Vol. 11 No. 5 - Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. - June/July 1994
Filed In June In Denver Federal Court
Notice the difference: The motto "In God We Trust" does not appear on the 1935 dollar bill (top). The phrase only began appearing in the late 1950s.
The national Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit on June 8 in federal court in Denver, Colorado, challenging the U.S. motto "In God We Trust" and its use on currency.
Named in the lawsuit are the U.S. government, Lloyd Bentsen, Treasury Secretary, and Mary Ellen Withrow, Treasurer of the United States.
The lawsuit challenges Congressional action in 1955 which placed "In God We Trust" on all U.S. coins and currency, and a 1956 law making that phrase the U.S. motto.
Foundation president Anne Nicol Gaylor, a plaintiff, noted that the motto on currency is the most common complaint the Foundation hears from its membership.
"We hear it constantly," she said. "There are all kinds of complaints, of course, regarding state/church entanglement, but this really is a special grievance. Some people complain about the $200,000 of tax money annually that pays for Congressional prayers, and others want to know why churches aren't paying their fair share of taxes. Parents also protest their children having to say a religious pledge. But almost everyone complains about having to use money which promotes a belief in religion."
Gaylor also noted that "God" on the money is the underpinning of other abuses.
"It is constantly cited by the religious right as verification that this is a 'Christian nation,' and as grounds for further state/church entanglement. The religious right needs to be reminded that ours is a godless Constitution, and was very purposefully and deliberately written that way."
She noted that for most of our history, the national motto, still on the Great Seal, was "E Pluribus Unum"--"From Many, [Come] One," a description of American plurality and the federal form of government uniting all the states.
"Most people do not realize that 'In God We Trust' is a johnny-come-lately. We believe the motto 'E pluribus unum' should resume its former stature. After all, it was the motto chosen by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin."
As evidence that the "God" motto is considered an endorsement of religion by the public, the Foundation commissioned an independent national survey. Sixty-one percent consider "In God We Trust" religious, and 71% believe it endorses a belief in God. A majority also regard the motto as preferring religion over nonreligion. (Chamberlain Research, poll of 900 adults, conducted May 18-23, 1994)
Joining Gaylor as Wisconsin plaintiffs in the suit are Dan Barker, a former minister and director of public relations at the Foundation, and Annie Laurie Gaylor, editor of the Foundation's newspaper Freethought Today. Colorado plaintiffs include Jeff Baysinger, director of the Denver, Colorado chapter of the Foundation, Glenn Smith and Lora Attwood. Denver attorney Robert Tiernan is representing the Foundation.
The lawsuit was reported on the front page of Coin World (June 27, 1994), which documented the religious history of the motto on money.
The idea for the motto originated during the Civil War with Baptist minister Mark R. Watkinson, who wrote to U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase on Nov. 13, 1861, suggesting the religious motto. Watkinson argued that a religious phrase on coins would "relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism."
Chase endorsed the idea in a letter of Nov. 20, 1861 to U.S. Mint Director James Pollock:
"No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins."
The 1864 2-cent coin was the first coin to bear the phrase, and it began appearing on the 1-cent coin. President Theodore Roosevelt explicitly requested that the religious phrase not appear on new designs for $20 gold double eagles and $10 gold eagles, regarding it as sacrilegious. Congress reacted by the Act of May 18, 1908, making the phrase mandatory on some coins, but excepting certain dimes, and 1- and 5-cent coins. Coin World claims that by 1938, when the Jefferson 5-cent coin was introduced, "In God We Trust" was found on all U.S. coins.
It was not on paper money until the late 1950's. Another religionist, Arkansas collector Matthew H. Rothert, noticed while attending a church service that only U.S. coins bore the "In God We Trust" imprint. He wanted "a message about the country's faith in God" to be "carried throughout the world" on paper currency, launching a lobbying campaign. Public Law 140 was signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on July 11, 1955, mandating that the motto appear on all U.S. coins and paper money. A $1 silver certificate bearing the legend first appeared in October 1957.
Robert Tiernan notes there has not been a motto challenge since the Supreme Court has favored Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's "endorsement test."
In addition to being an unconstitutional endorsement of religion, the motto is inaccurate, Gaylor said.
"To be accurate it would have to read 'In God Some Of Us Trust,' and wouldn't that be silly?"
By Lawrence S. Lerner
The following article was written for Freethought Today by the author of the famous Fordham Foundation report grading the teaching of evolution state-by-state.
In response to the flurry of public interest in education over the past few years, every state except Iowa has published a set of curriculum standards in every subject studied from kindergarten through high school. These standards usually take the form of a sort of laundry list, specifying what every public-school student should know at specified grade levels. As a scientist, I have taken a particular interest in the science standards.
In 1997 I was asked by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a conservative Washington-based education think tank, to evaluate all the science standards that were current at the time. It took me several months to plow through the stuff, and the results were published by the foundation in March 1998 in a report with the heavy title "State Science Standards: An Appraisal of Science Standards in 36 States." To put it bluntly, a lot of states did not do very well.
By 1999 there had been so much activity in revising old curriculum standards and publishing new ones that the foundation published a re-evaluation. I was again asked to review the science standards and the results were published in The State of State Standards 2000, which covered English, history, geography and mathematics as well as science. By late 1999, 46 states had published science standards. Their quality ranged from excellent to simply awful.
In the course of these reviews, it became clear that a major factor in the variation of quality from state to state was the treatment of evolution, and the Fordham Foundation asked me to make a specific study of the way that evolution is treated in state science standards. The results of this study, which covers 49 states and the District of Columbia, were published in September 2000 in a report entitled "Good Science, Bad Science: Teaching Evolution In The States."
The report addresses three main questions:
- In learning about the history of life on earth, and the related histories of the universe and the nonliving earth, what essentials should students learn as they progress from the primary grades through high school?
- On what religious and political grounds do creationists (and other less visible groups of anti-evolutionists) object to the learning of science, and what pseudoscientific alternatives do they offer?
- How well do various states outline the scientific essentials in their K-12 science standards, and to what extent do they degrade those standards by responding to creationist pressures?
Before giving the results of the state-by-state study, let me expand a little on the nature of the political/religious issues that work against a proper treatment of science, particularly in the biological realm. In the broad sense, almost all of science is the study of the way that various systems evolve over time. The systems can be as large as the universe itself or as small as a neutrino; the relevant time scales can be as long as billions of years or as short as attoseconds. Biology is no exception; its central organizing principle is the evolution of living things. Without evolution, biology is no more than a vast, bewildering array of facts. One can teach a sort of natural history without evolution--"This is a horse and this is a rose"--but one runs into trouble almost immediately when some clever student asks, "Why are horses and roses different from one another?"
The difficulty arises, as most people know, from the conflict between the realities of science and the fanciful world views that arise from certain religious and ideological positions. The best-known anti-evolutionists are the subset of Protestant fundamentalists called young-earth creationists. These are the folks who believe that the first few chapters of Genesis from Adam and Eve to Noah are the basic textbook for all the sciences, and that the genealogies of the Old Testament are the proper foundation for the chronology of the universe.
There are other screwballs as well, with conflicting views. Black Muslims, for instance, believe that the universe is trillions of years old, and some Native American tribes consider that their ancestors have lived in the traditional tribal territories forever. Just as the fundamentalist creationists underestimate the age of the earth by a factor of a million or so, the Black Muslims overestimate by a thousandfold and the Indians are off by a factor of infinity.
Other ideologues object to evolution for different reasons. On the political left, Marxists object to evolution because it implies that human behavior is determined at least in part by our biological history. This conflicts with the Marxian principle that all the ills of society are due to socioeconomic injustice, and that the future will see the emergence of the New Socialist Man who is without vices. On the political right, a general disgust with the current social order (which is seen as grossly immoral) is associated with a yearning for an absolutism that extends from the moral sphere to the objective scientific world. For many if not most absolutists, an eternal, immutable set of moral standards implies the existence of a deity. And what better proof of the deity's existence can one have than the assertion that he/she/it is intimately, continually, and visibly directing the processes of nature? This is the position held by a new group of creationists, called intelligent-design advocates (IDers for short.) They tend to be slick, sophisticated, and free of the redneck image that adheres to the young-earth creationists.
Unfortunately, the desire to inject a deity into natural processes is inconsistent with the operational processes of science. As soon as one explains any natural phenomenon as the result of supernatural action, the path to further explanation is closed, and that is the end of science. Even from the point of view of the more thoughtful religious person, this supernaturalist position is unacceptable. Science progresses in spite of those who are satisfied with the "God did it" explanation. As scientific knowledge expands, the realm of the supernatural shrinks and the deity who manipulates it becomes what theologians call the "God of the gaps"--not a very satisfactory god at all.
All of these ideologies, whether religious or political, are committed to a world-view incompatible with science. The scientist investigates the way nature works; whether the scientist "likes" that way or not is of no consequence. The ideologue, on the other hand, decides how nature must work to fit preconceived notions. This, of course, cannot lead to expansion of knowledge about nature.
As a practical matter, it is the young-earthers who have had by far the greatest influence to date on state science standards. However, I think we will hear much more from the intelligent-design advocates in the future.
Some states have yielded to a greater or lesser extent to creationist pressures. They do this in one or more of several ways. Here are the major tactics used:
The standards may include many of the central principles of evolution--usually briefly--but the word evolution is carefully avoided. Inaccurate and misleading euphemisms such as "change over time" are used instead of the "E-word." Alabama, Florida, Illinois, and Mississippi are among the fifteen states that do this to a greater or lesser extent.
Biological evolution is simply ignored. Geological evolution, the history of the solar system, and cosmology may be treated to some extent, often even employing the word evolution. Fossils are sometimes mentioned, but only in the context of geology, not biology. Only four states (Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia) ignore evolution completely but only ten have a completely satisfactory coverage of the subject.
Creationist jargon and misinformation are used. Examples are: "Some scientists believe that life evolved . . ."; "Describe the strengths and weakness of various theories of the history of life"; "Natural selection can maintain or deplete genetic variation but does not add new information to the genetic code." Eight states do this.
A point scale was developed to evaluate the degree to which each of the state standards gave a good account of evolution and avoided creationist pseudoscience. Each state was scored and letter grades A to F-minus were assigned.
The map (shown below) shows the situation as of August 2000. Since then, however, several states have made or are making revisions. In Kansas, the voters kicked out several creationist members of the State Board of Education, and we can expect a set of pretty good standards to replace the F-disaster that is now in place. Alabama seems to be in the continuing process of ridding itself of the influence of former governor and redneck par excellence Fob James, and will likely move up from F. The Pennsylvania Board of Education, sadly, seems determined to degrade a set of draft standards that merit an A to a C; it remains to be seen whether the creationists will prevail there.
The map teaches us an important lesson. Not all the worst-performing states are in the Bible Belt, and many states outside the Bible Belt do badly. For example, North Carolina's standards are among the best in their treatment of evolution and South Carolina's are very good. Maine, New Hampshire, and Illinois do badly. Good science is not simply a matter of geography. This is an important point because it is a snobbish as well as damaging misconception to shrug one's shoulders and write off the inhabitants of this or that region as incorrigible or ineducable.
