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Childish things, and the putting away thereof
February 12, 2009 - 9:35pm

Today is, as we've all been informed ad nauseum, the 200th anniversary of the births of both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin.

George Will's recent column on the subject would have been of only passing interest (Will's mind stopped being worth watching some years back), were it not for his closing paragraph. In a column ostensibly about how Lincoln is more significant in world history than Darwin, he finishes with a gratuitous slap at the whole subject of climate change, human ability to influence it, and governments' ability to affect human behavior. Were those topics the subject of his discourse, it would be just another instance of a talking head believing he knew more about science than the scientists. (BTW, talking (or at least writing) head George Monbiot is running a contest to see who can publish the most climate-related misstatements of fact in the fewest words. The current leader in the clubhouse is a gent in Flint MI who crammed 18 misstatements into only 486 words. That's going to be hard to beat, but the contest does run through December.)

But Will's theme seems to be as much on the positive value of ignorance as on the relative virtues to the 16th president and the (arguably) first evolutionist. He opens with a quote from the wife of the bishop of Worcester ("Descended from the apes! Let us hope that it is not true, but if it is, let us pray that it will not become generally known."), and sums up with one on the Scopes trial from columnist Ed Yoder ("Tennessee's ambitions were comparatively modest. It sought only to conceal the disturbing evidence of natural selection from impressionable school children.").

That either of those alleged thoughts could be presented in a positive light, as is the fact that the majority of Americans yet resist the theory of evolution, is proof positive that the writer is still deeply within an ideological (as opposed to fact-based) reality. The past decade-plus has shown anyone paying attention how harmful that can be, even if only in the relatively (by no means absolutely) innocuous contexts of economics and wars over resources. But reality has a way of imposing itself, whether we deny it or not. Protecting impressionable children and public mores are social extravagances we can ill afford when doing so means sticking our collective heads deep into the ever-warming sand.

 

 

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