A Federal judge in Georgia recently ruled that the Cobb County school district must remove a sticker that they had been affixing to the inside cover of science textbooks. This decal read: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, concerning the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered." Judge Clarence Cooper immediately spotted the flaw: open minds are un-Constitutional.
It was also announced recently that the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the school district in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that has incorporated into its curriculum the idea that the evolution of the natural world is believed by some to be so complex as to have required intelligent design. Presumably, they will be heartened and empowered by the decision.
Should the folks in Cobb appeal? Should the burghers of Harrisburg resist? Is it worthwhile to fight another day in court? Many argue that this is a losing battle, that the time is not yet ripe. Not I. Bring 'em on, I say, this may be a blessing in disguise. A chance to turn things around and gain some ground. In the United States, unlike Europe, this war began not in the classroom but the courtroom; we'll win it there, too.
Although the theist view always wins vastly more adherents in the countryside than does its counterpart, the normative intellectual or academic view for over a century has favored Darwinism. The fireworks of the Scopes Trial, with Clarence Darrow besting William Jennings Bryan in feisty public exchanges, heralded the conquest of the classroom by the forces of evolution. This is the origin of the specious notion that the question of creation has been debated and settled for all time.
Yet the courtroom has never been a venue suited to the rigors of scientific colloquy; it lends itself to the moods and tides of rhetoric. Mastery of the rip-roaring riposte serves one better here than the measured tones of the academy and the laboratory.
That very climate can be turned to favor any underdog, even when Bryan and Darrow have their roles reversed. When I lived in Cincinnati, the old-timers described to me how Rabbi Eliezer Silver, confidante of President Taft and many Republican politicians, won the right to build a Jewish ritual bath despite being sued by the Zoning Commission. Former Senator Taft, son of the President, was his defense counsel, and Silver took the stand on behalf of his cause.
The plaintiff's attorney must have had visions of Darrow and Bryan dancing in his head when he stood up to cross-examine. He used a similar approach, asking if the rabbi believed that all the events described in the Bible were literal, such as the splitting of the Reed Sea and manna raining from the sky. He acknowledged that he did.
"And do you mean to tell this court and the learned gallery that you believe the story of Balaam in the Book of Numbers, that an ass could actually speak?"
"Sure I do. I'm seeing it with my own eyes."
The courtroom exploded in laughter and the case was essentially won by a single well-timed witticism.
These cases need to be joined and fought with slogans and sound bites, both inside and outside the courthouse. Especially potent will be one key phrase, one key image, namely that this is the "Scopes Trial in reverse". The public can be, must be, made to see this battle as the mirror image of the Scopes Trial. It is not a tussle between science and religion so much as it is a power grab by one view of science over another. This needs to be pounded over and over. It is a bullet point that needs to be reloaded into the chambers again and again.
Most importantly, one prime insight can frame this battle in terms that are amenable to the position espoused by the school districts and have the added advantage of being true. It will not only have a decisive impact in the courtroom, it has the capacity to transform the popular debate as well. This simple idea, if promoted relentlessly and sold, is a nuclear bomb that will ramify in the culture for generations.
Namely, that there are essentially two separate theories advanced by Darwin. The first is that the process of the world attaining its current form was characterized by evolutionary transitions in its phasing, which built themselves into permanence by providing in each instance a fitter form or functionality. The second is the idea that this could have happened by itself without a conscious design.
In the past, this distinction was obliterated by the fact that most of the religionistic resistance to Darwin overreached by challenging elements of the evolutionary science as well. This led to their being diverted from the fundamental epistemological division between these two components of Darwin's larger presentation. It is urgent that this wedge be driven into his work, driven now and driven hard. We are not debating evolution. We are challenging the separate theory that evolution could have happened without someone turning on the switch.
This approach would be devastating in the courtroom. If an attorney won early on from the judge the right to refer to Darwin One and Darwin Two as a shorthand for the two theories, the ACLU's case would be literally decimated. As pedestrian as this linguistic affectation may seem, it literally divides and conquers the opposition.
Once the battleground has thus been narrowed, the absurdity of the ACLU's position is highlighted. In what way is it more scientific to say that evolution could happen by itself? Why is it unscientific to maintain that much information had to be encoded, in individual cells and in the stuff of matter itself, to facilitate evolutionary tendencies? The truth is that Darwin Two is an intellectual choice engineered not by logic but by a distaste for the idea of being beholden to a Creator.