I sent a cassette tape of Adrian Rogers on Evolution to John Hospers in May of 1994 which was the 10th anniversary of Francis Schaeffer’s passing and I promptly received a typed two page response from Dr. John Hospers. Dr. Hospers had both read my letter and all the inserts plus listened to the whole sermon and had some very angry responses. If you would like to hear the sermon from Adrian Rogers and read the transcript then refer to my earlier post at this link. Over the last few weeks I have posted portions of Dr. Hospers’ letter and portions of the cassette tape that he listened to back in 1994, but today I want to look at some other comments made on that cassette tape that John Hospers listened to and I will also post a few comments that Dr. Hospers made in that 2 page letter.
John Hospers: From 1776 to 1984
Q: Where did you grow up?
Hospers: I was born and raised in a small Dutch town near Des Moines, Iowa, settled by the Dutch in 1847. The first language I learned was Dutch, and almost everyone in the town spoke it, as well as English. The Dutch Reformed Church dominated the life of the town, though there was no religious training in the public schools. People were very industrious and hard-working. I don’t think anyone in the town was on welfare, and the average income of families was the highest in the state. There were tulip gardens all over the place, and every year in May they’d have an annual tulip festival—everyone in Dutch costume, scrubbing the streets, singing Dutch songs—the whole bit. More important to me were the dogs and cats I always had, and finding homes for stray animals.
Q: What early influences affected your intellectual development?
Hospers: The religious influence was very strong, and at first I absorbed it like everyone else. It was a long time before I knew of anyone who did not share the prevailing Calvinism. Later, I got to thinking about it critically more and more, and that is undoubtedly what started my interest in philosophy, though at that time I was unaware that there was a subject by that name.
In sixth grade I read every article on astronomy in the school’s World Book Encyclopedia, and then I borrowed every book on astronomy that the city library had. I would figure out when different stars and planets would rise, and stay up at night waiting for it to happen. The laws of physics and astronomy never let me down.
The Central College campus was just a block from our house, and I would go to the college observatory and show the college students the rings of Saturn and various double stars. When I got to college myself, the dean, who taught astronomy, delegated the job of teaching it to me. It was my first and best teaching experience—I prepared the tests, taught the class, preparing the lectures and discussions with care. Here I was, a 17-year-old, teaching astronomy to college seniors. Sometimes the dean would drop in and smile, telling the class “I’ll leave you to John—he knows more about astronomy than I do.” Whatever compliments I have ever received, this was the one that meant the most to me.
A cousin who planned to go on to Harvard to study English influenced me to major in that subject. There wasn’t a lot of philosophy being taught at the college, so in addition to taking the few philosophy courses, I took a major in English. I might have stuck with astronomy, except that no one thought that such a subject would lead to any professional future. Meanwhile, even prior to courses in philosophy, I was having more doubts about religion: the usual ones about how one could know that this religion possessed the truth rather than another, how one could get knowledge of God, and so on. What saved me was the reading of David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion—which I still think is the greatest book ever written on the subject. It reflected so many of my own thoughts that I knew I was not alone. I remember thinking, for example, that if God is both all-good and all-powerful, he would not let people and animals suffer. If he couldn’t prevent their suffering, he is not omnipotent, and if he doesn’t want to prevent it he is not all-good. We excuse a surgeon for inflicting suffering if he can’t cure the patient any other way, but an omnipotent benevolent deity would not have that excuse. That source of doubt was more important to me than the usual ones about where did God come from. I concluded with Hume that no attempt to get round this dilemma was successful.
I went on to get a Master’s degree in English at the State University of Iowa. I was all set to teach Shakespeare and Shelley, but I never got to do it: when I was offered a scholarship at Columbia University, I asked whether I could change my major to philosophy. That was okay with them, so it was in philosophy that I finally got my Ph.D., though I skated on pretty thin ice because of my comparative lack of background in philosophy. But the literature background prepared me well for a dissertation in aesthetics, which became my major field of study in philosophy.
Q: What philosophers did you most respect in graduate school?
Hospers: Hume and Mill. Also Plato and Aristotle, and to some extent Descartes and Locke. But Hume most of all—both his historical and epistemological works—which I admired as much for the beauty and clarity of his style as for what he said. It wasn’t until later that I got into contemporary philosophers such as William James, Blanshard, and most of all G. E. Moore, who was for a year my teacher at Columbia.
