Monthly Archives: December 2008

A Witness at the Scopes Trial

Scientific American has re-published an article from 50 years ago, which first appeared in their January 1959 issue: A Witness at the Scopes Trial. The author is one of the trial witnesses, Fay-Cooper Cole. Here are some excerpts:

“This is Clarence Darrow,” said the voice at the other end of the wire, “I suppose you have been reading the papers, so you know Bryan and his outfit are prosecuting that young fellow Scopes. Well, Malone, Colby and I have put ourselves in a mess by offering to defend. We don’t know much about evolution. We don’t know whom to call as witnesses. But we do know we are fighting your battle for academic freedom. We need the help of you fellows at the University, so I am asking three of you to come to my office to help lay plans.”

Now that’s a good beginning! Then he provides some backfill:

[T]hree lawyers met in New York City for a conference on some business matters. They were Clarence Darrow, controversialist and defender of unpopular causes; Bainbridge Colby, an eminent corporation lawyer and, like Bryan, a former Secretary of State; and Dudley Field Malone, a leading Catholic layman and a fashionable barrister. Their conversation turned to the Tennessee situation. One said: “It is a shame. That poor teacher, who probably doesn’t know what it is all about, is to be sacrificed by the Fundamentalists.” Another said: “Someone ought to do something about it. ” The third replied: “Why don’t we?” Through the American Civil Liberties Union they offered to defend young Scopes. Their offer was accepted.

This was real news! Bryan, three times candidate for the presidency of the U. S., the great Fundamentalist leader and orator, on one side. On the other, three of the nation’s most famous lawyers, including Darrow, master jurypleader. The papers were full of the story.

Let’s read on:

Little happened on the first day of the trial beyond the selection of the jury. A panel was offered, and Darrow accepted it without change after a casual examination. But he did bring out the fact that 11 jurors were Fundamentalist church members. All admitted that they knew little about science or evolution. One said that the only Darwin he had ever heard about ran a local notion store. One could not read or write.

Darrow accepted that jury? Talk about over-confidence! We continue:

The court opened on Monday with a prayer in which a local clergyman urged God to preserve his sacred word against attack. It was a scarcely veiled plea to the jury.

Thinks weren’t looking good for John Scopes. Here’s more:

That afternoon Darrow pressed for dismissal with an eloquent attack on ignorance and bigotry. Coatless in the sweltering courtroom, tugging at his suspenders, he paced up and down, firing shot after shot at the Prosecution. He stressed the danger to freedom of press, church and school if men like Bryan could impose their opinions and interpretations on the law of the land. “The fires of bigotry and hate are being lighted,” he said. “This is as bold an attempt to destroy learning as was ever made in the Middle Ages. . . . The statute says you cannot teach anything in conflict with the Bible.” He argued that in the U. S. there are over 500 churches and sects which differ over certain passages of the-Bible. If the law were to prevail, Scopes would have to be familiar with the whole Bible and all its interpretations; among all the warring sects, he would have to know which one was right in order not to commit a crime.

Darrow said: “Your Honor, my client is here because ignorance and bigotry are rampant, and that is a mighty strong combination . … If today you can make teaching of evolution in the public schools a crime, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools. At the next session of the Legislature you can ban books and newspapers. You can set Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, when you try to foist your own religion upon the minds of men. If you can do the one, you can do the other. After a while, Your Honor, we will find ourselves marching backward to the glorious days of the 16th century when bigots lighted the fagots to burn men who dared to bring any intelligence and enlightenment to the human mind.”

Darrow and the defense team retired to an abandoned “haunted house ” which they rented and fixed up as quarters for the trial, because no one in town would take them in.

That night, as we gathered in our haunted house for a conference, a terrific storm swept the town. When a brilliant flash of lightning struck nearby, Darrow said: “Boys, if lightning strikes this house tonight … “

We can’t excerpt any more. You ought to click over and read the whole thing. Wait, we have to give you the ending:

Some time after the trial I was summoned to the office of Frederick Woodward, acting president of the University. He handed me a long document, a series of resolutions from a Southern Baptist conference. They took the University to task for the part members of its faculty had taken in the trial, taking note of the University’s strong Baptist origins. They voiced objections to Professors Judd, Newman and Mathews, but reserved the real condemnation for me the witness on human evolution. I was “a snake in the grass corrupting the youth of a nation,” and so on, concluding with “and we have been investigating Professor Cole still further, and we find that he is not even a Baptist.”

