Friday, July 11, 2008

Turn off your voice of reason

6th September 2006

I love The Simpsons. They have a history of cutting-edge and witty humour. Plus the kids love the funny voices and cute characters. Sure there are some adult concepts which I would often try to keep the kids away from, but generally the subject matters were "sharp but reasonably harmless"

Whilst the humour is topcial without being too preachy, it's unavoidable that, like everything else on television, people feel as though they are informed and educated about real life through a popular show like this.

Occasionally little Lisa Simpson represents the "voice of reason", often standing up for some leftist views like Bhuddism or planet-worhipping disguised as environmental concern, And, with a couple of "token Christian" characters like the pushover Ned Flanders or the couldn't-care-less Reverend Lovejoy in the mix, Christian toes are tread upon. There are the usual secular themes and baseless stereotypes.

But considering just how venomous anti-Christian TV rhetoric can get, I could always take the Simpsons- the media and showbiz got their lashings also. This meant that The Simpsons never sold out to the popular politically-correct godless ideology, they cruised along at their own pace.

How times change. A recent episode played the theme of evolution taught in public schools. As though realising it for the first time, Ned Flanders and Reverend Lovejoy use it to create a case to force religion back into schools, culminating in a court case attempting to ban the instruction of evolution. Naturally the voice of reason was Lisa Simpson ("But creationism isn't science!"). Through a mildly funny process involving Homer acting like an ape, evolution wins. Lisa consoles the useless Ned Flanders with "I really respect your beliefs and that you are so passionate about them, but religion really shouldn't be taught in schools any more than you would want science taught in church". How wonderfully patronising.

Along the way were the usual stereotypes- the irrational Ned Flanders screaming at his kids that evolution "just isn't true...because it just isn't", museum displays entitled "Irrefutable Fossil Evidence", and characters attacking evolution using nothing more than angry name-calling, manipulation and trickery.

So, there you have it. Evolution is fact. Simple. Anyone who opposes it is a brainless, unscientific rube who is actually dangerous to progress and education. The only people who oppose evolution are religious nutcases. Once again, pop culture comes to our rescue with lessons learned through entertainment.

Sure, evolution is science. The bit where species adapt to their environment? Not under any dispute whatsoever.

It's the bit where a bacteria grows arms, legs, brains, reproductive systems and a gazillion other brilliant things from a series of accidents, that we struggle with. As is the bit about DNA developing new, previously non-existent information magically from nowhere. Christians aren't the only ones who struggle with this. So do many eminent scientists. The theory of irreducible complexity also struggles with macroevolution. Heck, even those who promote macroevolution, such as Jay Gould et al, litter their theses with words like "possibly" and "maybe" and "probably" to fill in the massive blanks!

Did you hear all the fundamentalist, irrational, superstitious, Jesus-hysteria oozing from every sentence there?

Well yes, according to TV.

I can only presume the Simpsons' writers were drawing from Inherit the Wind, a movie/play about the Scopes trial. John Scopes was a teacher in the 1920's who was tried under a Tennessee law that prohibited the teaching of evolution, and the case was made into a token religion vs. science debate. Or so the movie would have you believe. I thought the Entertainment Industry could not sink any lower in making fantasy from the Scopes' trial, in order to misrepresent the Christian view on this topic and stereotype Christians poorly.

Well, the Simpsons just sunk lower.

In The Simpsons, it was the religious rubes who "used" the question of teaching evolution to make a case and initiate the whole process using force and influence. In the Scopes' trial (the real one, not the movie version) the emerging American Civil Liberties Union were looking for a platform from which to start a campaign to have religious instruction thrown out of public schools. They initiated the whole process. The agressors, you might say.