Q: What is your best philosophical work?
Hospers: Probably the aesthetics book, Understanding the Arts. The most famous section I ever wrote was the 100-page first chapter of Introduction to Philosophical Analysis, entitled “Words and the World,” which introduced a whole generation of students to philosophy via the study of language, and for which I am still best known. I also picked up some notoriety with my long piece in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Aesthetics, Problems of,” and even more with my 40,000-word article in the Encyclopedia Britannica, “Art, Philosophy of.”
Q: You used to be a determinist. Are you still?
Hospers: This depends on what the word “determinism” (like so many words ending in -ism) is taken to mean. Some people say that all events are predetermined by God; I see no reason to accept that view. Or that “it’s all determined by laws of nature”—if you knew all the laws and all the initial conditions, you could predict everything (as Newton did with regard to the planetary orbits). The problem is (one of many) that if you made the prediction and the predicted event didn’t occur, we would say, without any further evidence, that we hadn’t considered all the conditions—we’d take the very fact of the prediction going wrong as evidence that there was an error in our statement of the conditions. Thus the statement becomes what philosophers call a “functional tautology.” Sure, all our actions have causes. Do we really want to say that some of our actions have no causes at all? Freedom says “I cause my actions.” Determinism (in the unobjectionable sense) says “My actions are caused by me.” They are two sides of the same coin.
Q: How well did David Kelley defend direct realism in The Evidence of the Senses?
Hospers: I confess that I’ve never read it all the way through. Some years ago I was much more involved with problems of perception than I am now; his book came too late on the scene for me. But he writes with admirable clarity and doesn’t confuse one sub-problem with another, as so many writers do.
Many writers have defended direct realism, e.g. John Laird’s A Theory of Direct Realism. I must say I was never totally convinced by this view. It still seems to me that smells and tastes, and even colors, vary enormously from one percipient to another because of the differences in our sense-organs. Not only in our sense-organs, but in our state of mind: the dessert no longer tastes sweet after we have eaten something that tasted sweet just before. What does exist out there are certain chemical properties of the dish, and also of the human nose. But you can’t say that something has a property A and also doesn’t have it–only that it seems to one person that it has A, and doesn’t seem so to another. However, it may be that David doesn’t want to deny any of this. I’m afraid I’d have to go and spend some time with the book again.
Q: What did you think of Sciabarra’s view that Rand was a dialectical thinker, and absorbed her method of doing philosophy from Russian culture?
Hospers: Amen! That’s what I thought all along, and reading his book provided a confirmation I had greatly sought. “Dialectical” characterizes her method throughout, and helps to explain why Ayn and I came from different starting points, and conceived the issues differently. In view of this it’s amazing that we got on as well as we did. Her method was quite immune to the subtleties of language. Naturally, I believe that the method of philosophical analysis as done largely in Anglo-American philosophy is preferable; at least it gets the questions straight. I wish she had been exposed early on to the clarifying light of contemporary Anglo-American philosophy. There is one book I would like to have gone through with her step by step: Alexander B. Johnson’s A Treatise on Language, published in 1836. He was never attached to any college or university, but figured out the fundamentals all by himself—truly one of the great figures of American philosophy. Very few people know about him, even today.
Q: What is the most profound thing that Rand got right in basic philosophy?
Hospers: Several things (I couldn’t pick out just one). That reality is there independently of us. That it cannot both be X and not-X at the same time in the same respect; that ideas can change the world, for better or for worse. That within limits, our destiny lies in our own hands.
She was right about value—though (she was probably unaware of it) the American philosopher Ralph Barton Barry had carved out much of the same domain in his Realms of Value. The deathless robot example had been used by Richard Taylor in his Good and Evil, to similarly powerful effect. Unlike Perry, Taylor drew from his working out of the concept of value a social-political ethics very similar to Rand’s, in his marvelous little book Freedom, Anarchy, and the Law, which I have occasionally used as a text in my political philosophy course. “All great minds run in the same channel,” it has been said—and while this isn’t true, more Randians should realize that other minds than Ayn Rand’s have had some of her most important ideas. The whole structure—the integrated system—is unique to her, but many of the ingredients have been created by others, often in unexpectedly subtle ways, and devotees of Rand should really appreciate this—they have often spoken as if hers was the only great mind that ever existed, and as if her ideas were spun directly from the head of Zeus.
