Tuesday, July 31, 2007


In Bed With Politicians

There is an interesting article at Reason magazine by Cathy Young entitled "Jerry Falwell's Paradoxical Legacy." Young recounts the decidedly mixed results of the Religious Right, whose major success has been in forcing politics to be "saturated with references to God." That is, however, the thinnest of veneers ... mere lip gloss for the political pork ... as David Vitter is demonstrating during his turn as the latest in a long line of public piety peddlers who can't keep their naughty bits from getting caught in their moral zippers.

But beyond forcing a certain stage dressing in our election sitcoms, what have the righteous really wrought?

[T]he Moral Majority, helped elect Ronald Reagan in 1980, but his presidency was not an enormous success for the religious right. Reagan paid lip service to Falwell's social agenda but did little to enact it. His administration made no serious attempt to curb abortion; early in his first term, in 1981, Reagan put Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court despite religious conservatives' misgivings about her stance on reproductive rights. ...

... 28 years after the launch of the Moral Majority, a reversal of Roe v. Wade seems unlikely, and statewide bans on same-sex marriage are offset by the legalization of civil unions in some states and moves toward full marriage rights for same-sex couples in others. Even Bush has spoken in favor of civil unions. ...

... Falwell's brand of religious conservatism has suffered losses in the culture wars. Feminism, its radical excesses mostly discarded, has become firmly integrated into America's cultural mainstream. (Even, apparently, in Falwell's own family: His daughter is a surgeon.) Acceptance of gays is now at a level that would have been unthinkable in 1980. Sexual content in mainstream entertainment has steadily increased, and adults-only material is more available than ever thanks to new technologies. While divorce rates have dropped somewhat, so have marriage rates; in much of America, sex between single adults is widely accepted as a social norm.
Frankly, the Righteous Right is going to wake up someday and realize that, without knowing it, they had much in common with Vitter's friends for an evening ... except the pay wasn't as good.


Signs of the Times

Well, PZ over at Pharyngula has been urging any who don't like Richard Dawkins' Scarlet Letter symbol for atheism to come up with your own. There is more than a bit of ambiguity in PZ's appeal as he slides over the differences there are between words like "atheist," "godless" and "secular." We agnostics have some little reason not to fully believe PZ's promises that "no one is going to draft you into the Atheist Army." Still, there is a definite goal in common when he calls for a demonstration of a "measure of dedication to increasing secularism." I can go for that.

And if it was good enough for our Founding Fathers, then I say it's good enough as a symbol of my dedication to secularism:

I know that won't serve as a symbol in other lands but I'm here and if the most powerful nation in the world becomes a theocracy, the rest of the world will share in our troubles too.


Darwin's Bookkeeping

Darwin's cousin and the father of eugenics, Francis Galton, sent all members of the Royal Society a questionnaire that formed the basis of Galton's 1874 work, English men of science - their nature and nurture.

Each scientist was asked his self-assessment of what his own best feature, his special talent, was. Darwin's reply was that he was particularly good at business, "As evinced by keeping accounts, replies, correspondence and investing money very well."

There was some considerable justification for his view. He kept "meticulous documents detailing every household expenditure from snuff and lawnmowers to microscopes and chimney sweeps" and:

He started married life with £10,000 from his dad, £573 in the bank and £36 in his pocket. By the year before his death his shrewd investments totalled over £280,000 - and that is not including the profits from his books.
Janet Browne, the author of this generation's definitive two-volume biography of Charles Darwin, Voyaging and The Power of Place, speculates that there might have been a connection between Darwin's meticulous bookkeeping and his recognition of the concept of natural selection:

A species to him, with his new evolutionary perspective, might be regarded as having many debits and credits in the natural economy. Each favourable adaptation might add to an organism's individual capital and each profitable transaction lead to a consolidation of an organism's market share.
Maybe we should rename it "natural accountancy." Think of all the CPAs we'd win over to the side of science!

You can hear an interview with Professor Browne at The Guardian.

Monday, July 30, 2007


Betwixt and Between

From David L. Hull's book, Darwin and His Critics: The Reception of Darwin's Theory of Evolution by the Scientific Community (p. 408-15), comes this lesson on the danger of trying to be in two camps at once. St. George Jackson Mivart was an anatomist who studied under both Richard Owen and Thomas Huxley.

Mivart practiced for his conversion to evolution by, at age sixteen, becoming a Catholic, then a very minority and mostly disfavored religion in England. Mivart accepted common descent but argued, like Huxley, that species evolved by saltation or sudden evolutionary leaps, directed by some unknown "internal innate force." At least part of the impetus for his position was a desire to reconcile evolution with his Catholic faith. One punishment for his pains was to be sarcastically lectured on Catholic theology by that arch-agnostic, Huxley. That wasn't the end of it, however. Mivart was eventually excommunicated from the Church and denied burial in consecrated ground. As Hull puts it:

The final break between Mivart and the Darwinians had occurred [in 1874] over a slur on the character of Darwin's son, George. Mivart had great difficulty in distinguishing between a man and his ideas. According to the mores of Victorian society, one could deal as harshly as one wished with a man's views but one had to be extremely careful to avoid personal slurs of any kind. Mivart stepped over this line once too often in alluding to the immoral implications of some of George Darwin's ideas on eugenics. Just as Mivart was being excommunicated from the Catholic Church because of his article on [the possibility of] happiness in hell, he was being excluded from the scientific community by Darwin and his associates. In the end, Mivart's attempts to reconcile science and the Catholic Church led him to be excommunicated from both.
It's not easy being between. The final indignity, though, came from his friends, as described in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia:

After his decease his friends, persuaded that the gravity and nature of the illness from which he suffered offered a complete explanation of the amazing inconsistency of Dr. Mivart's final position with that which he had maintained during the greater part of his life, approached the authorities with a view to securing for him burial in consecrated ground. Sir William Broadbent gave medical testimony as to the nature of his malady [diabetes] amply sufficient to free his late patient from the responsibility of the heterodox opinions which he had put forward and the attitude he had taken with regard to his superiors. His disease, not his will, was the cause of his aberration.
That phrase, "attitude he had taken with regard to his superiors," is a nice euphemism. Just remember that some "friends" will swear you're crazy merely for spitting in a cardinal's eye.


Sunday, July 29, 2007


And He's The Man Who Knows the Subject

That would be D. James Kennedy, beneficiary of the tithing of the folks of sufficient bad judgment as to attend Coral Ridge Ministries and a man who may have more in common with L. Ron Hubbard than just an initial initial, given that Kennedy is still (as of July 17, 2007) hospitalized after a massive heart attack last December 28th but nominally continues to pump out twaddle, not unlike how Hubbard's books kept appearing suspiciously long after his death.

And his subject this time: the Big Lie. Kennedy accuses evolution of being that, but he follows with such a blizzard of untruths that it is clear who is practicing what. Here, let me count the ways. Please check and see if I missed any.
The whole 'Darwin led to Hitler' contribution to Thomas Crapper's product has been much debunked. And as far as "rationales" (as opposed to the actual results of evolutionary theory) for racism go, the Origin holds not the smallest candle to the Bible. The rest is bald assertion and ignorance with nothing more to recommend it than its content of gall.

All this despite the recent forceful reminder of his mortality. Apparently Kennedy's God doesn't count lying against the faithful ... he hopes.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


Highland Flings

Further on Casey Luskin's attempt to claim that the "offense" he and his fellow Evangelicals take to evolutionary theory shows that Judge Jones was wrong to say in his decision that evolutionary theory is not "antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general," there is more evidence that Luskin's beliefs are better described as "eccentric" than "general."

