supplied to 1 Peter 3:15, “Be] always ready to make a defense before everyone who demands of you a reason for the hope you have, but doing so with a mild temper and deep respect.​“

No one present was actually in school. For most the experience was many years behind them. Roy said how when he had been in school, he told the teacher he believed in creation, and the latter replied, “Well, okay, but you still have to learn evolution.” A lot of school is like that—learn answers that may or may not be relevant (or even true) and spit them back later on a test.

Someone pointed to how it is only a theory of evolution, but in the academic world this doesn’t really wash. The only way to prove it would be to go back and observe, and that’s not going to happen, but they still think the evidence is overwhelming.

Neither can you prove creation. All you can do is establish it is reasonable, and perhaps evolution unreasonable. It’s not unreasonable in every single aspect, but in the overall picture it asks you to swallow... “Most people believe in evolution simply because someone they respect told them that it is true,” the text comment said. That about squares with typical experience. I remember a brother who used to lead off with that question when the topic arose: “Do you believe it because you have personally considered all the evidence for and against, or is it more that so many say it is so that you figured it must be.” Usually the answer was the latter.

The friends present are long out of school, long immersed in the real world of day-to-day activity. Evolution has become irrelevant to them, as it is to most people. The scientists may make much of abiogenesis, macro-evolution, and micro-evolution, but these categories are not especially significant to non-scientists, who just lump them all together as “evolution.” Sometimes they even lump in non-living things—the origin of the universe, for example, as “evolution.” They’re not concerned about these categories. Few people are. They’re concerned about categories of things that count in their own lives. One “category,” micro-evolution, is no more than unremarkable animal husbandry, has been around forever, and is what Darwin extended into other areas.

On “macro-evolution,” I sort of like the series, “Was it Designed?” that has run in the magazines for the longest time, and highlights behavior so incredibly complex that you say, “I may be gullible, but I am not so gullible as to think such behavior could come about just by happenstance. Or some other aspect of copying nature. The reason wing tips on airplanes bend up, for example, is that birds have wings that do such, and when engineers ran the numbers they found they save a lot of energy that way.

On abiogenesis—there you pull the mathematicians in, who routinely declare this or that aspect of cell or protein activity so staggeringly unlikely—odds on the order of all the known atoms in the universe—that for all practical purposes it is “impossible.” You would think this would carry more weight with atheists, but it doesn’t. One of them muttered to me (I hadn’t known this) that proponents of “intelligent design” are almost always mathematicians. Of course! Their branch of science runs the numbers and declares it impossible. Freed from these “inconvenient facts,” their non-specialist brethren continue to build castles in the sky, hiding behind a “fallacy of negation” argument they themselves have designed. Roughly, it runs that, “just because I cannot answer your question doesn’t mean what I say is untrue.

But I think if I were back in school again—it has been awhile—I would bypass all such heady things to focus on Bob Dylan, specifically his song Desolation Row. Sometimes something gets in your head and you knock it around a bit and come up with something more. “Evolution” Row is actually not a bad interpretation of the song. Take this portion:

At midnight all the agents and the superhuman crew

Come out and round up everyone that knows more than they do

Then they bring them to the factory where the heart-attack machine

Is strapped across their shoulders and then the kerosene

Is brought down from the castles by insurance men who go

Check to see that nobody is escaping to Desolation Row.

Anyone familiar with the Bible (as Dylan is—he did a stint as a born-again Christian. Listen to Slow Train Coming, for example, and you’ll see he is thoroughly familiar with scripture) will know who is “all the agents and the superhuman crew.”

At the darkest time, they round up everyone “who knows more than they do.” Well, nobody knows more than does the “superhuman crew,” so it must be a reference to those who think that they they know more than others, who think that are very smart indeed and that take great pleasure in parading their knowledge before everyone else, quick to disparage anyone in their path, ones who don’t suffer fools gladly—and a fool is anyone who disagrees with them.

Despite their self-heralded knowledge, they are “rounded up” and processed, as though in a “factory.” The knowledge that they take such pride in is nevertheless death-dealing, like a “heart attack machine strapped across their shoulders,” with “kerosene” thrown in for good measure. 

Despite their knowledge being death-dealing—settling for a few dozen years lifespan at best and then eternal blackness—nobody must escape this tripe. “Insurance men” see to it. Nobody will escape from Evolution Row. (Of course, Dylan actually wrote “to Desolation Row,” not “from,” but it was probably a typo.) Let us not forget that the evolution teaching (in its full measure— not counting the intelligent design variety) is desolation to the Bible based hope of living forever on a paradise earth.

Naw, I don’t really think Dylan had that in mind. Other stanzas don’t so readily lend themselves to that interpretation. But it’s not a bad interpretation all the same. Dylan often writes in a stream of consciousness and doesn’t necessarily have any underlying message. It’s like decrypting Kafka. The tone is distinct, but the underlying words can be taken any number of ways.

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