Good science is not a matter of politics, either. Many political conservatives seem to hold the view that one cannot be a genuine conservative unless one is a creationist, too. This position has often been set forth in such publications as the Wall Street Journal and the American Spectator. In the wake of the publication of my report, the director of the Fordham Foundation, a man of impeccable conservative credentials, has endured a great deal of flak from some of his political associates, especially those who are IDers.
What does the future hold? At the moment, the creationists are probably losing more ground than they are gaining, but that is most likely a temporary situation. As the political situation evolves, creationist claims evolve as well, and the creationists are not going to go away. As the map suggests, local vigilance is essential if we are to give the best education possible to all the members of the next generation. The reports cited in this article may be found at the Fordham Foundation website, http://www.edexcellence.net/
Lawrence S. Lerner is emeritus professor of physics and astronomy at California State University, Long Beach. He has been a Foundation member since 1985. A briefer version of his official report was published in Nature, September 2000. ("Good and bad science in US Schools: One-third of US states have unsatisfactory standards for teaching evolution.")
By Bob Truett
Education is a family value! But education is not a Christian family value. It never has been. Christianity has almost unanimously opposed the teaching of evolution for more than a hundred years. Recently the more moderate Christian sects may have softened this opposition, but opposition from the less cerebral sects has increased and bristled.
Present efforts by the cross folks (pun intended) involve watering down the teaching of evolution by insisting it be taught as "only a theory" while also insisting on the teaching of something called creation science. An example is the recent action of the Alabama Department of Education in adopting a policy that public schools should not teach evolution as a fact. A dedicated and knowledgeable science teacher could use this action very effectively. The best weapon such a science teacher has is the presentation of Natural Selection as a theory. The use of this weapon requires that the science teacher must really understand what evolution is and what a theory is.
During my years as a zoologist and a zoo director in Alabama I was often asked "Do you believe in evolution?" The proper answer is "No, I do not." But this requires some explanation. I do not believe in the sun rising each morning, nor do I believe in oak trees growing from acorns. I do not believe in pussy cats licking the faces of their kittens nor in children laughing and playing pranks. "Believe in" implies faith in something for which there is not evidence. It is not necessary to believe in something which we can all see happening and which constantly manifests its own truth.
Stripped of all misconceptions, evolution is like the growth of an oak or the laughter of a child. It is a natural phenomenon that is abundantly apparent to everyone who has an open eye and an open mind. Thousands of persons have observed it and used it to their advantage. Evolution was observed and remarked in ancient times by Democritus, the laughing philosopher; by Heraclitus, the obscure philosopher; and by Aristotle, the father of zoology. Evolution simply means change. The growth of the oak and the laughter of the child are familiar examples of natural change that is going on around us at all times. Nature has no other phenomena that are more ubiquitous and easily observed than change.
There is really no such thing as the "Theory of Evolution." There are theories about how evolution works but these are not properly called the theory of evolution. The best known theories about how evolution works are those that were proposed by Charles Darwin. They are properly called the Theory of Natural Selection and the Theory of Sexual Selection.
The wise teacher also needs to know the meaning of the word theory. The average person might say "I have a theory that wearing red socks always brings me good luck." Used like this the word theory means a wild guess. Wild guesses are not the stuff of which science is made. In science a good, educated guess is called a hypothesis. The purpose of a hypothesis is to provide something to submit to experimentation and evidence in an attempt to learn the truth.
So what is a theory? A proper definition of a theory in science is this: A working explanation of natural phenomena based on available evidence. The three key words in this definition are working, explanation, and evidence. These are the keys to the strength of a scientific theory. And they are the keys to teaching evolution as a theory.
The first key is working. A valid theory in science must work. We still speak of the theorem ( theory) of Pythagoras. This theory has been used thousands of times in all kinds of construction and engineering. It is a theory because it works. Even in the study of music, when you get to the part about how music works it is called music theory. The Theory of Relativity worked when the atomic bomb was detonated.
The natural selection theory about evolution can be demonstrated to work in the school laboratory. Humans will do the selecting to produce changes instead of nature doing the selecting. Using ripe banana peels the teacher can show her students how to catch Drosophila melanogaster, the fruit fly. These flies are easy to maintain in captivity, they reproduce rapidly, and this is a very changeable species. Within one semester the teacher can help the students to use selective breeding to produce flies with no wings, or with green eyes, or other spectacular variations. On the farm you can start with Anas platyrhynchos, the mallard duck and in a few generations you can change your stock of ducks to white pekin ducks by selective breeding. For centuries farmers who never heard of evolution have used selection to produce new varieties of domesticated animals and even to produce entirely new species.
Many times when teaching about evolution I have been asked, "If living things changed in the past why aren't they changing now?" It is quite evident that many species are changing right now. There are changes occurring naturally in the fields and forests. In laboratories and on farms people are controlling the changes and causing them to happen more rapidly. The Theory of Natural Selection is valid because it works.
Let us ask that same question of creation science. If god created living things in the past why can't he create something alive now? I don't mean birth because that is life from life. It is stated that god created all kinds of living things from nothing or from dust. Try this in the laboratory. Put some sterile dust into an empty cage and let the kids pray about it. They should, of course, do their praying silently or in privacy at home. Suggest that they should use great faith, even invite their ministers to help them pray. Let them demonstrate whether creationism is a valid theory by a controlled experiment to see if god can create a mouse. Saying that god did it all in six days and won't do it again is not valid because the Bible has additional creation stories such as the special preparation of a great fish to swallow Jonah (Jonah 1:17). If god made a great fish then, he can make a small mouse now. Will it work?
The next key word is explanation. Theories about evolution explain hundreds of kinds of natural phenomena for which there is no other explanation. A few examples include Batesian and Mullerian mimicry, secondary sexual characteristics as spectacular sexual dimorphism, centers of distribution, and vestiges. Creationism has no explanation for any of these things. Ask the creationist why different species of butterflies mimic each other, or why the male Scarlet Tanager looks so different from the female, or why a human has a vestige of a tail. The best he can say is "because god made it that way." That explains nothing. If all humans were satisfied with such a non-explanation there would be no science at all and we would all still be living in the Dark Ages. The purpose of science is to explain nature.
The final key word is evidence. Evidence shows us the importance of theory. In science everything should always be taught as theory. Dogmatic statements of absolute truth are the antithesis of science. The theologian is absolutely certain he is right while the scientist always questions everything and looks for the evidence. In the past science, and everything else, was controlled by the church. So scientists had to believe, or at least pretend to believe, that god ordained laws which are in control of nature. In those days when a scientist explained something he called his explanation a law. Examples include the Law of Gravity and the Laws of Thermodynamics. We still speak of these as laws even though they have been drastically changed by modern theories. They were not really laws at all.
Actually there is no such thing as natural law. When a scientist finds an explanation for natural phenomena she should never call that explanation a law. Every scientific explanation that works and fits the available evidence is a theory and every theory should be subject to revision as more evidence becomes available. The very essence of science is its reliance upon the latest and best evidence. The strength of evolution is in the fact that it is theory. It is flexible enough to change when more and better evidence becomes available. The weakness of creationism is that it rests only on faith and not on evidence. Theologians can not rewrite the Genesis story to conform to new evidence. Therefore the creationist must constantly be hiding evidence, altering evidence, or trying to refute and explain away evidence which conflicts with the creation story.
That is the reason education is not a Christian family value. Throughout this land Christians fight bitterly against real education because it conflicts with their inflexible fables. They do not want evidence based teaching about evolution, nor about sex, nor about distant galaxies, nor about the religious views of those who wrote our constitution, nor about what persons of other religions believe, nor about the history of Christian mayhem, nor about the disaster of human overpopulation, nor about the tragic cost of criminalizing victimless behavior, nor about the religious causes of the war in Bosnia, etc. Christians like indoctrination, not education.
There are ways for any teacher to show her students how to use their brains in spite of the boundaries imposed by religion-controlled school boards. The way to make them really think about evolution is to emphasize that it is "only a theory." Then show them that only a theory is based on evidence, can be shown to work, and can explain the biology of the world around us.
Bob Truett is a Foundation member from Alabama, and is Zoo Director emeritus, Birmingham (AL) Zoo.
This is excerpted from a speech and accompanying slideshow presented on July 31, 1999 to the Northern California FFRF Mini-Convention, Holiday Inn Civic Center, San Francisco.
By Eugenie C. Scott
People are often surprised at how extensive anti-evolutionism is in this country. The Gallup organization has asked three questions for a number of years about evolution and creationism. Question one (young earth creationism): Do you think God created humans pretty much in our present form at one time within the last 10,000 years? Question two (theistic evolution): Do you think we developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process, including our creation? The third question: Do you think we have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, and God had no part in the process?
The answers to these three questions have been consistent over many years. For about the last 12 or 13 years, about 45% of Americans agree with young earth creationism. The theistic evolution question is agreed to by a very substantial proportion of Americans, something in the range of 35%. And the atheist response is around 10%, which of course also reflects the amount of religiosity in American society.
The National Science Foundation has asked a question: Human beings as we know them today developed from earlier species of animals--true or false? Fewer than half of Americans agreed that is true. The National Science Foundation also asked a question: Humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time--true or false? Less than half of Americans know this is false (48% in 1995; 51% in 1997). Basically, less than half or barely half of Americans realize the "Flintstones" was not a documentary!
In general, adult Americans are not very impressive in their understanding of scientific ideas. A number of other polls all come up with similar results. The percentage of Americans which accepts evolution is pretty small. The low acceptance of evolution is specific to America and Canada.
Darwin's Origin of Species was written in 1859. In both Great Britain and the United States, the idea of evolution through natural selection was gradually accepted by the scientific community and, by the way, the theological community. The Church of England very quickly accommodated its theology to the idea of evolution. So did the Catholics and the mainline Protestants (as differentiated from fundamentalist Protestants).
You are familiar with the Scopes trial, which is, of course, the best example but not really the culmination of the effort to ban evolution. Why were there a lot of laws passed in the early 1920s banning evolution? Two things in the United States fostered an anti-evolutionary fervor. First, high school education increased enormously from the turn of the century, with 200,000 attending in 1890 to 1,800,000 by 1920. That meant more students were exposed to that "damnable doctrine," evolution. Also during this time frame was the growth of a particular, maybe peculiarly American religious institution, called fundamentalism. The writing of a series of booklets called The Twelve Fundamentals presented a back-to-basics Christianity that was widely embraced by many Americans. The combination of fundamentalism plus more students being exposed to evolution caused an anti-evolutionary movement that was really not paralleled elsewhere.
This growing exposure to children of the idea of evolution generated a series of efforts by a number of state legislatures to ban the teaching of evolution. The state of Tennessee passed a law, which the ACLU offered to challenge. John T. Scopes in Dayton, Tennessee, was talked into being the plaintiff, and you know the rest of the story. Everybody, particularly on our side of this kind of an issue, remembers the Scopes trial from the eyes of Clarence Darrow and H.L. Mencken. What we tend to forget is that Scopes lost, and those laws stayed on the books.
In fact, they stayed on the books until 1968, when Epperson v. Arkansas, a Supreme Court decision, struck down anti-evolution laws.