Whatever comfort Christoph Cardinal Schönborn may have tried to lend ID, it appears that those in the Catholic Church who argued for the value of not declaring reality "offensive" to the faith have won out. Pope Benedict recently proclaimed puzzlement at the current debate in the United States and his native Germany over creationism and evolution:

... as if they were alternatives that are exclusive - whoever believes in the creator could not believe in evolution, and whoever asserts belief in evolution would have to disbelieve in God.

This contrast is an absurdity, because there are many scientific tests in favor of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and enriches our understanding of life and being.

But the doctrine of evolution does not answer all questions, and it does not answer above all the great philosophical question: From where does everything come?
But, hey! The Pope's just this German guy wearing funny Italian suits! There's no way he can be a True Scotsman, right Casey?

Friday, July 27, 2007


Of Supermen and Lessons Unlearned

Richard Brookhiser has a piece in Time, entitled "Matters of Morality," on the clash between what we can do, with the aid of science, and what people, often uneducated in science, think we should do and the effect the twain has on politics.

One story I did not know was how we almost lost one of the Founders to a battle over the limits of science:

Medical students learn anatomy from cadavers, and in the past they got them on the sly, digging up fresh graves. In April 1788 a student at a New York City hospital jokingly told a boy that he was dissecting the boy's mother. When the boy's father found that her coffin had been robbed, the discovery set off two days of uproar. Many of New York's doctors hid in the city jail, where they were defended by local civic leaders, including diplomat John Jay. A mob pelted them with stones, knocking Jay unconscious. Only a volley from the militia, which killed three rioters, dispersed the crowd. The people of New York acknowledged, as a petition against grave robbing put it, that dissection served the "benefit of mankind." But they didn't want their loved ones "mangle[d] ... out of a wanton curiosity ..." After the riot, the state legislature appeased the public by giving doctors the corpses of executed criminals.
Another that Brookhiser raises is the clash between Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan at the Scopes "Monkey Trial." Since I did a series of posts about the trial recently, I had run across the story before. Brookhiser didn't get it quite right, however.

[T]he Scopes trial also made a moral point. Bryan reminded the court that two Chicago teenagers, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, had murdered a younger boy the year before to prove that they were Nietzschean supermen, capable of committing the perfect crime. Their attorney, Darrow, had saved them from the death penalty by arguing that Friedrich Nietzsche, and the universities that put him in their curriculums, bore the responsibility for the defendants' actions. If the philosophy of the superman could lead to murder, Bryan argued, then the state had good reason to control what was taught in schools.
Bryan did indeed try to make that point. But Darrow, reading from the same summation he made at the Leopold and Loeb trial that Bryan quoted, had an answer (from Ray Ginger's Six Days or Forever?, p. 136-37):

Even for the sake of saving the lives of my clients, I do not want to be dishonest, and tell the court something I do not honestly think in this case. I do not believe that the universities are to blame. I do not think that they should be held responsible. ... [Y]ou cannot destroy thought because, forsooth, some brain may be deranged by thought. It is the duty of the university, as I conceive it, to be the great storehouse of the wisdom of the ages, and to let students go there, and learn, and choose. I have no doubt but that it has meant the death of many; that we cannot help. Every changed idea in the world has had its consequences. Every new religious doctrine has created its victims. Every new philosophy has caused suffering and death. Every new machine has carved up men while it served the world. No railroad can be built without the destruction of human life. No great building can be erected but that unfortunate workmen fall to the earth and die. No great movement that does not bear its toll of life and death; no great ideal but does good and harm, and we cannot stop because it may do harm.
While there may be more that we could do to keep knowledge from resulting in harmful action, Darrow was certainly right that ignorance can never serve as a shield against the wrong.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


To Old Friends



Luskin's Pick of the Nits

When you have no substance whatsoever to your arguments, any shadow of a controversy has to be blown up well beyond its actual significance and, preferably, completely beyond recognition.

The Discovery Institute's Gofer General and lice egg fellatioist is at it again with a rehash of a possible mistake in Ken Miller's testimony in the Kitzmiller case concerning in which, out of some eleven editions of Miller's textbook, the phrase "Evolution is random and undirected" might appear. Nick Matzke, of the National Center for Science Education and major behind-the-scenes player at the trial, discussed the issue at some length in comments at The Panda's Thumb, here and here.

The problem is that Luskin can't make any sort of logical connection between the use of the phrase and his larger claim. The mere existence of the phrase itself, in a particular biology textbook, is supposed to conflict with Judge Jones' (alleged) finding that "it is 'utterly false' to believe that evolution conflicts with religion."

Luskin, unsurprisingly, is misrepresenting what the Judge found, which was that evolution is not "antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general." That is a proposition that is daily demonstrated by millions of believers who nonetheless accept science. Many mainstream denominations have no problem recognizing that evolutionary theory is not antithetical to a belief in God. Perhaps the most striking example of this of late is The Clergy Letter Project which has collected over 10,000 signatures (rather putting to shame the Discovery Institute's list of 400 [700 now] scientists who either don't understand science or who are political naïfs) on a letter that reads, in part:

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as "one theory among others" is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God's good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator.

Furthermore, even assuming that showing that some scientists used a particular five word phrase (that Miller pointed out in his testimony was scientifically wrong, since natural selection is not "random"), that doesn't mean "evolution" conflicts with religion. One book or some subset of scientists do not represent all of evolutionary theory. That subject can barely be contained within large libraries.

And even if, as Luskin says, some theists find the phrase "offensive," (Luskin's word), that still does not prove that evolution is antithetical to belief in God or religion in general. The offense threshold of Luskin and his ilk does not represent all of religion either.

And, lastly, please keep repeating that ID is all about the science and has nothing at all to do with religion, nosiree Bob!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Let Us All Pray!

For our invocation today, we have the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, whose organization issued a statement deploring the disruption by Religious Right activists of a Hindu chaplain's prayer to open the U.S. Senate. Reverend Lynn:

This shows the intolerance of many Religious Right activists. They say they want more religion in the public square, but it's clear they mean only their religion.

America is a land of extraordinary religious diversity, and the Religious Right just can't seem to accept that fact. I don't think the Senate should open with prayers, but if it's going to happen, the invocations ought to reflect the diversity of the American people.

The Religious Right promotes a deeply skewed version of American history. Our founders wanted separation of church and state and full religious liberty for all faith traditions. The episode [in the Senate] shows we still have a ways to go to achieve that goal.

Can I get an Aaaay-men!?!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007



I've been waiting to say anything about this, despite the recent hopeful reports, out of a semi-superstitious, believe-it-when-you-see-it, don't get your hopes up, sense of caution. But now it has come true ... the Tripoli Six have been freed.

The death sentences that Libya had imposed for the alleged deliberate infection of hundreds of children with HIV -- clearly the result of poor hygiene starting long before the six's arrival -- was commuted to life imprisonment after millions of dollars were donated to medical care for the children. The Bulgarian government then asked that the five Bulgarian nurses be repatriated, ostensibly so they could serve out their sentences in Bulgaria. The Palestinian doctor was granted Bulgarian citizenship last month to permit him to be included in this deal. Upon reaching Bulgarian soil, the six were immediately pardoned by Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov.

That in itself is something of a travesty of justice. It is beyond doubt that the six were innocent of the charges and, therefore, there is no need for a pardon. In a ideal ... or maybe that is an idealist ... world, the European Union, with the consent of the rest of the world, would not be normalizing relations with Libya but, instead, would be denouncing the farcical conviction, declaring the absolute innocence of the six and imposing strict sanctions on Libya until it paid steep reparations to them for their years of unjust imprisonment.