I began to laugh, but the president said: “This is no laughing matter. You are a rather new man here, but already we have more demands for your removal than anv other man who has been on our faculty. These resolutions are typical and were considered of such importance that they were read yesterday at the meeting of the Board of Trustees.” “Yes,” I replied. “And what did they do?” He reached across his desk and handed me a piece of paper. They had raised my salary.

Now go to Scientific American and read it all.

Copyright © 2008. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Ben Franklin, Compound Interest, and Evolution

IN A CODICIL to his will, which we copied from here: The Last Will and Testament of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin made an unusual pair of bequests. This is lengthy, but interesting, so bear with us. We’ve added some bold for emphasis:

… I wish to be useful even after my death, if possible, in forming and advancing other young men, that may be serviceable to their country in both these towns. To this end, I devote two thousand pounds sterling, of which I give one thousand thereof to the inhabitants of the town of Boston, in Massachusetts, and the other thousand to the inhabitants of the city of Philadelphia, in trust, to and for the uses, intents, and purposes herein after mentioned and declared.

The said sum of one thousand pounds sterling, if accepted by the inhabitants of the town of Boston, shall be managed under the direction of [various churches] who are to let out the sum upon interest, at five per cent, per annum, to such young married artificers, under the age of twenty-five years, as have served an apprenticeship in the said town … And in order to serve as many as possible in their turn, as well as to make the repayment of the principal borrowed more easy, each borrower shall be obliged to pay, with the yearly interest, one tenth part of the principal and interest, so paid in, shall be again let out to fresh borrowers.

If this plan is executed, and succeeds as projected without interruption for one hundred years, the sum will then be one hundred and thirty-one thousand pounds; of which I would have the managers of the donation to the town of Boston then lay out, at their discretion, one hundred thousand pounds in public works … .

The remaining thirty-one thousand pounds I would have continued to be let out on interest, in the manner above directed, for another hundred years, as I hope it will have been found that the institution has had a good effect on the conduct of youth, and been of service to many worthy characters and useful citizens.

At the end of this second term, if no unfortunate accident has prevented the operation, the sum will be four millions and sixty one thousand pounds sterling, of which I leave one million sixty one thousand pounds to the disposition of the inhabitants of the town of Boston, and three millions to the disposition of the government of the state, not presuming to carry my views farther.

All the directions herein given, respecting the disposition and management of the donation to the inhabitants of Boston, I would have observed respecting that to the inhabitants of Philadelphia

Franklin died in 1790. Each city received £1,000, then worth about $4,400. What happened to the money? According to the Wikipedia article on Benjamin Franklin:

As of 1990, more than $2,000,000 had accumulated in Franklin’s Philadelphia trust, which had loaned the money to local residents. From 1940 to 1990, the money was used mostly for mortgage loans. When the trust came due, Philadelphia decided to spend it on scholarships for local high school students. Franklin’s Boston trust fund accumulated almost $5,000,000 during that same time, and was used to establish a trade school that became the Franklin Institute of Boston.

Why such different amounts? The Wikipedia article on Franklin has a footnote which links to the text of a 1993 article from the Philadelphia Inquirer, DIVVYING UP BEN: LET’S TRY FOR 200 MORE, where we are informed:

“Boston has always prided itself that it compounded the money wisely. Philadelphia has always had an inferiority complex because it didn’t,” said Bruce Yenawine, a Syracuse University Ph.D. candidate in history who has spent years researching the Franklin funds in both cities. “But Boston decided to minimize risks and maximize proceeds. Philadelphia, on the other hand, focused on the other side of Franklin’s instructions by loaning the money to individuals. I think that’s more in keeping with what Franklin wanted.”

Even with sizable distributions after the first 100 years, as Franklin had directed, 200 years after Franklin’s death his bequest of $4.4K to Philadelphia had grown to over $2 million; and in Boston, an equal bequest had become $5 million.

What, you’re wondering, does this have to do with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution? Okay, you’ve stayed with us this far, so here it comes.