Every law since Epperson having to do with creation and evolution has been decided on the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion [the Establishment Clause] or prohibiting the free exercise thereof [the Free Exercise Clause]." Those two clauses can be in conflict with each other. One person's free exercise is another one's establishment.
In Epperson, the justices wrote that "there can be no doubt that the First Amendment does not permit the state to require that teaching and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma. . . . As Mr. Justice Clark stated, 'the state has no legitimate interest in protecting any or all religions from views distasteful to them.' " Just because a religion disagrees with an idea is no reason to remove it from the curriculum.
The time of the Epperson decision was also a period of revolution in science education, brought about by the scare that the Russians put into us when they got to space first with Sputnik. This resulted in the National Science Foundation investing a lot of money in the production of textbooks, including biology textbooks that were actually written by scientists and master teachers, instead of being written by publishing companies. The scientists who wrote these new textbooks took a look at what was on the market and were absolutely appalled, because since 1925 and the Scopes trial, the discussion of evolution in textbooks decreased rapidly. By the late '50s and early '60s there was virtually no evolution in high school biology books. These NSF-funded programs like the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, BSCS, put evolution back. They also put human reproduction in too, so we had both sex and evolution. These books were really radical, you can tell!
Evolution was back in the textbooks and you couldn't ban it because the Supreme Court had declared that unconstitutional, so what do you do if you want to protect your kids from evolution? Well, what you do is you invent something called "creation science," arguing that this is a legitimate scientific alternative to evolution, with a right to a piece of the curriculum.
The people who wanted to ban evolution, as well as the creation science people, view evolution as an idea that children should be protected against. They think that if evolution is true, therefore there is no God. If there is no God then there's no salvation and Johnny's not going to go to heaven. Worse yet, he'll go to the other place. If there's no God, then there's no reason to be good, there's no God looking over your shoulder and as we all know, all of us who are nonbelievers are out there raping, pillaging and cheating our fellow man anyway, right?
But in all seriousness, this is the point of view held by these people. They cannot imagine how anybody could be good unless you were being told to be good by some higher authority. So because there's no reason to be good, therefore we're headed for social ruin and society will fall apart and we'll descend into a law of tooth and claw, the jungle will reign, etc.
Henry Morris is perhaps the most prominent of the creation scientists of the late 20th century. Henry Morris back in 1963 cowrote a book called The Genesis Flood which really outlined the scientific rationale for biblical literalist creation. Henry Morris has been a very strong proponent of the idea that evolution is an evil idea that will lead to social ruin. He has said that "evolution is at the foundation of communism, fascism, freudianism, social darwinism, behaviorism, Kinseyism, materialism, atheism, and in the religious world, modernism and neo-orthodoxy." The creation science people have been very active in presenting this link between evolution and evil. So you see where the motivation comes to fight against evolution in the schools. Very serious issues are at hand: children's salvation and the survival of society.
Mainline theology for Protestants and Catholics is called theistic evolution, if you remember Gallup's second question; evolution happened but it's the way God did it. In fact, John Paul II issued his second statement that evolution is okay with Catholics in 1996. It's amazing how many people are still surprised to hear that Catholics are not biblical literalists. So within Christian theology there is this very open door.
After Epperson came the strategy that you teach evolution and you teach creation science along with it because this is "good science," and it's "fair." Never underestimate the strength of the fairness argument. Twenty-three states between 1976 and 1981 tried to pass legislation requiring equal time for creation science and evolution. Fortunately, most of these died in committee. Louisiana and Arkansas did pass equal time laws.
Pause for just a moment and think a little about elected political bodies. The job of a political body is to find ways of getting the various diverse elements of society to get along so that things can happen. Compromise is actually the goal, to try to make as many people happy as possible and reach your goal of getting something done.
But sometimes this normally laudable approach backfires. Group A comes along and says, "2+2=4." Group B comes along and says, no, "2+2=6." Now, if you were a politician, a very probable decision that you might make is that "2+2=5." A lot of school boards have done this with equal time: let's teach 'em both. But there are times when 2+2 just has to equal 4, and this is one of them.
Public Agenda conducted a poll asking is the teaching in science class of the biblical view of creation and Darwin's theory of evolution equally valid? A very strong proportion of the American public agreed, hovering close to 40%. Equal time makes sense to them even though the equal time laws were struck down by a decision in 1987, Edwards v. Aguillard.
Unfortunately, Edwards v. Aguillard left a loophole. Justice Brennan wrote that "teaching a variety of scientific theories about humankind to schoolchildren might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction." He also wrote that "teachers already possess a flexibility to supplement the present science curriculum with a presentation of theories besides evolution," alternatives to evolution. So you can teach alternative scientific theories to evolution, according to the Supreme Court.
Consider if competing views of the shape of the earth were taught. They can teach the spherical, they can teach that it's triangular, they can teach that it's flat, as long as they present the "scientific evidence" for this. That is true with the case of evolution; they would be absolutely free to present secular scientific evidence for how things got to be as they are today other than evolution--but there ain't any. Things grind to a halt at this point.
I and some others have referred to this loophole as neo-creationism. Part of neo-creationism is to take the old creation science ideas and repackage them in a new format. For example, a school district outside of Minneapolis adopted standards in 1997 saying, "list and explain some of the data and scientific reasoning that tends to cast doubt on the evolutionary theory," in other words, encouraging teachers to attack evolution.
Well, teachers are very confused at this point, because they don't know of any scientific data against evolution. Besides, it makes evolution controversial, and most teachers at this point will say "we're just not going to get around to that topic this year." Teachers do not like controversy. This is a helping profession, right? They didn't get into teaching to fight. If they wanted to fight they could have become lawyers. Making evolution controversial is the best way to see that it doesn't get taught in the district. One of the ways of making evolution controversial is to require that the teachers either read a disclaimer about evolution or that they paste the text of the disclaimer in the textbook.
Next chapter. In Alabama, all of the biology books have a disclaimer which starts out this way: "This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things, such as plants, animals and humans. [Big misunderstanding coming up now.] No person was present when life first appeared on earth, therefore, any statement about life's origins should be considered as theory, not fact."
I'm sorry I have to use the F-word. I apologize. You are a distinguished and sophisticated audience and I hope you will understand that this is not just gratuitous profanity but it is necessary at this point to use the F-word. Something happens when you say "Evolution is a fact." People just unglue. Letters to the editor just fulminate with rage over the idea that evolution is taught as fact, not theory.
Yes, science talks about facts, but do you know what a fact is? A fact is a confirmed observation. I'm holding a paper clip in my hand; if I do not support this paper clip how many of you think it's going to fly around the room? Not many. It's because we've all noticed and we've made many confirmed observations that unsupported objects that have some sort of weight and mass fall toward the earth. Things fall, they don't fly around the room. We explain that observation that we've made over and over by the theory of gravitation--that the mass of that paper clip and the mass of the earth attract each other. (It so happens that the mass of the earth is a bit bigger than that of the paper clip so that the paper clip moves farther toward the earth than the other way around, but those are details.)
We explain observation, we explain facts, by theories. What is a theory? A theory is a logical construct of facts and hypotheses that explains natural phenomena. Explanation is what theories are all about--which makes theories the most important thing we do in science. There are a lot of theories in science. There's cell theory, the theory that all living things are composed of cells. There's atomic theory, the theory that all matter is made up of atoms and component parts. Heliocentric theory, the theory that the earth and the other planets go around the sun. This is an inference that we made based upon a lot of confirmed observations, but it is a theory.
This is not the way that "theory" is understood in the general public, however. A theory as we use it casually means a guess or a hunch, something that you shouldn't pay much attention to, far from being the goal of all scientific exploration and discovery.
We see a lot of general wimping out on evolution. This year the state of Nebraska considered its state science education standards, and evolution was included within them. These standards were drawn up by a competent group of scientists and teachers. One of the statements said "investigate and understand that natural selection provides a scientific explanation of the fossil record and explains the molecular singularities among the diverse species of living organisms."
That's a good standard to expect high school students to understand coming out of a high school biology class. This did not sit well with the attorney general who is running for governor, but we won't mention that. He forced a modification of this: "investigate whether natural selection provides scientific explanation of the fossil record and explains the molecular singularities." See what I mean about wimping out? There are a lot of these little weasel words that slide into standards, disclaiming evolution, degrading it.
The net effect is to present the idea to students, teachers and the public that evolution is somehow different from all other sciences, that it's not as trustworthy, that you don't have to take it as seriously as other scientific ideas.
If nothing else evolves, creationism does. Certainly if we look at the history of this movement through time, we can see that things have changed through time, which is the definition of evolution. We have gone from trying to ban evolution, to giving it equal time with something called creation science, to these various neo-creationism efforts to disclaim it, to have "alternatives" to evolution taught with it. I don't have time to talk about something called intelligent design theory, but you can read my review of Robert Pennock's book Tower of Babel: Evidence Against The New Creationists, a critique of the new creationism, in the August  Scientific American. Or better yet, read Pennock's book. You'll have a very good introduction to the intelligent design creationism which is becoming quite the thing these days.
What may well happen is that the amount of evolution taught in public schools will even further decrease. This would be a very unfortunate outcome because as the very distinguished Russian-American geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky once said, "Seen in the light of evolution, biology is perhaps intellectually the most satisfying and inspiring science. Without that light it becomes a pile of sundry facts, some of them interesting or curious but making no meaningful picture as a whole."
He could have said the same thing about geology and astronomy. Both of these sciences in addition to biology don't make sense unless evolution happened, unless change through time happened. "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."
We're talking about a problem of science literacy, but also a problem in church/state separation, because what is motivating anti-evolution is in fact religious ideology, and only one narrow portion of religious ideology, at that. People are sometimes surprised to hear that my best allies are members of the mainline clergy. They do not want creation science or any other kind of creationism taught Monday through Friday in the public schools, and then have to straighten the kids out as to what their theology is on Saturday. So when we get a problem at a local school board where they're trying to present creationism or intelligent design or arguments against evolution or other euphemisms, I tell local people: find yourself a clergyman.
One guy in a funny collar is worth two biologists any day at the school board. The scientists can get up there and say, "This is what science is, this is not science, this should not be taught," and the school board will be thinking "equal time, fairness, 2+2=5, we've got to make all these people happy." If a clergy gets up there and says, "Hey, we have our own ideas about creation, we don't want to have creation taught in the public schools, the public schools should be neutral, we want to teach creation our own way," the school board goes, "Ding!" You've got to prove that creationism is not science--that's necessary, but not sufficient. You also have to diffuse the religious issue. You also have to push church/state separation, the idea that we want the schools to be religiously neutral and that creationism is not a scientific idea, it is a religious idea.
Eugenie C. Scott, Ph.D., has been Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, Inc., since 1987. The pro-evolution nonprofit science education organization has members in every state. She holds a Ph.D. in biological anthropology from the University of Missouri, has taught at the University of Kentucky, the University of Colorado, and in California State University System. An internationally-recognized expert on the creation/evolution controversy, she has consulted with the National Academy of Sciences, several State Departments of Education, and legal staffs here and abroad.
