By James M. Perry
Are Americans dumber than they used to be?
The question might better be, Are Republicans dumber than they used to be?
And the answer seems to be -- the envelope, please -- yes. Yes, they are.
That's not to say there aren't plenty of dumb Democrats. Of course there are, but it's members of the Grand Old Party these days who are regressing by refusing to accept scientific fact.
Consider creation or evolution. The creationists, with their literal interpretation of the Bible, believe God created man, just as we see him today, ten thousand years ago. Scientists have no doubt that man evolved over millions of years.
The argument -- creation v. evolution -- burst into the public consciousness in 1925 when John Thomas Scopes was put on trial in Dayton, Tennessee, for teaching evolution, banned by the state's infamous Butler Act, even though evolution was discussed in the textbook used in science classes.
The trial, from July 10 to 21, was covered by 200 reporters, including the "sage of Baltimore," H.L. Mencken, from the Baltimore Sun, who christened it the "monkey trial" and generally had a fine old time berating the "morons" residing in Tennessee. William Jennings Bryan, a three-time presidential candidate, was one of the lawyers for the prosecution. Clarence Darrow, the celebrated trial lawyer, helped Scopes. It was, for the most part, a circus. The jury took nine minutes to find Scopes guilty. He was fined $100 (the verdict was overturned on a technicality.).
That was 1925. This is 2013. We have been arguing creation v. evolution for 88 years, with generations of science teachers siding with the evolutionists. Thirty years ago, polls showed that 44 per cent of Americans believed God created us just as we are. Polls today show a two-point uptick -- 46 percent believe the Bible. With Republicans, it's 58 percent; with Democrats, , 38 per cent.
Adam Frank, a University of Rochester professor, points out that it's pretty much the same on whether climate change is a problem. In 1989, early days for talk of climate change, 63 per cent of Americans believed it was a problem. Today, 58 per cent of Republicans think it's a hoax. Only 11 per cent of Democrats share that view. Once again, scientists overwhelmingly believe it's a problem.
"It is politically effective, and socially acceptable, to deny scientific fact" today, the professor says. When Frank was a student, "creationism was a minor current in American thinking." But a "well-funded effort has skillfully rebranded that ideology as 'creation science' and pushed it into classrooms across the country.... Denying evolution has become a litmus test for some conservative politicians, even at the highest levels."
Meanwhile, the professor says, "climate deniers... have manufactured doubt about fundamental issues in climate science that were decided scientifically decades ago."
It makes one wonder what science teachers, in high school and in college, have been doing all these years. They seem to have changed almost no one's mind. It's time for them to take a stand. Teach evolution. Teach climate change. Listen up, America!
James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, is contributing regular observations for post-gazette.com. Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.