Michael Egnor is a regular fixture at the Discovery Institute’s website, Evolution News and Views. I usually ignore their many attacks on me because Egnor and his pals are a pack of lightweights devoted to promoting God by attacking evolution, and I don’t want to give creationist loons a platform. But there are two posts I want to highlight because they how far these IDers can twist the truth in the service of attacking evolutionists (and, of course, promoting Jesus or, in Klinghoffer’s case, Yahweh). Many of us know this already, but forgive me for flogging a moribund horse.
When I visited Kentucky a short while ago, I sought out and was photographed at the grave of John T. Scopes, the defendant in the famous “Monkey Trial” held in Dayton, Tennessee in the summer of 1925. Scopes, the high-school football coach and substitute science teacher, was convicted of violating Tennessee’s “Butler Act,” which prohibited the teaching of human evolution. (Note: the teaching of nonhuman evolution was not forbidden, which shows you what really bothers people.) You probably know that Scopes’s conviction was overturned on a technicality: the judge fixed the fine ($100), but the law specified that fixing a fine over $50 was the duty of the jury, and the Butler act specified a minimum fine of $100.
My host Ben Shelby and I found Scopes’s grave in a cemetery in Paducah (his people were from Kentucky), and on his tombstone was engraved “A man of courage”. I made the following comment on this site:
The trial was in 1925, so he was only 24 years old at the time. It’s amazing to realize that he was still alive when I was in my twenties. I should have sought him out to shake his hand.
Well, that was enough to give Michael Egnor a case of the vapors, and he put up a post decrying my admiration for Scopes. (These people must monitor my website with a fine-toothed comb!)
As if that weren’t enough (do these people have a day job?), Egnor’s fellow creationist David Klinghoffer chimed in on another post, comparing my “fawning praise” for Scopes (really? fawning?) with my praise for Nelson Mandela, whom I did call a “hero.” (He was, Scopes wasn’t, but Klinghoffer wanted to make the comparison).
But it wasn’t just my so-called “fawning praise” for Scopes that ticked them off, but something worse: Scopes was said to have promoted racism and eugenics! As Egnor said:
Coyne’s hero taught the schoolchildren of Dayton from a textbook with rancid eugenic racist hate, which was part and parcel of evolutionary theory during the first century of Darwinian ascendancy and remains today the subtext of the Darwinian understanding of man. The good folks of Tennessee, and the citizens of many communities across the country, wanted no such venom taught to their children.
Coyne embraces his hero — “a man of courage” — and would have liked to have shaken his hand. Here’s my question to Coyne and other admirers of John Scopes: Do you embrace what Scopes actually taught?
(Note: the Scopes trial was not about racism or eugenics—regardless of whether “the good people of Tennessee” objected to their teaching—but about evolution.)
Klinghoffer agrees with Egnor’s criticisms:
As Dr. Egnor points out, Scopes taught from a biology textbook laced with the most hair-racing racism. Now with the passing of Nelson Mandela, a genuine hero, Coyne turns cluelessly from one embrace to another:
“All men are mortal, but I always hoped Mandela would be the one exception. . .
We all knew he would go soon, but we already have too few heroes among us, and now there’s one fewer.” [JAC: my words]
The sentiment is certainly accurate, though I could do without the sugary prose that somehow makes you want to brush your teeth afterward.
Mandela, pivotal in ending apartheid, is a hero. True. But Scopes — who achieved fame by teaching from a textbook that hailed “Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America” as the “highest type of all” and recommended European eugenic efforts as a solution to human “parasitism” — is also a hero?
Does Coyne really not see the contradiction?
What I see is a pair of misguided creationists with time on their hands publishing lies and misrepresentations.
Here are the facts:
1. Nowhere did I describe Scopes as my “hero” in that post. What I said about him is printed above. I don’t really see Scopes as a “hero,” for he risked very little in that trial, especially compared to what Mandela risked—and suffered. Scopes did have courage, however.
2. The textbook from which Scopes taught, Civic Biology by George William Hunter, did indeed contain some pretty dreadful racist and eugenicist statements. The link in the previous sentence gives some examples.
3. That textbook was required for all high-school biology students by the State of Tennessee. Scopes had no choice about which book to use, and using that one certainly doesn’t show that Scopes shared its sentiments about race and eugenics. Does this mean that every high-school biology teacher in the state agreed with what was in the book? (It is ironic, by the way, that Tennessee, by requiring use of a book that covered human evolution, was requiring its biology teachers to break the law.)
4. Moreover, Scopes wasn’t even the regular biology teacher; he was a substitute teacher who filled in for others. And on the teaching days for which he was tried, he was filling in for the regular biology teacher.
5. Scopes didn’t even appear to teach from the textbook, and it’s questionable whether he taught evolution (or racism or eugenics) at all! Douglas Linder, a law professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, and an expert in famous trials, notes in his description of the Scopes Trial:
One of the enduring debates concerning the Scopes trial revolves around whether Scopes ever actually taught the subject of evolution. George Rappalyea posed the question, holding up a copy of George W. Hunter’s Civic Biology, at Robinson’s drugstore. “You have been teaching ‘em this book?” he asked. Scopes answered, “Yes,” then went on to explain that, while substituting for the regular biology teacher in April 1925, he had assigned his students Hunter’s chapter on evolution. Illness the next day, however, kept him home and, to his recollection, no class discussion of the evolution materials ever took place. Scopes, however, remembered teaching the topic in a general way earlier in the same month to his general science students.
Now look what Egnor and Klinghoffer have done. First, since they can’t lay a glove on evolution, they go after an evolutionary biologist—me. But even if I were a miscreant, that would say nothing about the truth of evolution. One could just as well criticize creationism by smearing some of its proponents, like convicted criminal Kent Hovind. Klinghoffer and Egnor demonstrate a principle often noted by Christopher Hitchens: when the facts aren’t on your side, pull out the ad hominems.
Second, they accuse me of characterizing Scopes as my “hero,” which isn’t true.
Then they claim that I have a “hero” who approved of eugenics and racism, one who supposedly taught from a textbook book containing those topics. (The implication, of course, is that I also favor eugenics and racism.) But that’s not true, either. Scopes was neither the regular biology teacher nor a teacher who conveyed lessons from that book. In fact, it’s not clear how much evolution he taught, anyway—he volunteered to “violate” the Butler Act simply to create a test case.
Finally, there is not an inking of proof that Scopes approved of eugenics and racism, much less taught those topics as they appeared in Civic Biology.
In other words, both Klinghoffer and Egnor have fabricated a pack of lies and misrepresentations in the service of another lie: that I take a racist proponent of eugenics as my hero. Of course I decry racism and eugenics, but note that Scopes might have done so as well!
What a pathetic pair of men Egnor and Klinghoffer are. They have nothing better in their arsenal against evolution than to smear evolutionists in these ridiculous ways. You’d think I ran over their dog or something. Really, guys, do you think you’re promoting the cause of Intelligent Design in this way? All you’re really doing is making fools of yourselves, and doing magic tricks in front of the fools who follow you. An apology would be in order, but that’s about as likely as Egnor confessing that he’s finally seen the truth of evolution.
Am I hurt? Hell, no! The Discovery Institute’s opprobrium is music to my ears. But I do detest lying, whether it be in the service of Jesus or Darwin. And what I really think about Egnor’s and Klinghoffer’s stunts is not printable on this family-friendly site.