From Monkey Trial to Genocide by Germs
by Bhaskar Menon on 01 Aug 2014 5 Comments

In February 1925 the American state of Tennessee adopted legislation making it unlawful “to teach any theory that denies the story of divine creation as taught by the Bible and to teach instead that man was descended from a lower order of animals.” The American Civil Liberties Union responded with advertisements in Tennessee papers, offering to support anyone who would challenge the law in court, and a group of businessmen in Dayton, thinking of all the attention and visitors the case would draw to their drowsy town, put up a 24-year old science teacher and football coach, John Scopes. 


The Scopes “monkey trial” was pure theatre. 


The prosecution team was led by three-time Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, whose eloquent campaigning against Darwin had led 15 states to initiate action to ban the teaching of the theory of evolution. Clarence Darrow, one of the most famous lawyers of his day, headed the Defence. 


The general expectation of fireworks was met in full measure. At one point, reported HL Mencken in The New Yorker, “Mr. Bryan sprang to his feet, his face purple, and shook his fist in the lowering, gnarled face of Mr. Darrow” and shouted that he was trying to “protect the word of God from the greatest atheist and agnostic in the United States.” Mr. Darrow, for his part, said he was trying “to prevent bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the educational system of the United States.” 


In a move the presiding judge allowed reluctantly, Darrow called Bryan himself to the witness chair, but after he made the pious old politician look ridiculous, the cross-examination was struck from the record. The 12-man jury, 11 of them devout Christians, found Scopes guilty. In the court of public opinion, however, Darwin triumphed. Only two of the 15 States (Tennessee being one) actually banned the teaching of evolution, and Scopes himself got off on appeal. (Although widely breached, the Tennessee law stayed on the books for another 43 years before the Supreme Court struck it down.) 


The Scopes trial was widely assumed to have marked the end of the public controversy over Darwin versus God, but that was not so. In 2005 the matter was back in an American court, this time in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where a group of parents sued the Dover School Board for requiring science teachers to read a statement to 9th Grade biology students that evolution was “not a fact,” but a theory on par with “Intelligent Design.” Students were told of a “reference book,” Of Pandas and People that explained Intelligent Design.


The parents asserted in their initial filing that intelligent design was “neither scientific nor a theory in the scientific sense;” that it was “an inherently religious argument or assertion” that was “consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.” 


The Defence argued that its position was not religious. Appearing as an expert witness, a biochemist at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Prof Michael Behe, compared intelligent design to the widely accepted Big Bang theory in physics that explains the origin of the universe. Both were arrived at by using inductive reasoning based on scientifically observable clues; both raised questions about primary causes that had clear theological implications. 


The strategy did not work. 


In a scathing 139-page ruling, Judge John Jones of the US District Court in Harrisburg found for the plaintiffs, declaring that it was unconstitutional to teach Intelligent Design in public school because it was not science but a “religious” viewpoint advanced by a “particular version of Christianity.” Excoriating the School Board for a decision of “breath-taking inanity” he ordered it to pay the substantial legal expenses incurred by the plaintiffs. 


The judgment was generally applauded by those who considered themselves liberal and progressive, an outcome both ill-considered and dangerous. Ill-considered, because it undermined the traditional liberal view that Darwin’s theory must be contained by a strong moral framework if it is not to be an argument for the most regressive social policies. Dangerous, because we are now in an age when small groups have unprecedented power to commit surreptitious genocide. 


The full title of Darwin’s 1859 book was “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.” 


The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who was 15 when Origin of Species came out, had by 1886, distilled Darwinism into an argument for the utterly amoral reign of power. 


In “Beyond Good and Evil” he argued that in every form of life there is “an incarnate will to power” that “will strive to grow, spread, seize, become predominant - not from any morality or immorality but because it is living and because life simply is will to power... ‘Exploitation’... belongs to the essence of what lives, as a basic organic function; it is a consequence of the will to power, which is after all the will to life.” 


He was clear also on what that implied: “Suppose, finally, we succeed in explaining our entire instinctive life as the development and ramification of one basic form of the will - namely, of the will to power, as my proposition has it ... then one would have gained the right to determine all efficient force unequivocally as - will to power. The world viewed from inside ... would be ‘will to power’ and nothing else.” 


That insane vision lit Hitler’s path to power and fired the gas chambers of Dachau and Buchenwald. Its miasmic influence continued in colonial attitudes that have shaped the openly criminal policies of post-colonial Europe in Africa and Asia. 