We’ve been looking for a good analogy to deal with the creationist fallacy of artificially dividing evolution into what they call “micro evolution,” which is observable, and “macro-evolution,” which requires so much time that we only see its effects in the fossil record. As we said in one of our recent articles:

Ah yes, the old micro-macro dichotomy. What creationists are compelled to admit is the evidence of evolution which is clearly observable within human lifetimes, which they call “micro” evolution. This observable evidence includes the mechanisms of mutation and natural selection. Although they can’t argue against evolution’s occurrence to the extent that it’s visible, they convince themselves that this undeniably manifest process somehow didn’t occur with cumulative effect over vast spans of time …

But we weren’t satisfied with that. We wanted a good analogy we could use that would be easily understandable. And Ben Franklin has given us that analogy — compound interest. If you play with an online Compound Interest Calculator, you can easily see that $1 invested at 5% interest (the rate Franklin specified), compounding only once a year, grows to $131.50 in 100 years; and — using Franlkin’s time frame — it will become $17,292.58 in 200 years.

The financial world’s version of a creationist asks:

How is this possible? Five percent interest on a dollar is only five cents a year — one nickel — and after 100 years, that’s 100 nickels, which is $5. The original sum of $1, plus $5 interest over 100 years, is only $6. How does it grow to over $130? And in another 100 years, all you’d have is another $5. There’s no way the fund could be over $17,000!

As Sherlock Holmes would say: “It’s elementary, my dear creationist.” The financial neophyte is thinking only of simple interest (“micro-interest”). His figures would be correct if the annual interest were withdrawn, leaving the original $1 intact; but he’s not allowing for interest to be earned on the interest received in the past. With compound interest (“macro-interest”), the first year’s interest remains in the fund and is added to the principal. For the second year, therefore, the principal which is now earning interest is no longer $1.00; it’s $1.05. The principal will be more the next year, still more the year after that, etc. Thus, each succeeding year’s interest will be correspondingly greater than in past years.

As with compound interest, so too with evolution. Think of your DNA as a bank account you’ve inherited, and think of mutations as interest which has been regularly added to — not withdrawn from — that account each generation. Each generation’s DNA, including whatever mutations have been accumulated in that “account,” is the new “principal” for the next generation. You are the heir to a genetic fortune which has been accumulating for a long time.

Any part of the current generation’s DNA (not just some ancestral portion) can mutate (generate “interest”) when producing the next generation. As the principal in your DNA account grows, so does the opportunity for mutations — just as interest, once earned, becomes principal which then bears interest. Thus, even if there were original “kinds” — which creationists believe are forever fixed — they become increasingly obscure, not only because their genetic material may continually mutate through the generations, but because a hypothetical kind’s genetic proportion of the “original” DNA is gradually reduced as the “account” grows.

Over time, as with Ben Franklin’s bequests, the cumulative effect can be quite significant. Even the different results in the two cities Franklin endowed can be analogized to evolution, but this essay is already long enough.

So the next time a creationist says that he believes in micro-evolution, but not macro-evolution, you can tell him about Ben Franklin, and then ask: Do you believe only in simple interest, but not compound interest?

Copyright © 2008. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Rick Warren, Barack Obama, and Sarah Palin

EVERYONE ELSE is writing about Barack Obama’s choice of Rev. Rick Warren to deliver an invocation at his presidential inauguration, so we know you’re all eager to learn your Curmudgeon’s thoughts on this galactically important topic.

We must begin, however, with some background, in order to place this issue in the context of our customary subject matter. During the election campaign, many of our scientific friends were gushing over Obama, behaving like typical single-issue voters, and claiming they were for Obama “because he’s pro-science.” They never lost an opportunity to bash Sarah Palin because “she’s a moose-hunting creationist.”

We endlessly pointed out that Palin’s creationism wasn’t an issue for us, because she had passed our Curmudgeonly test — twice — first as mayor and then as governor. She could have tried to insert creationism into the school curricula under her control, but she never even attempted to do so. Indeed, she specifically said she had no intent of doing so. But this had no impact on anyone’s thinking. We respected Palin, because she could keep her private religious beliefs separate from the public’s business.

