Today, 05 May, is the 90th anniversary of the day in 1925 when John Scopes was arrested for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution in a Tennessee public school.
It is well worth remembering that despite endless moaning and wailing by creationists about “Darwinist” bullying, “viewpoint discrimination,” and other forms of persecution, nothing remotely like that has ever happened to a creationist. Creationists don’t have to meet secretly in the catacombs. They are totally free to preach, lecture, sell their books, and display their films at churches, bible colleges, creation museums, or any other facility willing to offer them meeting space, and no one ever thinks to interfere.
The Discovery Institute promotes Expelled, their “documentary” narrated by Ben Stein, allegedly detailing the horrors experienced in academia by creationist professors, but as is explained in Expelled Exposed, the Ben Stein film is nothing but distortions and anti-science propaganda.
The only adverse consequences facing a creationist teacher in a secular institution are failure to get a job he wants, or failure to have his teaching contract renewed, or in extreme cases — like that of John Freshwater — getting fired for violating school policy. But those who have achieved tenure, like Michael Behe (a Discovery Institute “senior fellow”), aren’t fired. He’s still a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, although he does endure a bit of ridicule. His colleagues at Lehigh have publicly disassociated themselves from him by issuing this statement: Department Position on Evolution and “Intelligent Design”. But that’s as bad as it gets for creationists. No creationist has ever been arrested and fined, like John Scopes was.
Nevertheless, creationists are quick to point out that they have their martyrs. There’s Stephen Meyer, Vice President and “senior fellow” of the Discovery Institute, whom the Discoveroids praise for his book about the Cambrian “explosion,” Darwin’s Doubt. Meyer was a central figure in the infamous Sternberg peer review controversy. And there’s Guillermo Gonzalez, another Discoveroid “senior fellow” who failed to get tenure at Iowa State University and who ended up teaching at some bible college. He’s a co-author of the classic creationist book, The Privileged Planet, a “fine tuning” argument applied to Earth. He’s one of the creationist martyrs featured in Expelled, but since then he’s been hired by Ball State University, where we assume he’s a Discoveroid sleeper agent.
On the other hand, we’ve seen historical examples of of the consequences that were faced by secular thinkers when religious doctrine was official policy. The examples range from being poisoned, like Socrates, to being burned at the stake like Giordano Bruno, or, like Galileo, to “merely” being threatened with torture, forced to recant his teaching about the solar system, and then being kept under house arrest for the remainder of his life. Galileo’s confrontation with the Inquisition (see the Galileo affair) is the all-time classic example of reason vs theocratic tyranny. We think it even outranks the trial of Socrates, who was executed for “corrupting the youth” of Athens by encouraging his students to question authority.
We emphasize that despite endless propaganda to the contrary, it’s never scientists who commit those atrocities. Science is a product of the Enlightenment — particularly the Scottish Enlightenment, which (quoting from the Wikipedia article) “… asserted the fundamental importance of human reason combined with a rejection of any authority which could not be justified by reason.”
If creationists ever do any research — with verifiable results — that contradicts evolution and supports their “theory,” it will be published in science journals. If there’s a genuine scientific controversy — as there was, for example, in the days when Big Bang theory was challenged by Steady State theory — both theories will be in the textbooks. Litigation won’t be necessary, nor will there be any need for creationists to organize grass-roots movements or to sponsor legislation to get their ideas into the public schools. No genuine science has ever resorted to such activities, but it’s typical of pseudoscience.
So today’s the day when we remember John Scopes. His trial for violating Tennessee’s Butler Act is a striking contrast to all the silly claims of mistreatment we constantly hear from the creationists. Let’s not forget that throughout history, all the genuine persecution has been by religious fanatics, never by scientists.
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