Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Anti-Darwinian Lunacy in America: View from Serbia

This op-ed appeared last Saturday in "Danas", the premier progressive magazine in Serbia. I have tried to quickly tranlate it, see below, but you can check the original if you click on the title/link.

I found it difficult to find English words juicy enough to truly convey the tone of this article. The Serbian word for "crippled", for instance, invokes an image of a screaming person, bloodied up, with stumps where limbs used to be just a minute ago. "Blinded" means almost literally "eyes dug out of the orbits with a dull knife". Even the choice of the word which I had to translate as "priest" is a derogatory one, at least it feel that way in a context like this. I wish an US paper would once, for a change, publish an editorial like this. Enjoy:

Anti-Darwinian Lunacy in America:

Judeo-Christian Fundamentalism

by Miroslav Mirko Simich
Danas, December 17, 2005.

It is undoubtedly true that we live in a world that is militarily, politically and ideologically dominated by America. First, it's because the USA possesses the largest and most technologically equipped militrary power. Second, because it is one of the most economically developed countries in the world. Finally, because today's Americans are, at least when inside their homes, historically proven advocates of democracy and promoters of the idea of human freedoms and rights. However, there is a question if American society possesses in everything, and particularly in science, qualities that qualify it to act as avant-garde of the modern world. As far as science is concerned, I personally think that it cannot, and here is why.

Darwin's theory of evolution is undoubtedly one of the most important, if not the most important, scientific discoveries for the entire humanity. It is most important because this discovery played a key turning role in dividing sciences of life and living beings, including humans, into those crippled and blinded by religious superstitions, primitive and reactionary, pre-Darwinian, and those modern ones, cleansed of religious dogmas, enlightened and progressive, post-Darwinian. Thus it is not surprising that Darwin's theory, from the very beginning, invited the wrath of priests and was denied, attacked, ridiculed and persecuted as satanic and godless by all churches. Today, though, it is clear to all educated people that without Darwin's theory, primarily because it triggered the acceptance of real scientific view of the world we live in, there would be no spectacular advances in modern biology, genetics, molecular biology and molecular medicine that we are witnessing almost every day. That is why citizens of all modern European democratic nations can, with no shame, no fear of God's punishment, and no compromise, learn and accept Darwin's teachings and all their consequences on the science of life. Even elementary school children learn about it in these adavanced countries.

In contrast, however, in today's America, studying, accepting and promoting ideas of Darwinism requires quite a dose of personal courage, which is paradoxical for the times we live in. Personal courage is needed primarily because modern America has recently been swept under a tsunami of aggressive, anti-scientific, judeo-christian fundamentalism. This resulted in just one out of four Americans believing today that life and all the living organisms are a a product of evolution and natural selection. In other words, large majority - about 225 million - of Americans today do not accept the truth that Darwin uncovered 150 years ago. Moreover, only a little less than half of 300 million Americans believe that God created all living beings and that they all looked at the tiem of creation the same way they look now. And he created them, so they believe, during six workdays, after which he rested from all that hard work on Sunday. This is as it is written for all time in Moses' Book of Creation. I know it is difficult to fathom this, but it is a fact that millions of Americans also believe that our planet is only a few thousand years old, not more than four to six thousand years!

On the other hand, hundreds of school boards, and even some educational insitutions around the country, started a witch-hunt on Darwin, sending "Wanted" anti-darwinian pamphlets in which, very cunningly, they put forward a pseudo-scientific concept of the so-called "Intelligent Design". According to that concept, complexity of life on our planet can be explained only on the basis of existence of some "supreme being" which "creates" organisms according to some kind of "intelligent plan". Of course this concept has no scientific value, but about this, at least as America is concerned, the judgement will be passed by a court in Pennsylvania early next year.

The concept of "Intelligent Design" appeared about 15 years ago and since then it represents the strategy of choice for the new generation of traditional biblical preachers throughout America. The concept is stunningly easily and broadly accepted by generally under-educated Americans, and has even broken into the public sphere. It was strongly endorsed and blessed even by George Bush during his electoral campaign for President in 1999. In one interview, among else, Bush told his voters: "I believe that God created the world. I think that we will keep finding more and more how that really happened."

Dangerous lunacy of Judeo-Christian fundemantalism in today's America is also reflected in a large number and variety of religious books displayed on the shelves of almost all big bookstores. In those, one can usually find tens of meters of various editions of the Bible and Torah, and tens of kilograms of thick tomes of Book of Mormons. However, particularly dangerous for healthy minds are numerous books of religious pseudoscience ranging from cosmology and atomic physics to biology and psychology in which "collapse of Darwinism and victory of Creationism" is "proven", not to even mention many books of religious fantasy with angels wielding atomic weapons.

Considering that since World War Two, American science has prospered and attained amazing discoveries, rewarded by many Nobel prizes, it is difficult to understand where this collective anti-scientific lunacy comes from. One of the reasons is surely the generally poor education, to large extent under the direct and significant meddling by various churches in education and upbringing, which Americans get. The second reason may be the belief of many Americans that their country possesses special qualities and that as such it differs from all the other countries in the world, which they take as a proof of their divine mission so they place rhetorical spirituality above objective science. Finally, today's anti-Darwinian craziness in America may represent a kind of recoil from reality, a type of revolt against one's own impotence in grappling with numerous problems we all encounter in the modern world. In any way, no matter what the underyling causes, the anti-scientific lunacy that dominates in America today, disqualifies the American society from a role as avant-garde of science in the modern world.

Author is an immunologist, professor of Belgrade University and memeber of Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts. He currently lives in the UK.

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