[Darwin continues to munch on a birthday cake with 200 candles; and we continue to cheer him on with my talk on his cultural impact. We're now in the full cry of the Cold War, watching the Scopes Trial be rewritten as "Inherit the Wind." Oh dear.]
In fact, ”Inherit the Wind” departed so much from the record that the names had to be changed. Scopes became a young man torn between his ideals and his love for the preacher’s daughter. Bryan was depicted as an obese buffoon. Mencken was turned into a smug, effete dandy. Darrow was magically converted from a rude and salty agnostic into a kindly philosopher, who ended the play by quoting the Bible, and reverently carrying off both scriptures and Darwin.
The play was a hit on Broadway, and turned into an even more successful movie. And it’s now the version of the Scopes Trial that most people know. Back then, in the heat of the Cold War, a script with such a pro-scientific agenda was welcome, even though it demonized evangelicals.
But evolution was entrenched in American society; so much so that another apeman franchise, The Planet of the Apes, could riff on it to highly commercial purpose. Today, I doubt Hollywood would touch it.
Bryan admitted during the trial that the seven days of creation weren’t necessarily literal. The judge conceded the same point to Marcet Haldeman-Julius when she asked him. Despite the claims of many anti-religionists, it’s not Biblical literalism that drives many creationists.
One of the objections to The Descent of Man lies in the doctrine of atonement. If Jesus is supposed to have suffered on the cross for the sins of Adam and Eve, then they need to be real.
Another — and this one surprised me — is the need to assert man’s dominion over the other animals. A friend of mine visited an evangelical mega-church, and was puzzled to encounter a sermon against vegetarianism and animal rights — which the preacher compared to Satanism. By this reasoning, God set man above the other animals, and to treat them as equal, or even as biologically related, is blasphemy. The good neo-Christian is not ascetic, but stuffs himself on Bronto Burgers; he doesn’t preach to birds, but slaughters them. But evolution sets man among the animals, not over them. That’s no fun.
Evolution also holds that different races came from a common ancestor, which annoys segregationists who insist the races were created separate and unmixable.
But it’s the issue of morality that most inflames the creationists. Many invoke the massacre at Columbine, because one of the students wore a t-shirt reading “Natural Selection.” This proves, then, that Darwin leads to mass murder. If God didn’t create Adam and Eve, there is no divinely ordained morality, and that’s something they crave, so Darwin must be false. In this view, the terrible atheistic hoax that Darwin cooked up turned men into lawless apemen; and humanity no longer lived in the Christian peace and harmony that characterized Medieval Europe.
(Posted by Doug Skinner; we bring it on home next week.)