Search Adorate

Monkeying with History

First, I do apologize for getting off topic.  This isn't about worship.

But, I just finished reading over yet another evaluation of the recent televised debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham.

It was one of several reviews I have read recently that bring up the specter of the Scopes trial (the so-called "monkey trial").  In this case, the reviewer (somewhat begrudgingly) said that at least Ken Ham was better informed than the hapless William Jennings Bryan when confounded by brilliant Clarence Darrow about the earth being created in just six days.

The only problem is that nothing remotely like that happened in those warm July days of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee. It's a cultural myth I am frankly tired of seeing repeated over and over.  I only want to make two points.

First, that famous confrontation between the agnostic Darrow and the creationist Bryan over the six days of creation is a fiction.  For one thing, William Jennings Bryan, like many other Christian conservatives of that era, including the founder of the fundamentalist movement, B.B. Warfield of Princeton,  was never a young-earth creationist.  He had campaigned against Darwinism, to be sure.  But, he would not have held the same view of Genesis chapter 1 as Ken Ham.  So, there was no conversation in which the skilled agnostic corners the hapless creationist with questions like, "Well, how long was a day?"  "I dunno.  I suppose it was 24 hours."  etc.

The Scopes trial was a locally contrived publicity event, largely forgotten and culturally unimportant after 1925 until many years later when it evolved (no pun intended) with the help of an editor of Harper's Weekly and then, a few years after that, by two gifted script writers, into a so-called "watershed" event - a view that would have baffled people who lived in the late 1920s.  And, in this redefining the event, the script was changed to suit the needs of some in the 1955 (where it served primarily as a not-so-subtle allegory of the dangers of the anti-communist scare then driven by voices like Senator Joseph McCarthy).

Second, the widely acknowledged high point of the play (and movie) "Inherit the Wind" has the agnostic lawyer making a passionate speech to the judge about the dangers of making it a crime to teach evolution in public schools... because then "they" will want to make it a crime to teach it in private schools, and then they will want to ban books, and then (in imagery vividly powerful in the 1950s) red banners will be unfurled as fanatics march off to war.

Just what lessons are we to learn from this?  Where is real censorship coming from today (a point I thought Ken Ham made very effectively)?

We are now in a time when it is, in fact, against the law in many places even to teach creation (by any name) or to even teach that evolution has unanswered issues, has no single unifying explanation, and is not universally believed by scientists.  Some have written that, based on scientific neutrality, schools removing all books advocating creation would not be unconstitutional.

And, although I'm not associating evolution-advocates today with Nazis, it is a simple fact that Nazi views regard superior and inferior races, embracing practices or eugenics, and views of a "master race" were not rooted in Genesis but were openly associated with the Darwinism of that time.  So, the red banners unfurled, whether by Hitler or Stalin or Tojo, seem more likely to point to the dangers of ammoral exclusivistic "sciencism" (not a real word, but you know what I mean) rather than Christian fanaticism.  In the 1930, Japan had the world's highest literacy level and Germany has the highest per-capita number of Ph.D's.  I'm not blaming an emphasis on education for fanatic nationalism and the carnage of the 20th century.  But, suggestions of unfurled red banners marching blindly off to war hardly serves as a metaphor to support fear of conservative Christians.

No comments: