80 years after the Scopes Trial

I can't believe I forgot to mention this, but 80 years ago yesterday, the Scopes Monkey Trial began. I had even had a placeholder entry prepared for yesterday, as a reminder from a post I wrote a couple of months ago, but somehow I missed it while contemplating what to post today. Thanks to St. Nate for reminding me, even though I missed my own reminder.

In the summer of 1925, a young teacher named John Scopes was tried and, after a famous trial that lasted several days, found guilty of teaching evolution in violation of the Butler Act on July 21, 1925. You'd think that such antiscientific sentiment would have abated over the years, but you'd be wrong. True, in the eighty years since 1925, we've developed antibiotics, jet travel, molecular biology, cancer chemotherapy, and have gone to space and the moon. We've developed technological marvels undreamt of 80 years ago. Despite all that, however, unfortunately somehow we haven't moved beyond the attempts of religious ideologues to impose their religious beliefs upon science. Indeed, depressingly, the antiscientific attacks on evolution today sound much the same as they did 80 years ago. Oh, creationism has "evolved" into "intelligent design," mainly because even creationists realized that arguing that the earth was only 6,000 years old contrary to mountains of scientific evidence that indicates it is much older and arguing that the fossil evidence was not what science said that it was turned out to be a nonstarter that ran afoul of the First Amendment's prohibition against government endorsement of a specific religious belief if taught in public schools. Consequently, creationism morphed into the concept of "intelligent design," which argues that life is too complex to have evolved without the intervention of a "designer." Worse, ID advocates produce no actual scientific research to support their concept and that they frequently mangle and misrepresent the theory of evolution as it is presently understood and the scientific evidence that supports it, all the while agitating and politicking to convince schoolboards to teach ID as an "alternative" to evolution in science classes. All of this makes ID a unique threat to he teaching of science.

Of course, ID advocates don't see it that way. For example, I was perusing my referral logs a couple of days ago (as I am wont to do from time to time) when I came across a several referrals from a pro-intelligent design blog Telic Thoughts. Curious (as I am whenever I see multiple hits coming from the same site), I investigated and found myself mentioned in the comments of this post. Oddly enough, it was a post about threats to science, specifically animal rights activists and their opposition to any use of animals in research, their threatening and vandalism of research labs, and their intimidation of those whom they perceive as being involved in animal research, something that Brian O'Connor documents on a routine basis at his blog Animal Crackers. As such, I can't help but agree that these extremists are a threat to scientific research. No doubt MikeGene thought that he was defending science and trying to align ID on the side of science when he concluded:
PETA, which is only one of many animal rights groups trying to put an end to research that involves animals, has an annual budget of 16 million dollars. Compare this to the ca. 1 million dollar budget the Discovery Institute devotes for its ID-related activities.
Oops. Sorry. And you were doing so well up until this. (OK, well, maybe not, given that you mentioned that this was the point of your article relatively early on.) I'd argue that ID is more of a threat to science for the simple reason that it is more insidious. Animal rights extremists are pretty obvious and blunt in their tactics. People don't like being intimidated and recognize these groups for the ideologues they are. Also, the less radical and more reasonable among them have a valid point: that we should treat animals with as little cruelty as possible. The more radical among them are so loony (advocating, for instance, that animals should never be used for research, meat, or clothing and that they should have rights equal to that of humans) that they are unlikely to garner wide support; indeed, sometimes even "mainstream groups" like PETA end up resorting to a less violent variety of the sorts of intimidation and harassment that more radical groups like the Animal Liberation Front take to violent extremes. In contrast, when intelligent design advocates push the teaching of their brand of creationism in public schools in science classes, they are guaranteeing that entire generations of American high school students have an erroneous view of what science is and how it is done. They don't see it this way, but it is no coincidence that they want to teach their pseudoscience to youth. What students learn in high school in terms of attitudes towards science and what constitutes good science is likely to stick with them through adulthood and is difficult for even a university education to erase. ID advocates know this, which is why they want to push their pseudoscience on the young. It's all well and good that they argue against animal rights extremists shutting down scientific research. It's hard for a scientist to disagree with that. But it's a red herring then to use that criticism of animal rights activists to argue that ID is not a threat to science. It is.

Finally, before wrapping up. I do have to admit that the comment about me that drew my attention to this article in the first place hurt a little:
I think I have resoundingly proved my point, noting that you can certainly describe PZ Meyers as one of the most ‘active’ ID critics (many posts on his blog are dedicated to it) and there it is, the incident you’ve described being criticised on his blog. I think there is sufficient evidence to state, given myself, Orac and PZ Meyers (representing a scale as well, with Orac being the least prominent ID critic, I’d be in between as I post several places on ID and PZ Meyers being a mainstream prominent one) all talking about different issues.
"Least prominent ID critic"? Ouch. True, I don't dedicate nearly as big a proportion of my blog to taking on ID creationists as PZ does, nor is my blog anywhere near as widely read as his, but can anyone argue that it's not a major theme of my blog? "Least prominent"? Oh, well, I guess that means I'll just have to try harder.

In the meantime, while I'm coming up with ways to try harder, it is useful to contemplate whether the Scopes Trial was temporary victory or whether it was even a victory at all:
But for some historians Scopes was no victory for Darwinism. The prosecutor, populist politician William Jennings Bryan, was seen as speaking for the "common people". Those people, repelled by an alien, arrogant, scientific world that seemed opposed to them and their values, developed a separate society increasingly bound to strict religious laws. Before the trial, evolution had not been an important issue for these people. Now it was. For many Americans, being in favour of evolution is still equated with being against God.
Sadly, today, much the same rhetoric and attitudes abound. ID advocates portray evolution as atheistic or "godless" even though there is no inherent conflict between belief in God and accepting the science behind evolution, equating its critics with godlessness and the arrogance of the "elite" looking down upon the faithful. Even worse, in the court of public opinion, they appear to be winning.


  1. While the Scopes Trial itself ended in John Scopes' conviction, and while it was a popular moral victory for creationists too, it was the trial's legal appeals that led to the eventual revolution in school science curricula. Science ceded the battle to win the war.

    Granted, attacks on science have been consistent and predictable since then, but it is evolutionary biology being taught in the schools these days, and not creation like 80 years ago in Tennessee.


  2. Cool post Doc. I agree w/ PZ totally. IDiots are well represented in the American political/lawmaking system. I don't believe PETA is.

  3. Well, firstly, that is me talking to MikeGene over there. Secondly, I am in no way criticising you Orac (IE: To try 'harder' or anything, that's a bit of an extrapolation!) and neither do I feel you need to criticise ID more on your blog (which you do well enough as it is!). I was merely making the succint point that you crticise ID and many other forms of pseudoscience quite often. As do many other members of the so called 'anti-ID' movement.

    I suppose I should have phrased what I was saying more generally rather than saying 'least prominent'. In retrospect, I should have said 'least specifically' which would have conveyed the point I was trying to make much clearer. Sorry if I caused you any offence over that anyway Orac, any interpretation of not criticising ID enough was not my intent by any means!

  4. I'm much smaller than you, so you'll never fall lower than "second least prominent."

  5. >_<


    *writes self a memo to be more articulate in future*

  6. JM,

    Don't sweat it. I was being self-deprecatingly facetious, although I'm afraid it probably didn't work as well as I would have liked.

  7. Hey, Orac. I came across this awesome article - and it made me think of you. It describes you perfectly (hope you can take a JOKE, man):

    If these words were people, I would embrace their genocide.

    Lately I've been hearing a lot of stupid people parroting stupid buzz words. There are too many to list all of them here, but I'll be damned if I'm not going to try. I propose that we all agree, here and now, to strike these words and phrases from our collective for the betterment of humanity, and the improvement of my blood pressure. Thank you.

    Blog: The word "blog" is literally shorthand for "boring;" a vulgar, overused word that strikes your ear with the dull thud of a cudgel to the soft spot of a child. It's an abbreviation used by journalism drop outs to give legitimacy to their shallow opinions and amateur photography that seems to be permanently stuck in first draft hell. Looking in the archives of the blogs, one would expect someone who has been at it for years to slowly hone their craft and improve their writing and photographs, since it's usually safe to assume that if someone does something long enough, he or she will eventually not suck at it. Even with lowered expectations, you'll get a shotgun blast of disappointment in your face.

    It's an unspoken rule that every blog must use the same layout as every other blog: long, slender columns of annoyingly condensed text, thousands of links to other blogs, plugs for shitty political books, and more links to yet more blogs.

    The problem with this layout is that there's too much shit to click on. Seriously, who's ever going to click on all those links? The worst blogs
    are the ones that make every other word a hyperlink to another website so by the time you finish reading this sentence, you've forgotten what you were reading, or why you were reading it in the first place.
    Hey, this article
    is great but you know what would make it better? If I could read another article in the middle of it. Great design, morons.

    If the thousands of mid-sentence links don't annoy you,
    the long slender columns of text will. Most of the screen on a blog is blank for an imaginary populace of readers still using
    640x480 resolution. I didn't buy a 19" monitor to have 50% of its screen realestate pissed away on firing white pixels, you ssholes. They don't print books on receipt paper for a reason. Every time I see this layout, I want to choke the creator with my dry, crackled, and bleeding hands for making my fingers so calloused from having to keep scrolling the mouse wheel to read your dumb "blog."

    Blogger: Term used to describe anyone with enough time or narcissism to document every tedious bit of minutia filling their uneventful lives. Possibly the most annoying thing about bloggers is the sense of self-importance they get after even the most modest of publicity. Sometimes it takes as little as a referral on a more popular blogger's website to set the lesser blogger's ego into orbit.

    Then God forbid a blogger gets mentioned on CNN. If you thought it was impossible for a certain blogger to get more pious than he was, wait until you see the shit storm of self-righteous save-the-world bullshit after a network plug. Suddenly the boring, mild-mannered blogger you once knew will turn into Mother Theresa, and will single handedly take it upon himself to end world hunger with his stupid links to band websites and other smug blogger dipshits.

    Blogging: If minds had anuses, blogging would be what your mind would do when it had to take a dump.

    Blogged: What you call a trivial or largely inconsequential topic once bloggers have processed through every tired detail. For more on this, look into: every minor news story.

    Blogosphere: The "blogosphere" is the new buzz word that has replaced "information super highway." It's what idiots like to call a collection of "blogs," otherwise known as a tragedy.

    Blogomania: Like all other manias, except relating to the infatuation of blogs. It's one step above the more caustic phrase "blog-o-rama." Thankfully the latter hasn't caught on to the extent of its brethren, but that doesn't stop me from punching anyone who says it in the dick.

    Blogroll: A long list of links that nobody will ever click on. Bloggers not only link to their friends and fellow bloggers, but their eventual goal is to link to every linkable document on the Internet. Most "blog rolls" are so full of links that it can bring even the mightiest of search engines to a crawl as they sort through all the frivolous bullshit bloggers link to.

    Thankfully, since most blogs are shallow in content, so it won't take you long to load, and in turn, to close the browser quickly if you're duped into clicking one of these links. If you shut down quickly enough, you may be able to avoid downloading the mandatory 2 gigs of political banners on every blogger's website.

    Blogshare: An imaginary share of a blog's worth, which is ironic, since most blogs have an imaginary share of readers.

    Blogstorm: A zany phrase news anchors like to use any time they think there's an abnormal amount of posts on blogs regarding any particular topic. Of course, they fail to consider any amount of posting to a blog is abnormal since people who are well adjusted usually have better things to do, i.e., work, or failing that, anything else.

    Blog Swarm: Stupid.

    Blogging community: Losers, goths, bedwetters, and journalism dropouts.

    Blawg: Some prick thought it would be clever to spell "blog" phonetically using the word "law" in the title. It's a phrase used to describe blogs primarily dealing with the law and legal issues. Wow, real clever, dipshit. How did you come up with that one?