Still, the most important thing of all, the freedom of the six, has been achieved and we can be grateful, in a world full of unremarked injustice, for small favors.

Monday, July 23, 2007


Paying the Price for Freedom

Peter Irons, an expert in the Establishment clause and author of God on Trial: Dispatches from America's Religious Battlefields, recently had an interesting (to say the least) exchange with David DeWolf, John West and the peripatetic Casey Luskin of the Discovery institute in and out of the pages of the Montana Law Review. He now has an article in the less rarefied confines of USA Today.

While Irons mentions the present confused state of Establishment clause jurisprudence and the uncertainty for its future under the Roberts Court, the real focus is on the price people pay when they legally challenge expressions of locally dominant religious traditions. The most striking case:

Debbie Mason had long been active as a volunteer in the school attended by three of her daughters in Santa Fe, Texas. But she quickly became an outsider after she challenged the football game prayers in the town's high school stadium. Debbie endured ostracism, even threats of drive-by shootings. One of her daughters, Jenni, left church in tears one Sunday morning after a school board member denounced her family from the pulpit.
Prayers and threats of drive-by shootings would seem to be incongruous notions but not, apparently, to some believers.

"It's easy to be a majority," Debbie said. "It is so hard to be a minority — one person, or two or three people who speak out and say, 'Wait a minute, there's something wrong here.' Don't you sit there and tell me I have to be part of the majority."
Religious freedom also seems alien to some people ... or will until they discover that they too no longer have it.


Accidental Revolutionaries

Here are additional good thoughts from David L. Hull's book, Darwin and His Critics: The Reception of Darwin's Theory of Evolution by the Scientific Community (1973), p. 63-64:

At one time God had played an important role in physics, but gradually his function had been eroded, until reference to him was little more than pious honorifics. It is often said that evolutionary theory brought an end to the practice of including God as a causal factor in scientific explanations. A more accurate characterization is that it demonstrated forcefully that this day had already passed. The architects of the demise of teleology were not atheistic materialists but pious men like Herschel, Whewell, and Mill, who thought they were doing religion good service by limiting the domain of the accidental and of the miraculous. To them the more the empirical world was shown to be governed by secondary causes acting according to God-given laws, the more powerful and ominiscient (sic) God was shown to be. ...

Accidental occurrences could be shown not to be accidental, either because of the direct intervention of God or by subsuming them under law. Physics since Newton had made constant inroads on the domain of the accidental, thereby limiting the need for God's direct intervention. As Mill put it, there were two conceptions of theism, one consistent with science, one inconsistent. "The one which is inconsistent is the conception of a God governing the world by acts of variable will. The one which is consistent, is the conception of a God governing the world by invariable laws."

Darwin used this position on the relation between science and religion in an attempt to gain a fair hearing for his theory. ... All Darwin wanted to do was to extend the domain of secondary causes to include the creation of species. Although in the past the creation of species had been considered miraculous and outside the realm of law, so had many other phenomena which had been shown to be law-governed. Darwin was acting within the currently accepted tradition of expanding the realm of law.

Best laid plans and all that ...


Sunday, July 22, 2007


In the Balance

Here is a nice quote from the philosopher of science, David L. Hull, as to why creationist carping about the alleged lack of evidence for evolution, particularly direct observation of speciation, is mere misdirection. This comes from Hull's book, Darwin and His Critics: The Reception of Darwin's Theory of Evolution by the Scientific Community (1973), p. 50-51:

Scientific theories are accepted long before anything like direct proof is provided. For example, when Copernicus enunciated his heliocentric system, scientists immediately selected the observation of stellar parallax as the most significant test of the theory. None was observed until the 1830s -- long after all reasonable men had accepted the heliocentric system. Similarly, not until recently has anything like the observation of a new species of multicellular organisms been observed. ... Yet, few reasonable men withheld consent to the theory that species have evolved and that natural selection is the chief (if not the only) mechanism involved.

For example, even in Darwin's own day, F.J. Pictet contended in his review of the Origin of Species (1860) that he would not accept Darwin's deductions until he saw for himself the evolution of a new organ. By 1864, Pictet had been converted and in 1866 published a paper in support of evolutionary theory. Needless to say, the direct proof he required had not been supplied. Instead, he had been convinced by the numerous indirect proofs of evolutionary theory. On this score special creation and evolution by natural selection were on different footings. No one had seen a new species evolve anymore than they had seen one specially created, but unlike the special creationists, Darwin had presented a mechanism for evolution. Certain implications of his theory could be checked and his theory as a whole gradually confirmed or disconfirmed without the direct observation of species evolving. Special creation was little more than a bald assertion. Whether as a natural event lacking any scientific explanation or as a supernatural event, special creation could be checked only by direct observation.

One note should be made: although Hull compares the state of Darwin's theory against that of special creation, that contrast has none of the aspects of the reliance on a "contrived dualism" by Intelligent Design advocates that Judge Jones rightly excoriated in his decision in Kitzmiller. There is no suggestion by Hull that the failure of evidence for creationism was or is somehow evidence in favor of evolution. Nor is creationism's failure to provide evidence even held up as counting against its truth. The only weight that failure is given is that which tips the scales against creation ever being on the same scientific footing as evolutionary theory.


Saturday, July 21, 2007


Hate Speech Then and Now

This is an adaptation of a comment I left at Pharyngula, the subject of which is the latest mangling of reality by the Discovery Institute's favorite brain (removal) surgeon, Dr. Michael Egnor. The doctor's technique in this instance is to try to tar Darwin with the ugly racism and eugenics that was also, along with scant mention of evolution, a part of the book John Scopes supposedly taught from. As I have been giving a daily "update" on the Scopes trial the past 10 days, I suppose I should mention that Scopes probably didn't do the dirty deed, as far as evolution was concerned. As recounted in Ray Ginger's Six Days or Forever?, p. 180:

Scopes drove out to the edge of town [with a reporter] and parked the car. He said that he had been worried about something all through the trial. The fact was that he had not violated the law.

The reporter expressed confusion. Scopes explained that he had missed several hours of class, and the evolution lesson had been one of them. The boys who had testified against him could not remember whether they had studied evolution or not. And he had been afraid since the trial began that he might be put on the witness stand, where he would have had to admit his innocence.
In any event, as PZ points out well, there was blame enough for the deprecations of eugenics to go around. Certainly, there is no reason whatsoever to believe, as Egnor maintains, that the good people of Tennessee in 1925 were upset with the racism of G.W. Hunter's A Civic Biology though, to be fair, Bryan and other Fundamentalists had objected to eugenics. As usual for such things, the real history is such a tangle that propagandists (like Egnor) of all stripes can exploit it to "prove" just about any group guilty of something. One interesting aspect, however, is that the rise of the negative type of eugenics -- the sort we associate with injustice and cruelty -- occurred during the "Eclipse of Darwin" that began in earnest in the 1890s and lasted until the advent of the Modern Synthesis in the 1930s.

