Guest writer Myron Pauli, a Ph.D. in physics, argues for the need for a separation of State and Science. As always, Dr. Pauli offers much food for thought.
Most of us understand the concept of separation of church and state (government). But few understand how that can carry over into separation of education and state or science and state. Government determination of “truth” often winds up backfiring on both government and truth.
Government had been pushing various enlightened concepts such as compulsory “universal” education since the mid-19th Century. State laws known as “Blaine amendments” ensured that taxpayer funds would not go to Catholic schools but only to “universal” (e.g. racially segregated Protestant-controlled) schools. By 1919, populism, feminism, and progressivism had advanced to better mankind (at government gunpoint) via Prohibition. When progressive Woodrow Wilson tilted us into the Great War, local governments undertook to ban teaching foreign language (Meyer v. Nebraska (1924)) and sectarian schools (Pierce vs. Society of Sisters (1925)).
Another progressive concept to uplift mankind in the early 20th Century was eugenics, pioneered by Charles Darwin’s half-cousin, Sir Francis Galton. Eugenics was enthusiastically endorsed by Margaret Sanger and the American Birth Control League and distinguished American eugenecist Dr. Charles Davenport. Like all “political issues”, some tried to suppress this movement with legislation while others tried to enforce this with legislation. In 1924, Virginia passed two “enlightened” laws: the Sterilization Act and the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. Dr. Davenport, for example, founded the International Federation of Eugenics Organizations in 1925 which had a “commission on bastardization and miscegenation” to campaign against racial mixing and advised Nazi Germany. The Sterilization Act was endorsed by the Supreme Court in Buck v. Bell (1927) in a decision by progressive hero Oliver Wendell Holmes (“three generations of imbeciles are enough”) with only one dissent (the “reactionary Catholic” Pierce Butler).
Davenport’s science was incorporated into the standard textbook “A Civic Biology” which ranked the races: Ethiopian-negro ; Malay-brown ; America Indian ; Mongolian-yellow ; and “finally, the highest type of all, the Caucasians”. Some did not like the modern eugenics including Catholics and the World Christian Fundamentals Association. The latter pushed through a law banning teaching of evolution in the Tennessee Public Schools although the official Tennessee biology textbook was none other than “A Civic Biology”! (thus teachers were ordered to violate the law!). A test case was set up with John Scopes as the teacher whose name became infamous and later led to such works as “Inherit the Wind”.
The popular view is that the ignorant Protestants were suppressing free speech although I would gladly wager that any public school teacher reading the white supremacy part of “A Civic Biology” in 2015 would be terminated permanently within 24 hours. Ironically, H. L. Mencken, a defender of evolution, wrote that the “anti-evolution law, whatever its unwisdom, was at least constitutional – – that policing school teachers was certainly not putting down free speech.” Mencken, of course, stood FOR evolution but endorsed the right to of parents to keep their children “ignorant”. What happens in both the “Inherit the Wind” drama and in the actual court case is that Scopes loses but the fundamentalists make fools of themselves. Science, education, and politics all blended into one giant mess.
In 1930, the ever-skeptical Mencken, reviewing a book by cosmologist Sir James Jeans, wrote “I believe that fully four-firths of what cocksure physicists tell us about the nature of electrons will be laughed at on some near tomorrow…”. Ironically, the agnostic Jeans’ “Steady State” cosmology later lost out to Catholic priest George LeMaitre’s “Big Bang” cosmology as data accumulated. Science eventually sorts itself out without “official” help.
In the movie and the actual case, the “bigoted” William Jennings Bryan is not allowed to give his “final speech” and soon drops dead. In spite of my own belief in species mutation and evolution, I find this part of the “ignorant” Bryan’s 1925 speech to be quite prescient, especially in light of Hiroshima: “In war, science has proven itself an evil genius; it has made war more terrible than it ever was before. Man used to be content to slaughter his fellowmen on a single plain – the earth’s surface. Science has taught him to go down into the water and shoot up from below and to go up into the clouds and shoot down from above, thus making the battlefield three times as bloody as it was before. But science does not teach brotherly love. Science has made war so hellish that civilization was about to commit suicide; and now we are told that newly discovered instruments of destruction will make the cruelty of the late war seem trivial in comparison with the cruelties of wars that may come in the future.”
Perhaps science and “education” should employ more skepticism and humility and less reliance on political endorsements and dogmatic certainty.