"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, December 24, 2007

Darwin Goes Fishing

The above title was the one I gave to the following article that was rejected back in '04 or so by a magazine whose editor's eye amazes me in retrospect. Some months later, I took all of this and wrapped it into a slightly longer, much quoted and celebrated, article at Jewish World Review entitled Dare To Win. That ran on Jan. 26, 2005. In recently organizing my archives, I came upon this original version and was pleased to see how well this stood up in hindsight. See if you agree:

It was announced recently that the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the school district in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that has incorporated into its curriculum the idea that the evolution of the natural world is believed by some to be so complex as to have required intelligent design. Bring ‘em on, I say, this may be a blessing in disguise. There might be a chance to turn things around and gain some ground.

Although the theist view always wins vastly more adherents in the countryside than does its counterpart, the normative intellectual or academic view for over a century has favored Darwinism. The fireworks of the Scopes Trial, with Clarence Darrow besting William Jennings Bryan in feisty public exchanges, heralded the conquest of the classroom by the forces of evolution. This is what we like to call the origin of the specious notion that the question of creation has been debated and settled for all time.

Yet the courtroom has never been a venue suited to the rigors of scientific colloquy; it lends itself to the moods and tides of rhetoric. Mastery of the rip-roaring riposte serves one better here than the measured tones of the academy and the laboratory.

That very climate can be turned to favor any underdog, even when Bryan and Darrow have their roles reversed. When I lived in Cincinnati, the old-timers described to me how Rabbi Eliezer Silver, confidante of President Taft and many Republican politicians, won the right to build a Jewish ritual bath despite being sued by the Zoning Commission. Former Senator Taft, son of the President, was his defense counsel, and Silver took the stand on behalf of his cause.

The plaintiff’s attorney must have had visions of Darrow and Bryan dancing in his head when he stood up to cross-examine. He used a similar approach, asking if the rabbi believed that all the events described in the Bible were literal, such as the splitting of the Reed Sea and manna raining from the sky. He acknowledged that he did.

“And do you mean to tell this court and the learned gallery that you believe the story of Balaam in the Book of Numbers, that an ass could actually speak?”

“Sure I do. I’m seeing it with my own eyes.”

The courtroom exploded in laughter and the case was essentially won by a single well-timed witticism.

This Harrisburg case needs to be joined and fought with slogans and sound bites, both inside and outside the courthouse. Especially potent will be one key phrase, one key image, namely that this is the “Scopes Trial in reverse”. The public can be, must be, made to see this battle as the mirror image of the Scopes Trial. It is not a tussle between science and religion so much as it is a power grab by one view of science over another. This needs to be pounded over and over. It is a bullet point that needs to be reloaded into the chambers again and again.

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Most importantly, one prime insight can frame this battle in terms that are amenable to the position espoused by the school district and have the added advantage of being true. It will not only have a decisive impact in the courtroom, it has the capacity to transform the popular debate as well. This simple idea, if promoted relentlessly and sold, is a nuclear bomb that will ramify in the culture for generations.

Namely, that there are essentially two separate theories advanced by Darwin. The first is that the process of the world attaining its current form was characterized by evolutionary transitions in its phasing, which built themselves into permanence by providing in each instance a fitter form or functionality. The second is the idea that this could have happened by itself without a conscious design.

In the past, this distinction was obliterated by the fact that most of the religionistic resistance to Darwin overreached by challenging elements of the evolutionary science as well. This led to their being diverted from the fundamental epistemological division between these two components of Darwin’s larger presentation. It is urgent that this wedge be driven into his work, driven now and driven hard. We are not debating evolution. We are challenging the separate theory that evolution could have happened without someone turning on the switch.

This approach would be devastating in the courtroom. If an attorney won early on from the judge the right to refer to Darwin One and Darwin Two as a shorthand for the two theories, the plaintiff’s case would be literally decimated. As pedestrian as this linguistic affectation may seem, it literally divides and conquers the opposition.

Once the battleground has thus been narrowed, the absurdity of the ACLU’s position is highlighted. In what way is it more scientific to say that evolution could happen by itself? Why is it unscientific to maintain that much information had to be encoded, in individual cells and in the stuff of matter itself, to facilitate evolutionary tendencies? The truth is that Darwin Two is an intellectual choice engineered not by logic but by a distaste for the idea of being beholden to a Creator.

1 comment:

Mike Golch said...

Jay,It can be said that Even Darwin Did not know every thing,nither does the ACLU,a person should be allowed to decide on their own if the world was bby creation or evelotion.I believe that there may have been some help in the beginning than nature took over and the natural process of selection began.What is scarry is that mankind is experimenting in creating beings(Clones)That may be a distaster,Just look at history,specifically what a certain nut case and his minions tried to creat"the master race"and the externation of a group of people that had a different outlook on life.I'm refering to the holocost(man I wish I spelled better)