Thursday, April 22, 2004

Why Don't American Newspapers Publish Anything this Sensible? Panda's Thumb reader Shiva Pennathur provides this link to a fine editorial in the Indian newspaper The Hindu. Many American newspapers have published editorials hostile to ID and other forms of creationism, but they are nearly always watered down with claims of respect for the views of the creationists. It's almost inconceivable that any American newspaper would publish something this hard-hitting. Here's an excerpt:

Strangely, it is in the United States-the hub for much of the world's frontline research in biology and its application in biotechnology-that there has been sustained public resistance to evolution and specifically to the teaching of evolution in schools. The issue of whether it was constitutional to ban the teaching of evolution in schools surfaced during "The Monkey Trial" in 1925 when a high school biology teacher in Tennessee, John Scopes, faced charges of illegally teaching the theory of evolution. Despite acceptance of evolution among scientists, demands to limit the teaching of evolution in schools and allow `creationism' to be taught as well have continued to receive considerable public support in many parts of the United States. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that creationism was religion and therefore could not be taught in science classes, the anti-evolution movement countered with the notion of `intelligent design'. Proponents of this over-the-top doctrine use popular misconceptions about science in order to appear to attack evolution on scientific grounds. They argue that complex living systems could not have been created by natural laws and chance alone. It is a measure of their success that proposals to encourage the teaching of creationism and intelligent design have, according to a recent report in the journal Science, been advanced since 2001 in 37 of the 50 American States. But there is a larger issue too in this clash between science and religious obscurantism. At the Scopes trial, denouncing efforts to make the teaching of evolution a crime, America's most famous defence lawyer of the time, Clarence Darrow, thundered: "Ignorance and fanaticism is ever busy and needs feeding." Unfortunately, that is still true today.

An historical side note: John Scopes volunteered to serve as the defendant in a test case brought by the ACLU with the intention of challenging the constitutionality of Tennessee's anti-evolution statute. This statute specifically outlawed the teaching of any theory that was in conflict with the Bible. The ACLU intended for the trial itself to be a formality (Scopes was clearly guilty, after all). The real action was supposed to take place in front of the Tennessee Supreme Court (TSC), where the law's constitutionality would be addressed.

That's not quite how it happened. Once Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan got involved the trial became a media circus. Scopes was finally found guilty and sentenced by the judge to pay a fine of one hundred dollars. When the case finally made it to the TSC two years later, the court punted on the constitutionality question. They reversed Scopes' conviction on the grounds that, by Tennessee law, judges are not allowed to levy any fine larger than fifty dollars.


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