« Loose Links (Wednesday) | Main | Loose Links (Thursday) »

Theory vs Authority

As we endure the brassy triumphalism of the Inaugurals this week, it would be well to bear in mind Susan Jacoby's essay, "Caught Between Church and State," which appeared on the Times's Op-Ed page yesterday. We used to be triumphalist, too. We believed that Clarence Darrow settled the Creationists' hash once and for all in 1925, at the infamous Scopes "monkey trial." All he did, though, was to drive them underground, where they festered for the rest of the century, building their case. Now they're out in the open again, campaigning for the right to teach the Bible in public-school science classes, and even for the right to exclude science from the curriculum.

One of the Creationists' handiest argument is that nobody has yet seen evolution at work, at least among primates. All we have is a mess of old bones that are open to interpretation - and Darwinism is no better a line of speculation than Genesis is. The theory of evolution is just that, a theory. The Creationists' sleight of hand is in the tacit claim that creationism is a theory, too. But it isn't a theory. There is a body of rules governing theories - let's call it the "scientific method" - that the Bible does not begin to satisfy. Just for starters, theories begin with inquiry, and Scripture is the very opposite of that.

We come back, again and again, to the puzzling question: what makes creationism attractive to Creationists? The answer lies in making the question less puzzling. When Darwin's ideas were introduced, the shocking thing was the idea that man was descended from ape. This notion was not quite correct, and it was massively indigestible. Gilbert & Sullivan captured one of the bigger burps in an air from Princess Ida, "A Lady Fair, of Lineage High: Gentlemen might be descended from apes, but ladies certainly weren't. There was a lot of talk about the irreconcilability of human dignity with animal drive, but what was on everybody's horrified mind was the image of gorillas engaged in reproduction. That a society in which casual acknowledgment of sexual acts was taboo should have had to countenance such beastliness is one of history's high humorous ironies.

Men - and I mean males - are either closely related to apes or they are made in the image of God; they can't be both, not in the vernacular mind. And if men are descended from apes, the authority of God flies out the window. For if God did not create men in his image, then on what ground does he claim their love and obedience? Why should they believe that he cares about them - men - in particular? And on what ground can they in turn invoke God's authority in directing the conduct of society?

That's the not-so-puzzling question to ask.

I am a kottke.org micropatron

Powered by
Movable Type 3.2