Duel in the Shade

By the seventh day, Clarence Darrow called William Jennings Bryan to the stand before resting his case.

The hearing underway? None other than the Scopes Monkey Trial. Officially about evolution and its role in Tennessee’s public schools, it devolved quickly into an ideological battle between Christians and atheists. Bryan, a well-respected lawyer and politico, stood as prosecutor; Darrow defended high school teacher John Scopes.

The cross-examination derided the historicity of the Bible and repudiated its miracles and stories. A “duel in the shade” commenced. Darrow exclaimed that Bryan insulted “every man of science and learning in the world because he does believe in your fool religion.” Chagrined, Bryan retorted that the proceedings existed solely “to cast ridicule on everybody who believes in the Bible.”

Darrow silenced his opponent by replying, “We have the purpose of preventing bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the education of the United States.” Not surprisingly, Bryan’s testimony was expunged from the record.

Despite impassioned pleas from Darrow and co-counsel Dudley Field Malone, who argued the Bible as a theological and moral guide and not a science course, Scopes lost, and several Southern states enacted further anti-evolution laws. But these laws still allowed evolution to be taught in science classes as long as humanity wasn’t a rung on the evolutionary ladder; there was no need to insert religion, no expectation of creationism in a biology book.

Eighty years have passed and the argument has only worsened. The President of the United States repeatedly states he would like creationism — rechristened as the more palatable “Intelligent Design” — taught alongside evolution in public school science courses. While that’s hardly surprising — George W. Bush is enamored with his Christian faith at the expense of almost everything else — I am startled that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) would share the same beliefs.

Unlike Bush, Frist is a Harvard-educated doctor whose career was founded on biology and the scientific method. How can someone with that background say that “a pluralistic society should have access to a broad range of fact, of science, including faith?”

Is there something in the water in Tennessee?

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I will not argue Intelligent Design. It is not science and is not worth my time.

What I argue is the gradual erosion of public school education. The continued influx of illegal immigrants into our schools systems coupled with fad programs, budgetary woes, and an overall neglect of the foundations of education as a whole have crippled a child’s ability learn and to understand. Is that an accident? Perhaps not. What I do know is that public education in the United States is a joke.

But it is a public joke, and the last time I checked government is obligated to show no favoritism to any particular religion or creed. Allow one snippet of dogma or scripture and you open the door to discrimination.

Take the Ten Commandments for example. I was once asked about the inherent problems in posting them in classrooms around the country. “What’s the harm? They’re simple guidelines for society that people should know anyways.” Oh? Aside from the fact children don’t need to learn from a public school to worship God (not graven images, mind you) or to not commit adultery, or covet or remember the Sabbath, why the religious overtone? What if someone in that classroom doesn’t follow the Judeo-Christian norm? What if, God bless ˜em, they believe in adultery?

What if, in fact, these children are swingers?

All joking aside, it’s a slippery slope to raise one faith above another, particularly in an environment funded and operated by taxpayer money collected from all elements of society. That is what Intelligent Design is. Remove the “scientific” trappings and you’ll find it’s simply a belief that a higher and indefinable power is responsible for life on earth, that the earth wasn’t capable of being this complex on its own.

It’s a fine belief to have, one I don’t begrudge anyone. But don’t drag it into the science classroom. Science is about the observable and the definable and it opposes what creationism represents. Telling people that, at the end of the day, it took a god to make this all happen robs science of exploration, theory, and hypothesis. And public schools shouldn’t have to foot the bill for that.

Could the discussion of God play a part in education? Definitely — it has a place in moral, ethical and theological debate as long as the views of everyone concerned are shared. I express misgivings about the topic in public schools because I know they are ill-equipped to deal with complete religious tolerance, and I’d rather see these institutions prepare kids with literacy and mathematics (something we can barely do now) than cast them in a morality play.

Frist’s comments, however, are insane. Students “should have access to a broad range of fact, of science, including faith?” They do — and it’s called church.

I can’t throw a stone in my neighborhood without hitting a place of worship. Curious about God? Head to one of those; they’ll be happy to take your money and teach you about the Bible. Kids are going to school to learn the basics of education, not become indoctrinated to a religious order.

So to those like Frist who feel that Christianity needs “equal time” in public schools I say, have a science class after Sunday school. Teach about biology, physiology, anatomy, psychology, evolution — all the “devil’s works.”

Or not, because then I can congratulate you on being more backwards than your fundamentalist counterparts from 1925. At least they saw that evolution and natural selection described biological processes that didn’t interfere with the Bible’s teachings.

You don’t. Why push your retrograde opinions on hapless school kids?