As Janet Browne points out in her most recent book, Darwin's Origin of Species: a Biography, the non-Darwinian doctrine of orthogenesis, which held there were intrinsic tendencies in evolutionary development over generations and even across species, played a large role in fostering negative eugenics. The advocates of orthogenesis (mostly paleontologists) argued that adaptive trends not only could, but almost always would, carry on beyond their usefulness. The huge antlers of the Irish elk, believed by orthogenesis advocates to have led to it extinction, was the canonical case cited. As Browne recounts the times:

Such straight-line evolutionary histories, with their subtexts of inbuilt senescence or death from over-specialization, lent authoritative support to increasingly pessimistic views about the human future. Primitive cultures could now be regarded as in the 'infancy' of their development. More advanced societies might be set on lines of development that led them through the heights of civilization to corruption or decay. Those who transgressed society's conventions, such as criminals, homosexuals or the mentally deranged, could be categorized as 'throwbacks' to some racial past. ...
Among the authors of the Modern Synthesis, R.A. Fisher was Galton Professor of eugenics at University College and an avid proponent. On the other hand, it was Theodosius Dobzhansky's demonstration that genetic variation is not only more plentiful in populations but more evenly distributed than envisioned in "classical" population genetics, instead of being bunched up at one end or the other of a statistical curve, that showed why eugenics could not possibly be successful. Marjorie Grene and David Depew point out, in their The Philosophy of Biology: An Episodic History, that eugenics is "bad biology, depending as it does on the false assumption that one can locate exceptionally bad and exceptionally good traits, and genes 'for them,' at the extreme ends of a 'normal' statistical distribution."

But also note what type of biology it is that eugenics is bad at: genetics. If anyone ought to be given blame for having come up with the ideas that led to eugenics, it should be that pious Moravian monk. If Darwin had been right about "pangenesis," Fleeming Jenkin's objection, that any trait selected for (naturally or artificially) would be "swamped out" of the population under "blending inheritance," would also have had to be true. Eugenicists then would have had to adopt a strong role for the inheritance of acquired traits, just as Darwin did for the later editions of the Origin. In short, any eugenics based on Darwin would have wound up arguing for such things as education, better nutrition and better health care as an answer to any "degeneracy" in society.



Tuesday, July 21, 1925

A light rain fell in Dayton on Tuesday morning, forcing the trial back inside and cutting the number of spectators. The judge started the proceedings a few minutes early, before Darrow and Stewart arrived. As counsel for both sides hurried to their places, Raulston took it upon himself to bar further examination of Bryan and to order the Commoner's prior testimony expunged from the record. "I feel that the testimony of Mr. Bryan can shed no light upon any issue that will be pending before the higher court," the judge ruled; "the issue now is whether or not Mr. Scopes taught that man descended from a lower order of animals."

With this ruling, Darrow called it quits. "We have no witnesses to offer, no proof to offer on the issues that the court has laid down here," he declared. "I think to save time we will ask the court to bring in the jury and instruct the jury to find the defendant guilty." ... Bryan accepted the inevitable. "I shall have to trust to the justness of the press, which reported what was said yesterday, to report what I will say, not to the court, but to the press in answer ..."

Stewart, Darrow, and Raulston agreed on the terms of the judge's charge to the jury, and jurors finally reentered the courtroom. After expecting front-row seats for the entire proceedings, they had heard only two hours of testimony against Scopes and none of the memorable speeches. ...

The jury received the case shortly before noon and returned its verdict nine minutes later. They spent most of this time getting in and out of the crowded courtroom. "The jurors didn't even sit down to think it over,'' one observer noted, "but stood huddled together in the hallway of the courthouse for the brief interval. ... The only point of concern involved the jury's decision to let the judge impose the minimum $100 fine. State law required that the jury fix the amount of the penalty, Stewart observed. Raulston assured him that local practice in misdemeanor cases allowed the judge to impose the minimum on persons adjudged guilty, and Darrow agreed to that procedure -- a decision he would deeply regret.

Only a few speeches remained. Scopes spoke briefly at the time of sentencing -- his first words to the court. Prompted by Neal, the defendant called the antievolution statute unjust and pledged to continue fighting it in the name of academic freedom. Counsel took turns thanking the court and community. Representatives from the press and state bar added cordial comments. In their farewell remarks, Bryan and Darrow tried to explain the widespread interest in the trial. The Commoner called the matter a little case raising a great cause, and asserted that "causes stir the world." Darrow, in contrast, blamed everything on the religious nature of the prosecution. "I think this case will be remembered because it is the first case of this sort since we stopped trying people in America for witchcraft," he claimed. "We have done our best to turn the tide . . . of testing every fact in science by a religious doctrine."

- Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods

All of the reporters loved Dayton and the kind of hospitality that had been shown them. To vent their gratitude they hired the village dance hall, imported a band from Chattanooga, and invited the town. The town came. Darrow danced with the high-school girls and smoked cigarettes with their boyfriends. He waltzed with the wife of Dudley Field Malone while the entire crowd applauded them. Malone pointed to Darrow's purple suspenders and quipped: ''Not only were they the sole support of Mr. Darrow's trousers, but at times they were the principal support of our case."

- Ray Ginger, Six Days or Forever?

The photo is of the jury with Judge Raulston standing on the right.


Friday, July 20, 2007


Kids In the Hall

I have been remiss! The 65th Skeptic's Circle is up and running at Dr. Steven Novella's NeuroLogica Blog.

Dr. Novella has produced some of the best takedowns of the Discovery Institute's brainless surgeon, Dr. Michael Egnor, and this time out has taken the less daunting task of getting 9 year-olds to think during a virtual visit to the Museum of Skepticism.

"Follow me, kids. We're about to enter the largest wing of the museum - the Hall of Complementary and Alternative Medicine."
At least with the 9 year-olds the bubble gum is just in their mouths.


Of Fantasy and Fiction

Dragons in Our Midst, The Legend of the Firefish, the DragonKeeper Chronicles, Oracles of Fire and The Hand That Bears the Sword ... the sound of authors rushing to fill J.K. Rowling's soon to be retired shoes? Why, yes ... though perhaps not from a source you'd expect. You see, all those titles are from practitioners of something called "Christian fantasy fiction."

It seems that between bouts of some Christians busily trying to have young master Potter removed from libraries and such, other Christians are scrambling to climb aboard the gravy train, once Rowling lets some air back into the market.

According to this story in The Baptist Standard [tongue firmly bitten]:

The books may carry overt references to Jesus and Scripture -- or simply an understated Christian perspective with clean content, positive role models and unambiguous depictions of good and evil in the style of C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien.
The (financial) success of the Left Behind series has not served to open up Christian publishers to the notion of pursuing Christian fantasy. And:

For Christian writers who think mainstream presses might be an option, "it’s a very crowded area, and there’s debate about whether if you write for a secular publisher are you able to be as Christian as you want to be."
Darn the ways of Mammon! Just how are you going to give those kids any positive role models if ya can't make a buck at it, anyway?

Oh, and looky here: it seems that Christians may be getting over Potteritis:

The fifth film, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," charmed its way to the top of the global box office last week with $333 million, the best debut for a Potter movie. It was the No. 1 film in each of the 44 countries where it was released.

"And it's loaded with positive messages for the young," said Dr. Britt Minshall, pastor the Cathedral Church of St. Matthew in Baltimore.

More important, Christians say, is that Potter stories have not spawned what was feared -- rampant Satanism among the young.
Oh, drat! Now what are we going to do for entertainment?



Monday, July 20, 1925
When court reconvened following lunch, Darrow interrupted the presentation of testimony to apologize for his comments on Friday. Townspeople had treated him courteously, Darrow cooed, and he should not have responded to the court as he did. "One thing slipped out after another," Darrow explained, "and I want to apologize to the court for it." Rising to his feet, Raulston dismissed the contempt citation with words that amazed the defense. After discussing the honor of Tennessee, he recited from memory a long religious poem about forgiveness and accepted Darrow's apology in the name of Christ. "We forgive him," the judge said of Darrow in a voice shaking with emotion, "and we command him to go back home and live in his heart the words of the Man who said: 'If you thirst come unto Me and I will give thee life.'" Christianity represented more than civil religion in this court. ...

