Monday, February 19, 2007

Equal Time for the Flat Earth Theory?

If you have ever wondered why American religious fundamentalists object to the teaching of evolution in public school but not to the teaching of geology, cosmology and other sciences that make findings contrary to the Biblical account of creation, wonder no more. Some such fundamentalists, it turns out, do object to the whole shebang, especially the big shebang that started it all off. Texas legislator Warren Chisum recently made headlines when he circulated to his colleagues a memo from Georgia legislator Ben Bridges that claimed, among other things, that evolution cannot be taught in public schools because it is a religious viewpoint. And not just any religious viewpoint, but specifically a Jewish viewpoint. According to this fact sheet from a group affiliated with Representative Bridges, hundreds of years before Charles Darwin set foot on The Beagle, Kabbalist rabbis had formulated the modern tenets of science, including the Copernican theory, the age of the universe, the Big Bang, and an expanding universe.

The principal reaction to Chisum's circulation of the Bridges memo has been sadly predictable: condemnations of Bridges and Chisum for anti-Semitism. I say sadly because I read the Bridges view as a spectacular compliment to medieval rabbis. Without modern mathematics or scientific equipment, they managed to get an astounding number of details right. Add the names of Maimonides and Nachmanides to the honor roll of philosophers and scientists who were way ahead of their time. Until reading about the astounding accuracy of the Kabbalist predictions, my personal favorite had been pre-Socratic philosopher Democritus, who postulated an atomic theory of matter.

Despite its obvious oddities, the Bridges view of the world has a certain internal logic to it. The fact sheet does not explain how Kabbalists converted Charles Darwin and thousands of other non-Jewish scientists to their cause. Indeed, it barely mentions Darwin except to claim (wrongly) that modern biologists are not Darwinian. But the causal argument is implicit: The Kabbalists couldn't possibly have just guessed right, and as non-Christians, the Jewish mystics couldn't have had access to actual revealed Truth, so the only explanation for the supposed agreement between medieval Jewish mystics and modern science must be a vast conspiracy to substitute the false Kabbalist view of the universe for the true Biblical one. Can you picture the Oliver Stone movie? No? How about Mel Gibson?