Talk about timing.
Just as the Mississippi legislature nears declaring the Bible as the “state book,” the film Inherit the Wind is playing today on Turner Classic Movies–with people all riled up carrying signs exhorting, “Read your Bible!”
The pairing frames precisely (and sadly) the issue yet again–religion vs. science.
Some years ago, in an interview with Dick Cavett, the famed paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould bemoaned how many times the same fight has to keep on being fought. “We’re wasting time,” Gould remarked. All that could be put into advancing science instead must be put into the very basics of just SAVING science.
Every year, there are school boards trying to ban the teaching of evolution in public schools. They are countered here & there everywhere across the nation by the National Center for Science Education. I once interviewed the executive of the National Center for Science Education for a book I was researching. She said, rural school boards try to ban the teaching of evolution more than metropolitan school boards. The rural boards have fewer diverse opinions about religion than exist on an urban school board; the rural ones tend to be more conservative…They are bold in their attacks. Such is the certainty of their opinion.
“Only God can change the climate!” a member of Congress rails.
What emboldens people in their attacks against science is–they are the most vocal because they are the most religious.
They alone (they believe) are upholding the Word of God in the Scriptures.
In 2007, a drought occurred in the Southeast. After so many days of no rain, the Governor of Georgia called for a day of prayer. God, said Sonny Perdue, is the ultimate decision-maker about everything. And so also it must be for rain. The Governor and his wife and supporters were photographed sitting on the steps of the Capitol, eyes closed, heads bowed, petitioning for precipitation.
Never mind they could have done this on their own, in private. They somehow thought it took an act of prayer enjoining the entire public. If anybody thinks God honors the prayers of the many over the prayers of just one, that’s pretty thin theology.
And it becomes pretty thin science.
“I’m not a scientist,” so many public officials say. How then can they denounce the findings of science about global warming and evolution? On what basis–their knowledge of science?
What gets me about all of this controversy is–how “deep and wide” (to quote a hymn) is the ignorance of so many elected officials: not merely about science but about the Spirit of ’76.
One of the firmest changes the Founding Fathers insisted on was: that there be no religious test for public office. Many of the Founders were themselves religious. John Adams said that no government will work unless the people have a foundation in belief. Ben Franklin, himself a skeptic, recommended that each session of the Constitutional Convention at Independence Hall in Philadelphia open with prayer.
But they insisted that no person be subjected to a religious test if wanting to run for office. (Under colonial rule, only those persons subscribing to the beliefs of the Anglican Church could serve as public officials.)
Yet a religious test is exactly what we see happening today! In some cases, it is self-imposed. Politicians hold themselves up as dependable believers: by advocating public prayer AND by attacking science as the enemy of faith.
Other times, the test is imposed ON candidates. In the 2008 presidential primaries, there was a Republican debate held on national television in which voters were filmed posing questions for the candidates. With eight Republican figures standing on the stage, a video was shown of a young man in Texas holding a Bible and saying, There’s only one thing I want to know: Do you take EVERY WORD in this book as true?
Every candidate fielded the question–some (like the fundamentalists on stage) agreeing whole-heartedly in the literal reading of the Scriptures; others (like Mayor Giuliani) fumbling around trying to explain that some of the writings are poetry while other writings are factual.
NOBODY–not one candidate–had the perspective to say: “You are trying to give us a religious test. That is NOT what America is all about.”
What America also is not about is–in the 21st Century, with our nation as the seat of the highest education in the world, to have so many members of Congress BOASTING about how little they know. “I’m not a scientist.” Fine. Few of us are. But can you at least tell the difference between religion vs. science? It’s the 21st Century!
I was surprised to learn that the member of Congress who said “Only God can change the climate” was from a state where I used to live. John Shimkus is a Republican from Illinois. He is a baby-boomer, emerging from the suburbs east of St. Louis.
Illinois was a place that I became very proud to live in. Everywhere I went, I saw signs and memorials, and I enjoyed reading books about figures from the state. Illinois gave America Adlai Stevenson, one of the brightest persons ever to serve in public office. Illinois gave us intelligent, Republican Senators like Charles Percy and Edward Everett Dirksen. I’m not even going to mention an earlier, original Republican from Illinois–the one who lived in Springfield. In fact, the Springfield where he lived lies partly in Congressman Shimkus’ district.