While I'm thinking about religion, I'd like to get this other thing out there. It has to do with evolution and the left wing confusion about what the fight against evolution is really all about.
I started reading the writings of the anti-evolution people back in the Sixties, initially by digging up a number of the books on the subject mentioned in the chapter on evolution in Martin Gardner's seminal Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, and then visiting Christian bookstores to find more. This was not too long into the rebirth of opposition to the notion of evolution, which forms a significant part of my account.
Attacks on evolution from religious people, and their associated denial of the geological evidence that the world is very old, actually predate Darwin; these people could see the direction that science was going, and almost from the time they first realized how out of joint scientific discovery was with biblical doctrine, they were attempting to refute it. Most of their writings were, of course, composed of the same type of ignorant gibberish that characterizes the works of Creationists and Intelligent Design loons of today. There were some clever exceptions, however, which leads me to one of my favorite arguments against the long existence of the world, to be found in a book called Omphalos, by one Philip Gosse, published before The Origin of the Species. Briefly, Gosse argued that, when God created the world, he had to create it as a going concern. For example, a river needed a river bed, or it would just flow out over the land and dissipate. This river bed would give the appearance of having been created over time. Also, when God created the world, he couldn't populate it with newborn animals, or they would all have died without adults to care for them; he would have to create adult animals that would appear to have a history stretching back before the moment of creation. It was always surprising to me that Gosse's argument was never highly regarded by anti-evolutionists, because it does explain a lot. Anyway, the notion that God would deceive people in the act of creation seems to have been so appalling to religious characters that willingly swallowed so much patent Biblical nonsense, that Gosse was left by the side of the road. Sad to say, I once had a nineteenth century copy of Gosse's book, which stood proudly alongside the works of Alfred Lawson, the most lunatic scientific nut of all, but it disappeared long ago.
So, all sorts attacks on the notion of evolution continued to be produced until about the early 1920's, around the time of the Scopes monkey trial. It was not because of the trial that the diatribes against evolution died out- in fact rather the opposite. Remember that Scopes was originally convicted at his trial; it was only later, in the face of almost universal public ridicule that the judgment was overturned. This was because by that time, the evidence for evolution had become so overwhelming that it could not be denied, and so the strident religious opposition to evolution died away.
There things pretty much remained for three decades. And then a strange thing happened. Right wing religious organizations once again began to produce a host of anti-evolution works, and the opposition to evolution re-emerged from the grave. Given that evidence in favor of evolution had only grown more solid in the intervening years, how could this be, and on what basis could it be challenged?
Here, we come to the heart of my story. Having read a good deal of the literature produced during this period (roughly 1955-1970,) I noticed a strange phenomenon: These polemics were based not on biology or geology, but on what I can only describe as epistemology. Let me explain: Epistemologists are accustomed to divide knowledge into two categories, a priori knowledge, that which can be derived from pure reasoning, and a posteriori or empirical knowledge, that which can be known by examining facts in the world, gathering evidence and drawing conclusions. The religious dismiss a priori reasoning, and substitutes a third source of knowledge: divine revelation, as contained in the Bible and as conveyed to them directly from God.
There is no example of a posteriori reasoning for which there is as much evidence as evolution and the geological discoveries that go along with it. And that, I believe is why evolution re-emerged as an object of religious contention. In the end, right wing Christians are not interested in evolution at all. What they are interested in, and why they work so hard to deny it, is that in the process they believe they are striking a death blow at the entire legitimacy of a posteriori reasoning itself. That, in their impoverished epistemology, leaves only one source of real knowledge: divine revelation, or in reality, whatever they decide is true.
He who controls what is true controls everything, in the end. This entire struggle is not about religion; it is about power. The Christian right is trying to establish their ownership of official truth- to cement their sole right to say what is true and false. They thereby will (they believe) seize the right for themselves alone to make every decision about life in our country. Their intent is no different than that of any other would-be dictator; they merely cloak it in pseudo-religious claptrap to deceive the ignorant.