Charles Darwin: controversial in Oklahoma
In 1859, Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species. To most inhabitants of the enlightened world, the Theory of Evolution which he outlined in this fine work of scholarship now seems so straightforward and uncontroversial as to be up there with Sir Isaac Newton’s Theory of Gravity in the list of things every secondary school student with two brain cells to rub together should know and understand. Over the past 150 years, it has, after all, underpinned a great many of mankind’s most important scientific advances.
But in America, things are different. Or at least they are in the State of Oklahoma, where I spent the weekend. Here, in the year 2011, Darwin, and his new-fangled ideas about natural selection are still considered highly taboo.
Just outside Oklahoma City is a wonderful tourist attraction called the Museum of Osteology. Started by a local bone enthusiast, it contains a collection of several hundred human and animal skeletons, artfully arranged. For five bucks, you can gawp at the interior scaffolding of everything from a rhinocerous, to a killer whale, to an unnamed Indonesian soldier who died thanks to a bullet through the head.
In one corner is a section dedicated to the evolution of the human skull. It contains replica craniums from homo sapiens and his predecessors stretching back several hundred thousand years. They are reconstructed from fossils, and arrayed over several shelves.
To my great surprise, the display also features a prominent and carefully-worded disclaimer. Pictured above, it reads as follows…
This exhibit focuses on the development of the human species. It is based on evidence from the fossil record, scientific data, and research. Although this exhibit is meant to present the scientific evidence of human evolution, it is not intended to offend any personal or religious beliefs. You are free to interpret, accept, or dismiss this exhibit as you see fit.
I have no problem with the tone of this note, which seems perfectly gracious. But the fact it is there at all? That would be funny, it it wasn’t also serious. Polls show that around 60 percent of Americans believe the Darwinism to be a hoax. This figure includes many conservative Christians of a Tea Party persuasion. And they vote, in vast numbers. That is why people like Michele Bachmann (who reckons God created Earth a few thousand years ago) are able to not only hold public office, but appear to be mounting a vaguely-credible campaign for the Presidency.
At risk of sounding pompous, there are many highly complex problems facing the world. Some involve macro-economics, others environmental science. Still more require an advanced understanding of geopolitics. They almost all need very clever and highly educated people to solve them. But here, in the most powerful nation on earth, a good portion of the electorate really does consider Charles Darwin to be a dangerous maverick. And at next November’s election, the scientific illiterates making their presence felt at a little museum in Oklahoma might get the President they deserve.Tagged in: how america works, rednecks
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