Sunday, October 30, 2005
Science Meets the Grassy Knoll
"Darwinists want to shut down all public discussion of the problems with the fossil record," retired law professor and intelligent design activist Phillip Johnson, told an enthusiastic audience of about 250 at Washburn University in Topeka last night. The fossil record, Johnson asserted, does not support Darwin's theory of evolution. In fact, fossil discoveries made since Darwin's time make the problems more more difficult for scientists who desperately want to believe in the theory of evolution.
"Darwinists misrepresent the evidence, just like CBS News did when it used forged documents to prove that President Bush didn't fulfill his National Guard service," Johnson said as the audience chuckled knowingly. "They [scientists] say the evidence may be forged, but it's accurate. You see?"
"Scientists are desperate," Johnson claimed. "If the public hears how bad the fossil problem is, the sky will fall."
Johnson's talk, and the worshipful response from most of audience, are but the most recent reflection of what the late Richard Hofstadter, the former DeWitt Clinton Professor of American History at Columbia University, famously called the paranoid style in American politics. The characteristics of the paranoid style -- heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy -- which Hofstadter enumerated in his 1964 Harper's Magazine article were all on display last night in Topeka.
The modern right wing feels dispossessed wrote Hofstadter:
America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialistic and communistic schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of American power. Their predecessors had discovered conspiracies; the modern radical right finds conspiracy to be betrayal from on high...
For Johnson and his admirers on the cultural right, the Illuminati, the Masons, the Jesuits, the communists, cosmopolitans, and foreigners, have now been displaced by a cut-throat cabal of Neo-Darwinists who know the truth about evolution but are involved in an elaborate 150-year-long conspiracy to prevent the public from learning the truth.
Those who doubt the power of this paranoid fantasy need only reflect on the popularity of Dan Brown's bestseller, The DaVinci Code, with its unraveling of a labyrinthine conspiracy pitting two secret societies -- the fictional Priory [an Illuminati stand-in] against a fictionalized Opus Dei -- who know a great, but hidden truth to get a sense the continuing appeal of a paranoid view of history.
To accept Johnson's distorted view of science -- and most of the audience clearly did -- is to believe that scientists have been scheming everywhere -- with the possible exception of the the grassy knoll -- to keep the deadly truth about the fossil record from the public.