Q: What is your vision of the future of Rand’s philosophy, say in a hundred years?
Hospers: I’m not in the prediction business. I’d say here what I always say in response to questions in ethics: “It all depends.” If free-market ideas and limited government really are the wave of the future, Rand will surely be seen as its Moses, leading the people into the promised land. But if the U.S. continues on the path to government-by-bureaucracy, Randian political ideas will remain what they are today, a discussion piece for a small but articulate minority. And in any future international crisis, the government will expand further and individualist ideas will tend to be drowned out.
Of course, her social-political philosophy is only a small part of her total philosophy, but it’s the part for which she is most famous. I doubt that her metaphysical views will take hold in the absence of her social and political ideas. They are the tail that wags the dog.
Q: What about the universities? Is getting Objectivism into the universities a valid strategic goal for the Objectivist movement?
Hospers: Universities have always been centers of statism, because professors believe they can do better when subsidized by the state than they could do in the free market. I don’t see this changing very much. Also, there are many technical issues discussed in philosophy departments on which Rand either has nothing to say or says something ill-informed because she had only a glancing acquaintance with what was going on in philosophy and other departments in the universities. Her review of John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice without having taken the trouble to read the book, is a case in point. She didn’t do enough careful work in relation to views that she opposed.
Q: Do you have any advice to graduate students in philosophy?
Hospers: Be careful and be prepared for the worst. Most heads of departments don’t like Objectivist views (if they know anything about them at all), and one is less likely to be hired—and there are many more Ph.D.s being graduated in philosophy than the present market can place. So you might have to end up teaching something else. Or not teaching at all. Don’t go into teaching unless you are really dedicated. Most students would do better to go into something that pays, and study philosophy in their spare time.
Q: What is your assessment of the quality of liberal education in America? Has it got much worse?
Hospers: Yes, it has. Science departments are still tops, but the humanities have deteriorated. Much of philosophy is still pretty solid, though there is an emphasis on courses with popular titles that teach one very little about philosophical concepts. Much of it is just junk—instead of clarifying the student’s mind, it throws more words out, which the student takes down in notes, and the student may even fancy that she has learned something in philosophy. A lecture, it’s said, is something that goes from the notes of the teacher to the notes of the student without having gone through the minds of either. Philosophy has to be done slowly and carefully, from the ground up, Oxford-tutorial style, with the teacher correcting the student at every step of the way. The large lecture-hall courses in philosophy don’t begin to do that; they may give the student the delusion that something has been learned, and meanwhile a wonderful source of wisdom and guidance to living one’s life is out there and the student never gets a hint that it’s there. It’s a tragic situation—a waste of the student’s time. Literature courses have become corrupted in different ways: instead of a systematic study of Shakespeare or Milton, one just gets “impressions” and “interpretations” (the one supposedly as good as the other). When I studied Shakespeare you couldn’t get by with such drivel—indeed you had to know the material thoroughly, and every student had powerful responses to Shakespeare’s poetry, so that it would make a difference their lives. I used to commit passages of Shakespeare to memory, repeating them out loud while driving to school—I don’t think much of this goes on any more.
Most important of all perhaps is that this is the “first illiterate generation,” brought up on television and not trained to do anything with words—to write them, to combine them creatively in essays, and to read, read, and read. Some students still read a lot—though they’d rather look up a topic on the computer and pretend they know about it than actually look at a book themselves. But even graduate students I know don’t read just for the love of it. They will read on a topic if their graduate program requires it, but just to immerse themselves in books for the sheer joy of acquainting themselves with other minds—it seems to me that’s quite rare these days.