Then, with the jury still excused, Hays called Bryan as the defense's final expert on the Bible and the Commoner again proved cooperative. Up to this point, Stewart had masterfully confined the proceedings and, with help from a friendly judge, controlled his wily opponents. Indeed, Governor Peay had just wired the young prosecutor, "You are handling the case like a veteran and I am proud of you." Yet Stewart could not control his impetuous co-counsel and the judge seemed eager to hear the Peerless Leader defend the faith. "All the lawyers leaped to their feet at once," Scopes recalled." Ben McKenzie objected. Stewart seethed with anger. Bryan consented solely on condition that he later get to interrogate Darrow, Malone, and Hays. "All three at once?" Darrow asked. As Bryan explained early in his testimony, "They did not come here to try this case, . . . They came here to try revealed religion. I am here to defend it, and they can ask me any questions they please." Darrow did just that.

- Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods

Bryan testified for an hour and a half. Throughout that time he tried to evade. The more he did so, the more angry Darrow became. ...

Did Bryan know how old the earth was? No, he didn't. Wasn't there some scientist that he respected? He named George M. Price and "a man named Wright, who taught at Oberlin." Darrow called them mountebanks.

By this time Bryan's self-esteem was suppurating, and his wits entirely deserted him. Having discredited himself with everybody who did not believe in the literal truth of the Bible, he now destroyed himself with those who did. It took one deft question by Darrow, and a six-word reply.

Darrow asked: "Do you think the earth was made in six days ?"

Bryan: "Not six days of twenty-four hours."

(Sitting under a tree at the fringes of the crowd, surrounded by fundamentalists, Kirtley Mather heard the startled gasps. His neighbors were aghast. "What does he want to say that for?" they
demanded of each other.)

Stewart again tried to stop it. "What," he asked, "is the purpose of this examination ?"

Not even waiting for the judge to answer, Bryan said that the defense lawyers had "no other purpose than ridiculing every Christian who believes in the Bible."

Darrow said directly to Bryan: "We have the purpose of preventing bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the education of the United States and you know it -- and that is all." ...

Now Bryan's nervous condition was eloquent. His hands trembled, his lips were quivering, his face was suffused and dark. He broke completely. He said:

"Your Honor, I think I can shorten this testimony." He would answer the question. Yes, he would. And he jumped to his feet and turned to the people with outstretched hands and he shouted at an almost hysterical pitch:

"I want the world to know that this man, who does not believe in a God, is trying to use a court in Tennessee --"

Darrow: "I object to that."

Bryan: "-- to slur at it --"

Darrow: "I object to your statement. I am examining you on your fool ideas that no intelligent Christian on earth believes."

And the judge adjourned court for the day.

- Ray Ginger, Six Days or Forever?


Thursday, July 19, 2007



Sunday, July 19, 1925

On Sunday afternoon Darrow lectured to 2,000 people at the Tivoli Theater about Tolstoi. It was a set-piece that he had been delivering for 20 years and he stayed pretty close to the subject, but Frank L. Carden, a prominent local attorney who introduced him, was not so irenic. He ripped into Governor Peay: "He is an honest governor; he has stolen none of our gold, he has only deprived us of a few of our liberties."

- Ray Ginger, Six Days or Forever?

... Darrow quietly prepared to call Bryan to the witness stand. Darrow rehearsed the interrogation on Sunday night with the Harvard geologist, Kirtley Mather, playing the Commoner's role, using the same type of questions he asked Bryan two years earlier in a public letter to the Chicago Tribune. By Sunday, the press began to sense something was afoot; the Nashville Banner reported, "Rumors go about that the defense is preparing to spring a coup d'etat."

Oblivious to Darrow's scheme, prosecutors basked in their apparent victory. Stewart pronounced the judge's ruling "a glorious victory." William Bryan, Jr., headed home to California confident in the trial's outcome. His father put the finishing touches on his closing arguments, which he promised would "be something brand new," and began looking beyond the trial. The elder Bryan talked about carrying the fight against teaching evolution to seven other state legislatures during the next two years and, on Saturday, issued a long written statement hailing the trial's impact. "We are making progress. The Tennessee case has uncovered the conspiracy against Biblical Christianity," Bryan wrote, and "unmasked" the "cruel doctrine" of natural selection that robs civilization of pity and mercy.

- Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods


Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Weekend Plans

Saturday, July 18, 1925

Bryan, at Pikeville in the Sequatchie Valley, told an open-air meeting that the Scopes trial had uncovered "a gigantic conspiracy among the atheists and agnostics against the Christian religion."

From a quiescent Dayton, 20 miles away, the New York Times reported a lesser conspiracy: "it is not altogether improbable that the defense may call to the stand the chief of the prosecution, Mr. Bryan." The objective had been hinted on Friday in Darrow's comment that he was amazed that henceforth Bryan was to be "the one and only judge of what the Bible and Christianity mean."

- Ray Ginger, Six Days or Forever?

"I'm going to put a Bible expert on the stand 'bout day after tomorrow," Charles Francis Potter later recalled Darrow confiding to him on Saturday. "A greater expert than you -- greatest in the world -- he thinks." Potter understood immediately, and called it a master stroke. "Never mind the master stuff," Darrow replied, "and don't talk so loud. Too many reporters round here."

- Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods


Tuesday, July 17, 2007



Friday, July 17, 1925
The farmers and laborers of Tennessee had come to the Scopes trial because they were curious about evolution or because they wanted fervid pageantry. Instead of a scientific lecture or a revival meeting, they had gotten mainly confusing wrangles about dull questions of legal procedure. Caring little about the outcome of the trial, they had no reason to stay. The speeches on Thursday afternoon, the expectation that Judge Raulston would rule the next morning on the propriety of scientific evidence, were not enough to hold them. On Friday the former swirling commotion on the courthouse lawn dwindled to a few small groups of bystanders.

- Ray Ginger, Six Days or Forever?

Court met for less than an hour on Friday, just enough time for the judge to rule out expert testimony but not quite long enough for him to cite Darrow for contempt. The two developments were related. From the start, Raulston sounded uncharacteristically defensive. He clearly wanted to hear the experts but felt pressure from state leaders who, fearing that such testimony would heap further ridicule on Tennessee and its law, pointedly had declared that the trial should be brief. The judge stumbled badly in reading his ruling, which adopted the prosecution's position precisely ...

Hays asked about submitting expert testimony to the court for the purpose of creating a record for appellate review. Raulston offered to let the experts either submit sworn affidavits or summarize their testimony for the court reporter. ...

Darrow requested the rest of the day to compose the witness statements. When Raulston questioned the need for so much time, Darrow exploded. "I do not understand why every request of the state and every suggestion of the prosection should meet with an endless waste of time, and a bare suggestion of anything on our part should be immediately over-ruled," he shouted. "I hope you do not mean to reflect upon the court?" Raulston demanded. Darrow tugged on his suspenders and carefully weighed his response. "Well, your honor has the right to hope," came the answer, with menacing emphasis on the final word. "I have the right to do something else, perhaps," the judge declared, but agreed to recess court until Monday so that the defense witnesses could prepare their statements.

"All that remains of the great cause of the State of Tennessee against the infidel Scopes is the final business of bumping off the defendant," Mencken wrote in his final report from Dayton. "There may be some legal jousting on Monday and some gaudy oratory on Tuesday, but the main battle is over, with Genesis completely triumphant." That was the general consensus on Saturday, as Mencken and dozens of other crack journalists departed Dayton just as Darrow plotted his comeback.

- Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods


Monday, July 16, 2007


Dictionary Fundamentals

Well, the "fundamentalist atheist" meme has broken out again and, with my tendency to allow my interest in a question to overpower my good sense, I have a few thoughts on it ...

