This weekend I was able to watch the award-winning film 'Inherit the Wind', a 1960's movie directed by Stanley Kramer, starring Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Dick York, and Gene Kelly.
It's an amazing movie; one surprising for it's time. It's based on a play of the same name, which in turn is based on the famous 1925 Scopes 'Monkey' Trial, in which John Scopes was convicted for teaching Darwin's evolution of man to his high school science class. This was against a Tennessee law that forbade the teaching of anything besides creationism. The film isn't a documentary of that trial, nor does it accurately portray the events therein (though it did use some lines from the actual transcript of the trial). Nevertheless, it does its job at pointing out the absurdity of the now stricken Tennessee law and similar laws which try to arrest freedom of thought.
A Beautiful Mind
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind." This embodies the, forgive the term, 'spirit' of the film. The school teacher on trial was accused of breaking a law that prohibited thought. All he was trying to do was to show his class that there are ways to question, and that you shouldn't be afraid to at least ask.
This is the fundamental difference between religion and science. Where religion is content at saying, "I don't know how this happened, it must have been God!", science looks for a way to explain the phenomenon. Positing "God" as an answer is no answer at all; you've answered a mystery with another mystery. What is God? What are its properties? How do we know?
Children of the Corn
Religion--all religion--uses its mind-control to hijack our thought processes, and try to legislate or otherwise prohibit, any dissenting thoughts. Jesus supposedly said that being angry with someone was equivalent to murdering them, and looking lustfully at another person was just the same as rape. Thoughts aren't crimes; actions are. While Jesus didn't mean that we should put people to death for simply thinking about murder, his views represent a naïve morality that builds a doctrine where those thought crimes should result in eternal punishment.
The bible, and indeed its god's religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) is systematically engineered in such a way as to hinder critical thinking and questioning. You are not to question, but to trust. You must practice faith--accepting something as true without questioning it. Questioning is what brought me out of the fog of Christianity and into the "light" of individualistic critical thought. And this is exactly what the character in the movie, and his real-life counterpart, aimed to do.
The film depicted several scenes of the hatred, bigotry, and ignorance associated with religious thought. In one such scene, an angry mob marches down the street, holding signs that read, "Down with Darwin", "Don't Monkey With Us", and "Atheists Go Back to Hell" while singing hymns. In another, a preacher damns his own daughter because she does not agree with his ideals. I realize that these are fictional scenes for a Hollywood movie, but they nevertheless portray the contempt and ignorance that religion fosters.
As geneticist Jerry Coyne said, "If the history of science shows us anything, it is that we get nowhere by labeling our ignorance 'God' ". Again, it's a cop-out answer; same as saying, "I don't' know, I'm stumped. So I'll give up on trying to find the answer, and fill in the blank with: God did it. Hmm...I think I'll have cake now." If we allow our minds to be pounded into the mold of religious dogma, we will lose that which makes us truly human.
The tangent is purposefully, trust me. I didn't want this to be a retelling of the film, or how it varies from the 1925 trial. My bigger reason was to relay the impact of the basic premises that make the film so great: the undermining of biblical authority, the separation of church and state, and the freedom of thought. Please rent or buy 'Inherit the Wind' (if you don't like old black-and-white movies, I hear the three TV remakes are about the same quality.)
As an aside for the creationists who happen to get this far, please visit talkorigins.org for info on why evolution is a fact.