Last year I asked my ethics class to write a few pages on justice, before we discussed the topic in the course. Most of the papers were ill-organized and inarticulate, and the kids wrote as if “anything goes” in using language (do we believe “anything goes” when we’re trying to repair a car?). They thought they had done well—just putting down impressions—and thought I was “much too opinionated” in correcting them, though if I’d been conscientious I would have had to write more words in commenting on their papers than they had written in the papers. Then I saw a paper that was so clear, and had such elegant simplicity, that I could barely believe it—nothing complicated, nothing even taken from books, just the working out of a few fairly simple ideas. The girl who wrote it was from Korea and had learned English only six years before, in Korea. She had learned it “the correct way,” as a foreign language, paying attention to grammar and construction. How had this girl, who had had no philosophy course before, come to do better than any of the American-born students? I remembered that until after World War II, Korea had been controlled by Japan, and no Korean was permitted to embark on higher education. There it was—in a few years the Koreans have got way ahead of us (this girl wasn’t the only example), though we may still think we’re tops. The thought that scared me was, if they can rise so fast, we can fall pretty fast too. American students are near the bottom of the list in language, mathematics, and other subjects. How can we survive if we continue in the direction we are going?
Q: Why does Borders stock so much Continental philosophy and post-modern junk? Who buys that stuff?
Hospers: Instructors like to assign it, to mystify students and show them how much more learned they (the instructors) are. But I doubt that that’s the main reason. It’s the magic of words again. There are certain words in titles, such as “the meaning of life,” which turn students on, and they think they are getting philosophy just because the book is stocked on a shelf labeled “philosophy.” They are fascinated by the occult, and often identify metaphysics with occultism of some kind—with the mysterious or the mystical, with E.S.P. and “inner revelation” as the key to knowledge. What they actually learn from all this is: nothing. But bookstores stock it because the untutored and the unwary buy it.
Q: Did you see the Sense of Life documentary? What did you think of it?
Hospers: I was moved by some parts of it, especially those parts in which Rand in her inimitable voice speaks with conviction about the topics at hand—especially in the interviews in the New Orleans gold conference, which I hadn’t heard before. I was again bowled over by her ability to say something with simple elegance, and to trace so relentlessly the consequences of her opponents’ ideas. I wanted to tell her how much she meant to all of us.
The parts dealing with the early years were revealing and moving. One disadvantage was that the film was told solely from the point of view of her followers. It would have had a richer texture if it had described some of the ideas being discussed by those who honored her and cared for her but didn’t necessarily believe that every word was sacred scripture.
Q: What is your favorite scene in Atlas Shrugged?
Hospers: There are so many—how can I choose? I guess I’d have to say the scene between Dagny and the tramp in the train, on what happened to Twentieth Century Motors, and why. It’s such a great literary piece—and it presents, as she does so well, the consequences of acting on certain ideas—in this case “To each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” When I finish reading those ten pages aloud to the class, half of them don’t understand it or don’t care, and the other half is thunderstruck—they have been hit over the head with new ideas, which they have never heard before, and they don’t quite know how to handle it or what to do about it. Many a future Objectivist has taken root from that reading in my class—and I’ve done it annually for about thirty years.
A Full Context exclusive – John Hospers’ “Memories of Ayn Rand”
Here is another quote from Dr. John Hospers’ June 2, 1994 letter that commented on Adrian Rogers message on Evolution:
I find it [GRADUAL EVOLUTION] much more compatible with the way reality works in other areas to believe that it came gradually over millions of years. (No, the dinosaurs did not “on the 6th day” — but long before man. The evidence of the rocks is pretty convincing on this, unless you want to say that God planted false evidence in the rocks in order to try man’s faith (as some said 10 years ago). (And the sun had to be there before the third day, since without the sun’s light there would be no day and night on the earth!)
During the 1990′s I actually made it a practice to write famous atheists and scientists that were mentioned by Adrian Rogers and Francis Schaeffer and challenge them with the evidence for the Bible’s historicity and the claims of the gospel. Usually I would send them a cassette tape of Adrian Rogers’ messages “6 reasons I know the Bible is True,” “The Final Judgement,” “Who is Jesus?” and the message by Bill Elliff, “How to get a pure heart.” I would also send them printed material from the works of Francis Schaeffer and a personal apologetic letter from me addressing some of the issues in their work. My second cassette tape that I sent to both Antony Flew and George Wald was Adrian Rogers’ sermon on evolution and here below you can watch that very sermon on You Tube. Carl Sagan also took time to correspond with me about a year before he died.
