A friend writes to advise me of an interesting new article.
June 2008 issue of Science as Culture:
The Scopes Trial Revisited: Social Darwinism versus Social Gospel
Matthew J. Tontonoz
Abstract To many observers, the recent evolution wars in the US seem a revival of the historic 1925 Scopes trial, with William Jennings Bryan cast as the intellectual forbearer of today’s creationists and proponents of intelligent design. This paper argues against drawing too close a parallel between these two episodes. Using Bryan’s unread closing remarks as a key to his views, this revisionist historical work argues that Bryan opposed evolution primarily for political and ethical reasons—reasons that have been lost to historical memory. Bryan’s overarching concern was the threat to society posed by extrapolations of evolutionary doctrine—namely, Social D arwinism and eugenics. His commitment to the Social Gospel put him at odds with the concept of natural selection being applied to humans. This view of Bryan differs from the one with which we are most familiar. Our faulty historical memory largely reflects the caricatured view of Scopes spawned by the movie Inherit the Wind, a view that, furthermore, reinforces an unhelpful positivistic view of science.
This same argument was made at book length by Edward Larson in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Summer for the Gods. Torontoz and Larson are correct.
Bryan, who had been US secretary of state re WWI, did not want Darwinism regarding human origins taught in publicly funded schools because he recognized, much earlier than most people, the difference between the world view it creates and the traditional one that has made English common law democracies and constitutional monarchies stable from pole to pole (New Zealand to Canada), while providing great freedom to citizens (until the recent “human rights” and “anti-hate” craze).
I once had to explain this to an immigrant: We say God gives us rights, not because we want a theocracy [?!], but to limit the powers of government to only what it can responsibly do. Our rights come from God, not man; government only recognizes and acts on the dignity of human beings. Human rights commissions and tribunals were founded to protect people in such issues as housing and employment. Once they started trying to police media, religion, entertainment, and medicine, their authoritarian social engineering created nothing but controversy.
Darwinism, unfortunately, teaches that the mind is simply the accidentally evolved dance of neurons on the brain. So why shouldn’t the government social engineer us, to create a “near utopia”, as one Canadian “human rights” apparatchik put it?
Notice how “civil rights” are today subtly replaced by “human rights,” which are far closer to “animal rights” – the human is just another species of animal, but the citizen was traditionally something a little above the animals. That change in terminology is not an accident.
People interested in stories about intellectual freedom in Canada can try