First of all, while I flirted with the term some time ago (particularly in connection with certain supremely smug inhabitants of alt.atheism), I personally have come to the conclusion that its only present use is to end conversations and turn them into shouting matches ... as you can see going on at the above sites.

Still, for those who might be interested in examining why the term gets used, one thing to be kept in mind is that no one should be confusing the usage ... or attempted usage ... "fundamentalist atheist" with capital "F" Fundamentalism. The latter is a historic movement, mostly made up Protestant Christians, in reaction against "Modernism," particularly in the form of Higher Criticism of the Bible. But words are changeable things and small "f" fundamentalism may have taken on a quite different meaning since Fundamentalism was founded. As the American Heritage dictionary defines it, "f"undamentalism is:

A usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism.
I won't get into the whole "atheism is not a religion" business (or even the more problematical "atheism is not theology" discussion), but that does not seem to be a barrier to cross-over usage for atheists anyway, since it is only "usually" used in reference to a religious movement. Similarly, "opposition to secularism" would not appear to be considered essential. In any event, let's consider the following:

"Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way." Fundamentalists of all stripes live by this venerable motto, and must therefore wield their unsleeping swords in constant mental fight against contrary opinions of apostates and opponents (who usually make up a sizable majority -- for, as Jesus also noted, "Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction"). The favored fate for the nonelect varies, according to the temperament and power of true believers, from the kindness of simple pity to the refiner's fire of extirpation. But the basic ideological weapon of fundamentalism rarely departs much from the tried and true techniques of anathematization.
That was written by no less a literary stylist than Stephen Jay Gould about how he felt he had been used by über-secularist Daniel Dennett in connection with the thoroughly non-religious topic of evolutionary theory. Specifically, Gould was complaining of "Darwinian Fundamentalism."

Unfortunately, at least for the ideals of intellectual discourse, anathematization rarely follows the dictates of logic or evidence, and nearly always scores distressingly high in heat/light ratio. Anathema also requires an anathemee -- and I seem to have been elected. (Whatever my professional contributions to proper Darwinian pluralism, I stand convicted, I suggest, primarily for my efforts to bring the full scope of technical debate, with all its complexities and messiness, but without loss of substance, to general readers.)
So, at the very least, there is pretty good precedent for using small "f" fundamentalism and its cognates in connection with completely secular, non-religious thinking. Given that, let's see if we know any atheists who might be characterized as a "fundamentalist atheist," if not completely accurately, at least with enough justification to take the term within the realm of fair, though barbed, comment. Is there anyone who rigidly adheres to fundamental principles of his or her atheism and is prone to intolerance of other views or even to the use of anathematization of others?

Hmmm ... maybe I can call up the Neville Chamberlain School of Evolutionists and see if they can think of anybody.


Of Lions and Arenas

Thursday, July 16, 1925

After lunch, William Jennings Bryan made his first speech of the trial. He said that he had not felt competent to speak in the early stages, when the disputes concerned Tennessee law and Tennessee procedure. But there were other matters at stake; in the next hour, he ran the full roster.

Referring to a recent New York law that had repealed the state enforcement of prohibition, Bryan asked what the newspapers would have said if Tennessee had sent experts to New York to testify that prohibition was really a good thing. But New Yorkers had not hesitated to impose their views on Tennessee.

And what doctrine were these invaders teaching? What was the issue? It was simple: "the Christian believes that man came from above; but the evolutionist believes he must have come from below." (Bryan mistakenly thought the loud laughter was all with him.) He took up the evolutionary tree on page 194 of Hunter's book, which showed the number of species in each class of animals: 518,000 species in all -- 8,000 of protozoa, Bryan pointed out, 360,000 of insects, 13,000 of fishes, 3,500 of reptiles, 13,000 of birds. "And then we have mammals, 3,500, and there is a little circle and man is in the circle." Bryan challenged his audience: "Find him. Find him."

He was enraged. "Talk about putting Daniel in the lion's den. How dared those scientists put man in a little ring like that with lions and tigers and everything that is bad!"

- Ray Ginger, Six Days or Forever?

Malone responded with a moving, half-hour plea for freedom that had all the more impact because the audience did not see it coming. "As he rose to answer Bryan he performed the most effective act anyone could have thought of to get the audience's undivided attention: He took off his coat," Scopes later recalled. "Every eye was on him before he said a single word." Malone started off quietly, half-seated on the defense table -- as if humbled to follow the Great Commoner. "I defy anybody, after Mr. Bryan's speech, to believe that this is not a religious question," Malone commented near the beginning. "Oh, no, the issue is as broad as Mr. Bryan himself makes it." The volume rose as Malone recalled the Commoner's pretrial threats. "We have come here for this duel," Malone declared, "but does the opposition mean by duel that one defendant shall be strapped to a board and that they alone shall carry the sword? Is our only weapon -- the witnesses who shall testify to the accuracy of our theory -- is our only weapon to be taken from us?" By now he stood tall and shouted his defiance. "We feel we stand with science. We feel we stand with intelligence. We feel we stand with fundamental freedom in America. We are not afraid," Malone concluded. "We ask your honor to admit the evidence as a matter of correct law, as a matter of sound procedure and as a matter of justice to the defendant."

- Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods


Sunday, July 15, 2007


A Modest Proposal

George Bush states that he needn't listen to the people of the United States, who see clearer than the Boy in the White House Bubble that we have lost any hope of a good outcome in Iraq, but will only listen to the military commanders, all of whom have spent their entire adult lives automatically saying "Can do, Sir!"

Of course, some military men can rise above that training and become great statesmen in their own right, such as George Marshall. But this Administration has made it clearer than need be that it wants no such men or women, with its reaction to Gen. Eric Shinseki's insistence that much more than 150,000 troops would be needed to secure Iraq.

How about listening then to the Iraqis themselves:

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki yesterday shrugged off US doubts about his government's military and political progress, saying Iraqi forces are capable and American troops can leave "any time they want."
That's not all.

One of Maliki's close advisers, Shi'ite lawmaker Hassan al-Suneid, unhappy over American pressure, said "the situation looks as if it is an experiment in an American laboratory [judging] whether we succeed or fail."

He sharply criticized the US military, saying it was committing human rights violations and embarrassing the Iraqi government through such tactics as building a wall around Baghdad's Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah.
Just to be clear about how this is going to go among the Iraqis once we, sooner or later, leave, al-Suneid continued:

He also criticized US overtures to Sunni groups in Anbar and Diyala provinces, encouraging former insurgents to join the fight against Al Qaeda in Iraq. "These are gangs of killers," he said.
The only somewhat hopeful sign we can point to at all -- that some Sunnis are also tired of Al Qaeda -- is, to a major government figure, just an occasion to vent Shi'ite sectarianism. Add to that the fact that the Iraqi Parliament is taking a one-month vacation in the midst of this disaster. Perhaps we are supposed to be grateful that it is a shorter break than the usual two months.

How about this, then: every day that the Iraqi Parliament is out of session, let's have our troops take a vacation too. Pull 'em back into their air-conditioned bases, rather than having them moving around and fighting in full body armor in those 130 degree days that are too much for Iraqi politicians. This will have the added benefit of letting the Iraqi forces show off their capabilities and giving us some sort of idea of what would happen when we do leave.

Unfortunately, I suspect it wouldn't be pretty. But maybe that would make more Iraqis appreciate the need to work together.