(Francis Schaeffer pictured below)
Adrian Rogers pictured below
I have posted on Adrian Rogers’ messages on Evolution before but here is a complete message on it.
Evolution: Fact of Fiction? By Adrian Rogers
(This next paragraph is my comment and not Adrian Rogers) This might interest you that good friend in Little Rock Craig Carney had an uncle named Warren Carney and Warren was born in 1917 and he was the last living witness of the Scopes Monkey trial but he died in June of 2015. His father took him to the trial every day since they lived in Dayton and it was the biggest happening in the town’s history. Also I attended the funeral of Dr. Robert G. Lee (1886-1978) at Bellevue Baptist in Memphis and he is the minister who presided over William Jennings Bryan’s funeral in 1925.
(William Jennings Bryan)
(Dr. Robert G. Lee )
b. The Fixity of the Species
The second bridge the evolutionist cannot cross is the steadfastness, the fixity, of the species—that is, “the basic categories of life.”
Now, what does the Bible say about the species? Well, Genesis 1, verses 11–12: “And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit”—now, listen to this phrase—“after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:11–12). You continue this passage. Ten times God uses this phrase, “after his kind”—“after his kind,” “after his kind”—because like produces like.
Now, the evolutionist must believe that reproduction does not always come kind after kind. There has to be a mutation—or a transmutation, rather—between species—that you can become a protozoa; and then you can become an un-segmented worm; and then you may become a fish; and then you may become a reptile, and move from one species to another. Now, all of us know there is such a thing as mutation. If you have roses, you can get various varieties of roses. If you have dogs—canines—you can have everything from a poodle to a Great Dane, but they’re still canines; they’re still dogs. The scientists have bombarded fruit flies with gamma rays or some kind of rays to cause mutations, and they get all kinds of strange fruit flies. But, they never get June bugs; they’re still fruit flies. You see, there are variations and adaptations that God has built, but you never have one species turning to another species. You never have a cat turn into a dog that turns to a cow that turns to a horse. You just don’t have that.
Now, men have tried to do that. I heard, one time, about a marine biologist who tried to take one of these beautiful shell creatures called an abalone and cross it with a crocodile. What he got was a crock of baloney. And, anytime anybody tries this, that’s exactly what they come up with.
Now, you say, “Pastor Rogers, why are you so certain about the fixity of the species, the steadfastness of the species?” Number one: because the Bible teaches it, and that’s enough for me. But, let’s move beyond that. We’re not talking about theological reasons now; we’re talking about logical reasons. Friend, if this is true, you would expect to find transitional forms in the fossils. There are billions of fossils; there are trillions of fossils— multiplied fossils. In not one instance—are you listening?—in not one instance do we find a transitional form. None—there are none.
Now, there are some people who will attempt to show you a proof of these, but I can tell you that eminent scientists have proven that these are not true. You would think that if man has evolved for millions and billions of years, and that life has evolved from one-celled life, some amoeba, to what we have today, that, in the fossils in the earth, we would find these transitional forms. But, they’re not there. The people talking about finding the missing link… Friend, the whole chain is missing—the whole chain is missing. Now, you ask them to prove it—that that is not true; and, they cannot come up with evidence. Well, you say, “But Pastor, they seem to have the proof. What about these ape-men? What about these people who lived in caves—these cave dwellers?” We have cave dwellers today. People have lived in caves through the years. “But, what about these things that we see in the museum? What about these creatures in this Time-Life advertisement?” Those are the products of imagination, and artistry, and plaster of Paris.
Adrian Rogers pastor of Bellevue Baptist in Memphis visiting with Ronald Reagan in White House pictured above.
Below Bellevue Baptist pictured in 1975:
Some years ago—in 1925, I believe it was—in Tennessee—Dayton, Tennessee— we had something called The Monkey Trial. Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan were in a court case. A teacher had taught evolution in school, and there were people who sued that evolution should not be taught in school. Now it is reversed— you’re sued if you don’t teach evolution in school. But, there was a great debate, and Clarence Darrow, who was a very brilliant lawyer, was presenting evidence for evolution. Part of the evidence that Clarence Darrow presented was Nebraska Man, and he had all of these pictures.