The NCSE can be reached at: PO Box 9477, Berkeley CA 94709-0477.
Vol. 21 No. 1 - Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. - January/February 2004
By Robert Weitzel
In 1925, high school science teacher John Scopes was charged with violating the Butler Anti-Evolution Act, which prohibited public school teachers from teaching any theory that denied the story of divine creation as revealed in the bible. The focus of Scopes' trial was less on his violation and more on the constitutionally of the Butler Act. Predictably, most of the proceeding was a battle of conflicting worldviews: fundamentalist Christian creationism vs. naturalistic evolution.
Scopes' conviction was a legal victory for fundamentalist Christians. In the process, however, the literal interpretation of Genesis as an explanation for life on earth was found wanting in the courtroom and ridiculed by the national press. The court of public opinion decided in favor of evolution.
After the Scopes trial there were few challenges to the hegemony of naturalistic evolution in the science classroom. That "era of enlightenment" ended in 1957 with the launching of the Soviet satellite Sputnik. This singular event announced the beginning of two races, one for American supremacy in space and another for creationist supremacy in the classroom.
Reacting to what they believed to be an inferior science education in American high schools, politicians began funneling tax dollars into its improvement. Fundamentalist Christians saw this as government support for a naturalistic [read: atheistic] view of life and a threat to their belief in a divine Creator.
In the early 1960s, Henry Morris' book, The Genesis Flood, a "scientific" explanation for life on earth based on Noachian flood geology, was the impetus for the revival of fundamentalist young earth creationism. This aggressive breed of creation "scientists" challenged public schools and courts on the grounds that "scientific" creationism was on a par with the theory of evolution and should be given equal time in the classroom. Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions since 1968 have made the teaching of creationism in public schools unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
The latest incarnation of the creation story is something called intelligent design creationism. The teaching of IDC in public schools has been at the center of controversy in at least five states in the last few years. The most recent was in the fall of 2003, when the Texas state school board considered requiring all biology textbooks to discuss alternative creation "theories." This would have been significant, since Texas is such a large textbook market. Fortunately, the board voted against the requirement.
Intelligent design creationism maintains that life on earth was designed by a supernatural intelligence. Unlike creationism past, the IDC "designer" is never identified as God nor is the Book of Genesis mentioned. This break with traditional creationism is a tactic designed to give IDC both a scientific facade and immunity from First Amendment challenges.
Another tactic of ID creationists, similar to old-school creationists, is their reliance on the negative argument. They attempt to find and exploit supposed weaknesses in the evolution theory, the logic being that if evolution, or any part of it, is wrong, then IDC is right. Tellingly, these new age creationists have produced no original research or scientific data to support their position. A survey of two hundred articles in Nature, a leading scientific journal, found no articles authored by ID creationists.
What ID creationists lack in research and peer-reviewed literature they make up for in what is known as "The Wedge Strategy." The Wedge is the public relations brainchild of Phillip Johnson, an academic law professor at UC-Berkeley and born-again Christian, and is funded by the Discovery Institute's Center for Renewal of Science and Culture, a fundamentalist think tank.
The Wedge is a 20-year, three-phase strategy (accessible on the Web) that exploits Americans' lack of scientific literacy and their sense of fair play. It relies on the fact that most Americans know little about evolutionary theory and even less about neo-Darwinism.
The Wedge Strategy's focus and funding are not on the research necessary to cause a shift in the prevailing scientific paradigm. Rather, they are aimed at convincing an uninformed public that IDC deserves equal consideration as a "scientific theory." This is the "wedge" that ID creationists hope will split the authority of the First Amendment and allow the Christian creation story to substitute for science in our country's public schools.
One of the governing goals of the Wedge is "to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God." More unsettling still is its 20-year goal "to see intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science."
But is it science? Science assumes that the universe and its constituent parts operate by natural laws. Our understanding of these laws is based on inferential and empirical evidence obtained through observation and experimentation. Scientific knowledge increases when hypotheses and theories are confirmed by scientific peer review and are found to have practical or heuristic application. So far, IDC has not met this standard.
Will the folks at the Discovery Institute be satisfied once they have insinuated their theistic influence into public schools? Not likely, if their second 20-year goal "to see design theory application in the fields of . . . psychology, ethics, politics, theology, philosophy, humanities and the fine arts" is to be believed. In short, their goal seems to be nothing less than to turn a pluralistic democracy into a fundamentalist theocracy.
With the born-again Bush administration giving billions of tax dollars to religious organizations and its touting of tuition vouchers, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that it will also gladly turn over our publicly-funded schools to fundamentalists, one subject at a time.
We owe our children a different future.
Foundation member Robert Weitzel is a school counselor who lives in Middleton, Wis., and is a regular contributor to the Lifestyle and Op-Ed sections of The Capital Times of Madison and the Middleton Times-Tribune.
(Or: Bashing the Kansas State Bored)
How We Threw the Bums Out
This talk was presented on Sept. 16 to the twenty-third national convention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Adrian Melott, a physicist, astronomer and cosmologist, is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Kansas. He has also served as a Unitarian minister.
His research interests are large-scale structure in the universe and dark matter. In 1996 he was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society, for "groundbreaking studies of the origin and evolution of cosmic structure."
He was a founding director of Kansas Citizens For Science in 1999.
By Adrian Melott
You people have an image problem!
When I checked in here I told the desk clerk why I was here and who I was with, and she said, "Oh yes, you're with the church conference." I have a conflicted relationship with religion--being here, being a minister--a church one weekend, an atheist meeting the next!
Physicists always have had that conflict. There's a story about two of the prominent physicists of the mid-20th century, Neils Bohr and George Gamow. Bohr invited Gamow to his cottage in Denmark one weekend. He arrived. Gamow looked up and saw a horseshoe over the entrance to the cottage. This is supposed to be a good luck charm in Denmark.
Gamow allegedly said to Bohr, "Surely you don't believe that stuff."
Bohr then said, "Well, no, of course not, but they say it works even if you don't believe it."
I have a semi-autobiographical story to tell, hopefully with some lessons in it. It's partly about the rebirth of my activism, which had stopped in the 1970s and has come alive again recently.
In Kansas, as you know, we've had this struggle over creationism and the state science standards. We could see this coming like a freight train long before the publicity started. Two things happened in the spring of 1999--one of them was that creationists began shadowing the hearings of the science committee of the state board, going around the state and objecting to their draft science standards.
Simultaneously with this, in Lawrence, Kansas, a group called POSH formed--Parents for Objective Science and History. POSH was nucleated by a minister's wife when she found her child learning about long time-scales for dinosaurs in a first grade class, went nonlinear and organized POSH, lobbying our local school board in Lawrence for creationist changes.
Some people got together and decided how to respond to this. We decided to do an experiment in not really taking them seriously as we struggled against them. We had a brainstorming session about how to do this and someone had the idea of organizing FLAT--Families for Learning Accurate Theories.
As I thought about this, I thought we could call ourselves "flatheads." This wasn't such a good idea maybe because I looked up "flatheads" and we have these definitions: A type of large catfish found in southern rivers; Indians who bound their children's heads producing a flattened skull; an Indian tribe in Montana that never did that; a lake and river in Montana named after the Indian tribe that never did that; and the first mass-produced V-8 engine introduced by Henry Ford in 1932.
So we didn't use Flatheads but we did have a press conference. Two people, I and a religious studies professor named Paul Mirecki, who were judged to have nothing to lose, were the people who represented FLAT and its platform. We sent out press releases and read our statement. Here are some excerpts:
"We wish to stress that we are a secular organization. We respect good science and good scholarship and have confidence that when properly done, the results will always agree with the Bible. Thus, we are interested in promoting good standards.
"The 'round-earth' theory is being taught in Lawrence, contrary to the Bible. Of course, having the four corners does not mean the earth is a square or rectangle. It could be a tetrahedron. Our group is divided on this matter. We agree that careful experimentation will determine the outcome. You might ask about the astronauts who have gone out into space and why they haven't reported about the true shape of the earth. Or how about those space satellites that go all around the earth. (Notice the use of the word 'round.' The subtle brainwashing.)
"Ask yourself, have you ever seen a satellite? Did you ever talk to an astronaut? Sure, they told you those moving lights were satellites right back to the atheistic Sputnik. Ask yourself: If young Americans did go out into space and reported the truth, what would happen to them at the hands of the scientific establishment?
"Scripture, 1 Kings 7:23, clearly declares that the value of pi is 3, not the secular humanist value of 3.14 taught in every school in Lawrence. FLAT supports the teaching of the Biblical value on an equal footing with the secular value. Are these abstract ideas about pi?
"No, they have economic implications. Think, for example, about all the potential savings on tires, ball bearings and anything else that rolls.
"Remember that at the Tower of Babel God punished the human race for its pride by creating many languages so that peoples could never cooperate in building such a structure again. FLAT believes that the study of foreign languages is therefore unBiblical and seeks the removal of such courses from the curriculum at all levels."
We did this straightfaced. Along with our press release we bought radio time and we bought ads in the newspaper. The radio station we chose was an A.M. station, Lawrence's only A.M. station. I only listen to it during tornado warnings. It's referred to as "the radio station that the other kind of white people listen to." We also ran a newspaper ad, shown here.
Our efforts got international attention focused on Kansas. We had commentary in Nature, an international science journal. We had interviews from all around the country.
Of course we got hate mail--three kinds: we got hate mail from fundamentalists because they didn't like the way we were portraying them; we got hate mail from liberal Christians who resented being lumped in with the fundamentalists; and the best hate mail we got came from parody-impaired irate atheists.
Here are some examples:
"You people are retarded. You are all stupid. Do you have televisions? Have you ever seen the pictures of space beyond the earth where the earth is a sphere? To think the earth is square is moronic. You people need to get your heads checked."
From an atheist chat: "It's just this kind of religious fanaticism that is so dangerous. How can anybody in their right mind think that kids should be taught the world is flat?"
The reply from someone else: "I believe we're seeing something called parody. In any case, I'll bet dollars to donuts this is someone's idea of a joke and a pretty darn funny one, too."
Lastly, "Since you are so convinced that the earth is flat why don't you just march and jump off."
You get the idea.
Meanwhile, all this happens and people send email bouncing around the world about all this, and simultaneously we have the state school board events. The state school board is having hearings and we can see what's coming. There's testimony going on. It's like a freight train. We know it's going to happen but we can't wake people up.
(This freight train is now heading toward Nebraska. Those of you who are from Nebraska--right now: there are creationists running for the state school board in Nebraska. Kansas creationists are now touring Nebraska giving talks, trying to drum up support for this. People who are working on this issue in Nebraska can't get anyone to pay attention to them. They can't get it into the newspapers. So watch Nebraska, it's next. If anyone wants to email me, I can put you in touch with people in Nebraska who are trying to begin to develop some opposition to this.)
We began to organize since we saw the freight train coming. The particular thing I did was to use the Internet to monitor newspapers all over the state of Kansas. I watched the letters to the editor in all the major newspapers and every time someone wrote a letter I approved of, I used a search engine to find them, get in touch with them, get their name, address, phone number, email, on a list. And after a couple of months I had a few dozen people on a list, all of whom had taken the time and who had the brains and ability to write a good letter. It was a very selective list. I recommend that form of electronic organizing. Especially in big decentralized states, it works well.
