“Follow the Science.”

The “theory” of Evolution propounded by Charles Darwin, along with a bunch of other “modern” innovations, put the back up on religious conservatives.  The Catholic Church just said it was BS and went on with what it was doing without thinking about it anymore.  American Protestants, however, got all bent out of shape and mounted a counter-attack.  Presbyterian theologians at the Princeton Theological Seminary worked out a basic statement of “Fundamental” beliefs of Christians at the end of the 19th Century.  Basically, the “Fundamentals” are that the Bible is the Word of God; Jesus was born to a virgin mother; the miracles performed by Jesus really happened; the death of Jesus was an atonement for our sins[1]; and the resurrection of Christ really happened.  These aren’t just some parables that are open to interpretation by slimy wheezers in tweed jackets. 

Science continued its advance, regardless of what religious stick-in-the-muds thought.  Moreover, it began the process of extending knowledge of scientific discovery from the intellectual elite to the common man.  One means to this end came in the writing of textbooks for high-school science classes.  In 1914, George William Hunter published A Civic Biology: Presented in Problems.  The text book proved widely popular and was adopted as a high-school biology textbook.  It contained a chapter stating the theory of Evolution in an approving way. 

Less noticed, because not controversial among anyone at that time, were other chapters of Civic Biology.  One chapter explained that Mankind was divided into races and that the races were arranged in a hierarchy with the Negro at the bottom and the Caucasian at the top.  Another chapter explained that both positive and negative behavioral characteristics could be inherited, just like pigmentation and eye color.  “The science of being well born is called eugenics.”  The stock of humans might be improved in the same way as the stock of domesticated animals (horses, cattle, dogs), through conscious breeding.  Moreover, there were people who should be prevented from reproducing because they passed on negative characteristics: imbecility, disease, and crime.  These people were parasites.  “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 some success in this country.” 

Meanwhile, the “fundamentalist” ideas spread from the Presbyterians to the Baptists and other denominations during the first couple of decades of the 20th Century.  In 1925, the Tennessee legislature passed a law banning the teaching of anything that challenged the Bible’s story of Creation.  Well, Civic Biology certainly did that.   Most teachers just skipped that chapter so as to stay out of trouble.  However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) got a local Tennessee teacher to pretend that he had taught the chapter.  In 1925, he was charged, tried, and convicted.  “Fundamentalism” triumphed in the court room.  It got trounced in the court of public opinion.  In big cities.  Among liberal intellectuals.  Who wrote books read by later generations.  While the teacher had not actually taught the chapter on Evolution, he had taught the other chapters—including the one on eugenics.  His name was John Scopes. 


[1] This is why the suffering of Jesus is portrayed in such gruesome detail by the fundamentalist Catholic Mel Gibson in his movie “The Passion of Christ.”  He wasn’t trying to make a “giallo” flick for the people who like blood and gore.  He was trying to emphasize the nature of the sacrifice offered by Jesus for our salvation. 

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