    Blogumentary: There was recently a bit of a feud regarding this word among two bloggers. Apparently some guy decided that they had exclusive right to use the word, not realizing that similar words (docudrama, dramedy, rockumentary, etc) have been free to use for all people since you can't just copyright an entire genre, and more importantly, that it's stupid. Who cares? Blogumentary? Really? Eat shit you morons.

    Blogebrity: Wow, guess what this one stands for? Too easy. Hey, anyone can do it: take a blogger who's a chef, and you get: BLEF. A blogger who's a dentist? BENTIST. A female blogger with an itch? You guessed it: a BITCH.

    Photoblog: Photoblogs make me yearn for the day when cameras weren't digital, film cost money, and it took time to develop pictures. I remember back when it wasn't easy for any random asshole with a camera to go out take countless pictures of nothing. Nothing is exactly what these pictures are of. No focus, no theme, no message, no posturing. Just countless pictures of Denny's at 2 AM. We don't care that you went to Denny's. You're not an artist. You're not deep. Get a new hobby.

    Podcast: Someone had the revolutionary idea of taking a compressed audio file and putting it online. Yeah, doesn't sound so sexy when I describe it for what it is, does it you morons? It would have been a great idea if streaming audio wasn't already around for over a decade before the word "podcast" entered the lexicon. Man, I can't stand the word "lexicon." Talking about all these shitty words has made me start using shitty words. I'm so pissed, I just slammed the door shut on some kid's nuts.

    Podcasting: It's snob for "streaming audio."

    Podcatcher: Any idiot with an iPod, web browser, or ears.

    Warblog: A blog that primarily deals with war. Filled with whiny blow hards who are fixated on their stubborn ideas and conspiracy theories. For example, there are countless hours pissed away by conspiracy theorists who think the WTC towers were demolished by bombs planted by the government. These armchair engineers write endlessly about how the physics of the collapse was impossible, how the temperature wasn't hot enough to melt steel, and how the planes were carrying missiles. Of course, the one thing they don't postulate is a REASON.

    My personal favorite warblog was one that had a flash animation with people who were quoted as saying "it didn't sound like a plane to me... it sounded like a missile." Thank you Joe Nobody for giving me your expert opinion on what missile sounds like, because gas station superintendents are usually the best people to ask about the sonic signature of ballistic missile thrust.

    Warblogger: Like all other bloggers, an idiot. Usually a self-righteous prick with a political axe to grind. Tragically, these dullards fail to realize that nobody cares what they think. And no, the 2 comments per post you get on average doesn't count. Get some real opinions, then maybe you'll get some real feedback.

    Warblogging: The act of writing amateur, unfounded, and borderline illiterate opinions about war and war strategy.

    iPod: This is one of those inventions that makes people say: "why didn't I think of that?" On news shows anyway. One of the anchors on FOX News said "now the music industry is waiting for someone to come along and invent the next iPod." Wow, if only I had thought of the bright idea of putting an mp3 player on a portable hard drive. Damn that's brilliant. I had that idea years ago. I also have another idea: a car that can fly. I will sue anyone who makes it.

    iPodder: A pompous ass who thinks he's eclectic. Wake up asshole: you're not living in an iPod commercial. You can't dance. Everything you listen to sucks. Get a job.

    e-nable: E-nable? How about I e-nable my foot to your mouth?

    URL (as pronounced "ERL"): Few things invoke more contempt for humanity than someone who pronounces URL as "erl." It's an acronym, not a word you douche! Between people who say "erl" and programmers who pronounce char (an abbreviation for character) as "chär" (with the "ch" pronounced like in "chart"), I get so pissed that I just want to saw my arms off.

    The suffix "pundit:" Stupid.

    The prefix "pundit:" Stupid.

