Ain't it the truth?
Two plus two equals four — spread the word
By JOEL STEIN
Everyone else in my family — my dad, my sister, my mom — loves to argue with idiots.
When my mom, a therapist, visited me in Los Angeles in the spring, she saw the “Psychiatry Kills!” sign on Sunset Boulevard outside the Citizens Commission on Human Rights. Even after I told her, for the 10th time, that the organization was part of the Church of Scientology, she still wanted to stop by and “have a conversation with these people.” I have no doubt that my toilet training included a lot of unnecessary back and forth.
Me, I’d rather smile and nod and save my energy. Let George Bush try to convince jihadists how awesome the Bill of Rights is. My theory is that when you see a guy walking your way waving a knife and talking to himself, you switch sides of the street, not engage him in a civics lesson. But that’s just me.
So when I found out that Eugenie Scott, a former anthropology professor and president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, has spent the last 19 years promoting evolution as head of the National Center for Science Education, I knew I had to find her and make fun of her. This is a woman who is spending her life informing people about scientific discoveries made 147 years ago and who wrote a whole book called Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction. “Sisyphus with a smile” is how Scientific American described her. It’s as if she spends her time trying to convince people that multiplication totally works.
At first Scott admitted that her job is a little silly. “I’m yelling, ‘The world is spherical! The world is spherical!’” she said. When I asked her if her next job would be going to schools and defending Archimedes’ principle, she said she doesn’t get a lot of calls to take on the anti-fluid-displacement theorists. “I haven’t had a single letter on cell division in years. We just don’t get harassed on cell division,” she said. This interview was turning out to be as much fun as I had hoped.
Unfortunately, Scott is a professional debater. Which, I quickly found out, is a more useful skill set than being a professional smart-ass. Within minutes she was making fun of me.
“New Yorkers and people from San Francisco and Los Angeles are incredibly provincial,” she said about all three places I’d lived since high school. “They tend to think the culture of America revolves around them much more than it actually does.”
Most scientists, Scott said, are aware of how middle America feels about science and acknowledge the importance of her task. Except, that is, for the damned chemists, who, like me, are often shocked to find out there’s an entire nonprofit organization created just to fight to teach kids science. “Chemists are the most clueless. There’s no historical aspect to chemistry,” she said. The other sciences are under attack from religion: Astronomers can’t get religious zealots to accept the big bang; geologists keep running into churchgoers who think the Earth is only 6,000 years old; anthropologists get it for all kinds of reasons. Some of those attacks are justified, since, after all, anthropologists are barely scientists. I mean, I’m pretty sure those people just majored in English with me in college.
It seems to me that if the scientific community is going to take on creationists, they need to unite. Especially the chemists, since they’re the only ones we give TV shows to, at least until immunologists find a way to make baking powder explode. So we need a covert action to get creationists to attack chemistry in order to militantize the lazy bastards. I’m thinking chemistry is particularly vulnerable on Lot’s wife. You show me the chemical formula that turns loving wife into pillar of salt — without anything stronger than desert heat. Get this anti-molecular formula Lot’s wife stuff on O’Reilly and we’ll see how many jokes the holier-than-thou chemists are making when they meet Eugenie Scott at cocktail parties.
After examining the chemistry issue, I wore Scott down to the point where she admitted that it can indeed get frustrating engaging in intellectual debates with people who really believe that all the animals were created in one morning and given names by lunch. A story that makes Carolus Linnaeus look pretty lazy. “You know the old aphorism from Thomas Henry Huxley?” she asked. I told her I did, even though I not only didn’t know the aphorism, but wasn’t sure which Cosby kid was Thomas Henry. “‘Life is too short to occupy oneself with the slaying of the slain more than once,’” she quoted. “It is frustrating to hear the same arguments over and over when those arguments were refuted 20 years ago. When creationists get an argument that works for them they just beat it to death.”
After our conversation, I wound up being a little envious of Scott’s job. I write an op-ed column for the L.A. Times and I’m never sure if my opinion is right. In fact, I don’t feel sure about any position I ever take in life. I’m not sure at all that psychiatry doesn’t kill at least a little bit.
Studies have shown that fundamentalist Christians are happier than the rest of us. That’s got to be because they have complete, calm faith in their truth. That’s what Scott has: The satisfaction of going to work every day knowing that she’s right and that she’s doing good in the world. I also know that, as nice as that sounds, I’d get bored in a week doing Scott’s job, repeating myself and combating the willfully ignorant.
I’m so very jealous of her.
Joel Stein writes a weekly column for the Los Angeles Times and spent more than seven years as a staff writer for Time magazine. He has also written for The New Yorker and Entertainment Weekly. Stein has appeared on several TV programs, such as VH-1’s I Love the ’80s, and also co-produced three TV pilots. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from Stanford in 1993 and wrote a weekly column for the Stanford Daily.
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