Now, what had happened is there was a man named Harold Cook. And, Harold Cook had found a piece of evidence, and out of that piece of evidence the artist had created this half-man, half-ape—this Nebraska Man. Well, what was it that Clarence Darrow used as evidence that Harold Cook had discovered? It was a tooth. I didn’t say, “teeth”; I said, “tooth.” He had a tooth; and, with that tooth, he had devised a race—male and female.
I was interested in reading, in my research for this message, where a creationist went to the University of Nebraska, where they have the campus museum. And, since he’s named Nebraska Man, they have the replica of Nebraska Man there, in the museum. So, this creationist went in there and said, “I want to see Nebraska Man.” So, they took him in there, and in a case were the skull and the skeleton of Nebraska Man. And, the creationist said, “Are these the actual bones of Nebraska Man?” “Oh,” he said, “no, they’re not the actual bones.” “Well,” the man said, “where could I see the actual bones?” “Oh,” he said, “well, we don’t have the bones. These are plaster of Paris casts of Nebraska Man.” “Well, you must have had the bones to make the cast.” The man in charge seemed embarrassed. “We don’t have any bones. All we have is a tooth.” That’s Nebraska Man. And, what they had done was to take a tooth, take some imagination, take an artist, take plaster of Paris, take some paste and some hair, and glue it on him—make a male, make a female, make a civilization called Nebraska Man out of one—one—tooth.
When I was in school, I studied about the Java ape-man. If you go back as far as I do, you studied about the Java ape-man. Where’d he come from? Well, in 1891, Sir Eugene Dubois found, in Java, the top of a skull, the fragment of a left thighbone, and three molar teeth. He announced the missing link had been found—750,000 years old. These bones that he found—these sparse bones—were not found together, and they were found scattered, over the space of one year. Twenty-four eminent scientists got together to investigate these bones; they were from Europe. There was no agreement. Ten said that they were the bones of an ape; seven said that they were the bones of a man; seven said that it was the missing link. Later, Dubois himself had to confess that it was the remains of an ape. But, in the museum, he is called Pithecanthropus Erectus— “the ape-man who stands up.” But, he’s just an ape.
What about the Piltdown man? I, in college, was introduced to the Piltdown man. Where’d we get his name? Well, Charles Dawson, in Piltdown, England, found in a gravel pit a piece of a jaw, two molar teeth, and a piece of a skull. For 50 years, this was known as “the Piltdown man,” but it was later shown to be a hoax. And, The Reader’s Digest, in 1958, said this—and I quote: “The great Piltdown hoax was an ape only 50 years old. Its teeth had been filed down and artificially colored.” Well, we laugh at that, and we say anybody could have a joke pulled on him. Yes, but friend, the scientists took this and put it in the museum for 50 years. Do you see how anxious man is to make a monkey of himself? I mean, it was a hoax.
The painting, entitled “A Discussion on the Piltdown Skull,” is based on a meeting at the Royal College of Surgeons on the afternoon of August 11, 1913, during which the participants presented their views on the anatomy of Piltdown man. One or more of these men may have been involved in committing the fraud, while others were the unwitting victims. The anthropologist Arthur Keith (wearing the white laboratory coat) is seated at the table examining the Piltdown skull. Seated to Keith’s left are the osteologist William Pycraft and the zoologist Ray Lankester. The dentist Arthur Underwood stands in front, to Keith’s right. Standing in the back (from Keith’s far left) are the geologist Arthur Smith Woodward, the amateur paleontologist Charles Dawson, the anatomist Grafton Elliot Smith, and Frank Barlow, an assistant to Woodward. Other notables in the Piltdown affair, such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Lewis Abbot and Martin Hinton, were not present at the discussion. On the back wall, a portrait of Charles Darwin presides over the meeting. (Photograph courtesy of the Geological Society of London.)
And, Dr. Austin H. Clark, noted biologist of the Smithsonian Institute, said this—listen to this, this is Smithsonian: “There is no evidence which would show man developing step-by-step from lower forms of life. There is nothing to show that man was in any way connected with monkeys. He appeared suddenly and in substantially the same form as he is today. There are no such things as missing links. So far as concerns the major groups of animals, the creationists appear to have the best argument. There is not the slightest evidence that any one of the major groups arose from any other.” Folks, again—not that I’m embarrassed at being a Baptist preacher—but that’s not a Baptist preacher speaking; that’s a biologist at the Smithsonian.
