Kansas may well turn out to be the Waterloo for America’s evolution vendors. Back in 1999 the Kansas school board diminished their influence. A few years later, reactionist school board members were voted out and the vendors were back in business, freely selling their wares. And now, a few years later, the reactionists are back. So the fun is about to begin in earnest, and I’ll devote some space to reporting it here. But for the moment, I want to take us back to 1999 when the first reports of an allergic reaction to evolution were coming in from Kansas.
My favorite article from that time is by A.N. Wilson. Wilson is a lapsed Christian who has written biographies of Jesus, Paul, and C.S. Lewis. His book GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Funeral, which will be required reading in a course I’m teaching this fall, reviews and celebrates the growth of atheism in 19th century British thought. I commend to you the explicit and unrestrained bigotry of Wilson’s article (see below). Here’s a sample of the insults he directs at the people of Kansas: “Their simple, idiotic credulity as a populace would have been the envy of Lenin. That is the tragic paradox. The Land of the Free, telly and burgerfed, has become the Land of the Credulous Moron.”
It’s people like Wilson (even more than Richard Dawkins) who convince me to spare no effort in hastening evolution’s downfall.
The Evening Standard (London), August 13, 1999, Pg. 13
HEADLINE: Land of the Born Again Boneheads
BYLINE: A. N. Wilson
A decision to ban the teaching of Darwin’s theory of evolution in Kansas state schools shows how keen Middle America is to gobble up religious nonsense along with its buckets of chicken wings and fries, says A. N. WILSON
EVERYTHIN’S up to date in Kansas City. Not any more it ain’t. In the words of the song, “They’ve gone about as far as they can go” but not in the direction of what we would call progress. The Board of Education in the State of Kansas has now voted to remove the teaching of evolutionary theory from its schools. A mighty victory has been won by the so-called Creationist school. What Kansas did yesterday, other states will doubtless wish to do tomorrow, or at some time in the future.
So here we have yet more evidence that the most powerful nation in the world is refusing freedom of knowledge, freedom of intellectual discussion, to the rising generation. The Land of the Free is making itself as obscurantist and as backward-looking as any of the European tyrannies from which the poor and huddled masses and the brave Pilgrim Fathers fled in the first instance to create the land, and the idea, of America.
The next generation of Americans will be if such a thing is possible even more boneheaded ignorant, even more inwardlooking than their parents.
The first, primary and truly shocking thing about these so-called Creationists is not their contempt for science. It is their complete ignorance of the Bible. The Bible is apparently their favourite book. They thump it and they wave it at their liberal adversaries, and they quote carefully selected bits of it.
How refreshing it would be if they sat down and, with open and observant minds, actually read it!
The Bible begins with a myth, a story, that God created the world in six days and that He rested on the seventh. Anyone reading this story can see that it was never meant to be what we would call a scientific account of an historical sequence of events. It was just one myth the Bible has other ways of expressing the same truth that the world is God’s world; that He is present in it; that as many must have echoed in their hearts during the eclipse “the heavens declare the glory of God”. It was John Milton, in Paradise Lost, and not any of the authors of the Bible who suggested that all the species on earth were created all in one go.
Christian theology, by contrast, ever since it began to think about these things in the third or fourth centuries, has always taught the truth of evolution. [Not so. Have a look at Basil the Great’s Hexameron. –WmAD]
When the Darwinian controversy first broke in the 1860s in England, no less a conservative than Dr Pusey, leader of the High Church diehards, preached a sermon at Oxford in which he reminded the congregation of the teaching of St Augustine (AD 354-430) that the earth produced grass and flowers and animal species “causaliter” that is, God gave them the power to reproduce of themselves.
The curator of the Botanical Gardens in Oxford at the time, another purely Orthodox clergyman, Aubrey Lackington Moore, rejoiced in the writings of Darwin, which destroyed the false “God of the philosophers”, the Deist God the absentee landlord of the Creation and restored again the sense of “the immanence of God in nature and the omnipresence of his creative power”.
Many people won’t agree with these judgments. There will be those such as the Darwinian populist Richard Dawkins in our own day who say that Darwin made it possible to be “an intellectually fulfilled atheist” because he removed any necessity to discern a purpose in Nature. And because there does seem to be a relentless determinism in the Darwinian worldview.
How does this square with Free Will?
DEEP waters, Watson! But it is by meditating upon these mysteries that we shall all develop and grow as mature thinking people. For some, a consideration of the majesty and strangeness of nature will make it impossible to be atheist. For others, who consider the apparent heedlessness with which whole species evolve and are then “cast as rubbish to the void” as Lord Tennyson put it, the notion of a loving God will be impossible. Not to be able to think about these things, not to allow young people the data with which to make up their own minds about them, is surely a recipe for stultification, spiritual as well as intellectual .
Of course, one should not be tempted to generalise about a country as huge as the United States. There are many reasonable people there, nearly all of them living on the Eastern seaboard and in the big cities.
But it would be wrong for Europeans to think that the enlightened inhabitants of New York, Boston and Washington were in any way typical of the Great American Public, particularly in states like Kansas. There the stupidity and insularity of the people is quite literally boundless. It is for them that such periodicals as the National Enquirer are written, with its fantastic tales more improbable than anything in the Arabian Nights, but believed by millions.
These are the people who believe that Elvis Presley has risen from the dead or that President Clinton has repented of his sins and never looked at another bimbo since Monica.
Their simple, idiotic credulity as a populace would have been the envy of Lenin. That is the tragic paradox. The Land of the Free, telly and burgerfed, has become the Land of the Credulous Moron. And one of the things which the religious Right has been cleverly spooning into these millions of roly-poly, CocaCola-swigging cretins is that they have the last word in complicated matters of theology and science and philosophy. Hence the crude doctrine of “Creationism” that God — some cartoon-giant American Dumbo in the sky moulding his play dough — “made” the universe one week back in 4004 BC. If you don’t believe this in Kansas, you’re probably some kinda pinko fairy who should go wash your mouth out.
Religious and political ideas are always deeply entwined. It is no accident that all the serious contenders for the presidency in the autumn claim to have been Born Again. If there is a close call, they will no doubt all be prepared to denounce Darwin’s The Origin of Species, a brave book based on more than 20 years of painful research, and which no serious student of natural history really doubts.
There’s still a debate about Darwin — for instance, how far his idea of a thrusting, competitive universe was really influenced by the fact that he was the product of a thrusting, male-dominated capitalist society. But these subtleties don’t concern the boneheaded fatties of Kansas, gobbling up religious nonsense with their buckets of chicken wings and fries.
GRAPHIC: JACK LEMMON AND BIBLE BASHING GEORGE C SCOTT IN A REMAKE OF THE FILM INHERIT THE WIND, BASED ON THE NOTORIOUS 1925 TENNESSEE “MONKEY TRIAL” WHEN A SCHOOLMASTER WAS PROSECUTED FOR TEACHING EVOLUTIONARY THEORY