Thursday, April 19, 2012

Back to the Future

(My photograph of a portion of a display in the Scopes Trial Museum, Dayton, Tennessee)

Yesterday I wrote about my love for Appalachian Tennessee. Today I'm going to talk about what I don't like about my adopted state. Our state legislature just passed a law allowing discussion of Creationism along side teaching of evolution in public schools. The Governor, a Republican, allowed the bill to become law without his signature, citing the 3-1 margin by which the bill passed as making it veto-proof. To me, that sounded a bit like the Governor (Charles Durning) in the film The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas singing I Love to Dance a Little Sidestep. Somehow it came off as a bit disingenuous.

This battle has been going on for a century. Periodically southern legislatures from Texas to the Carolinas will come up with new ways to insert biblical teachings into the teaching of science. And periodically, the courts will strike them down. But now a new element has been added. Denial of global warming has joined denial of evolution as causes for the conservative-fundamentalist coalition. One might be somewhat forgiving for an anti-evolution stance, since the faithful see it as in opposition to their literal view of the Bible and its infallibility. But resistance to the inconvenient truth of global warming is purely political, based on adherence to laissez faire economics. Regardless, neither is science and has a place in a science curriculum. Stephen Jay Gould, the late Harvard paleontologist, characterized science and religion as having "non-overlapping magisteria," that is, they deal with entirely different realms of competencies (Rock of Ages, Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, 1999). Economics is yet another field and should be treated as such.

Tennessee's last big dance in this conflict was played out in the Rhea County courthouse in Dayton in 1925. Which county will draw the short straw next time?
To end on a lighter note, enjoy "Governor" Durning dancing  a little sidestep:


  1. I prefer the intended comedy of the final clip to the unfortunate comedy of the decision about creationism. Wise words, well said.

  2. Oh dear.
    Frankly, sometimes the US amazes and frightens me at the same time.

  3. Surely the reserves of oil, gas and coal are finite (however people like to think they were created) so it follows that we should use them as sparingly as possible, global warming or no global warming. Can anyone deny that?

  4. They should add a few words on the marker after "site of..." I suggest something like "and we have not progressed very far since then." (Actually I was born in TN so I can't say too much.)

  5. For my friends in Britain, do you have the same tug-of-war there and in the rest of Europe? Or is this a uniquely American phenomenon?

    1. Very little talk of Creationism here, Jim. Anyone insisting on it being included in a science curriculum would be regarded as a crank by most people. Until Tony Blair became PM we rarely heard anything about politicians and their religious views. Recently there was some discussion of whether it was permissible for prayers to be said before local council meetings, on the grounds that those of other religions and none might be offended. The outcome of this was that people might say prayers before the meeting commenced but this must not be on the official agenda. Religion tends to be a more private affair in the UK.
      As for global warming there are many who feel it does not exist but the government is pledged to do all they can to cut emissions through grants for energy conservation and taxes on fuel - they seem especially keen on the latter.