The “religious” perspective on life is essential to counter this brutal madness of power. It brings to the fore the reality that human life is not a pitiless desert of power relationships. While competition for resources is indeed pervasive, so are cooperation and compassion. It is only to the extent that the latter have framed and contained the depredations of power that human civilization has advanced. 


Beyond the politics of the matter, there is the quite weighty case for Intelligent Design that rests on plain common sense. The theory of evolution only explains some of the physical processes that have governed the emergence of life on Earth; it cannot and does not address its purpose, meaning and mystery. Science cannot touch those issues because they are not measurable. The most it can do is postulate the spiritual as a shadow of material interests and present it in terms of brain waves and blood chemistry. 


Those who say that instruction on moral and spiritual issues has no place in the teaching of science are surely out of touch with a modern world confronted with test-tube babies grown to be harvested for body parts, the cloning of the dead, and the potential to use genetically engineered diseases to cull the human species of the defenceless poor. Consider the following: 


-         The laboratory creation of the HIV-AIDS virus in the Belgian Congo and its initial “escape” into the African population in the 1950s remains a story shrouded in unanswered questions and outright disinformation. (A 2005 Discovery Channel documentary provided an excellent overview; when last I looked it was available on-line.)


-         The smallpox virus, the last remnants of which were supposed to have been eliminated in 1999, lives on in a number of military laboratories, and is the focus of opaque experimentation. Australian scientists have reportedly tried to grow a more aggressively contagious strain.


-         Scientists have resurrected from the tissue fragments of long-dead victims, the potent Spanish Flu virus that killed some 25 million people in 1918. Ostensibly to help scientists prepare defences against a natural return of the virus, the genetic blueprint of this deadly pathogen was made available on the World Wide Web. 


It is not just the poor who have been victims of bacteriological attack; some of the most powerful people on earth have been targets.


After the 9/11 attacks, the United States Congress had to be shut down in the face of an anthrax attack; the strain used was later traced to a military laboratory and a South African scientist who had been part of apartheid era experiments in his own country. He was never tried. The whole affair has remained buried in dark theories of conspiracy that pull in the sudden, unexplained deaths of a number of other scientists who could have been prosecution witnesses. 


Similar theories have surrounded the emergence in recent decades of the various strains of the SARS virus in Asia and the Ebola virus in Africa. The Ebola virus, which causes a catastrophic internal collapse in its victims, dates back to the same period as the origin of the HIV-AIDS virus and was probably rooted in the same European fear of “losing Africa.” Its current outbreak in West Africa – the worst in history – follows an African effort to raise the issues of money laundering and drug trafficking in the context of the post-2015 development agenda. 


Meanwhile there has also been a sudden upsurge of contagious diseases in increasingly assertive Asia. In addition to recurring “bird flu” and “swine flu,” China has just been hit with bubonic plague; it has quarantined an entire district. India has not only experienced sudden clusters of contagion in recent years (encephalitis in Bengal most recently), it has clearly been set up for something catastrophic. 

In 2011, the British medical journal The Lancet carried a supposedly peer reviewed article on an antibiotic-resistant “Superbug” the authors claimed to have found in Delhi. The day after publication the primary Indian co-author told the Press that The Lancet version was a major distortion of what he had put his name to; he charged that his British counterpart had “edited” the findings without telling anyone. The Lancet then refused to carry a correction because of “lack of space.” (A recent vaguely referenced Press report about another study claiming that India suffered a million unregistered unnatural deaths annually left me wondering if that was true or if someone was setting the scene for grim things to come.)     


Given the apocalypse by virus theme of much of Western creative culture in recent decades, it is not too far-fetched to speculate about the underlying socio-political reality? Could those who feel threatened by the rise of Africa and Asia be planning great depopulating plagues? African and Asian governments must take that possibility seriously and respond by bringing the issue out of the shadows. 


They can do so with two initiatives: make a determined push to give enforcement powers to the now toothless Convention on Biological (Bacteriological) Weapons; and initiate a process to build a case for presentation to the International Criminal Court. The latter will involve mapping every laboratory involved in relevant research and compiling the names of all scientists involved. 


They can also begin looking at communicable disease as an existential threat, warranting a general social mobilization equivalent to the struggles for political independence. That is the least they can do, especially given the plentiful historical evidence that European elites will engage in genocide for profit or to preserve their power.   

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