Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Read Your Civic Biology

My last post referenced the Scopes-Trial-inspired movie, Inherit The Wind, from 1960. As I pointed out, many liberties were taken with the facts of the case. One item that was inspired by actual events was a sign Darrow (Drummond in the movie) felt was very prejudicial which implored people to read their Bible. Drummond suggested he might have one put that implored people to read their Darwin. In real life Darrow suggested he should place a sign which invited people to "read your evolution" or "read your Civic Biology."
 
A Civic Biology by George William Hunter was the textbook from which teacher John Scopes was charged with using to teach human evolution. Is there a reason the movie changed "read your Civic Biology" to "read your Darwin?" I think perhaps there is.
 
William Jennings Bryan (Matthew Harrison Brady in the movie) comes off in Wind as mentally unstable, highly illogical, and morally lacking as well. This all is far from the truth. Bryan was a sincere Christian (hardly the crude Bible-thumper portrayed in the movie) who was indeed against human evolution; but it appears that he feared that science at this point was attacking the dignity of man as a special creation of God.
 
His objections to (then) current scientific thinking were based on the damage he felt was being done to the dignity of humankind. He had prepared a closing statement that was never delivered because Darrow decided to halt proceedings by asking the jury to find his client guilty. In that speech, which was later released to the public, Bryan stated:
 
Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals. It can perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of the machine. It can also build gigantic intellectual ships, but it constructs no moral rudders for the control of storm tossed human vessel. It not only fails to supply the spiritual element needed but some of its unproven hypotheses rob the ship of its compass and thus endangers its cargo. In war, science has proven itself an evil genius; it has made war more terrible than it ever was before. Man used to be content to slaughter his fellowmen on a single plane—the earth's surface. Science has taught him to go down into the water and shoot up from below and to go up into the clouds and shoot down from above, thus making the battlefield three times as bloody as it was before; but science does not teach brotherly love. Science has made war so hellish that civilization was about to commit suicide; and now we are told that newly discovered instruments of destruction will make the cruelties of the late war seem trivial in comparison with the cruelties of wars that may come in the future.
 
Nearly a hundred years later his words seem prophetic. Remember: two decades later science had developed and man put into use the awesome power of nuclear weaponry.
 
With special attention to Bryan's observation about science's lack of moral restraint, there are elements of Hunter's biology text that are quite telling. One shocking quote from this text stated:
 
When people marry there are certain things that the individual as well as the race should demand. The most important of these is freedom from germ diseases which might be handed down to the offspring. Tuberculosis, syphilis, that dread disease which cripples and kills hundreds of thousands of innocent children, epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity. The science of being well born is called eugenics.
 
Elaborating further Hunter adds:


The Remedy. — If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with success in this country.

Again looking back we now know how Hitler's Germany put the science of eugenics to work and what the heartrending results were.

Hunter's science textbook also promoted racism:

The Races of Man. — At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; the American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest type of all, the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.

Here I have to agree with Bryan: "Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals." It is for that reason that I feel the scientific worldview alone is not sufficient. At the same time I don't feel the religious worldview alone will cut it, either.

The truth is: either science or religion can be abused and used to inflict harm. I'm not impressed with those on either side who would downplay the importance of the other. I don't see why we can't embrace both.  

11 comments:

  1. Mankind was horribly and abhorrently cruel and belittling to one another long before there was a theory of evolution. Before evolution races wanted to be God's favorite, his chosen. While I agree with much of what you said here, and I think people really should think about what they think about, I'm not certain it requires religion. Even now, under the guise of being God's chosen, so-call Aryans(white people) believe they are God's chosen and would trample under foot other races. I'm not convinced either science or religion are good moral restraints.

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    1. Personally, I think the idea of "God's chosen people" is an abuse of religion. As for the so-called Aryans and their supposed superiority, they rely not just on religion but eugenic-type thinking as well in their efforts to remain"pure." For my part I embrace both science and religion and object to their abuse.

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    1. Thanks. I really do appreciate that.

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  3. @Doug B

    "Here I have to agree with Bryan: "Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals." It is for that reason that I feel the scientific worldview alone is not sufficient. At the same time I don't feel the religious worldview alone will cut it, either.
    The truth is: either science or religion can be abused and used to inflict harm. I'm not impressed with those on either side who would downplay the importance of the other. I don't see why we can't embrace both." Unquote

    I agree with you that both science and religion can be abused to harm humanity; but it is most truthful that religion and science both are good friends and can be used to benefit humanity the most. There is nothing contradictory in religion and science (based on natural laws) as both are from the same source of One-True-God (Allah Yahweh Ahura-Mazda Parmeshaware Eshaware). Religion is based on the Word of God while science is the Work of God; both embrace happily with one another.

    Thanks and regards

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    1. Honestly, I don't base my religious faith on "God's Word" except maybe in some metaphoric sense.

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  4. I tell amyone who asks, "I am a memeber of the Church of Inclusion." Everything in the universe and beyond, has a purpose,

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  6. Your post reminds me of Rachel H. Evans, "Evolving in Monkey Town", and Rachel's eventual doubts and questioning of W.J. Bryan's POV, which, of course, was her own by virtue of her growing up conservative and evangelical.

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    1. I can now report that it appears, as a result of the "World Vision" debacle, that Rachel no longer labels herself an evangelical. She has become a part of a fast-increasing number of unassociated Christians in the U.S. Isaw this coming over a year ago. You cannot do and say the things she has done and said, and expect there to be no reaction from the religious right. Also, it takes time for the new things and thoughts to actually sink in to your spirit. When that time arrives, something must give. Kudos to Rachel!

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