There’s a man today who’s going about speaking on college campuses. His name is Dr. Philip E. Johnson. He’s a Harvard gradate and also a graduate of the University of Chicago. He’s an attorney—and no mean attorney. He has served as a law clerk for the Chief Justice of the United State Supreme Court. I want you… And, by the way, Mr. Johnson, whose books are in our library and in our bookstore, I believe, is a true believer and does not believe in evolution. He’s brilliant. And, he tells the following story of a lecture given by Colin Patterson at the American Museum of Natural History in 1981. Let me tell you who Patterson is. Patterson is a senior paleontologist—that means, just simply, “someone who studies ancient events, and creatures, and so forth”—he is a senior paleontologist at the British Natural History Museum. And, I’ve been to that museum. As you walk in, the first thing you see is the head of Darwin there—the bust of Darwin. He is—Colin Patterson is—the senior paleontologist at the British Natural History Museum, and he is the author of that museum’s general text on evolution. So, this guy’s no “6” or “7.” When it comes to science, he’s a “9” or “10.”
Now, Philip Johnson, who is this lawyer from Harvard, quotes Colin Patterson, and he says this happened: He says—Patterson is lecturing now, and Philip Johnson is talking about it; and, here’s what Philip Johnson says: “First, Patterson asked his audience of experts a question which reflected his own doubts about much of what has been thought to be secured knowledge about evolution.” Now, here’s this man; he’s asking his colleagues this question: “Can you tell me anything you know about evolution—any one thing—that is true?” A good question: “Can you tell me…”—now listen; it’s kind of funny—“Can you tell me anything—any one thing—you know is true?” Now, here are these learned men sitting out there. And, let me tell you what happened: He said, “I tried that question on the geology staff at the Field Museum of Natural History, and the only answer I got was silence. I tried it on the members of the Evolutionary Morphology Seminar in the University of Chicago”—morphology means, “to change from one form to another”—I tried it on the members of the Evolutionary Morphology Seminar in the University of Chicago, a very prestigious body of evolutionists, and all I got there was silence for a long time. Eventually, one person said, ‘I do know one thing: It ought not to be taught in high school.’”
Now, get the setting: Here is a man, a brilliant scientist from the British Museum, who has written a book on the thing. And, he gets these high muckety-mucks out there—these intellectual top waters—and he said, “
Can you tell me one thing that you know to be true—that you know to be true?” Silence. Only thing one of them said: “I know that it ought not to be taught in high school.”
You see, folks, there are some bridges that they cannot cross. One bridge is the origin of life. George Wald said, “That’s impossible, but I believe it—spontaneous generation—because I don’t want to believe in God.” The other is the fixity of the species. We don’t have any evolutionary fossilized remains, missing links.
It is often said that artists never retire, and American abstract painter Ron Gorchov is no exception. Now in his early 80s, Gorchov nevertheless continues to quietly push his work in strange new directions. His latest exhibit, a low-key affair at the Lesley Heller Workspace at 54 Orchard Street, offers up an collection of minimal watercolor compositions influenced primarily by Greek Mythology.
The ameba-like watercolor paintings represent something of a departure for Gorchov, who is best-known for his curved paintings — large canvases bound to custom-bowed stretchers — that resemble the shapes of shields, saddles, and primitive masks. “My paintings are mostly made from reverie, and luck,” he once told The Brooklyn Rail. “I think painting, per se, is an ideal way to criticize the work you already admire because that way you can take the best things in it and try to make your work to be the next consequential step. I mean, to me, that’s a given tradition in creative thought: to build on what you’re seeing that you love and try to bring it to new and unknown terrain.”
Born in Chicago in 1930, Gorchov began painting at the age of 14 when he began taking classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. He has been working in New York since the early 1950s, when he arrived with his wife, newborn son, and all but $80 to his name. Since arriving he has made paintings that are now in permanent collections at The Met, MoMA, and Guggenheim, to name a few. His contemporaries include Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Joel Shapiro.
Gorchov’s watercolor paintings will be on display at the Lesley Heller Workspace through October 13th.
