In Cuba, officially a lay state since 1992, the theories of Darwin has been part of the obligatory basic education and of our boring conventional stereotypes since the Revolution. The interesting thing is – as almost always – that the Cuban reality as regards the theories of evolution is much more complex.
Since we are currently marking the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth this year, the media and public forums such as the recently concluded International Book Fair became sounding boards for new commemorations of the glory of the British scientist. But there were no public debates regarding creationism, as occurs in other countries. Or, rather, there were very few.
I am an orthodox Christian, but the faith of my church doesn’t demand that I believe in a venerable old man bringing the progenitors of our actual species into the world out of nothing, as in Harry Potter.
Of course, I am not affirming that the creationists believe exactly that. I am also a biochemist, and I have discovered that the theories of evolution are much more complex and controversial than what the popular manuals say; but I would also not say that those who believe in evolution today believe in those manuals.
In addition, I have a friend – Mario Castillo the historian – who some years ago wrote an article reporting his investigation into the introduction of Darwinism into Cuba (in the 19th Century).
He proved that from its inception it became converted into a “scientific” orthodoxy in the service of racism and of the illustrious white elites. The work earned him an honorable mention in a contest sponsored by an important social science magazine, but he chose not to publish it since the editors demanded too many changes of him.
What is certain is that in Cuba there are a respectable number of believers in the evangelical Protestant churches, whose principal headquarters are in the US; a great percentage of these are creationists. And their children are subject to the cognitive dissonance between what is taught in Sunday School and the teachings of the Ministry of Education.
But even more interesting is the fact that a little over a month ago I had the luck of attending a “study day” in the Havana Seminary of San Carlos and San Ambrosio, the principal leadership school of the Catholic Church in Cuba. The Church had lent this space to the group “Episteme” for a debate on evolution and creation.
The group is made up not of priests but of three Cuban philosophers and university professors: Tony Correa of the Art Institute who is also a University chair on the Theory of Complexity; Ariel Perez of the Philosophy Department of the University of Havana; and Alexis Jardines of the same department. I recall Jardines’ article “Requiem”, published in Cuba during the decade of the 90s, where he audaciously took apart Marxist orthodoxy. He also recently published two surprisingly rigorous books on cultural philosophy, involving a type of discourse to which we Cubans are not accustomed.
Perez spoke about the history of the idea of creation in religion and philosophy. Correa spoke about creation in the theories of complexity, and Jardines of the lack of consistency in the current theories of evolution.
Three things surprised me: first, the enormous number of young people in the room the kind who dance to “Reggaeton” music – listening to talks that are supposedly so dry. Second, that evolutionism was criticized not by evangelical Protestant theologians but by philosophers who had studied in Marxist universities.
Third, I was surprised that the Catholic rector of the Seminary praised the peaceful manner in which the debate was carried out, and the usefulness of being able to disagree in public without doing damage to friendship. Finally I noted the quantity of beautiful young women in the salon, contrasting favorably with the lugubrious expression on the face of Felix Varela, a Cuban thinker during the times of independence whose portrait hung on the side wall. Lunch was also good, and included the opportunity to chat with the lecturers; both of these luxuries that are somewhat scarce in today’s Cuba.
My Cuban evangelical Protestant friends have on various occasions wanted to push me into a debate on the dilemma of evolution-creation. One time they even invited me to play the “Devil’s advocate” (that is, of evolutionism) in an activity of the Seventh Day Adventists. I firmly declined the offer. Friendship is very important to me, and at times we Cubans lack a culture and habit of debate when we try to take on sensitive themes. But it seems that the situation has begun to change. We are evolving.