What the Kansas School Board passed, by the way, didn't outlaw evolution, it merely deleted it from the standards. It also removed things to do with the Big Bang, with the environment, with changing the description of science. It also inserted hooks so that at certain times creationist classroom materials would be called upon. Deep behind it are the young earth creationists.
To get a flavor of their work, I recommend the website http://christiananswers.net/, especially their sections on dinosaurs. You can see things like smiley-faced T-Rex, whom we find out was a friendly vegetarian in the Garden of Eden.
Some pressure had been building and a number of teachers were anxious about possible pressure on their science teaching. After our press conference, newspaper ad campaign, and radio ad, the pressure went off. POSH was perceived pretty much as a joke.
On a Kansas statewide level, young earth creationists were behind the changes, although the extent of their involvement had never been made public. They were portrayed as being something for local choice, local control. All through this the creationists' campaign was, "we didn't forbid evolution, we simply put this in the hands of local school boards."
This is a NCSE map of Kansas: we have old earth, young earth, intelligent design, survival of the fittest, germs cause disease, demons cause disease, storks bring babies, the moon is made of green cheese, you get the idea--local control of science education. Notice they don't want local control of anything like English or math. They never discuss local control except for this sort of thing.
As a result of the State Board Science Standards, we had another media blitz. Why? Why did Kansas get all this attention? After all, the same thing had been done elsewhere. It happened in Illinois. If you're from Illinois, go look at your state science standards in biology. I think the reason was that FLAT drew attention to Kansas and then the media were primed and ready and interested. Then there was this noisy group of people beginning to make opposition to what happened. Newspapers like conflict, so they became interested in Kansas.
A few months after this, Kansas Citizens For Science (KCFS) was born. We now have a couple of hundred paid members and another few hundred who monitor us for information, mostly via email. We kept going back to the state school board testifying. Every month we would go during public comment time. My favorite thing was to sign up late so that I would be the last person to speak, never plan a speech, and simply rebut something that some creationist would say. Believe me, there was plenty of butt to re-butt. We had a circus atmosphere at times. One month the Hare Krishnas showed up and profusely thanked the creationists for what they had done to put good science back, and gave Linda Holloway, the fundamentalist chair of our state school board, a consciousness-expanding brownie, which they claimed was completely legal.
Meanwhile outside, one of our friends was picketing in a gorilla suit. We had three or four organizations. So I really like previous speaker Woody Kaplan's comment about having lots of alphabet soup--we have FLAT to do parodies and Save Our School for the gorilla suit thing, Kansas Citizens For Science for a very serious, studious approach--that worked well. We had a broad coalition. I can't say how important that is. There are many Christians and others who support good science and this counters the wedge strategy that the fundamentalists have which is: you're with us or you're an atheist (or you're with us or you're supporting atheism implicitly).
People have done careful analyses of possible theological responses to the interplay between science and religion and identified at least seven different possible responses one can have to the relationship between religion and scientific understandings. One of the best people, one of the most effective members Kansas Citizens For Science has, is an evangelical Christian geologist who goes around to fundamentalist churches and talks about how silly the whole creationists' program is, and he has exactly the credentials to deal with them. He knows their literature, he knows the scientific literature, he even knows the history of fundamentalism. The first fundamentalists even didn't seem to have a problem with evolution, most of them--it's a modern phenomenon.
Another thing we did was emphasize economic effects, effects on education in Kansas, effects on whether or not corporations would want to relocate to Kansas, effects on the Kansas schools which, after all, do typically have standardized test scores well above the national average and climbing. We appealed to the prospect that children from Kansas might have trouble getting into good universities, even the ones in their own state. We think that these pragmatic appeals to self-interest work better than abstract appeals to some kind of truth. We think they have a bigger effect on the electorate.
KCFS is also a 501(c)(3) organization, and the organization worked to educate the public about evolution and to let the public know what the positions of the various candidates were. KCFS never endorsed candidates. That's the way it has been working and will continue to work in Kansas.
We have many kinds of people in the organization: many scientists but also ministers, advertising people, labor organizers.
Result: we have a primary and then an election. We already had the primary, and the election, as I speak, is yet to come. We had been losing 6-4 in the school board; we needed to knock out two of these people and we had two rounds to do it. Five of the ten are up for vote and we needed to knock out two. We knocked out three in the primary. There are two races left in the general election where a creationist is opposing another person.
If I could guess what will happen there, I'd say the incumbent will win both races and that means that one creationist and one noncreationist will win. My prediction is then we will have a school board that's 7-3 against the creationists come November. The best they can have is four, no matter what happens, and in two more years we get a chance to go after the rest of them. By the time the you read this the answer will be known.
There are remarkable events here. First of all, in a couple of races the creationists outspent their opponents 3-1 and still lost by large margins. The second thing is that they lost by these large margins at the same time that other conservative Republicans were winning primaries by large margins in the very same district. This means that our wedge strategy worked--we managed to split off the religious radicals from the other rightwing conservative Republicans. At least a third to a half of the conservative Republicans realized these people are nuts. It's the only way you can explain the victory.
We had some help. People for the American Way came in the state, did some things and left. There was a joint statement by the presidents of all six universities; that helped. But I think the grassroots efforts were what did it: many, many letters to editors all over the state, public speakers, people going and asking tough questions of candidates, emphasizing pragmatic issues.
I want to look briefly at their strategies and the strategies we used, and the ones that I think might win and might help. One, again, is their wedge strategy: you're with us or you're an atheist. We belie that by having a range of people making statements and explaining that science doesn't have any position on religious issues. It's very simple to say that, but it's very hard to get it across to the public. The creationists have lots of ways of trying to make it appear that science makes judgments about religious things. They tried a double strategy of simultaneously broadening and narrowing their attack. They produced some documents that attacked all of science, believe it or not, even including gravity! One draft standard referred to Newton's theory of gravity as something that had not been tested very well. At the same time they did that, they put forth other documents that only attack evolution or other things about origins, cosmology, etc.
The second group of documents then look like compromises. That's one of the things that gave them their early victory. One person on the state school board took that to be a compromise and gave it his vote.
Part of this broadening and narrowing strategy is something called Intelligent Design Theory that I want to draw your attention to very strongly. The strategy here is for the creationists to shut up about things like the age of the earth and so on and make a big deal only about one thing--evolution. Intelligent Design Theory has a few people who write for it who have reasonable scientific credentials, in particular, one information theorist and one biochemist. Their arguments aren't very good, but they know enough to dress them up and make them sound good. Michael Behe is a biochemist whose arguments are convincing to all but biochemists. Dembski does information theory and physics which seem very erudite to all but information theorists and physicists.
KU Natural History Museum director Leonard Krishtalka said, "Intelligent Design is creationism in a cheap tuxedo." I agree. What they're doing, what they're having success with, is broadening their demographic base. Intelligent Design is attracting new kinds of people. Engineers and medical doctors are really susceptible to this stuff. I don't know what it is about doctors and engineers, but ID gets lots of them. Maybe it's because these people deal primarily with applied science; they generally don't create new knowledge. At any rate, Intelligent Design Creationism is largely a middle-class phenomenon and to some extent an academic phenomenon. That makes it dangerous. The danger it has is that it will split off the biologists from the rest of science and then they'll be able to attack only the biologists and the rest of us will let it go.
Philip Johnson is a Berkeley lawyer. He's an Intelligent Design advocate from the point of view of philosophy as opposed to science. He's a very good speaker, a very congenial person. He came to Lawrence to give a talk about Intelligent Design, so we went after him in a bi-pronged attack. Kansas Citizens For Science produced some very serious pamphlets that critiqued his positions, which are available to download on our website by the way, http://www.kcfs.org/. About 20 people hit all entrances to this auditorium, and we leafleted and reached about half the audience of about a thousand people. We let them know what he'd say (he's very predictable) and then provided critical comments.
FLAT also leafleted from a particularly different point of view. This is the tract FLAT produced: "Philip Johnson doesn't believe in the Bible. The Bible says the earth is flat but Philip Johnson thinks it's round. The Bible says God made foreign languages so people couldn't understand each other, but Philip Johnson supports foreign language teaching. The Bible says pi equals 3 but Philip Johnson thinks pi equals 3.1416. The Bible says the earth is about 6,000 years old but Philip Johnson won't say that. Philip Johnson is a liberal." That was a wedge strategy!
There are two kinds of Intelligent Design. One kind has come out of Physics. I call it type I ID. People like Paul Davies are representative of this. It's about the fine-tuning of the universe. It's a bunch of arguments about how the values of various physical constants are in a very narrow range which allows life to exist. These people typically think of the universe as something which was constructed so that we could evolve, could be here. I'm not a particular fan of this point of view, but I think it's mostly harmless. That is, it may be a theological position that doesn't appeal to me, but I have not yet seen any attempt to compromise science teaching from this.
Type II ID, on the other hand, is the kind associated with Dembski, Behe and Johnson, which seeks to undercut evolution and the whole naturalistic approach to science, the wedge strategy. The Discovery Institute, which you can find on its website and its sub-organization, the Center for Renewal of Science and Theology, has the avowed purpose of turning this country into a theocracy within 20 years. They're upfront about it. There's a document you can find on the web called The Wedge Strategy that basically describes this. Getting people to talk about Intelligent Design a lot in public is their first goal. Here I am doing it--I'm spreading the virus. See how insidious it is!
The second strategy is to get it into the public schools. Eventually the naturalistic methodology of science becomes compromised, and then on to the rest of the culture. It's hard to combat this stuff. I think it's really useful to watch their methods more than their content. This is very hard to do, because we're intellectually oriented. We tend to pay attention to what people say. I think it can be more important to pay attention to how they operate.
Example: In a confrontation between a creationist and someone else, you may see claims and counterclaims about carbon dating, etc., but you might notice that the creationists will perhaps attack science without making any assertions of their own. So there's a hidden assumption: If B is wrong, then A must be right. And he'll just attack B, but that will never be explicit. It might help, for example, to ask for positive evidence for his point of view. Or perhaps to point out the hidden assumption.
In his attack on science, you may find that he'll attack science and the person he's dealing with may be able to respond to all his claims, but he'll keep changing the subject until he finds an area that his opponents don't know anything about. Then he's home free--because he knows his opponent will shut up when he doesn't know about things, but he doesn't observe that constraint, so he's won.
These are the kind of tactics that you have to be really aware of and watch closely; some of them have been written up in an essay in the Spring 2000 issue of Physics and Society.
For a great deal of other useful information on this and other topics related to combating creationism and supporting good science education, I commend the websites of the National Center for Science Education, (http://ncse.com/), and of Kansas Citizens for Science. By the way, if you buy books from Barnes and Noble via the link on the KCFS website, we receive a donation. Both the KCFS and NCSE websites are rich with links to useful resources. I like TalkOrigins, which examines creationist pseudoscience in detail.
