Wednesday, January 19, 2005

What Is the Matter with American Secularism

Those looking to left-leaning mainstream intellectuals as defenders of secularism are bound to be disappointed, as indicated by this New York Times op-ed by the author of a book trumpeting the history of American secularism. Yet she blames the controversy over the teaching of evolution for destroying what she apparently regards as the ideal: "an accommodation between science and mainstream religion."

"Caught Between Church and State," Susan Jacoby, New York Times, 1/19/05

"Many liberals mistakenly believe that these controversies are largely a product of the post-1980 politicization of the Christian right. In fact, the elected anti-evolutionists on local and state school boards today are the heirs of eight decades of fundamentalist campaigning against Darwinism through back-door pressure on textbook publishers and school officials. Even efforts to cloak creationism with the words 'science' and 'scientific'—as in 'creation science'—is an old tactic, reminiscent of the Soviet Union's boasting about 'scientific communism.'...

At the beginning of the 20th century, however, America was well on its way to an accommodation between science and mainstream religion, now a fait accompli in the rest of the developed world, that pleases neither atheists nor theocrats manques but works for almost everyone else.... The Scopes trial changed all that. Instead of being the nail in the coffin of creationism as many believe, the trial undermined the emerging accommodation between religion and science by intensifying the fundamentalists' conviction that acceptance of evolution would inevitably weaken any type of faith."