Making Satire Redundant

The satirical newspaper The Onion has an “Onion in History” feature whereby they present back issues with wild headlines about past events. This week’s “Onion in History” is an issue dated July 20, 1925, and contains a headline blaring, “SCOPE’S MONKEY TRIAL RAISES TROUBLING QUESTION: IS SCIENCE BEING TAUGHT IN OUR SCHOOLS?

It contains a few amusing articles, but sometimes the reality of the situation is bad enough that it’s impossible to exaggerate. Below the fold, we’ll compare an excerpt from one of the “joke” articles with an actual report from the ongoing Creation Mega Conference.

First, here’s a segement from an opinion piece by The Onion’s “crime and science” editor Edward Tillich:

As a man that holds that the welfare of the country takes precedence over any other human concern, I must stand firmly against the teaching of Science in our schools. This Science has already caused turmoil among God-fearing folk who did not wish to learn that they, as human creatures, may have descended from apes. What if Science were to champion other truths, provable and real, which people do not want to hear? Should we allow our citizens to become aware of facts which go against their chosen beliefs, it would cause untold turmoil and strife among our people! The people’s reaction would cause division and conflict in our nation that would doubtless outweigh any benefits of the actual Scientific discovery.

Should we teach out children facts? No, I say, a thousand times no! As they grow into tomorrow’s farmers, housewives, mill workers, and coal miners, facts are the last things they will need. Manners! Subservience! Above all, obedience! […]

Once something is accepted as true, it should be true forever. This noble ideal, with its emphasis on unquestioning acceptance of and obedience to authority, is what we should teach our children. It is the rock upon which we have built our government, our religion, and our American way of life, and it is the very ideal which Science seeks to thwart with its new “discoveries” and impersonal ledgers of “facts.”

Ha ha ha, very funny. No one could ever actually think like that, could they? Well, Ronald Bailey of Reason magazine gives us a report on the ongoing Creationist Mega Conference, in which he tells us…

Scientific creationists have a different understanding about the proper way to interpret facts and phenomena. In his talk “What’s the Best Evidence that God Created,” Carl Kerby explains, “You should allow the Word of God to drive your understanding of the evidence.” Ham tells a story of how, during one of his lectures at a college, a professor yelled out “The Bible is not a science textbook.” To which Ham replied, “I’m glad the Bible is not a science textbook because science textbooks change every year.” What he doesn’t mention is that they change because human knowledge advances and old theories are replaced by better ones.

However, the longer I listened the clearer it became that creationism is not about science. It’s about morality. Specifically, creationists worry that biological evolution undermines people’s moral beliefs, leading to lawlessness, family breakdown, homosexuality, pornography, and abortion. The real heart of creationism is existential dread.

Philip Bell, former British cancer researcher and now fulltime creationist, in his talk “Ape Men, ‘Missing Links’ and the Bible,” explains, “If Adam is your ancestor then you were created specially and have a purpose in life. If evolution is true, we are descended from ape-like animals with no morality, no aesthetic sensibility and no soul.” If evolution were true, Bell tells the conferees, then “you would have no purpose for your existence.”

In his welcoming remarks, the Reverend Jerry Falwell similarly declares, “If we don’t understand the young earth and how God created it in six 24-hour days, then our values are skewed. If we believe that we evolved from a blob of protoplasm, we have zero values then… If we evolved, then there was no Fall in the Garden and there is no sin and no need for redemption and Christ’s death was unnecessary and meaningless.”

As with the fictitious Tillich, the real-life creationists operate with an absolute, unquestioning obedience to an authority which “should be true forever”. Any pesky facts that contradict said authority are seen as an intolerable threat not only to their belief system, but to the very moral fabric of society itself.

Consequentialist arguments of this kind are of course absurd – aside from the fact that blind obedience to authority is mostly good only for the authoritarians (who appear, among other things, to be raking in the dough), being good for society is never enough to make something true. Nor does being verifiably true require being good for society. One hopes that discovering true things is good for society more often than not, but the idea that everyday notions of right and wrong are wholly dependent upon believing that great white sharks were once vegetarians, for example, defies simple logic. You have to seriously worry about people who tell you that, absent their inflexible belief system, they’d have no reason not to kill you.

The only difference between Tillich’s satirical screed and the genuine article is that the real-life creationists vehemently deny that the facts contradict their beliefs. This is because, as they say quite plainly, they start with the premise that no fact could possibly contradict their beliefs, and it is through this doctrine of infallibility that all “facts” are to be interpreted and understood. Sadly enough, it’s impossible to exaggerate just how backwards this reasoning is. That makes The Onion’s satirical stab look almost like an actual report from the year 2005, not a parody of how fundamentalists may have thought back in the 1920s.