Gore: creationism OK

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at osu.edu
Sun Aug 29 15:59:44 PDT 1999

Tom Lehman wrote:
>I suggest as a hypothesis that the presence of a stronger tradition of
>organized labor and left-wing politics is inversely related to the presence
>of a fervor for creationism. Perhaps creationism is a price we pay for the
>sins of the failure to organize the South and racism.
>Yoshie, this is where it gets a little tricky. There are some good union men
>and women who hold creationist beliefs; although their understanding of the
>world around them maybe fairly limited. I don't know if you have ever
>seen the
>John Seals movie Matewan and although I don't buy his characterization of
>Keany for various reasons, the movie does portray the pro-union religious
>fervor of the other characters pretty well.

I agree with you on the trickiness of positing an inverse relation between fundamentalism and the presence of strong organized labor. There must be so many exceptions that my generalization may not stand, though I still think that creationism is a bigger deal in the South, where organized labor and the Left are weaker than elsewhere. BTW, Matewan is one of my favorite movies. Some of the most interesting scenes in it are the ones in which the young Danny uses his creative Red preaching to undermine the reactionary pastor's anti-Red sermon and employs a Biblical parable to send a message to other union men that Joe (the ex-Wobbly organizer) is innocent of an alleged rape and to save him from a frame-up.

James Farmelant noted:
>Richard Lewontin a few years in an article in the New York Review
>of Books pointed out that fundamentalism and support for creationism
>is strongest in those parts of the country where Eugene Debs's
>Socialists had been strongest, nearly a century ago. Lewontin went
>on to suggest that much of the appeal of creationism stems from
>a backlash against the ruling economic and political elites. Whereas,
>a century ago such an anti-elitist populism was given expression
>by the Socialist Party, now a days it tends to take the form of
>opposition to ideas that are rightly or wrongly associated with the dominant
>elites, such as Darwinism or "secular humanism." Lewontin of
>course thinks that can indeed take an anti-elitist stance without
>bashing either Darwinian biology or secularism but that is not
>likely to occur without a revival of the left.

I think that Lewontin's suggestion has much to recommend itself. That said, we should also remember the problem of 'socialist evolutionism' within the Socialist Party. Racism of Victor Berger, Jack London, etc. was wrapped up in their interpretation of evolution:

***** ...scientific racism resonated both politically and personally for socialists as diverse as Robert Hunter, a moderate of middle-class Anglo-Saxon origin; Jack London, a self-made plebian left-winger from the anti-Asiatic West Coast; and Victor Berger, German-born right-winger committed to the racist and restrictionist American Federation of Labor (AFL). Each saw southeastern Europeans, Asians, and American blacks as evolutionary outsiders: unorganizable and personally repugnant.... (169)

...The restrictionists typically dismissed internationalist arguments for the "brotherhood of man" as utopian and nonevolutionary: such fine sentiments could not bear fruit under capitalism, which inevitably pitted nation against nation and race against race.... (176)

...As commonly happened in socialist discourse, science and evolution were wielded as weapons against positions thought to be too radical.... (178)

...American socialist thought before 1900 had no strong tradition of racial egalitarianism, as the cases of Edward Bellamy, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Fabian John Preston have shown, and the Socialist party's failure to appeal to blacks has been amply documented; although the original statement of principles invited blacks to join, no aggressive organizing drive was ever mounted. Where the openly racist [John] Preston called blacks the offspring of a "depressed ancestry" and the "backward children of the human family," Socialist party thinkers often resorted to economistic arguments (e.g. racial conditions would improve with economic revolution) that could easily mask racist feelings. The determined economism of socialist leaders such as Debs contributed to the party's failure to confront the race issue honestly.... (179)

Pittenger, Mark. _American Socialists and Evolutionary Thought, 1870-1920_. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1993. *****


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