The online periodical Huffington Post had the following story on October 10, 2012: Paul Broun, a Republican congressman from Georgia, made a speech at a Baptist church in which he affirmed his creationist convictions. Broun is a doctor and on the basis of this claimed to speak “as a scientist” (if only he were right on the scientific status of the medical profession—I have well-founded doubts). He reiterated the standard creationist views: We do live on a “young earth” (I still like this poetic phrase, however absurd its cognitive assumption), about nine-thousand years old. It was created in six days, as recounted in the Book of Genesis. He dismissed the prevailing views on the age of the earth (very old, sorry to say), along with the theory of evolution and embryology (Broun of course is also against abortion), as “lies straight from the pit of hell”.
I don’t know the congressman. Perhaps he really believes this nonsense. It is also possible that, like so many other politicians from both sides of the aisle, he says whatever he thinks his audience of the moment wants to hear—I would assume that he was not booed at the Baptist venue of his speech. All of this would not be all that remarkable, except for the fact that Broun is a high-ranking member of the House Science committee.
The Huffington Post story reminds us that this august body also has (or as the case is now, had) as another member Todd Akin, Republican from Missouri. This is the gentleman who drew media attention by asserting that women cannot conceive in cases of “legitimate rape”. To be fair to Akin, he did not mean that some rapes are morally legitimate. As he later explained, he meant cases where women were really raped in terms of legal definition, as against cases where they only claimed to have been raped after the fact. Perhaps Akin had in mind the old Southern habit of “hollering rape”, of which I take it he disapproves.
Why did the Huffington Post report on this matter? I will speculate that what we have here is an ideologically congenial case that bundles together a set of common left-liberal prejudices—against Republicans, Evangelicals and the South. These are the stereotypical characters in the nightmares of American progressives—a grand conspiracy to take control of Washington and clamp down on their genitalia. H.L. Mencken, in his journalistic coverage of the 1925 “monkey trial” in Dayton,Tennessee was the granddaddy of this particular worldview: Go south and west of Baltimore, and you are in the land of the Yahoos.
I would not for a moment dispute the characterization of the views expressed by Messrs. Broun and Akin as grossly superstitious. But I believe in equal treatment of all superstitions, on both sides of the aisle. Thus the same individuals who sneer at the beliefs of Bible-thumping Republicans believe that all differences between men and women are social conventions, that an eight-month embryo is as much a part of the mother’s body as her appendix, that racism can be abolished by the government allotting privileges by way of racial quotas, that wealth can be distributed without being produced, that homicidal regimes can be influenced by moral persuasion… Need I go on ?
Let me suggest a nonpartisan generalization: Superstitions abound all over the political map. It is an interesting question which superstitions are more harmful to society.