Remember that it's a political struggle and small numbers of people can have very large effects. I think that probably about 20 people taken together are responsible for about half of the political activity around this issue in Kansas, counting both sides. I would say that if you count 200 people, you've probably got 90% of the activity solely around the science standards issue. I'm urging you to get involved and saying you don't have to be an expert to get involved. They're not experts. They're mostly just very slick liars.
I thought in passing I'd make a couple of comments about religion and about belief. One thing I've seen widely, and I think I've seen here, is the assumption that the definition of religion is believing things. That's one way of thinking about religion; that's a very western intellectual way of thinking about religion. And even in that there are different kinds of responses. The Dalai Lama is reported to have said something like, "If the Tibetan Buddhist religion is found to be in conflict with modern science, then the Tibetan Buddhist religion would have to change." Whether you believe certain things is not central to many religions.
It's not entirely accurate but there's a grain of truth in saying that Buddhism is an atheistic religion. It's not explicitly atheistic but it's a religion in which psychological effects of behavior are much more important than any kind of mythological beliefs. Similarly with Islam and to a lesser extent Judaism, obedience to the law is the important thing, not intellectualizing beliefs, etc.
Whatever you think about that, if you want to win these battles you have to be willing to make broad coalitions with as many people as you can muster on whatever the issue may be. That worked extremely well for us in throwing out the creationists.
I worked with an early childhood education expert and we developed curricula aimed at first to fourth-grade level that deal with modern cosmology and to some extent with evolution, and this can be found on my website.
The curricula were field-tested with young children with a great deal of success in developing their interest in the origins of the universe and of life on this planet. The children have been enthusiastic about it. There are two versions: one's a public school version, one's a Sunday school version of the curriculum kit.
So, this is really a battle. Do we continue to learn new things about our Universe and the life on this planet? Does the United States become an enclave of narrow, ignorant people?
That's how we kicked ass; go thou and do likewise.
By James G. Coors
James Coors delivered Prof. Dawkins' "Time to Stand Up" speech on behalf of Prof. Dawkins on Sept. 22, 2001, at the twenty-fourth annual national convention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Madison, Wisconsin.
Before reading Professor Richard Dawkins' piece for the convention, I thought it appropriate to add some perspective to Professor Dawkins' many contributions. To do this, I would like to go back to 1858, the year before Darwin published the Origin of Species.
In a letter to a friend, the botanist Joseph Hooker, Darwin playfully complained about the coming turmoil that would undoubtedly accompany his upcoming manuscript, "What a book a Devil's Chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horridly cruel works of nature."
While the mood of the letter may have been jocular, there is no doubt that Darwin was enormously concerned about the philosophical upheaval the Origin would create. He was, in fact, the Devil's Chaplain, and his studies showed that the forces driving evolution were those of nature alone. Natural selection is clumsy, wasteful, blundering, and cruel, and many evolutionary changes are due to nothing other than random chance.
Darwin knew that his scientific colleagues would accept these unsettling ideas only if accompanied by vast amounts of supporting data, which he spent the rest of career collecting. By the time of his death, he had convinced all but a small minority of his scientific colleagues.
Others, however, realized that the Darwinian revolution needed to be taken to the streets rather than be sequestered to the halls of academia. The implications about humankind's place in nature are so profound that all people should understand what this thing called evolution is all about. One of the most prominent to take on this task was Thomas Henry Huxley, a naturalist and a close friend of Darwin's. Huxley was particularly passionate in his advocacy of Darwinism, and, as a result, he eventually became known as "Darwin's bulldog." Huxley's famous debate with Archbishop Samuel ("Soapy Sam") Wilberforce in 1860 is a great example of the vigor of Huxley's convictions and debating skills. In the heat of the battle, Wilberforce asked whether Huxley was descended from an ape on his grandmother's or his grandfather's side. Huxley is said to have responded: "I would rather be the offspring of two apes than be a man afraid to face the truth." By all accounts, Huxley trounced Wilberforce, and continued his career in like fashion.
The Darwinian revolution has continued, but only in fits and starts, particularly in the U.S. Fortunately, Professor Dawkins has taken up Huxley's mantle as "Darwin's bulldog." His position as Charles Simionyi Professor of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University and his authorship of The Blind Watchmaker, The Selfish Gene, Climbing Mount Improbable, and other works amply show that he is the modern-day Huxley we so desperately need. He has fearlessly described religion as a virus infecting our collective brain, and he truly enjoys tweaking current sensitivities about all things sacred.
In the Guardian of 2/6/99 he was quoted as saying, "I'm like a pit bull terrier being released into the ring, as a spectator sport, to attack religious people . . . I've done it once or twice." So Professor Dawkins is now affectionately known as "Darwin's pit bull." While he can't be here in person, we are still very fortunate that he has prepared a strong and spirited manuscript for our benefit.
James G. Coors is Professor of Agronomy and a member of the Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He teaches courses on selection theory and the processes involved with the domestication of crop plants. He also conducts a breeding program to develop new varieties of corn. He is a Life Member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Freethought Today, April 1998
By Dan Barker
In 1980, I was right in the middle of my swing from fundamentalist minister to atheist, moving out of evangelcalism. The reason I didn't stop and settle anywhere along that spectrum was that there was always something more to learn.
That was the year that Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" series was broadcast on public television, and the year that Sagan founded the Planetary Society, which I joined as a charter member. (I still have all the original magazines.)
I watched every single episode of "Cosmos," enthralled. It wasn't a religious experience--it was much better. (I should know.) I was wide-eyed, seeing the real world, finally. I remember as a child giving one of our kittens a taste of fresh tuna, watching that little animal, who had been raised on canned cat food, go crazy chowing down some real food. That's how I felt watching "Cosmos."
The impact of that show was due to more than just the hard facts of science. It was how they were presented. Carl Sagan stepped right into my living room, like a favorite uncle, making me share his enthusiasm for the wonder of the universe. He was nonthreatening, approachable. He made me think I was with the scientists, not beneath them. He was obviously in love with the topic--he wasn't just doing a job--and his excitement was infectious.
When Sagan succumbed to pneumonia in December 1996, the human race lost its favorite uncle. And we freethinkers know, as Sagan did, that the loss is forever.
Carl's wife Ann Druyan, in the Epilogue to Sagan's last book, Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium (published posthumously in 1997), gives a moving account of Carl's last days. They both acknowledged the fact that their final farewell would indeed be final:
"Contrary to the fantasies of the fundamentalists, there was no deathbed conversion, no last minute refuge taken in a comforting vision of a heaven or an afterlife. For Carl, what mattered most was what was true, not merely what would make us feel better. Even at this moment when anyone would be forgiven for turning away from the reality of our situation, Carl was unflinching. As we looked deeply into each other's eyes, it was with a shared conviction that our wondrous life together was ending forever."
In his chapter "The Fine Art of Baloney Detection" from The Demon-Haunted World: Science As A Candle In The Dark (Sagan's last book while he was alive, and the one most critical of religion), Carl wrote:
"If some good evidence for life after death were announced, I'd be eager to examine it; but it would have to be real scientific data, not mere anecdote. As with the face on Mars and alien abductions, better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy. And in the final tolling it often turns out that the facts are more comforting than the fantasy."
Sentiments like these are infinitely more moving, more courageous, more meaningful than any hymn or sermon that I have ever heard.
As Ann Druyan noted in her address before the Freedom From Religion Foundation convention last December, although Carl Sagan has died, he is still "with us," in a naturalistic sense. The effects of his work continue to resonate in the real world. (I am still "infected" with the joy of scientific learning that he transmitted through my television set 18 years ago.) The organizations Sagan founded continue to make a difference, and the books he wrote are still enlightening millions.
Vol. 21 No. 8 - Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. - October 2004
"Live And Let Live"
By Dan Barker
Two major motion pictures have been made about the life of American songwriter Cole Porter. The first, "Night and Day" (1946), starred an uncomfortably miscast Cary Grant in a fanciful biopic that pointedly ignored the fact that the famous composer was notoriously gay. After seeing the film, Porter himself remarked, "It's a dream." When asked what kind of a dream, he replied, "I'd prefer not to say."
The film also failed to mention that Cole Porter was an unbeliever.
The more recent "De-Lovely" (2004), starring Kevin Kline, corrects both mistakes, opening with a frank (and refreshing) admission by Porter that he did not believe in a god. He is now truly "out of the closet."
The films have the same strengths (the music) and the same weakness: making Porter's relationship with his wife the central theme. Though an open homosexual, Cole did indeed have a committed, lifelong relationship with his wife Linda, who knew he was gay from the start and not only tolerated but often encouraged his lifestyle--as long as he was not too flamboyant. Though the marriage was sexless, they adored and respected each other. They valued each other's advice, shared the same attraction to travel, art and entertaining. They were deep friends "unto death us do part."
(Who could object? The relationship met the religious-right requirement that marriage be between one man and one woman.)
However, their love was not the stuff of a movie romance--the films would have been much better (for me) if they had concentrated on Porter's struggle to tailor his music to the shows.
Cole Porter was born in 1891 into a barely nominally religious family. His father was a compassionate gentleman, "a good man but not burdened by religion," writes biographer William McBrien (Cole Porter, 1998). His mother went to church as a matter of social habit. "Although later in life Cole briefly considered embracing religion," McBrien writes, "he was never a believer, and his several comments about his mother's attachments to Peru [Indiana] churches were dismissive."
Biographer and friend George Eells reports that Cole attributed his mother's churchgoing to custom. "He believed that she felt no real religious convictions, although she attended some church every Sunday. Her grandfather Albert had founded the Episcopal Church in Peru, but Katie at one time or another dropped in on every fashionable congregation in town. 'I never felt religion was serious to her,' Cole recalled years later. 'It was of no importance. She went to show off her new hats.'
"Not unnaturally, Cole developed no deeply felt religious beliefs. On most occasions throughout his life, he spoke of 'pleasing the gods' or lamented, 'The gods are punishing me,' but he seldom referred to God, except to deny belief in Him. Even at seventy, he told his social secretary, Mrs. Everett W. Smith, that he found no comfort in trying to believe in a Supreme Being."
"If Katie failed to endow him with religious inspiration, she neglected little else, especially his musical education. . . ." (The Life That Late He Lived, by George Eells, 1967)
A childhood friend, Beulah, remembered Porter visiting church one Easter Sunday as a teenager. "Cole talked all through the service. He was one of the most irreverent persons I've ever encountered--but so charming," she said. "While he talked, he cracked his ankle bones in a kind of castanetlike accompaniment. I'm certain he did it to draw attention to his new brown silk socks and snappy new footwear. He was quite Beau Brummel--even then." (The Life That Late He Lived, by George Eells, 1967)
Cole's final address to his high-school mates at Worcester Academy closed with a poem by Richard Hovey, ending with the words: "Here's to Luck! For we know not where we are going." No god, no providence, no prayer--just the hope that chance would smile on his future.
After spending most of his college years writing and producing school plays (as well as composing the still popular "Bingo Eli Yale" football song), Porter graduated from Yale in 1913. Eells reports that in the survey of 292 graduates, Cole was "one of 69 non-church members; and one of the 20 who were to enter law school. . . . He was voted the most entertaining . . . the second most original . . . and one of the most eccentric."