Throwing the Book at 'Em

Wednesday, July 15, 1925

Wednesday was the hottest day of the trial, or so it seemed to many inside the courthouse. One observer called it "the worst day of all," and complained of "the crowd filling the court rooms so that a breath of air through the windows was almost impossible."' Only the renewed cordiality among participants made it tolerable. When prosecutor Ben McKenzie appeared on the verge of collapsing from the heat again, Malone rushed over to fan him. During the noon recess, two young prosecutors, Wallace Haggard and William Bryan, Jr., went swimming with the defendant in a mountain pond. "The water was cool and clear," Scopes later recalled. "We temporarily forgot the trial and everything; as a result we were late returning to the courtroom." When they finally showed up, Scopes could barely squeeze through the packed aisles to the defense table. "Where the hell have you been?" thundered Hays, but no one else appeared to notice the defendant's absence.

- Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods

At last, at long last, the jury was sworn, and Walter White, county superintendent of schools and signer of the complaint against Scopes, was called as the first witness. By White's testimony, Scopes had said on May 5 that he had reviewed in class the entire book, Hunter's Civic Biology, and also that he could not teach the book without teaching evolution. After White had told the early history of the case, the attorney-general rose. He offered in evidence a King James Bible.

Hays objected. The statute referred merely to "the Bible." Which Bible? The King James version, published at London in 1611? The Catholic version, with an Old Testament published by the English college at Douai, France, in 1609, and a New Testament published by the English college at Rheims in 1582? All of these, Hays explained, were translations of Greek and Latin texts that themselves were supposedly translations from the original texts in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. ... What, Hays asked again, was the Bible?

At the press table, John Washington Butler's head was whirling. More than one kind of Bible! He could scarcely believe it.

- Ray Ginger, Six Days or Forever?


Saturday, July 14, 2007


Raising Doubts

Tuesday, July 14, 1925

A powerful storm, which some visiting reporters jokingly attributed to divine displeasure with Darrow's speech, had disrupted the town's power and water on Monday night. As a result, Raulston had not finished preparing his ruling on the motion to quash the indictment. He needed a few more hours. In the meantime, the only official business before the court consisted of the opening prayer. To highlight its contention that the case raised a religious question, and thereby to underscore its establishment clause argument, the defense now formally objected to public prayer in the courtroom. "When it is claimed by the state that there is a conflict between science and religion," Darrow stated, "there should be no . . . attempt by means of prayer . . . to influence the deliberations." Ben McKenzie defended the practice by citing a state supreme court decision that permitted voluntary prayer by jurors. Darrow responded by drawing a modern-day distinction between public and private religion: "I do not object to the jury or anyone else paying in secret or private, but I do object to the turning of this courtroom into a meeting house."

- Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods

Stewart would not tolerate this. He harshly denied that the case involved any conflict between science and religion. It was entirely proper to open court with prayer, and the devout people of Tennessee would have no sympathy with the objections made by "the agnostic counsel for the defense." He said the word "agnostic" in a tone razored with insult. Darrow shrugged and shook his head as he smiled at Stewart ...

- Ray Ginger, Six Days or Forever?


Friday, July 13, 2007


Traitors to the Cause

You probably have already seen the video of the three anti-American protesters belonging to some supposedly Christian antiabortion wingnut group "Operation Save America" (they'll get no link from me) disrupting the business of the U.S. Senate but it's worth spreading around.

They issued a press release attempting to justify their criminal behavior, that reads, in as much as I care to quote:

Ante Pavkovic, Kathy Pavkovic, and Kristen Sugar were all arrested in the chambers of the United States Senate as that chamber was violated by a false Hindu god. The Senate was opened with a Hindu prayer placing the false god of Hinduism on a level playing field with the One True God, Jesus Christ. This would never have been allowed by our Founding Fathers.

"Not one Senator had the backbone to stand as our Founding Fathers stood. They stood on the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Let's take a look at the part about the Founding Fathers, shall we:

The Virginia Act For Establishing Religious Freedom, authored by Thomas Jefferson, was the likely inspiration for the inclusion of the Establishment clause in the First Amendment. Jefferson wrote of the Act in his Autobiography:

The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that it's protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion." The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it's protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.

Thus, the Establishment clause was written in the context of a predecessor statute that intended to not only give equal status as a protected faith to Hinduism and other minority religions, but to deny Christianity any favored position. Moreover, it was the clear majority opinion, accepted as a matter of course, in the most populous and influential state in the country at the time.
The idea that such free and open-minded thinkers and true children of the Enlightenment as Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Hamilton, et al. would have been prostrated by the notion of a "Hindoo" saying a prayer in the vicinity of politicians is execrable history, ludicrous on its face, and nothing but blatant propaganda. But the theocrats are also wrong about the attitude of the less lofty figures of the time, the "great majority" of whom understood that their religious freedom critically depended on giving equal respect to those who did not share their beliefs.

So, in fact, it is these ignorant and bigoted protesters who betray the Founders and would destroy what they crafted.
See Ed Brayton's and PZ Myers' take on this as well.


Arguments From On High

Monday, July 13, 1925

"Your Honor knows that fires have been lighted in America to kindle religious bigotry and hate. . . ."

The Court: "Sorry to interrupt your argument, but it is adjourning time."

Darrow impatiently asked for another five minutes.

The Court: "Proceed tomorrow."

Darrow went ahead without permission. "Today it is the public school teachers, tomorrow the private. The next day the preachers and the lecturers, the magazines, the books, the newspapers. After a while, Your Honor, it is the setting of man against man and creed against creed until with flying banners and beating drums we are marching backward to the glorious age of the sixteenth century when bigots lighted faggots to burn the men who dared bring any intelligence and enlightenment and culture to the human mind." He had finished, and court adjourned.

- Ray Ginger, Six Days or Forever?

"While he was talking there was absolute silence in the room except for the clicking of telegraph keys," the New York Times reported. "His words fell with crushing force, his satire dropped with sledgehammer effect upon those who heard him." H. L. Mencken added, "You have but a dim notion of it who have only read it. It was not designed for reading but for hearing. The clangorousness of it was as important as the logic. It rose like a wind and ended like a flourish of bugles."

- Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods



Thursday, July 12, 2007


Sunday Go To Meetin'

Sunday, July 12, 1925

[O]n Sunday, ... Bryan took to the stump. He began the day by delivering the morning sermon to a packed house at Dayton's southern Methodist church. Bryan now answered Darrow's latest statement. "The attorneys for the defense charge that our objection to expert testimony is an attempt to evade the issue. On the contrary it is an effort to confine the case to the issue," he asserted. "The statute itself distinctly forbids the teaching of the evolutionary hypothesis" -- regardless of whether or not it conflicts with the Bible. "Then, too, their testimony would necessarily be one-sided," he added in a comment that spoke to the nature of America's adversarial judicial system. "They will only call those who still cling to religion and try to harmonize evolution with it. They will thus present a very one-sided view of evolution and its results. A half truth is sometimes worse than a lie, and evolution as they want to present it is less than a half truth." Judge Raulston and his entire family sat in the front pew as the congregation cheered the Commoner.

- Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods

Thomas Scopes was having a good time. Down from Paducah, Kentucky, for the trial, he told a reporter in his soft drawl that "a father just naturally has to stick by his own blood and flesh, ma'am, no matter what they've done." Not that John had done anything bad; the father said he was an evolutionist himself. The son spoke from inside his yellow racing car: "Don't blow so much, dad."

- Ray Ginger, Six Days or Forever?



Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Inquisition Lite

The Discovery Institute has announced that their sacrificial lamb, Guillermo Gonzalez, will continue to shred whatever chance he had of getting into another good astronomy department by appealing his denial of tenure to the University Regents and allowing the DI to make a cause célèbre out of a fairly common academic event. Those with reputations as grimly determined administrative headaches simply won't get hired elsewhere.

