Wednesday, April 05, 2006


The Scapegoat

Scapegoating has a long history. The story is first told in Leviticus, the third book of the Old Testament. In a ritual to be performed on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, two identical male goats were to be brought to the courtyard at the Temple in Jerusalem.

During the ritual, priests cast lots over the two goats. One goat, the winner presumably, was sacrificed as an offering to the Lord. Then the priest placed his hands on the other goat, the scapegoat, and confessed all the sins of the people of Israel. That goat was led into the wilderness and pushed over a cliff.

The scapegoat ritual, recounted in Leviticus, symbolically absolves the people of their sins by placing them in the vessel of the goat and then killing it.

Recently, the French philosopher René Girard has proposed that when conflicts within a group, or society, reach a boiling point, someone marked by a distinctive characteristic or weakness, a scapegoat, is singled out as the cause of the troubles. The scapegoat is punished in some way, or quite often simply killed. The level of tension is reduced. Order is restored, for a time.

Following the Civil War, blacks often played the role of scapegoat in the American South. Between 1882 and 1968 it has been reported that 3,446 black men and women were the victims of lynching.

In Germany, the Nazis singled out Jews as being responsible for the country's economic and political collapse. Some 6 million were killed in the ovens.

Since last December, when Judge John Jones ruled that teaching intelligent design in Pennsylvania was an unconstitutional violation of church state separation, we have witnessed a growing hysteria among intelligent design activists.

The growing number and length of posts on William Dembski's Uncommon Descent blog, and the Discovery Institute's Evolution News and Views blog – which once simply ignored bad news – has been a revealing indicator of this new hysteria.

The posts published on these intelligent design blogs now routinely feature lurid reports that bear little or no relation to the facts or any discernable reality. Accompanied by a tone that grows shriller by the day, they no longer attempt to persuade, but seem directed, instead, to an increasingly paranoid audience devoted to the wildest of conspiracy theories.

No longer content to label Judge Jones an "activist judge," no doubt because the steady drumbeat of accusation found no corresponding echo outside the hermetically sealed world of intelligent design, they have moved on to indict a number of potential scapegoats for ritual sacrifice.

An article by intelligent design activists Joe Manzari and Seth Cooper in The American Enterprise Online, now picked up by both Dembski and the Discovery Institute, asserts that the newly elected school board in Dover colluded with the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State to insure that $1 million in legal fees incurred during the Dover trial went to those two organizations.

Specifically, Manzari and Cooper say that the new board had the opportunity to rescind the policy – after the trial ended but before the ruling was issued – and failed to do so.

Manzari and Cooper's nominative scapegoat was to have been newly elected board member Bryan Rehm. They wrote:

One might assume the new board’s first item of business would be to rescind the old board’s evolution policy. Not so. During their first meeting on December 5th, former Dover Board member David Napierski proposed a resolution to rescind the old board’s evolution policy (prior to any court ruling). Acting as a private citizen, Napierski procured the opinion of an attorney, who said that a vote to rescind the evolution policy could stave off a courtroom defeat and significantly reduce or eliminate legal costs and fees. Yet the new board rejected Napierski’s proposal to rescind the old policy.

What’s more, one of the new board members who rejected any attempt to rescind the old evolution policy was also a plaintiff in the lawsuit whose outcome was pending. Dover C.A.R.E.S candidate turned new Dover Board member Bryan Rehm was represented by the ACLU and AUSCS. Yet, in a clear conflict of interest, he participated in the new Dover Board’s consideration of the resolution to rescind the evolution policy.
Wes Elsberry has pointed out that because of a problem with a voting machine, Rehm was not yet certified as a member of the board at its Dec. 5th meeting. He did not vote and, according to the minutes of the meeting, was not even present at the time of his supposed "clear conflict of interest." Manzari and Cooper have since withdrawn the conflict of interest charge against Rehm, but the legally ludicrous collusion charge against the board remains.

Look here for the obvious reasons that rescinding the former board's intelligent design policy at that meeting would have had no effect at all on the ruling, penalty, or attorney fees.

More ominous are the charges flying around the creationist and intelligent design blogosphere about Eric Pianka, a soft-spoken professor of Zoology at the University of Texas. Pianka, who apparently believes that over-population will eventually lead to ecological disaster, perhaps including a mass die-off of human beings from an ebola-like virus, has been accused of plotting the murder of 90 percent of the human race.

Intelligent design "theorist" William Dembski, who has reported Pianka to Homeland Security as a terrorist, asks:

Could Pianka be charged with terrorism/conspiracy to commit a terrorist act? What happens if a student actually takes his suggestion to heart and kills a bunch of people? Why shouldn’t we think that Dr. Doom himself would commit the act of human destruction he is advocating? How is what he is saying any different from somebody at an airport saying that he plans to plant a bomb there. Note: This is not a matter of saying he actually has planted a bomb but saying that he plans to plant one — that surely would be enough in the current climate to get him arrested. So what about Pianka? At what point do his remarks advocating human destruction constitute a terrorist threat that get him arrested? And if not arrested, how about committed?

As soon as this is posted, I’m going to have a chat with the Department of Homeland Security. [Called them — They are aware of it; it will be interesting to see if they do anything about it.]
In the past, blacks, Jews, even childcare workers, have played the role of scapegoat in our society. Increasingly, university professors, rationalists, and scientists are being nominated by the religious right to play this role.

In every case, the charges are as wild as they are false. The easier they are to see through, the more vigorously they are pushed.

KU religious studies professor Paul Mirecki was nominated for that role not long ago and beaten on the side of the highway for planning to teach a course on intelligent design as myth.

Before that, KU social welfare professor Dennis Daily was the victim of scapegoating by right-wing Kansas state senators Susan Wagle and Karin Brownlee who complained that Daily told students he found children sexually arousing, and that he saw nothing wrong with incest and pedophilia. They introduced an amendment to the state budget to cut off funding to all academic departments using sexually explicit material in the classroom.

A month-long investigation by David Shulenburger, provost and executive vice chancellor for the University of Kansas, found that the allegations regarding Dailey's teaching of a human sexuality course were without merit. Daily's teaching methods are not obscene, and Shulenburger found no occurrences of sexual harassment.

Simply disproving these sort of accusations, however, will have no effect. The religious right, the creation scientists and intelligent design theorists are in crisis, as their hysterical reaction to Dover clearly demonstrates. They will have their sacrifice.


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