Ron Gorchov at CHEIM & READ
James Kalm has the distinct pleasure of bringing viewers this brief tour of recent paintings by one of New York’s most enigmatic artists, Ron Gorchov. Though a member of the New York art world since the early fifties, it was in the late sixties that Gorchov devised his unique painting support, often referred to as a “saddle shape”. The use of this convex surface was a refutation of Clement Greenberg’s dogmatic idea that the picture plane must be flat, and rectangular. Along with his “saddle shape” canvases Gorchov has developed a “stack” format, a series of curved planes overlaying each other, that he paints sophisticated color studies on. This exhibition presents recent examples of Gorchov’s works that display his innovative comingling of painting and sculpture and the mastery of his means. Includes an appreciation by Jonathan Lasker.
Featured artist is Ron Gorchov
Ron Gorchov (born 1930) is an American artist who has been working with curved surface paintings and shaped canvases since 1967. Gorchov’s primary invention consists of finely fitted, curved wooden frames resembling shields or saddles, across which is stretched linen or canvas. He uses simple paired strokes to create images that play with asymmetry within a basically symmetrical design, creating his emblematic doubled or mirrored image.
Gorchov’s paintings are included in many prominent collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Detroit Institute of Art, and the Guggenheim.
Gorchov’s career as an artist began in 1944, at the age of fourteen, when he began taking classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. Many of his fellow students were servicemen returning from World War II who used G.I. Billbenefits to pay for art materials. “A veteran… gave me a paper bag with all his half-squeezed oil paint tubes and a whole bunch of old brushes and he said they’d be good luck.”.
Gorchov attended the University of Mississippi in 1947 and called it “the most unlikely place I could go. The deep south was exotic. I went fishing with William Faulkner…but because of the horrific racial problem I was mentally not at all able to think about art.” Gorchov returned to Chicago and took both academic and art classes at Roosevelt College and the Art Institute. In 1953, Gorchov came to New York with his wife and newborn son and eighty dollars. The family moved into the Marlton Hotel, across the street from where the Whitney Museum used to be and what is now the New York Studio School.
Gorchov’s career has included impressive showings at Susan Caldwell and Pat Hamilton galleries in the 1970s, followed by Hamilton, Marlborough, and Jack Tilton galleries in New York and galerie m in Germany in the 1980s. In 1972, Gorchov installed two of his “experiments in neocontructivism: multipaneled stacks of heraldic monochromes”  at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York. One of these stacked works, titled Set, was later included in Rooms, the inaugural exhibition at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in New York in 1976, while the other, titled Entrance, was also exhibited at P.S. 1 in 1979. In 2006 Gorchov’s work was again shown at P.S. 1 in a solo show titled Ron Gorchov: Double Trouble.
Gorchov is sometimes known as a “perennially emerging artist.”. His first appearance on the scene was in 1960, when he was included in the Whitney Museum’s Young America 1960: Thirty American Painters Under Thirty-Sixexhibition. Some years later Gorchov was rediscovered by Dorothy Miller, then a curator at MoMA, who chose him for Art in America’s “New Talent U.S.A.: Painting.”
Gorchov was part of a group of artists working in Manhattan in the 1960s and 70s that was responding to the concept of “Action Painting” as defined by Harold Rosenberg, a concept that purported to demolish pictorial conventions and held as suspect the notions of facility and harmonious composition. His work shows an affinity with that of Arshile Gorky (Gorchov was at one point affiliated with Gorky’s mentor John D. Graham), Joel Shapiroand Richard Tuttle. He was a mentor to Willem de Kooning and friendly with Mark Rothko.
- Ron Gorchov, Answers to Gavin Spanierman Questionnaire, 2007
- Robert Storr, catalog essay, 1990
- Ron Gorchov with Robert Storr and Phong Bui, The Brooklyn Rail, September 2006
- Ron Gorchov with Robert Storr and Phong Bui, The Brooklyn Rail, September 2006
- Robert Storr, ArtForum, September 2005
- Robert Storr, catalog essay, 1990
- Robert Storr, catalog essay, 1990
- Missing in action: Robert Storr on Ron Gorchov, ArtForum, September 2005
- Robert Storr, catalog essay, 1990