Recent weeks have brought us the Terri Schiavo debacle, in which prominent public Christians everywhere saw a train and rode it until the money stopped coming in; the death of the Pope and everyone who had ever once called him senile or wacko trying to say how much Bush was just as holy as he was; the "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith" conference, featuring conservative activists quoting Satlin; and, tonight, "Justice Sunday," wherein the nation's Republican and Christian leaders gather to make the case on national television that Democrat=Godless Heathen.
So it should come as no surprise that social conservatives are also taking the fight against science to new heights, 80 years after the "Scopes monkey trial." We're seeing increased efforts around the country to remove science from science classrooms and/ or add "Intelligent Design" to the curriculum of the public schools. The "Crossroads" section of today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is chock full of for and against opinion pieces. You can read through them if you want, but it's hardly worth it.
The ID argument all boils down to an almost-reasonable, "Why can't we at least ask the question?" This is the same argument that, for example, the Swiftboat fools used in the presidential campaign: "Sure, every piece of documentary evidence that exists suggests that John Kerry was a war hero, but, you know, can't we at least ask the question about whether he was?"
Or, "Of course there's no good evidence that the Clintons ordered the deaths of Vince Foster and Ron Brown, but can't we at least ask the question whether Hillary might be murderer?"
For a group of people who are passionately opposed to liberals' "moral relavitism," they sure seem to be all about "asking the question," eh?
The ID problem is much more insidious than slander against Kerry or the Clintons, since it involves teaching our children things that simply are not true or supported by the evidence. A while ago, I wrote what I thought was a pretty good explanation of ID, why it is not even remotely scientifically sound, and how ID supporters are trying to undermine the teaching of actual science in schools. I had no illusions that one more bright beacon of truth would shut the ID crowd up, of course; I knew the fight would not end so easily.
But the arguments for ID and against evolution have gotten more insidious. Take this guy: "But pastor and parent Ray Mummert, 54, explained their point. 'If we continue to indoctrinate our young people with non-religious principles, we're headed for an internal destruction of this society,' he said. [. . .] 'We've been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture,' he said."
It puts me in mind of the "Bart's Comet" episode of "The Simpsons." In order to make certain that another comet never threatens to destroy the town again, the good people of Springfield decide to destroy the observatory. When it becomes a problem for people to be educated, then you know we've gone too far. Is it not enough that we have people quoting Stalin? Do we also have to start rounding up the college professors and putting them in camps? David Horowitz is this close to being that explicit.
I used to be more glib about the whole creationist thing. (I would say, "I'll make you a deal. We'll teach creation at school if you start teaching algebra at church.") But this fight is getting uglier. How long until we have more Eric Rudolphs on our hands, but this time killing biology professors, archeologists, or high-school science teachers? Every time the Christian right ratchets up the rhetoric against rational thought, more people die.
Yesterday, I linked to Bertrand Russell's "Why I Am Not A Christian." In it, Russell makes a number points that bear repeating, and that bear directly on this subject:
I think that there are a good many points upon which I agree with Christ a great deal more than the professing Christians do. I do not know that I could go with Him all the way, but I could go with Him much further than most professing Christians can. [. . .]Just imagine, if you will, if the people behind last week's "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith" conference and this week's "Justice Sunday" instead used their resources and their pull to draw attention to the 20,000 people who die needlessly every year because they lack health insurance. They could raise money to buy prescription drugs for the elderly or purchase child care for working single parents. I'm not saying Jesus really lived, but I'd like to believe that those things would be his priorities if he came back today, not "activist judges."
One is often told that it is a very wrong thing to attack religion, because religion makes men virtuous. [. . .] That is the idea--that we should all be wicked if we did not hold to the Christian religion. It seems to me that the people who have held to it have been for the most part extremely wicked. You find this curious fact, that the more intense has been the religion of any period and the more profound has been the dogmatic belief, the greater has been the cruelty and the worse has been the state of affairs. In the so-called ages of faith, when men really did believe the Christian religion in all its completeness, there was the Inquisition, with all its tortures; there were millions of unfortunate women burned as witches; and there was every kind of cruelty practiced upon all sorts of people in the name of religion. [. . .]
Science can teach us, and I think our own hearts can teach us, no longer to look around for imaginary supports, no longer to invent allies in the sky, but rather to look to our own efforts here below to make this world a better place to live in, instead of the sort of place that the churches in all these centuries have made it.
Two bumper stickers I am fond of: Lord, please protect me from your followers and If evolution is outlawed, only outlaws will evolve. I think it's time for some of these "followers" to evolve.
(Postscript: More on the current threats to science and education can be found at the Why? files.)