Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 31, 2014

Is Montana about to add to Congressional ignorance?

Anti-intellectualism, in general, and intentional ignorance of science, in particular, have often been a strong force in the USA, ebbing and flowing in intensity as the new insights provided by the full use  of our brains come into conflict with various longstanding, but flawed notions.  Examples of this abound and to find a good one we have to look no further than to the most basic of questions,  “where do we come from”.  Back in 1925, that question provided the basis for what became known as the Scopes “Monkey” Trial.  While being  held in a small Tennessee town, every word of that trial was closely followed  by most Americans who had access to a radio. Many of us know the story quite well because of the famous 1960 movie that replayed it – “Inherit the Wind” starring Spencer Tracy and Frederic March.

In that landmark trial, the prosecution was headed by Williams Jennings Bryan, a prominent politician of his era (Congressman from Nebraska and three-time Democratic presidential candidate) and the defense was headed by Clarence Darrow, a famous American  lawyer and civil libertarian. The defendant was a young school teacher who was accused of violating Tennessee law by teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution in his classroom.

The dialogue of that trial is just as entertaining as it is informative when viewed today with the benefit of 90 years hindsight.  One of the exchanges  between the two oratory giants involved tells it all.  In that scene, Darrow is attempting to get Jennings to acknowledge that a local rock Darrow was holding in his hand might be more than 10 million years old as was believed by a local geologist.  Jennings, who happened to believe that the Earth had been instantly “created” in the year 4004 BC (moreover exactly at 9 AM on Oct. 23 of 4004 BC!) ignored Darrow’s question and simply responded “I am far more interested in the “Rock of Ages” than I am the ages of rocks!” – to the great enjoyment of those in attendance.

From what I have read about William Jennings Bryan, I am sure that he was an outstanding public servant, entirely devoted to the improvement of his country. And given the fact that the era in which he lived was nearly a century ago, I can easily forgive him for his intellectual deficiencies in the areas of science.

What is not forgivable, however, is the fact that many  members of the US Congress today, who have had opportunities for a modern education, have no better understanding of science than William Jennings Bryan did nearly 90 years ago. While examples of this are far too abundant, especially within the Republican party, I am particularly sorry to see that a fresh example of arrested intelligence might soon be sent to our Senate by my beloved state of Montana in next Tuesday’s election.  I am referring here to Mr. Steven Daines, the Republican candidate who according to the most recent polls is likely to win his race against the Democratic candidate, Amanda Curtis.

Any well-educated person today knows that the fossil record left behind by previous forms of life and the many sets of “nuclear clocks” left behind by the decay of various radioactive elements clearly suggest how all forms of life changed and evolved over time.  In addition, we now also have DNA measurements of moderately ancient forms of animals including homo sapiens.  All of this information has been widely reported for more than a century so that anyone’s imagined explanation for our origins could be tested.  From that factual information, the notion of natural evolution would have become obvious to most thinking persons even if Darwin had not spelled it all out for us back in 1859.

Mr. Daines, however, apparently believes in the notion of “intelligent design” and has suggested that it be taught in our schools as an alternative to natural evolution.  Although the words used today by folks who do not accept our scientific explanations for “where we came from” have changed a bit, their argument is still basically the same as that put forward by William Jennings Bryan back in 1925.  And, as one might expect of someone who holds modern science in such low regard,  Mr. Daines also does not appear to believe that mankind is causing changes in our climate and, therefore, is not in favor of reducing our emissions of carbon dioxide.  Again, it would appear that Mr. Daines believes that some supernatural force, only, can affect the Earth’s climate and he does not want mankind to interfere with the “intelligent design” of that force.

I don’t know why Mr. Daines’ intellectual development is so limited. He is a relatively young man who has certainly had access to a relatively modern education. I happen to know something about his educational opportunities because my own children passed through the same public education systems in Bozeman, Montana.  Perhaps Mr. Daines simply has too much of the Neanderthal influence in his DNA or perhaps his brain has fossilized prematurely.  I don’t  know.  But in any case, it would be both sad and shameful to see the State of Montana send such an intellectually backward person to the US Senate. The leaders of our country must be much better anchored to the realities of the planet on which we all live and depend..

Sure hope Amanda Curtis wins on Tuesday!


  1. Is this Claire Daines offspring? It’s hard to believe anyone let alone someone so young can think or not think this way.

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