I don’t usually go for interblog communications or linkery, much, but every now and then I notice something interesting shaping up via my Google Reader feed. First I noticed that the official blog of the Discovery Institute (ironically named “Evolution News & Views”) had an item where they seemed to be following evolutionary biologist PZ Myers’ movements very closely and accusing him of secretly espousing eugenics. And then Myers responded thusly with Pharyngula: Egnor loses it, again.
I’m reading both blogs because at Holy Moly, we’ll be discussing evolution and creationism and the “Intelligent Design” in the adult forum for the next few months. There may be some back-and-forth, or there may not. I read the Discovery Institute’s self-aggrandizing double-speak because I have to; I read PZ Myer’s Pharyngula (even the posts about cracker worship) because I really enjoy his writing and find the topics he covers interesting. I have only a bit of college background in evolution – I took a year-long evolution class at Oregon that was designed for non-science majors that I absolutely loved, but to me, the theory is all but proven. There’s no way to really prove it without going back in time and collecting specimens from all the places and eras where the fossil record is lacking – you can’t have ideal conditions for fossilization everywhere and everywhen but there’s a convincing preponderance of evidence for any rationalist.
Unfortunately, a complete fossil record of every type of creature, with samples from about every 1,000,000 years or so, will never be found and categorized unless science manages to figure out how the Tardis works. Also unfortunately, nothing less will convince a Biblical literalist of the truth of evolution, plus they’ll need a note from God saying “Sorry, your monkey really was an uncle, and fossils are real, and the seven days were really eons, but that bit got left out of a later edition of the Bible.”
I want to note here, very firmly, that I’m a liberal Episcopalian, not an unthinking Biblical literalist, and I accept evolution as the most likely explanation for how humans came to be. I may believe in a God that atheists scoff at and agnostics question, but my God is both loving and logical. In my view, the Big Bang happened pretty much as physicists theorize, but the Deity was and is and ever shall be, from the nano-moment that the Light was first kindled in the Universe. And it appears that other Episcopalians, and also physicists, have a similar point of view.
I happen to think that God is very interested in what’s going on with His Creation, but He doesn’t meddle, much, because that would mess with His results. Never screw with your data, you know.
Anyway, for the first part of the discussion in Adult Ed., we’re watching the movie “Inherit the Wind” in the house Holy Moly now has re-purposed as a parish meeting place. I watched about the first third of the movie Sunday morning between the services, after my big numbah (sang a trio from Elijah with Katy and Mary). Had to scoot back to be sure I was there if Mary decided to rehearse the choir for second service (since I had to be there anyway for the reprise performance). So I missed out on the actual discussion, although they may be saving that up for later, once all the installments of the movie have screened. Steve G., the guy leading the Adult Ed. sessions, is a big fan of the movie, but knows exactly where it differs from the real story. He actually owns a copy of the trial transcript, which is published in book form by a college named after William Jennings Bryan. So he’ll probably be able to point out the various liberties the film took with reality. He’s not an Episcopalian, Steve G.: he’s Jewish and is married to one of the parishioners, but he likes running our discussion sessions. Interesting guy.
I’ve never actually seen the film, just know of it from its reputation. I was surprised to find that at the time it came out in 1960, it was understood to be a commentary on intellectual freedom as it pertained to living and teaching in the McCarthy era… the evolutionists-versus-fundamentalists angle was just a convenient hook to hang the story on. But a remake now would be, ironically, more literalist in scope. It was based on a play, and there are significant differences between both, and neither are completely accurate depictions of the events that took place during the “Scopes Monkey Trial.”
The play includes a note reminding the reader that “Inherit the Wind is not history.” The characters have different names from the historical figures on whom they are based, and the play “does not pretend to be journalism.” The authors go on to argue that “the issues of [Bryan and Darrow’s] conflict have acquired new dimension and meaning” in the 30 years since the actual courtroom clash. They do not set the play in 1925 but instead say that “It might have been yesterday. It could be tomorrow.” This timelessness of the setting can be seen as a warning about repeating the wrongs of the past, which can recur unless we are vigilant. During the play’s original Broadway run, it was widely understood as a critique of McCarthyism, but subsequent interpretations have been more literal, given the resurgence of the creation-evolution controversy after the play and film appeared, and the events of the film are sometimes incorrectly taken as a near recreation of the trial.
Despite the authors’ warnings and the fact that the play and the film are about defending truth from ignorance, both play and film contain major inaccuracies. Inherit the Wind portrays the Cates/Scopes character as unfairly persecuted when, in reality, the ACLU was looking for a test case with a teacher as defendant, and a group of Dayton [Blogula’s note: the real town where the trial took place] businessmen persuaded Scopes to be a defendant, hoping that the publicity surrounding the trial would help put the town back on the map and revive its ailing economy. Scopes was never in the slightest danger of being jailed.
Inherit the Wind has been criticized for stereotyping Christians as hostile, hate-filled bigots. For example, the character of Reverend Jeremiah Brown whips his congregation into a frenzy and calls down hellfire on his own daughter for being in love with Bertram Cates. In fact, no such event took place â€” Scopes had no girlfriend and the character of Rev. Brown is fictitious. The 1960 film depicts a prayer meeting during which some express hostility about Drummond and Cates, but Brady intervenes to calm the situation, urging a gentler and more forgiving strain of Christianity than the minister’s.
In reality, the people of Dayton were generally very kind and cordial to Darrow, who attested to this fact during the trial as follows:
“I don’t know as I was ever in a community in my life where my religious ideas differed as widely from the great mass as I have found them since I have been in Tennessee. Yet I came here a perfect stranger and I can say what I have said before that I have not found upon any body’s part â€” any citizen here in this town or outside the slightest discourtesy. I have been treated better, kindlier and more hospitably than I fancied would have been the case in the north.” (trial transcript, pp. 225â€“226)
The film does justice to this fact in the scene where Drummond first meets the Hillsboro [Blogula’s note: the fictional location] town mayor, and also in Drummond’s interactions with Cates’ students.– Wikipedia, Inherit the Wind
As a result of watching the movie in weeks to come, I’ll probably become more interested in reading up on H.L. Mencken, although he was a bit of a Fascist in his latter years.
We’ll be watching the film for the next 2 or 3 weeks. Sadly, no popcorn shall be popped; Steve G. told us yesterday morning that he can’t stand the smell of popping popcorn, and in the mornings it would tend to turn his stomach. I’ll be watching the various evolution (rational) and creation (irrational) blogs in my feed in the meantime, because later on we’ll focus on evolutionary theory itself and then look at what the ID people put forward as arguments against it, and I’ll probably pull some handouts together for discussion some week.