Tuesday, November 3, 2009

#59 - Scopes/Monkey Trial: The Rematch

It was the Decade when....

Intelligent Design was not so intelligent.

Newsflash: The World is round. Oh, you knew that! (Don't tell Sherri Shepard.)

Ok then...

Newsflash: The Earth orbits the sun. More controversial? Not since the 16th century.


Newsflash: All species of life on Earth, including man, evolved from a common ancestor. BINGO! Now that's controversial.

Of course, it's not. Or rather, it's not to anyone who believes that science is in any way a means of achieving objective truth. When I was taught evolution in school it was as much a part of accepted biology as cell structure and anatomy. There was nary a whiff of controversy. Sure, I knew about Inherit The Wind and the famous 1926 case which inspired it, but the "Scopes-Monkey" Trial was taught in history-not science-class, and had all the contemporary intrigue of Prohibition debates or revelations on the Teapot-Dome Scandal.

Of course creationists (or, tautologically, "Intelligent-Design" advocates) have their panties all in a twist about the label of "theory" attached to evolution, citing this as proof that the "theory," being a "theory," is anything but established truth. They're quick to forget that gravity too is a theory as is the germ "theory" of disease. ID'ers may score some rhetorical points with perplexed laymen - "Hey, if the scientists call it a theory, how can they be so sure that Darwin was right?" - but scientists and informed members of the public are not so easily hoodwinked by grammatical word games. The veracity of natural selection is determined by hard evidence and reasoned inferences, not taxonomic puzzles about what to title a proven scientific hypothesis. (Law? Theory? Fact? Who cares!) Is it true? That's the only question that matters.

When the Dover school board voted to have a statement read to students elucidating this bogus "theory" argument and then pointing them to an alternative pro-ID textbook in the school library, a nations culture war had found it's Gettysburg in another small Pennsylvania town. Battle lines drawn, we had a sequel to Inherit the Wind playing before our eyes some 80 years after the original court case, this time with air conditioning and less suspender snapping.

Stakes were raised not just by the historic connotations of the trial but by the religious debates in general that had been consuming the American consciousness. The President was seen as a product of the Christian right; the "moral majority" had never before had such a platform for expression and powerful ear to influence. Polls showed massive portions of the American populace did not subscribe to Darwin in the slightest. To the devoted Christian, the complete rollback of the enlightenment seemed no longer a far-off dream. Conversely, the blowback by the so-called "new atheists" had put the central tenets of religion up for debate in the public sphere with a prominence not felt since the high not-so-holy days of 20th century modernism. Lead by "Darwin's Rottweiller," Richard Dawkins was both the face of evolution and atheism in the Aughts. A victory for the former in Dover would likely be felt as a triumph of the latter as well, even if the conflation, by Dawkins' own admission, is not wholly necessary.

Ratcheting up the tension was the adjudicator of the whole debacle, Judge John E. Jones III - a Bush appointee. Would The President's nominee agree with his appointer and concede that both evolution and Intelligent Design deserve to be taught in public schools? Or would the case for natural selection win out and Intelligent Design would be called out for what critics claimed it really was: creationism with a lab coat. In a shockingly tough and definitive decision Judge Jones ruled against the school board writing, in part:
After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980's; and (3) ID's negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community.

Writing also that:
The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.

That is what we here at YATR call a judicial smackdown. In the 1926 trial, Scopes lost his case and was found guilty of illegally teaching students that men and apes had a common forefather. It took 79 years for another court to correct this miscarriage of justice. So, though Darwin won this battle, the war is still
far from over. As recently as February of this year a State Senator in Florida introduced a bill requiring teachers to include ID alongside Evolution in their science classes. Like Lemmings toward the cliff, no logic can slow their righteous march to oblivion.

You AUGHT to remember...

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