Monday, September 24, 2007

On the origin of political hypocrisy...

This just incenses me.

The Times-Picayune reported yesterday that Sen. David Vitter earmarked $100K in a federal spending bill for a creationist group to lobby for creationism in public schools in Louisiana.

Let's back up for a second here.

This is a country founded by people fleeing religious intolerance. This country is a melting pot of rich and diverse cultures. This is a nation that claims to be proud of protecting religious freedom by separating church and state.

Yet Vitter, best known of late for his trysts with prostitutes, is countering the very foundation of what made the U.S. such a haven for those looking for freedom.

I'm all for Judeo-Christian ethics and teaching children in a public school about right and wrong. But to teach creationism in lieu of evolution is both irresponsible and narrow-minded. Here's a little more about the Louisiana Family Forum:

"Among other things, a 'Louisiana Family Forum Fact Sheet' at one point included 'A Battle Plan -- Practical Steps to Combat Evolution' by Kent Hovind, a controversial evangelist who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for tax offenses and obstruction of justice.

Hovind's paper stated, 'Evolution is not a harmless theory but a dangerous religious belief' that underpinned the atrocities committed by Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia."

Wow. What irritates me most about this is that it's clear to me that these people have never so much as read Charles Darwin's elegant observations from the HMS Beagle, On the Origin of Species. Darwin was never a proponent of eugenics (i.e., creating a superrace).

(These are the same types of people who haven't read any of the Harry Potter books, but feel safe in decrying the series as Satanic.)

Evolution doesn't speak to the creation of life. Nor did Darwin EVER claim, as erroneously reported, that mankind descends from apes. Evolution seeks to explain how life adapts to its environs - his most famous example is of the finches he saw in the Galapagos Islands, off the coast of Ecuador. From Alternative Science:

Today's finches vary in their physical form (mainly the size and shape of their beaks), their habitat and their diet, depending on which islands they inhabit. On Daphne island, for instance, is a species called fortis with a strong, thick beak for cracking nuts and seeds; while on Santa Cruz island is a cactus finch scandens with a narrow fine beak, that feeds on insects.

Darwin arrived at the Galapagos in the Beagle in 1835. In his Journal of Researches (popularly known as The Voyage of the Beagle) Darwin famously commented that, 'in the thirteen species of ground-finches, a nearly perfect gradation may be traced from a beak extraordinarily thick to one so fine that it may be compared with that of a warbler. I very much suspect that certain members of the series are confined to different islands.'

Darwin went on to add, 'Seeing this gradation and diversity of structure in one small, intimately related group of birds one might really fancy that, from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends.'

Essentially, Darwin argued that the specific habitats required specific adaptations. That's it.

That's the theory of evolution - that species change over a period of time to survive environmental or habitat changes. If the species doesn't change or migrate, it likely dies out (natural selection).

But here's the kicker - most who dismiss Darwin's work do so based upon a claim that Darwin stated that humans were descended from apes. In fact, Darwin carefully skirted the topic during his lifetime. This myth probably results from the work of his close friend and collaborator, T. H. Huxley. The Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, arrived unannounced at a meeting of the British Association in 1860, publicly denouncing evolutionary theory. Wilberforce and Huxley began to argue, and the following exchange reportedly took place:

Nevertheless, this was not how it was seen by everyone. Wilberforce said something - something about apes and grandmothers - which led Huxley to say to Brodie `The Lord hath delivered him into my hands' and which gave rise to the legend of his having been completely obliterated by Huxley. According to the legend itself, he turned to Huxley and asked: `Is it on your grandfather's or grandmother's side that you claim descent from the apes?' whereupon Huxley retorted: `I would rather be descended from an ape than a bishop.'

I've never felt that creationism and evolution are mutually exclusive, and I owe a lot of that to my Bapthlic upbringing (Southern Baptist and Catholic). Most evolutionary scientists are less concerned with our origins and more interested in how we've developed as our planet has changed. Who's to say that the Big Bang Theory isn't the metaphorical first day of Genesis?

Regardless, the point is that creationism is a religious theory - not one steeped in physical science and scientific method. If private schools want to teach it as part of their curriculum, they're free to do so, as parents presumably know what the school will be teaching their children. But to insidiously insert it into public schools reminds us clearly that the Scopes Monkey Trial was not so long ago. Religious teachings are a private matter for families - not for politicians seeking re-election funds from a fundamentalist lobbying group.

Hypocrite, thy name is David Vitter.


oyster said...

A hearty "Amen" to that great post!

Rebecca said...