There are three main reasons that the Scopes Trial didn’t really settle the issue of whether the Theory of Evolution should be taught in schools, and why we’re still arguing about “Creationism” almost a century later.
The first is that (really stupid) people thought Darwin was saying something like “your grandmother was a monkey”, and they knew that to be a priori false.
The second is that very religious people thought that it contradicted the Bible, which taught that God created Adam and Eve, etc., and that therefore Darwin’s theory was untrue and also heresy.
The third is that various politicians saw that what mattered in all this was not the science, but rather the votes of the really stupid people, so there was no real margin in going against the grain on this.
Isn’t that always the way.
In reality, Darwin doesn’t contradict the Bible at all, if you just think a little bit about the word “day”. If I said, “Back in my day, music was really music”, most people would understand that “my day” meant “my youth” or “my era” or “my time”, and not some particular 24-hour period.
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
OK, we have light and darkness on the first day. But it isn’t until the fourth day that we have the sun and the moon. Just a few verses later, Genesis says:
16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.
So the question is, how long was the first “day” if the sun didn’t exist? Well it wasn’t 24 hours long, that much is clear. It was an “era” long, and it doesn’t matter whether that’s a million years or something else. It’s all a blink of an eye to God. Or maybe He hadn’t invented “time” yet.
My point is that you can stick to a literal translation of the Bible and still understand that evolution was merely the tool that God used to create things in the first “days”, and Darwin was not a heretic. If you’re not really stupid, that is.
I’m thinking about this today because on this day, February 13, in 1633, Galileo Galilei arrived in Rome to face charges of heresy. His mathematical and astronomical observations had led him to support the Copernican idea that the earth revolved around the sun, and the Roman Inquisition was pissed about it. It was heresy and that made Galileo an enemy of the state.
Trial of Galileo
It was heresy because it contradicted various biblical passages which “proved” the earth was the center of the universe. For example, 1 Chronicles 16:30 says:
30 tremble before him, all the earth.
The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved.
Of course, the translated word “moved” here could be taken in other ways. You could have taken it in the sense of “changed”, and this would have avoided a lot of trouble, and (intelligent) people may have seen there was no conflict here between scripture and science.
Galileo pleaded guilty to the charge in exchange for a reduced sentence and lived out the remainder of his life under house arrest. In 1992, only 359 years later, the Vatican acknowledged its mistake. So much for infallibility.
One thing to understand here is that, as with creationism, the politicians had something at stake here beyond what was true. And by “politicians”, I mean Popes and Cardinals. The Catholic church was the “state” and the wealthy and influential had the highest offices in the church.
It was vitally important to them that their “constituents” believed that they were the agents of God, or else their authority and influence would be undermined. Science and truth were secondary.
Isn’t that always the way.
A couple of other things to think about as long as we’re thinking about whether science can help explain things or solve problems, and whether politicians will be speeding up the process or slowing it down:
The Larsen C Ice Shelf is cracking in Antarctica. Ice shelf A and B already cracked in the last few years.
New Zealand has just experienced its largest whale stranding in decades.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch now covers 8.1% of the Pacific Ocean. There will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.