    Liberal media: Whiny, bitching, cry-baby conservatives love to prattle on and on about the "liberal media." To be fair, except for FOX News (Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, John Gibson, Neil Cavuto, Steve Doocy, E.D. Hill, Brian Kilmeade, Brit Hume), Clear Channel, Laura Ingraham, Dr. Laura, Rush Limbaugh, Hugh Hewitt, Ann Coulter, Newsmax, G. Gordon Liddy, Michael Reagan, Michael Savage, The New York Post, Sinclair Broadcast Group (WLOS13, Fox 45, WTTO21, WB49, KGAN, WICD, WICS, WCHS, WVAH, WTAT, WSTR, WSYX, WTTE, WKEF, WRGT, KDSM, WSMH, WXLV, WURN, KVWB, KFBT, WDKY, WMSN, WVTV, WEAR, WZTV, KOTH, WYZZ, WPGH, WGME, WLFL, WRLH, WUHF, KABB, WGGB, WSYT, WTTA), David Horowitz, Rupert Murdoch, PAX, and MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, they're right.

    The suffix "gate": Watergate, Filegate, Rathergate, eat shit already.

    Xanga: The bottom of the barrel of blogs. It's incredible that the user base is able to write so much, yet say so little. I have to give a bit of kudos though, considering the fact that many of the users have the reading comprehension of a bowl full of pubes.

    LiveJournal: Here's a little trick you can use to find out whether a link someone sends you is worth checking. If it contains the words "live, journal," or any combination thereof, you can safely ignore the link without missing out on anything.

    Content Management System: A pretentious way of saying "text editor."

    The acronym CMS: Man, it's like you guys create these words, then you turn them into acronyms to make this shit even cornier.

    Killer App: I can't stand this phrase, mostly because it's applied so loosely. App is short for "application," but that doesn't stop people from using it every chance they get: "the fast food industry needs a killer app." What? What does that even mean? An application?

    Webmistress: You're not a webmistress, shut up. It's a word used by uppity women who, in spite of a woman's inherent flaws, has been able to land a job as a webmaster. Then they have to go and piss all over years of civil rights they've wrestled away by calling themselves "webmistresses."

    trackback: It's snob for "referrer."

    travelblog: Guess.

    Emo: An abbreviation for loser. Emo is the new goth, except goths are still around, so it's becoming almost unbearable.

    Metrosexual: A gay guy still in the closet. This word is so contemptible that even the man who coined it has since apologized for being such a douche. I cringe every time I hear this word.

    Retrosexual: This word wouldn't exist if "metro" didn't happen to rhyme with "retro." It's supposed to mean the opposite of a "metrosexual," which makes it another superfluous word since we already have a word for the opposite of a metrosexual called "straight."

    Friendblog: None are known to exist since bloggers don't have friends.

    Watchblog: Let's not.

    Videoblog: Another idiot who had the bright idea of coining a term for posting a file online, except instead of music, it's crappy home videos.

    Vlog: I don't even know if this is being used yet, but I suspect it will be used soon if it hasn't, so preemptive strike, bitches.

    Vog: I

    Vloggers: CAN'T

    Vlogging: GO

    Vlogged: ON

    Moblog: ANYMORE.

    In observation of all these shitty phrases and acronyms, I've decided to coin another phrase that can be used for "blog" called: comment-log or CLOG for short. What users do is labor over documenting their inconsequential lives, trivializing man's greatest invention, the microprocessor, until the Internet is so CLOGGED that commerce comes to a screeching halt. Anyone contributing to the congestion would be known as a CLOGGER. I hate blogs.

  8. You could have just provided the link to the Maddox article you realise.

    Ahh that's all good then Orac, I have had the habit in the past of putting foot in mouth on the internet ;)

  9. Mildly amusing, at best.

    Downright puerile at worst. And it has nothing to do with the subject of this post, which is irritating.

    And another irritating thing is that just a link would have done. I really don't like people filling up my comments with long pieces of quoted text when a simple link would do (perhaps with a couple of choice brief and relevant excerpts.

    And people accuse me of having too much time on my hands. Sheesh!

  10. It is simply amazing that a person (Anonymous, natch) could be so disgusted by blogs and so obviously obsessed with them at the same time. The cognitive dissonance must be agonizing!

    I think this posted comment is a clear cry for professional psychiatric help (I forclose psychological help because he/she/it appears to need strong medications, which psychologists in most states cannot prescribe).


  11. Yeah, the best part was the "hope you can take a JOKE, man" part. Whenever I see something like that, I know it's a pretty good bet I'm dealing with a wingnut.


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