Eells writes that during Porter's life, "Most of Cole's other friends were led to believe that he was an agnostic who might have wished for the support and comfort of some religious conviction but who was unable to summon up belief."
Harvard Law School was a disaster for Cole Porter, who spent all of his time producing shows. He dropped out of school, inherited a fortune from his grandfather, traveled the world, and "casually" wrote songs on the side, pretending he was just dashing them off for fun.
After Cole Porter became a well-known Broadway composer and internationally famous songwriter, he fell from a horse which rolled over him and crushed his legs. Instead of submitting to the recommended amputation, Cole decided to endure more than 20 painful operations over many years in an attempt to reconstruct his ability to walk. Observing how he dealt with pain, trauma and drug-related depression, his secretary (a believer) remarked: ". . . the little boss had not the strength that comes in a time of need, of a bolstering religion of even a Buddhist, a Seventh Day Adventist, a Jehovah's Witness--anything to take the place of just nothing. Without faith one is like a stained glass window in the dark. How to reach his particular darkness is an enigma."
She didn't realize that he was coping just fine without religion--he had expert medical care, plus his own inner determination, the strength of his many friendships, and the support of a caring wife.
He also had his music. His debilitation did not slow down his determination to produce songs.
How many conservative Christians who love Porter melodies realize that "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To" was written for a dancer and choreographer named Nelson Barclift, with whom Cole had had a long romantic relationship? That was "our song," Barclift recalled. "Years later," McBrien writes, "Barclift remembered with pleasure that this was the song that knocked Irving Berlin's 'White Christmas' off the hit parade." Other Cole Porter songs were written from feelings arising from infatuations and relationships with men such as Russian dancer Boris Kochno and architect Eddy Tauch.
Porter's attitude toward life is often reflected in his lyrics. "Live and Let Live" [see below], writes McBrien, "is another hurrah for tolerance, and it may have been one way Cole salved his wounds after the critics' objection to the sexy scenes in Out of This World."
Cole Porter spent much of his life battling censors, who thought jazz, dancing and popular song lyrics were corrupting the morality of America. Volstead, the congressman who introduced the 18th Amendment prohibiting the sale of liquor, writes McBrien, "was a natural target for Porter, who opposed the Puritan tendency of some Americans to try to legislate against personal freedom." An early production of Fifty Million Frenchmen contained Porter's song, "A Toast to Volstead," with the lyrics: "A long life to Volstead / Our senator from heaven sent. / Let us give our endorsement / To his act of enforcement, . . . Here's a long life to Volstead, / And I hope he dies of thirst."
Many of Porter's songs were decried by the moralists. "Anything Goes" was criticized by churchgoers. Cole fought back, but sometimes had to compromise. "Because of the censorship exercised by the Hayes office in the thirties"--writes McBrien about the song "Easy To Love"--"the original lyric 'So sweet to awaken with, / So nice to sit down to eggs and bacon with' had to be changed to 'So worth the yearning for / So swell to keep ev'ry home fire burning for.' "
"In the most famous number from the musical Jubilee, 'Begin the Beguine,' Porter, possibly feeling the oppression of censorship, decided to change the penultimate line, 'And we suddenly know the sweetness of sin,' to 'And we suddenly know what heaven we're in.'"
Porter's 1953 musical Can-Can was a deliberate attempt to "battle Puritanism," and the thrust of Silk Stockings "is similar to Can-Can's, and the theme the recurrent one of scorn for puritanism," McBrien observes. "The Catholic News deplored the scanty costumes of Gwen Verdon and thought that the replica of Sacré-Coeur in some sets 'must to the discerning offer apt and eloquent comment on the rest of the proceedings.' "
Let the religious right howl: the public loved Porter's art. He treasured a letter he received from his idol Irving Berlin (another nonbeliever):
"Elizabeth (my youngest) and I went to see Can-Can last night and, along with a packed house of satisfied customers, we loved it. It's a swell show and I still say, to paraphrase an old bar-room ballad, 'anything I can do, you can do better.'
Though happy to "live and let live," Cole Porter occasionally took jabs at religion. In a letter to his friend Barclift, Porter pointed out that "yesterday was the feast of St. Joseph" and remarked that he hasn't much use for such a day, as Joseph "resents being called the husband of the Virgin Mary & you know what she produced."
Cole Porter produced many enduring standards: "I Get A Kick Out of You," "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," "I Love Paris," "C'est Magnifique," "You Do Something to Me," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "In The Still of the Night," "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," "All of You," "What Is This Thing Called Love?", "De-Lovely," "Just One of Those Things," "Love for Sale," "Night and Day," "Don't Fence Me In," "True Love," "Every Time We Say Goodbye," and dozens more. Believers, nonbelievers, straights, gays, all Americans have been enriched by the songs (he wrote both words and music) that this nonconformist gave us.
"No matter how slick their veneer," McBrien writes, "Porter's songs almost always are centered in the sweetness and brevity of love and happiness."
Cole Porter died on October 15, 1964. Eells reports that when he was admitted to the hospital for the last time, accompanied by friend Robert Raison, a nurse who was filling out the admittance form asked Porter about religious affiliations:
"Put down none," Cole replied.
Raison spoke up to say that Cole had been a Baptist; why not put down Protestant?
Cole refused. Later, even when his condition had changed for the worse, he stood by his convictions.
Cole Porter's final words, spoken to Raison just before his death, were: "Bobbie, I don't know how I did it."
Dan Barker, a Foundation staff member and author of Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist, is a musician who has produced two CDs of freethought music for the Foundation: "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist" and "Beware of Dogma."
"Live and Let Live"
by Cole Porter
Live and let live, be and let be,
Hear and let hear, see and let see,
Sing and let sing, dance and let dance.
I like Offenbach, you do not,
So what, so what, so what?
Read and let read, write and let write,
Love and let love, bite and let bite,
Live and let live and remember this line:
"You're bus'ness is your bus'ness and my bus'ness is mine."
Live and let live, be and let be,
Hear and let hear, see and let see,
Drink and let drink, eat and let eat,
You like bouillabaise, I do not,
So what, so what, so what?
Pray and let pray, slip and let slip,
Dress and let dress, strip and let strip.
Live and let live and remember this line:
"You're bus'ness is your bus'ness and my bus'ness is mine."
� 1952 by Cole Porter
(The Complete Lyrics of Cole Porter, edited by Robert Kimball, 1992)
Vol. 22 No. 3 - Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. - April 2005
The Theater Was His Temple
By Dan Barker
One of the high moments of my life was playing the piano for actress Butterfly McQueen (who played Prissy in Gone With The Wind), a life-long atheist, as she sang "It's Only a Paper Moon" at the 1989 Freedom From Religion Foundation convention in Atlanta. But it would have been an even greater joy had I known about the man who wrote the lyrics to that song. I had not known that "honky-tonk parade" and "Barnum and Bailey world" were veiled criticisms of the "phony as it can be" corporate and political leadership in America, written by a freethinking, socially conscious lyricist.
At the huge antiwar rally in New York City in 2003, folksinger Pete Seeger poignantly led the half-million peaceful protesters in one simple but powerful song: "Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue . . ." I have a hunch he knew something about the social views of the man who wrote: "And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true."
According to the American Film Institute's list of Top 100 Movie Songs, "Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz is number one, known by millions of people all over the globe. ("Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead" is also on that list.) Some people can tell you that the music to "Over the Rainbow" was written by Harold Arlen, but how many know who wrote the words?
It is a quirk of culture that most popular songs are known by their composer, although Arlen (and other composers) insisted that a song without words is not a song. Lyricists are songwriters too, and few have had as much impact, musically and socially, as the man who wrote "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?," "April in Paris," songs for the movie Cabin in the Sky, the musical Finian's Rainbow, as well as the lyrics and much of the screenwriting for The Wizard of Oz. He and Arlen won a 1939 Oscar for "Over the Rainbow." He wrote more than 600 songs for shows and films.
Songwriter E.Y. ("Yip") Harburg was born April 8, 1896, in New York's impoverished Lower East Side to immigrant Russian Jewish parents. In school, he sat alphabetically in the desk behind his childhood friend and future lyricist Ira Gershwin, another nonreligious "social Jew" who was to change the face of popular American music. Like nonbelieving songwriters Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, and Richard Rodgers--as well as non-Jews such as Cole Porter--music replaced religion for Yip Harburg.
In the book Who Put the Rainbow in The Wizard of Oz? (1993), Harold Meyerson and Yip's son Ernie Harburg quote Yip talking about his lack of faith:
"My parents were Orthodox Jews, though not as strict as the Hassidim. To some extent, they were tongue-in-cheek Orthodox. My father did go to shul regularly and I usually went with him. Whatever religious feeling I had evaporated when I was about 15 in the face of a devastating personal crisis. I had an elder brother, Max, twelve years my senior--my hero--my inspiration. . . . Max became a famous scientist. . . . And then, at age 28, he died of cancer. My mother, broken by the shock, died [some years] after. The tragedy left me an agnostic. I threw over my religion. I began seeing the world in a whole new light. My father was shaken, but something in him had to carry on. He had a great sense of humor. I told him I was not going to shul any more, 'Papa, Ich gehe nicht.' We talked in Yiddish. He said, 'Well, sonele, I don't blame you, I can understand. But I'm an old man. I need insurance.' "
"The House of God never had much appeal for me," Yip continued. "Anyhow, I found a substitute temple--the theater."
Wanting to work in theater but uncertain about his prospects in music, Yip first became a successful businessman. After his business was destroyed in the crash of 1929--a blessing-in-disguise forcing him to do what he had always wanted to do--he returned to songwriting. While everyone in the early 1930s advised "happy songs" to counteract the Depression-era blues, Yip Harburg and Jay Gorney wrote a realistic, socially conscious number for the 1932 Broadway musical Americana that acknowledged the long bread lines outside the theaters. Debuting one month before the 1932 presidential election, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" became a huge national hit, echoing the despair of the working class. Some historians credit that song with helping Franklin D. Roosevelt's sweeping agenda.
Harburg became a successful lyricist for Broadway and Hollywood, but he always viewed his songs as more than mere entertainment. He was often "caught at the art of sneaking social messages into his lyrics," writes Theodore Taylor in a biography about composer Jule Styne. "I am a rebel by birth," Yip said. "I contest anything that is unjust, that causes suffering in humanity. My feelings about that are so strong, I don't think I could live with myself if I weren't honest [about that]."
In 1937, Yip Harburg helped conceive and produce Hooray for What?, an antiwar musical comedy, for which he wrote lyrics, during the threat of rising fascism and militarism in Europe and Japan. "Hooray for what?" the song asks. "Throw out your chest, Throw up your hat, Another strike--another war, Can come from that. If you can yell out loud in a crowd, You're a great patriot, Come along, shout hooray, for what! . . . We don't know what. It's just hooray."