Our science friends were delighted with Obama’s election victory. This was, they were certain, a great victory for science. Perhaps it was; but perhaps not. In the Kansas City Star we read Rick Warren needs to evolve. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

It might be argued that [Rev Rick] Warren is a mainstream figure — after all, Purpose [The Purpose Driven Life] has sold 25 million copies and is the best-selling hardback book in American history, except for the Bible. Warren is listed as one of the most influential leaders alive. But he champions a worldview at odds with liberal — some would say enlightened — opinion.

We won’t get sidetracked into discussing what’s liberal and what’s enlightened. Let the journalist have her say. We continue:

Warren has equated the acceptance of gay marriage with an acceptance of incest and pedophilia.

We won’t be sidetracked by that either. The rev has his views, you have yours, and we have ours. We’ve already said all we’re ever likely to say about such matters here: Creationism and In-Your-Underwear Politics.

Let’s read on:

He [Rick Warren] has argued, “If Darwin was right, which is survival of the fittest, then homosexuality would be a recessive gene because it doesn’t reproduce, and you would think that over thousands of years that homosexuality would work itself out of the gene pool.”

What can we say here? Rick Warren is clearly an improvement over Jeremiah Wright — not a difficult hurdle to leap — so one can argue that Obama’s taste in preachers is gradually getting better. But does it matter that Obama has selected a creationist preacher for such a prominent occasion? Don’t be in doubt about this — the rev is a creationist. According to Wikipedia’s article on Rick Warren:

In a conversation with atheist author Sam Harris in Newsweek magazine, Warren spoke out against evolution and in favor of creationism …

What does this tell us about Obama and his “pro-science” attitudes? Does Obama really know anything about science? If you know something about this — raise your hand. [Curmudgeon looks, but sees no hands.] That’s odd, surely Mr. Obama’s experience as a community organizer would have provided some evidence of his scientific knowledge and attitudes. Well, okay, let’s admit that the record is a clean slate.

And that leads us to a bigger question — does anyone out there really know anything about Mr. Obama? Anything at all?

Copyright © 2008. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Intelligence Briefing: The State of the Creosphere


Your Curmudgeon herewith submits our year-end briefing on the State of the Creosphere, assessing the impact of creationist activity during the year now ending, and presenting our projections for the year 2009. For this report we have largely ignored developments outside the US, which we classify into five zones:

Zone One, the Islamic world: This region is firmly in the grip of the Creosphere. It could hardly make any difference if creationism becomes even stronger in the Islamic world, as their hostility to Western Civilization is already at maximum. The threat is assessed in other memoranda.

Zone Two, the Western world other than the US: It is presently irrelevant if creationism increases its tenuous foothold in the nations of Zone Two. They have significant military capabilities, but being of the West, they pose no foreseeable threat.

Zone Three, non-Western developed nations, primarily Japan, China, and India: Like Zone Two, these nations have military capabilities, but are not presently hostile to the West. They are currently outside of the Creosphere.

Zone Four, Russia and the remnants of the old Soviet Empire: Besides Russia, some of these nations, e.g., North Korea, possess military capabilities, but this Zone is presently not within the Creosphere. Like Zone One, the threat to the West from these areas is assessed in other reports.

Zone Five, the rest of the world, including Africa, South America, etc.: We also ignore Zone Five. Regardless of creationism or other anti-Western attitudes, these nations have no capability of posing a threat for the foreseeable future.

We shall therefore confine our review to the current status of creationism in the US, because if that should fall under the domination of the Creosphere, the implications for Western Civilization are dire indeed.

The past year:

As in previous years, creationist political agitation in the US seems primarily due to the activities of the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids). Our original analysis of their goals and intentions remains operative, as presented here: Discovery Institute: Enemies of the Enlightenment.

Our last interim report on the Discoveroids’ progress is here: Discovery Institute: A Progress Report.

Much of the creationist damage done this year is due to various states’ attempts to enact the Discoveroids’ misleadingly named Academic Freedom Act.

From past experience, the Discoveroids have learned that they’re always going to be vigorously opposed, so it’s only worth their time to operate at the state level. Besides supporting “Academic Freedom” legislation, Discoveroids know that the elected or appointed functionaries in state-level school boards can have a big impact — not only on classroom curricula, but also on textbook purchases. The Discoveroids encourage and manipulate their fellow travelers on various state-level school boards in order to weaken the standards for teaching science.

