May 7, 2005
maybe I'm just confused again, but, from what I can see, the state
of Kansas, in answer to the stupidest quiz show question of all
(what state is determined to utterly undermine the Enlightenment?),
jumps up and says, "Me! Me! Me! Pick me!"
Every day, Kansans, even those who think the Bible is the inerrant
word of God, no exceptions, no qualifications, no hesitations, no
thought about it whatsoever, get into an encapsulate object made
of metal, vinyl and glass, insert a small metal object into a specially-designed
receptable, turn that object and begin to pump hydrocarbons into
a specially-designed metal object which turns those hydrocarbons
into heat, which causes that encapsulated larger object to move.
Ever hear a born-again Kansan rail against the science that made
the automobile? Nope, me neither. Periodically, some of those Kansans
get into a long metal tube with wings (some of which are made in,
gasp, Wichita, Kansas!), strap themselves in and are then accelerated
to nearly 600 mph and are lifted into the sky to an altitude of
about 33,000 feet, without the aid of Jesus, and directed to their
destination by a strange assemblage of wires and glass known as
a klystron tube (or its post-millennial equivalent), an essential
part of what silly scientists refer to as radar.
Ever hear a born-again Kansan harp about the inherent ungodliness
of airplanes? Nope, me neither.
Or wail about the evil of having to pick up a plastic pen, or
drag a synthetic rubber-hosed sprinkler into the back yard and turn
the handle of a sophisticated metal and plastic object and have
water come out, water provided by distant, complicated pumps (run
by even more distant and more complicated generators making the
electricity to run them) and industrial processes to kill the germs
and remove the gritty bits as flocculants, and inject a bit of sodium
fluoride to keep their teeth strong and free of cavities?
Hell, their preachers love polyester leisure suits. Ever hear
them talk about spinning wool from polyester sheep to clothe their
Well, folks, everyone takes it for granted, but all that's the
result of science. What's Kansas complaining about, then? Uh, umm,
science. Not the science that makes automobiles, or airplanes, or
water valves or polyester leisure suits (well, maybe we should all
complain about that aspect of it), but, rather, Darwin's theory
of evolution, as he described in his Origin of the Species.
Why on earth would they complain about that? Umm, there's that
little bit in the Bible called Genesis, which says, essentially,
that whatever creative mischief done by whatever being creating
this little orb we know of as Earth did it in six days. Everything.
Sculpting, watering, landscaping, stocking the refrigerator with
tasty animal bits, the works--and, oh, yes, creating that odd little
conflicted, neurotic, highly imaginative bipedal animal known as
man, some examples of whom have recently taken to believing ancient
texts as perfect and unchangeable and emanating from said mischievous
creator being, absolute and inviolate, a few thousand years ago.
So, they have complained to the Kansas state school board that
science is a "belief system," the same as their belief in the Bible
as the inerrant word of said mischievous creator being.
Well, folks, I can guess who's been asleep during biology class
for the last hundred or so years, or has been sticking their fingers
in their ears, or has been drawing pictures of Pat Robertson and
Jerry Falwell in the margins of their books. If they hadn't been,
they'd have understood that science, if anything at all, isn't a
belief system, if only because the heart and soul of it depends
not on belief, but, rather, on skepticism. Want proof of that? Just
go back fifteen years and read about the brouhaha over cold fusion.
But, back to Darwin. Darwin said something that got the fundamentalists--the
people who believe that the mischievous creator being of the Bible
created everything (except Buicks and lawn sprinklers and 110 volts
on demand and bad suits) in six days--very upset. Darwin said, "y'know,
guys, we're so much like apes that we probably came from them, hundreds
of thousands of years ago."
Imagine Marlon Brando, wiping the malarial sweat from his shiny,
shaven pate, clutching a Bible instead of a copy of The Golden
Bough, groaning, "the horror, the horror." Yup, you've got the
emotional extent of the fundamentalists' reaction to Darwin's little
scientific observation. They were so upset that when a Tennessee
biology teacher named John Scopes dared teach Darwin's theory of
evolution in his classes in the `20s, they put him, and Darwin,
on trial. They hired the most prominent populist and defender of
the common man of the day, William Jennings Bryan, to defend them
and their right to have science barred from high school biology,
in defense of "traditional values."
Tennessee had an anti-evolution statute, and that was the premise
for the case, but it wasn't about just challenging that law. At
its root, it was about "ordinary people" having some choice about
what was taught in their local schools to their children, even if
most of them were illiterate and uneducated. It was about limiting
education to whatever the community believed to be true.
Protestants arguing about grandpa monkeys weren't the first instance
of this sort of aberrant logic. Nearly three hundred years prior,
another scientist by the name of Galileo Galilei ran afoul of the
dominant church of the time by suggesting that the sun and the other
heavenly bodies didn't revolve around the earth. His book on the
subject was banned, he was convicted of heresy in 1633, and was
kept under house arrest for the rest of his life. In 1979, 346 years
later, the then-current pope, John Paul II uttered the polite and
politic equivalent of "oops," and said, well, maybe we were wrong,
despite the sin and corruption the Inquisition had found in the
soul of Galileo. It only took the officialdom of the Catholic Church
another thirteen years to formally declare, "uh, well, maybe we
were wrong about that heavenly bodies thingie."
John Scopes and his lawyer, Clarence Darrow, sort of won in 1925.
Galileo sort of won in 1992. Most of us thought that would be the
end of religion shoving its bristled porcine nose against the pristine
bell jar of science, but, no. Not by a long shot.
There was still Kansas, and the rest of the states with vocal
extreme minorities believing in the Dark Ages. With the help of
corrupt and ambitious politicians, they began their attempt to make
their religion the only authority of value in a secular society,
even if their Constitution and ours said, "unh, uh, bub" to mixing
state and religion.
Thus they begat the culture wars.
So, today, Darwin is once again on trial. Who cares if the human
genome project has shown that humans and chimpanzees have 98.4%
of their genes in common? Who cares if increasingly accurate radiological
dating techniques put the age of the earth at about 4.5 billion
years old? Who cares if the human limbic system resembles, in structure
and function, that of a reptile brain?
Who cares? The true believers. The born-again Christians who see
metaphorical, best-guesses of the ancients' stories in the Bible
as the literal truth, and their political friends who want to make
political hay while riding the crest of this fervent minority's
More than fifty years ago, Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer,
has something to say about such people and their politicians:
Pascal was of the opinion that "one was well-minded to understand
holy writ when one hated onself." There is apparently some connection
between dissatisfaction with oneself and a proneness to credulity.
The urge to escape our real self is also an urge to escape the
rational and the obvious. The refusal to see ourselves as we
are develops a distaste for facts and cold logic. There is no
hope for the frustrated in the actual and the possible. Salvation
can come to them only from the miraculous, which seeps through
a crack in the iron wall of inexorable reality. They ask to
be deceived. What Stresseman said of the Germans is true of
the frustrated in general: "[They] pray not only for [their]
daily bread, but also for [their] daily illusion." The rule
seems to be that those who find no difficulty in deceiving themselves
are easily deceived by others. They are easily persuaded and
... The inability or unwillingness to see things as they are
promotes both gullibility and charlatanism.
Seeing things as they are... that would be a good definition of
what we might hope science will eventually help us do as a race
and as the sentient stewards of our little orb.
If we, as a society, cannot respect and understand the science
we have created out of our own imaginations and our rational thought
processes, cannot transmit that rigorous spirit of inquiry and curiosity
to our progeny, then we shall have no choice but to fall back into
that chaos and misery and tyranny, political and literal, of the
punpirate is a New Mexico writer who is looking for the light.