Tennessee prohibited Darwinian teaching, albeit a light, conditional prohibition, so the ACLU placed an ad in the local paper asking for help in "tesing this law". It was answered by George Rappleyea, a Dayton county businessman who figured the community would benefit from the publicity. He pressured John Scopes into becoming the mule "accused" of teaching evolution. Scopes was a teacher without a degree in biology who had substituted for the ill biology teacher for a mere two weeks. He could not even remember teaching evolution, but he mentioned something about biology.

This was good enough for the ACLU, who offered to pay all expenses AND for his subsequent further education if he agreed to be their mule. Someone dobbed on Scopes to the State and so it began.

The prosecution simply wanted to put the evidence for evolution against evidence for creation as their case, and actually enlisted William Bryan, an experienced orator with sound scientific and political background, to do so. Bryan had studied Origin of the Species and had a well-prepared line of questioning.

According to the movie and The Simpson's parody, he was a loudmouth, fanatical, finger-pointing fundy lunatic, citing only religious dogma as his basis. Inherit the Wind had the case dragging on, with threats from the Christian community affecting jurors, and all sorts of treachery, until the final "tragic" loss of the case. Science and reason defeated by supersition and oppression! Yet the fanatical tyrant Bryan was still not satisfied. He screamed for blood.

In real life, before Bryan got to state his well-prepared case, the defence copped a plea and ended the trial early. They had planned this all along, to prevent Bryan from sounding rational.

The theatre version of Inherit the Wind had even more insidious low-brow swipes at Christianity with it's pathetically unreal stereotypes of redneck, uneducated fanatics screaming abuse at the enlightened pro evolutionists. Even the ficticious local Reverend calls down a curse on his own daughter for dating the Scopes' character.

In real life, even the openly anti-Christian journo HL Mencken reported that there was no animosity between the Christian townsfolk and Scopes' defenders.

Now why on earth would such corruption of the facts be neccessary? Could it be that evolution's salespeople need the sympathy vote? Strange. Because it seems that on TV the Christians are the angry, irrational ones manipulating public opinion, yet in the real life TV claims to mirror, it is their opponents exhibiting such behaviour.

No space for evolution arguments here. Suffice to say that the refutations to this popular theory are wide and scientific. Nobody "signed off" on evolution and concluded that, if you don't believe it, you do not belong in mainstream society. Yet turn on your TV and this is exactly what you hear.

More's the point is the use of evolution as the method by which to portray Christians (not Hindus, Muslims, Bhuddists, Humanists mind you, but Christians) as mindless, unscientific, blundering and backwards. Lisa Simpson summed it by saying "we don't want religion taught in schools any more than you would want science taught in churches".

That's right Lisa- us Christians even think light globes are evil and would have burned Edison at the stake had we half a chance.

Actually, we teach science all the time.

The law of Thermodynamics, for example-the observed, recorded fact that the universe is in a constant state of decay and energy loss, is something we don't mind reminding people.

The Bible itself; the whole reason we regard this collection of writings as a dependable account of the events it claims to describe, is because of science. The science of archaeology, hermenuetics, linguistics, etc.

We often mention that it was God who instructed Abraham to circumcise male children on the eight day. Biological science demonstrates that an infant's peak blood clotting and immunity is on their eighth day. Interesting. How did Abraham work it out- trial and error?

Christians seem to be the only group prepared to discuss the true, scientific biological properties of the deadly HIV virus. Nowhere on TV do I see that condoms cannot prevent the transfer of the virus, that there are recorded cases of infection from body contact sports and mosquitos, and that it is developing the ability to become airborne. Oh, and that the highest risk group is the homosexual community.

The Entertainment Industry prevents those facts from becoming known, because it will offend the gay community. The very same Industry tells us to believe that Christians are the enemies of science and information. Interesting.

Lesson? If it's on TV, it is most probably rubbish. If you want to see real life, turn off your TV. Do it soon before you actually start believing the stereotypes, although for some, I believe it may be too late. And if something says "Based on a true story", be afraid. Be very afraid.

Pity. I used to like The Simpsons. Now they've sold out.

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