In spite of Harburg's notoriously liberal views, he was such a great talent that everyone creative wanted to work with him. Biographer Edward Jablonski writes that Harold Arlen's relationship with Harburg "was kinetic and curious. They did not agree on political matters, and Arlen sometimes admonished Harburg over the 'propaganda' in some of his lyrics. Yet he never refused to set them to music." When Harburg died, Arlen said, "I personally lost a good and faithful friend in Yipper. His wit, his playfulness with words, his brilliance, produced a torrent of lyrics. We truly collaborated in every sense of the word . . . There was only one Yipper." (Harold Arlen: Rhythm, Rainbows, and Blues, by Edward Jablonski, 1996)
June 1939. Standing left to right: Bert Lahr (the Cowardly Lion), Ray Bolger (the Scarecrow), MGM executive L.K. Sidney, Yip Harburg, composer/ conductor Meredith Willson (who wrote The Music Man), music publisher Harry Link. Seated: Judy Garland and Harold Arlen. (Photo courtesy of Yip Harburg Estate.)
I recently did a debate at a conservative church near Minneapolis, and as I entered the building, a woman and two children came out the door happily singing, "We're off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz." I doubt they knew who wrote those words.
When Arthur Freed at MGM was looking for music for The Wizard of Oz, he jumped at the chance to work with Harburg, even though their political and social views were polar opposites. Freed was a "flag waver of the first order," writes Aljean Harmetz in The Making of The Wizard Of Oz, and could not comprehend Yip's social imperative, but he admired and respected his genius and whimsy with words.
Since Arthur Freed was new to the business of producing a large-scale film musical like Oz, he handed control of the book and songs to Harburg. It was Yip who transformed the movie into a brilliant success, rewriting whole scenes, replacing entire stretches of dialog with song, recruiting his friend Bert Lahr to play the Cowardly Lion. Much of the dialogue--including the scene where the Wizard hands out medals--was written by Yip, though he is only credited as "lyricist" in the film.
It is one of the great movie-making legends that the song "Over the Rainbow" almost didn't make it into the final cut. It slowed the film down, they said. It was too sophisticated for a simple Kansas girl (Judy Garland). It was cut from each of the three previews, to Arlen's and Harburg's immense disappointment, and was only replaced after Freed went back to Mayer to "argue it back into the film."
The movie was a moderate success in its time, but after yearly broadcasts on television since the 1950s (where most of us first saw it), "Over the Rainbow" has become one of the few songs in the world that "everybody knows." The U.S. postage stamp commemorating Yip Harburg (April 2005) has the familiar words: "Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue . . ."
Ethan Mordden, in his book The Hollywood Musical, argues that Yip Harburg, for nothing more than his work on The Wizard of Oz, should be considered "the movies' greatest lyricist."
Cabin in the Sky(1943) was one of the first films starring black talent intended for a general audience, the "first all-black Broadway musical to be adapted for the silver-screen," according to the soundtrack liner notes. With a score by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, it was also the first film directed by Vincente Minelli. It featured Lena Horne, Ethel Waters and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, as well as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. The pretty ballad, "Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe," and the comic "Life's Full of Consequence" managed to evoke life in the rural black south of the early 20th century.
As a "liberal" writer, Harburg was not immune from censorship woes, and sometimes his words were "cleaned up" or excised from a film. The song "Ain' It De Truth," recorded by Lena Horne, was removed from Cabin in the Sky with no explanation, but probably due to its freethought denial of the afterlife. It begins with the words:
Life is short, short, brother!
Ain' it de truth?
An' dere is no other
Ain' it de truth?
You gotta rock that rainbow while you still got your youth
Oh! Ain' it de solid truth?
Harburg liked the song so much, knowing it was a perfect vehicle for Lena Horne, that he later inserted it into the Broadway musical, Jamaica, in which she starred in 1957.
In 1944, Arlen and Harburg wrote the songs for Bloomer Girl, a feminist and early civil-rights Broadway musical, with a book by Fred Saidy and choreography by Agnes de Mille. Co-directed by Harburg, it was based on the pre-Civil War political activities of Amelia Bloomer.
"There were so many new issues coming up with Roosevelt in those years," Yip said, "and we were trying to deal with the inherent fear of change--to show that whenever a new idea or a new change in society arises, there'll always be a majority that will fight you, that will call you a dirty radical or a red."
Bloomer Girl starred a young Celeste Holm, David Brooks, and Dooley Wilson (Casablanca's "Sam"), and included the songs "It Was Good Enough For Grandma," and "When the Boys Come Home." The anthem "The Eagle and Me" was "the first theater song of the fledgling civil rights movement," write Meyerson and Harburg. "Right as the Rain" and "T'morra, T'morra" have become semi-standards. This was the first musical for which Yip had full control, and he used his power to produce a smash hit with a social message that ran for 654 performances.
The wildly successful Finian's Rainbow was produced in 1947, conceived by Harburg and co-written by Harburg and Fred Saidy (with music by Burton Lane), as a socialist attack on capitalism and racial inequality. The show had a smash run of 725 performances on Broadway, introducing hits sung by Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and many others, such as "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?," "Old Devil Moon" and "Look to the Rainbow." It was the first musical with a fully integrated chorus.
How could a socialist musical succeed at a time when the whole country was apparently afraid of socialism? "While its racial liberalism was immediately obvious to any audience," write Meyerson and Harburg, "its Marxism was apprehended at most on the level of parable only--the only level, that is, which would have been acceptable to a mainstream musical audience, especially an audience of 1947." Musical librettist Peter Stone wrote: "Finian's Rainbow was . . . extraordinarily political, [but] the audience had no idea of that. . . . If you ever want to reach people with a political tract, go study Finian's Rainbow."
Yip was not a communist, but due to his socialist views he had many friends on the left. He had written some patriotic American songs, including "The Son of a Gun Who Picks on Uncle Sam," but this did not shield him from the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities (HUAC). When Harburg's name hit the Hollywood blacklist in 1950--while he was in the middle of working on Huckleberry Finn--he was shocked.
"I had just been one of those vociferous guys who was fighting injustice and joining all the movements at the time," Yip said. He wrote: "I am outraged by the suggestion that somehow I am connected with, believe in, or am sympathetic with Communist or totalitarian philosophy."
Although most of the producers wanted to work with Yip, he was effectively barred from Hollywood for a decade, forced to turn to Broadway, which was much less restrictive. In 1956, Arthur Freed wanted Yip and Harold Arlen to do the music for a movie about Nellie Bly, the first woman journalist who went around the world. They had started work on the film, but were having trouble getting Yip "cleared" for the project. They thought that if Yip could talk to the head of the International Alliance of Stage Employees unions, they might agree to take his name off the blacklist.
"So I went to see Roy Brewer one day," Yip said.
"I wish I had a tape of that meeting . . . He came in with a file of papers on me that was thicker than all my works . . . He looked at me and he finally said . . . 'We don't have anybody who has ever directly mentioned your name, who said you were in a cell or said you were a Communist.'
"I said, 'All right. Number one, I am not a Communist. Now what the hell do you want of me?'
"He said, 'But you did things.'
"I said, 'Like what?'
" 'Well, did you write a song called "Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe"?'
"I said, 'Yes, for Cabin in the Sky. A big hit.'
"He said, 'Which Joe were you talking about? Was it Joe Stalin?' Now, this is what I had to contend with. Either you bust out laughing or you throw the desk at him. I just broke into laughter. This got them mad. . . ."
When Yip asked what he needed to do to get off the blacklist, Brewer suggested he could write an article for the American Legion along the lines of "I Was a Dupe for the Communists." Yip refused, calling The Legionnaire a "fourth-rate magazine." The show was called off. "I never got to see Nellie Bly," he said sadly.
Yip continued to work on Broadway, with shows like Flahooley, Jamaica, and the anti-war The Happiest Girl in the World. After the blacklist was over, he and Harold Arlen wrote the music for the 1962 animated movie Gay Purr-ee, starring the voices of Judy Garland, Robert Goulet, Red Buttons and Hermione Gingold.
During the sixties and seventies, Yip published two books of poetry. At This Point in Rhyme and Rhymes for the Irreverent include light satiric verses poking holes in all things sacred, with titles like "Atheist," "Do Unto Others?" and "How Odd of God."
He performed narrated concerts at New York's Ninety-second Street Y "Lyrics and Lyricists" series, which he helped conceive and inaugurate in 1970. He promoted his music and his views on television shows, such as The Dick Cavett Show and CBS's 60 Minutes.
Yip's children Ernie and Marge grew up to share their father's freethinking views. Ernie, who is now a retired research scientist living in New York City (four blocks from where Yip was born), told me a story about his Dad's worldview. Yip and his cousin Herman Meltzer (his attorney at the time) were riding in a bouncing plane in bad weather when the pilot announced they were having trouble, asking the passengers to prepare for a possible crash landing. As they were fearing the worst, Herman asked Yip, "Do you believe in God?"
Yip thought for a moment and then said, "I'll tell you when we land."
Ernie describes his Dad as an optimist, "because optimism works. It is more useful than pessimism." Yip was a life-long reader of science and was familiar with freethought writers such as Robert G. Ingersoll.
Still working, nearing his 85th birthday, Yip Harburg died in 1981 due to a massive heart convulsion, while driving to a story conference for a film version of Treasure Island.
As a freethinker, Yip did not believe in a transcendent afterlife "over the rainbow." In a poem called "Small Comforts," he observed:
Before I was born, I seemed to be
Contented with being non-be-able;
So after I'm gone, it seems to me
My lot should be not less agreeable.
But Yip Harburg did believe in beauty and hope. He knew that there is a place in the human heart where "dreams really do come true," and hoped that our future would be free of fanaticism and violence.
Dan Barker is co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. His musicianship and freethought songwriting are featured in the Freedom From Religion Foundation CDs, "Beware of Dogma" and "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist."
Thanks to Ernie Harburg and Nick Markovich at the Yip Harburg Foundation for help with this article. For more information on Yip Harburg, contact:
The Yip Harburg Foundation
270 Lafayette Street, Room 812
New York, NY 10012
P.S. -- After this article was published, Nick Markovich at the Yip Harburg Foundation found this Yip Harburg quote, from a May 21, 1977 radio interview with Jack O'Brian (WOR, NYC):
O'Brian: In the abstract, what is your religion?
Harburg: Well, that's a tough question, but I would say -- quickie -- that my religion is to make people laugh, and in return, to give me love and I want them to make me laugh and I want to give them love.
Rhymes for the Irreverent
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is pleased to make available two books of Yip Harburg's poems, obtained from the Yip Harburg Foundation. The two books are sold as a set, for $10.00 total, including postage and handling. Order here.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree;
And only God who makes the tree
Also makes the fools like me.
But only fools like me, you see,
Can make a God, who makes a tree.
"For what we are about to receive,
Oh Lord, 'tis Thee we thank,"
Said the Cannibal as he cut a slice
Of the missionary's shank.
No matter how much I probe and prod,
I cannot quite believe in God;
But oh, I hope to God that He
Unswervingly believes in me.
A Nose is a Nose is a Nose
Tell me please,
Did God who gave us flowers and trees,
Also provide the allergies?
Lead Kindly Light
Where Bishop Patrick crossed the street
An "X" now marks the spot.
The light of God was with him,
But the traffic light was not.
Do Unto Others?
"Love thy neighbor as thyself?"
Hide that motto on the shelf!
Let it lie there, keep it idle
Especially if you're suicidal.
In '29 when the banks went bust,
Our coins still read "In God We Trust."