The Air at the Top of the Bottle

The Ullage Group header image 1

Moses Battles the Pterodactyls (2)

February 20th, 2009 · 5 Comments

[We resume the serialization of my talk on the cultural hurly-burly that greeted Darwin’s theories.  As we open this section, our animal friends are really going at it.]

Lions and tigers make ligers and tigons; camels and llamas make camas; antelopes give taxonomists nightmares.  Mules have been known to foal baby mules; yaks, bison, and cattle pop out fertile hybrids.  It’s a free-for-all out there.

Charles Fort was particularly drawn to an earlier model of evolution, orthogenesis: that all nature tends to perfection.  Darwin argued instead for variation and adaptability: that all life benefits from change — of diet, climate, soil — and that life adapts to the changes, rather than clamping onto a static ideal.

For perfection isn’t perfect; because it’s static, and stasis is sterile.

For the true fundamentalist, however, change and evolution imply that creation needed overhauling, and this was not an appealing idea.  That had something to do with the public outcry over Darwin, but it wasn’t the main gripe.  Nor, surprisingly, was the sheer amount of sex in Darwin.

It was when he extended evolution into that chip off the old God, homo sapiens, that people really got miffed.  It was fine that horses used to be smaller, or armadilloes bigger, or elephants had fur.  Nobody cared.  But the idea that men came from monkeys was a no-go.  Those awful little animals that dance to organ-grinders!  An anti-evolution tract title put it succinctly: God or Gorilla?  Obviously, God was the more flattering option; you never saw him cramming his face with bananas, or masturbating in the zoo.

And, just as obviously, evolution had to be booted from the classroom.  By the 1920s, states started to pass laws banning the teaching of evolution.  There was some problem with this, because of that pesky Constitution, with its tiresome separation of church and state.  Some states, like Oklahoma, prohibited evolution, only to repeal the law within a few years.

In Tennessee, John Washington Butler, a Baptist farmer newly elected to the legislature, introduced a bill banning evolution from schools.  It passed only after his colleagues introduced farcical bills to ban teaching that the earth is round.  The governor signed Butler’s bill because he assumed it was only symbolic, and he wanted support from rural voters for other programs.  This was in 1925.

(Posted by Doug Skinner; to be continued.)

Tags: Belief Systems · Education · Misconceptions · Politics · The Ineffable

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lisa // Feb 21, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    If you believe, as I do, that God is in all things, then indeed you have seen God masturbating in the zoo – which itself may be a compelling argument for belief.

  • 2 Doug // Feb 21, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    Um, belief in what? Many deists see God in natural selection; Darwin himself never professed atheism. And how is a belief an argument for belief?

  • 3 Lisa // Feb 24, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    I’m not really commenting on Darwin or Deists or anyone else. Just suggesting that God’s Truth could manifest as fully in a monkey masturbating in a zoo as it could in anything else the world throws at us, if one chooses to see it that way. And for those people who could never engage with conventional religious rhetoric, but might possibly respond to the idea of God as a masturbating monkey, it presents a fine opportunity to explore the spiritual side of life.

  • 4 Doug // Feb 25, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Ah. I’m fixed on Darwin and his audience here, as I lead us to that strange spectacle, the Scopes trial.

    I avoid the words “God” and “spiritual” myself, since I’ve heard them used to mean so many different things that they’ve lost all linguistic function for me. But I’ll try subbing “masturbating monkey” for “God” and see what I get. Hmm; it still seems a funny motto to put on our money.

    Any suggestions for “spiritual”?

  • 5 Lisa // Feb 25, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    how about something like “internal marginality”?

Leave a Comment