Stick it to Scalia, and a blogospheric free-for-all erupts on someone else's blog. Such is life as a resident of the Internet's long tail.
I shall explain. Jonathan Adler joined me in trashing Justice Scalia's performance in Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education v. Freiler. I labeled Justice Scalia's gratuitous dissent from the Supreme Court's denial of certiorari "the most scientifically irresponsible passage" in the Court's history and an act of "shameless pandering [and] judicial aid and comfort of the highest order to the creationist lobby." By comparison, Jonathan much more temperately concluded: "I see no defense of [Scalia's] reference to the Scopes trial. At best, it was an ill-considered rhetorical flourish. At worst, it reflected a shocking level of scientific illiteracy for such an esteemed and intelligent jurist." The resulting torrent of commentary in response to Jonathan's post really must be read to be appreciated. Apparently it is perfidious to (1) defend evolution and (2) criticize Justice Scalia (3) on an overtly conservative forum.
The most serious efforts to defend Justice Scalia's performance in Tangipahoa invariably deflect attention toward the seamier aspects of the Scopes trial. In a comment posted at Jurisdynamics and an earlier post at the Volokh Conspiracy, Jim Lindgren has detailed the racist and eugenicist cant of the textbook at issue in the Scopes trial. Edward Larson's reconsideration of Scopes, likewise aimed at defusing the cultural power of the admittedly fanciful Inherit the Wind, was deemed worthy of a Pulitzer Prize.
Whether couched as serious condemnation of early twentieth century social Darwinism or as a thinly veiled apology for creationist politics, efforts to deflect the debate to the particulars of the Scopes trial are beside the point. It's one thing to rehabilitate the misunderstood William Jennings Bryan, as Michael Kazin has heroicallly attempted. It's affirmatively noble to set the record straight on a hotly contested episode in American history. But it is downright disgraceful to write, as Justice Scalia did in Tangipahoa, that a school has any business "suggesting to students that other theories besides evolution -– including, but not limited to, the Biblical theory of creation -– are worthy of their consideration." I stand by what I wrote in Tangipahoa (the Jurisdynamics post) and in my article, Legal Mythmaking in a Time of Mass Extinctions.
But this subject, I strongly suspect, is unlikely to die. In the spirit of my Jurisdynamics teammate, J.B. Ruhl, who has spent his blogging career on extended series rather than episodic posts, I shall now undertake an extended series on evolution, natural history, and naturalism as a source of inspiration, even religious satisfaction, for a world all too ready to rip itself apart over minute, offensively irrelevant theological differences. In a spirit no less playful than Seinfeld, I'll call the series Genesis for the Rest of Us. Those who know me intimately understand how profoundly my life has been shaped by the question, ¿Respecte usted la Virgen?, and how I answered it. This is not about what I believe or what anyone else believes. This is about the beauty and the power and the glory of the story of life, told as we best understand it to be the truth.
First in this series: In the beginning.