Monday, October 24, 2005

The decline of Western Civilization, U.S. Division

My kid is more ignorant than your kid
. Let's make a bumper sticker--One of the joys of the weekend meeting of the National Association of Science Writers (NASW) was getting to meet readers of this here blog and say hello and thank them for being readers of this here blog. One reader in particular fascinated me, a woman, an American, who writes science out of Switzerland. She told me the fun she has trying to explain to Europeans the furor over evolution and “intelligent design” in this country. The answer is, she pointed out, that you cannot. It doesn’t register. There is no equivalent relationship between a loud, minority religious group and public policy or education in Europe, and as we pointed out below, the U.S. has more religiosity than any other country. You can’t explain why citizens of the most powerful country in the world are having to go to court to keep the known-nothings from destroying their children’s education.

More than 60% of Americans reject Darwin's evolution. According to a CBS poll (here), more than 50% believe humans were created by God just as we are (God forbid!) and another 10% accept the evolutionary process but believe God had a hand in it. You would be hard-put to find any other country in the developed (or undeveloped world for that matter) where faith trumps reason so perfectly.

One of the strengths of American education used to be local control, the fact that local citizens could have considerable influence on what was taught in the schools. That has now become one of the systems’ great threats. It apparently is not enough to be ignorant; it apparently is not enough to inflict your ignorance on your children. Now it is a matter of inflicting your ignorance on other peoples’ children. And we put up with it.

When Darwin published the “Origin of Species” in 1859, fundamentalist elements in the Christian Church attacked it and attacked him using exactly the same language the fundamentalist extremists use now. The only difference is that the English got it out of their system 150 years ago. We haven’t.

Earlier, in what turned out to be one of the most read postings on this blog, I quoted from H.L. Mencken, who covered the Scopes trial in Tennessee in 1925. Often forgotten is the fact John T. Scopes was convicted. Here is Mencken’s story on the last day of the trial as published in the Baltimore Evening Sun.

All that remains of the great cause of the State of Tennessee against the infidel Scopes is the formal business of bumping off the defendant. There may be some legal jousting on Monday and some gaudy oratory on Tuesday, but the main battle is over, with Genesis completely triumphant. Judge Raulston finished the benign business yesterday morning by leaping with soft judicial hosannas into the arms of the prosecution. The sole commentary of the sardonic Darrow consisted of bringing down a metaphorical custard pie upon the occiput of the learned jurist.

"I hope," said the latter nervously, "that counsel intends no reflection upon this court."

Darrow hunched his shoulders and looked out of the window dreamily.

"Your honor," he said, "is, of course, entitled to hope."...

The Scopes trial, from the start, has been carried on in a manner exactly fitted to the anti- evolution law and the simian imbecility under it. There hasn't been the slightest pretense to decorum. The rustic judge, a candidate for re-election, has postured the yokels like a clown in a ten-cent side show, and almost every word he has uttered has been an undisguised appeal to their prejudices and superstitions. The chief prosecuting attorney, beginning like a competent lawyer and a man of self-respect, ended like a convert at a Billy Sunday revival. It fell to him, finally, to make a clear and astounding statement of theory of justice prevailing under fundamentalism. What he said, in brief, was that a man accused of infidelity had no rights whatever under Tennessee law...

Darrow has lost this case. It was lost long before he came to Dayton. But it seems to me that he has nevertheless performed a great public service by fighting it to a finish and in a perfectly serious way. Let no one mistake it for comedy, farcical though it may be in all its details. It serves notice on the country that Neanderthal man is organizing in these forlorn backwaters of the land, led by a fanatic, rid of sense and devoid of conscience. Tennessee, challenging him too timorously and too late, now sees its courts converted into camp meetings and its Bill of Rights made a mock of by its sworn officers of the law. There are other States that had better look to their arsenals before the Hun is at their gates.
By the way, Mencken had his own version of intelligent design in the universe.
It is impossible to imagine the universe run by a wise, just and omnipotent God, but it is quite easy to imagine it run by a board of gods. If such a board actually exists it operates precisely like the board of a corporation that is losing money.

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