Of course, the Regents might be more sensitive to political factors and could well consider having an educational white elephant of the order of Michael Behe on their hands is a small price to pay to avoid the hassle.

In any event, the DI will be humping this for all its worth and much, much more. Unfortunately, this is an issue that may get them some traction among people outside the paranoiac confines of the Righteous Right. Despite the fact that tenure is no one's "right" but, instead, is guaranteed employment for life awarded on many factors outside simple competence, the American impulse for "fair play" and hearing out "both sides" of any question can be easily manipulated in a case such as this.

But, as Stephen Jay Gould famously said:

A man does not attain the status of Galileo merely because he is persecuted; he must also be right.


Cooling Off

Saturday, July 11, 1925

"Dayton is having a case of the morning after today," Jack Lair of William Randolph Hearst's International News Service (INS) reported on Saturday. "In numbers, [the opening day] was a fiasco; the procedure lacked drama; and then came the forty-eight-hour adjournment to let what warmth that had radiated cool off." Dayton quieted down for the weekend. Trial spectators from the surrounding countryside returned to their homes. Most visitors from outside Tennessee headed to Chattanooga for a hot time or the Great Smoky Mountains for a cool breeze. Reporters and defense lawyers enjoyed a riverboat excursion on the Tennessee River, compliments of the Chattanooga News. Prosecutors drove into the mountains for the day. About the only excitement occurred when a self-proclaimed Independent Free Thinker and Lecturer began loudly assailing Christianity on a downtown street corner. He was arrested for disturbing the peace and released on condition that he stop speaking in public.

- Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods


Tuesday, July 10, 2007



Friday, July 10, 1925

The crowd gathered early on Friday, July 10, for the opening of the trial. The first spectators began filtering into the courthouse before 7 A.M., a full two hours before the scheduled start. "The newspapermen sat along the three sides of the rectangular rail surrounding the sanctum of the court," one of them noted. "Feature writers and magazine contributors have the first three of four spectators' seats reserved for them, just like the seats for the families at a wedding."' By 8:45, all seats were taken, and the general public began to spill out into the hallway -- local men mostly, from Dayton and the surrounding countryside. "Farmers in overalls from the hillside farms, silent, gaunt men," the New York Times reported. "They occupied every seat and stood in the aisles and around the walls of the room."' These were not the big-spending tourists that Dayton civic boosters hoped to attract (those people never showed up) but East Tennesseans who came for the day in small automobiles raised high for the rocky mountain roads, or in wagons drawn by horses and mules.

Only about five hundred visitors stayed in Dayton during the trial, and almost half of these were associated with the media. "They sleep and they 'drop' a little money," the Chattanooga Times said of the visiting journalists, "but they do not form the vast hoards that Dayton expected."

- Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods


Monday, July 09, 2007


Grokking Bob

July 7 was the 100th birthday of Robert Heinlein and Brian Doherty has a nice appreciation of Heinlein's work at Reason magazine. As much as I liked some of his corpus (and hated other parts), I have to acknowledge that the following has at least some truth to it:

The prominence of his juvenile novels and his galvanizing effect on so many adolescent fans have led many critics to condemn Heinlein's work as inherently unworthy of serious adult attention. As one scholar, Elizabeth Anne Hull, has written, "In an attempt to account for the extraordinary popularity and influence of the novels of Robert Heinlein, it would be all too easy to assert that the masses are asses and let it go at that. Those of us academics who read Heinlein are likely to admit it with an apology [and consider] our weakness in enjoying his work a minor character defect."
But this part is outright wrong:
Despite his visions of near-immortals and cryogenic sleep, he didn't live to see [his birthday]. He died in 1988, mourned by millions of readers who saw him more as a father or a guru than merely as a spinner of captivating tales.
Doesn't Doherty know that the Senior has to change identities before the ephemerals start to suspect who he is?

On Point

The Chesterfield (Virginia) School Board has already set itself up to institute some sort of "teach the controversy" ID-substitute ploy for its schools while officially maintaining that ID won't be taught.

Not satisfied, the board is now flirting with a "teach the Bible as literature" elective course. Lest anyone get the mistaken idea that this has anything other than religion as a motive, there is the letter from one supporter that says:

It is my solemn belief that without moral values, our country is on the brink of self-destruction. I and so many others out here want you all to know that we support you in making a decision to allow the Bible to be taught objectively and (in a) First Amendment friendly (way) in our public schools. Not only are we asking, but are diligently seeking the means to make it happen.
Sure, teach the Bible in a "First Amendment friendly" way that will reflect and strengthen moral values. Anyone notice the little contradiction there?

So far the only curriculum mentioned for such a course is the one prepared by the Bible Literacy Project. As Americans United for Separation of Church and State notes, that curriculum, while still problematic, is light-years better than the one offered by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, which is presently the subject of an ACLU lawsuit in Texas. If Chesterfield goes for the National Council's version, that will remove any remote doubts about their motive.

I didn't know that "moral values" included "tiptoeing around the law."

Sunday, July 08, 2007


Levels of Hate

The Righteous Right is at it again.

According to this article in the Christian Post, they are again organizing a protest in Washington aimed at preventing the Senate from adopting its own version of a bill to make the use of fires, firearms, explosives or incendiary devices to cause bodily injury to any person based on their gender, sexual orientation or gender identity a Federal crime to go with the same protection afforded to people for their race, color, national origin and religion.

Why would religious people want to deny these protections, that they themselves enjoy, to others?

Opponents of the bill argue that it is unnecessary because the people the legislation seeks to protect are already covered by other laws.
But that doesn't make sense, unless they are agitating for the complete repeal of the Federal "hate crimes" statute. If so, that fact seems to have completely escaped the reporter's notice. Oh, wait a minute ...

[I]n addition to being redundant, the bill further threatens to censor the free speech of pastors and Christians who, for example, speak out about their biblical views on the sin of homosexuality.
But the law says nothing about deploying Biblical views against homosexuals, just fires, firearms, explosives or incendiary devices ... unless they are advocating that the Bible authorizes using violence against the GLBT community. But that can't be right:

"As Christians we do not advocate violence against other people, so that's not an issue," [Michael Marcavage, president of Repent America, one of the organizations leading the protest] said. "However, the lawmakers in Washington are attempting to criminalize Christians because of their faith in Jesus Christ and because they choose to speak the truth of God's Word."
But that's a non sequitur. There is no attempt in this article to show how this law does any such thing. But there is this:

"The Hate Crimes Act will be the first step to criminalize our rights as Christians to believe that some behaviors are sinful," Dr. James C. Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family Action, said in a message for a petition to oppose the bill.
Ah, I see! Protecting people from violence is the thin edge of the wedge that will be used to outlaw Christian belief. But what does that say about that type of belief?

Don't be mislead by the decoy staked out by the article concerning the Good News Employee Association v Hicks case from Oakland. It had nothing to do with "hate speech" and, in fact, was a deeply conservative decision, supporting the rights of employers against the free speech rights of employees. Ed Brayton has already dealt with the case extensively and has shown that, though it may have been decided wrongly, it is not in any way part of any conspiracy against Christians, despite the paranoiac fundraising tactics of people like Dobson.

But maybe this is the best insight into the fear the Righteous Right has about this law. One of the "pro-family groups" participating in the protest is Minutemen United. It has this illuminating statement on its website:

Any person who engages in an act of violence while wearing Minutemen United attire, at a Minutemen United event, or as a individual while claiming to be a Minuteman, does not represent the views or goals of Minutemen United.
It sounds to me like they know exactly what company they are keeping.

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