There have also been some sporadic proposals to teach creationism made by a few local school board members, but all such episodes in 2008 were short-lived. We omit them from this report because they failed to develop to the stage of requiring litigation. Such efforts were all aborted because school board attorneys explain to their clients the meaning of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, and the incipient creationist policy is thereafter dropped.

State-by-state report for 2008:

Texas: This remains a viable and significant threat. For the most current and authoritative update, see this article at the National Center for Science Education: “Strengths and weaknesses” nixed in Texas.

Louisiana: This is the only state, so far, that has enacted an “Academic Freedom” bill. It hasn’t yet ripened into litigation. See: Louisiana Creationism Update (18 Oct). Here is a good update from Dr. Barbara Forrest: Merry Kitzmas! — But It’s a Bittersweet Anniversary in Louisiana.

Other states: Similar legislation was introduced, but not passed, in Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina. And in Kansas, a rational majority has once again prevailed in state school board elections, isolating the arch-creationist, Kathy Martin.

Other Creationist Activities for 2008:

Documentary: This creationist effort was, despite propaganda to the contrary, a dismal failure. See: Our Articles on “Expelled”.

Creationist Capabilities:

The Discoveroids’ asset base remains intact. It consists of:

1. The tip of the iceberg is their visible “think tank” in Seattle, which enjoys significant sources of funding.

2. A large, faith-based network of sympathetic supporters whom they’ve backed in elections to local school boards and state legislatures around the country, including some members of Congress. They also have an undetermined number of other accomplices — card-carrying creationists, fellow travelers, and useful idiots, who eagerly do their bidding.

3. Despite claims to the contrary, they have only infinitesimal support among scientists, no research, no evidence, and no scientific accomplishments. This causes them no embarrassment whatsoever.

Anticipated Initiatives for the coming year:

Legislation: We anticipate several “Academic Freedom” bills to be introduced in various state legislatures. We haven’t yet learned which states are targeted, but we assume Florida is high on the list, as it came close to passing such a measure in 2008.

Local activity: Local school boards will again exhibit occasional outbreaks of creationism, because such entities are often comprised of people such as real estate brokers, insurance salesmen, funeral directors, and dentists wives, who are utterly unqualified to make decisions about science curricula and texts, but who imagine themselves to be on a divinely ordained mission to teach creationism in government schools. We anticipate that the Dover decision will be sufficient to overcome such occurrences.

University Activism Cells: As we reported here, Discovery Institute: Planning Darwin Anniversary Disruptions?, the Discoveroids may be planning campus disruptions for Darwin Day celebrations, by means of their IDEA Clubs. We have reliable reports, however, that most of the cells thus far created are essentially moribund. It appears that creationism is not yet regarded as stylish on American college campuses.

Films: We don’t anticipate any explicitly creationist films this coming year, as their previous adventure in that arena, “Expelled,” was a box office fiasco.

Long Term Outlook:

Despite all the noise they make, creationists have had no impact on science, industry, agriculture, medicine, academia, or any other rational endeavor. We often fail to notice what doesn’t exist, but we shouldn’t overlook the fact that creationists have failed to accomplish anything of any substance whatsoever. Nor are any such accomplishments likely in the future.

Due to their failed efforts to gain scientific respectability, creationists’ biggest hope is in the field of politics. They need a sympathetic majority on the US Supreme Court, in order to reverse a string of decisions which have prevented their ideology from being promoted in government schools. Their plans for that seem to be thwarted by recent political developments, so there should be little to concern us in that regard for the immediate future.


Science is doing splendidly, but creationists will never be persuaded by reason to abandon their anti-science crusade. There is no simple single approach to the creationism problem which can provide a permanent fix to the threat posed to Western Civilization.

We recommend a multi-pronged strategy of continuing exposure of the menace, uncompromising opposition to creationists’ legislative initiatives, and diligence in evaluating judicial appointments. When — as is inevitable — some school system becomes overrun with creationists and commences an anti-science indoctrination program, vigorous litigation should be pursued. It is obviously vital to maintain a rational judiciary that is firmly devoted to the Constitution.

The problem is more long term and complex than is generally appreciated, and no short term burst of activity will solve it. We must not lose sight of the potential for a civilizational catastrophe — likely leading to a new Dark Age, if the US should abandon its historical commitment to Enlightenment values.

Copyright © 2008. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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