Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Things That You're Liable to Read in the Bible 

You are certainly familiar with the truism that if you put four juvenile delinquents in a room with four members of the chess club, you are far more likely to wind up with eight Henry Winklers than with eight Aleksandr Alekhines. We are sad to report that Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason, is unfamiliar with this universal principle, and imagines that the good example of more civilized nations -- even though we are bigger and more important than they are! -- might eventually drag our own benighted land into the 21st Century:

Today [2/12] is the anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth (the 199th, as it happens) and, as usual, scientists around the world will hold ceremonies honoring the man responsible for the foundational insight of modern science - the theory of evolution by means of natural selection. In the United States, as usual, rational thinkers will struggle to explain why fewer than than half of Americans accept the scientific validity of any form of evolution.

The widespread American skepticism about evolution is a phenomenon unique in the developed world, as is the controversy over whether evolution or religious theories of creation should be taught in public school science classes. The usual explanation for this anomaly is the equally anomalous (again, in developed countries) persistence of fundamentalist religion in the United States. But that explanation is too simplistic and leaves out what may well be more important - the American public's low level of scientific knowledge, independent of religious beliefs and completely at odds with America's image of itself as a world leader in education, science and technology . . . .

If only 30 percent believe that the Bible is literally true, why do so many more Americans reject the evolutionary theory considered settled science in the rest of the developed world?

The answer is ignorance - and Americans may be no more ignorant about evolution than they are about other aspects of science. According to surveys conducted for the National Science Foundation over the past two decades, more than two-thirds of adults are unable to identify DNA as the key to heredity. Nine out of 10 Americans - nearly 63 years after the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima - do not understand what radiation is or its effects on the body. One in 5 believes that the sun revolves around the Earth.

Which is fine as far as it goes, but we frankly resent Miss Susan Jacoby's baseless implication that the good ole U.S. of A. has some kind of monopoly on superstition and scientific illiteracy. Why, there are vast reeking pockets of gormlessness and ignorance all over the world, if you know where to look for them. As Mr. Bush so memorably asked a few years ago . . . what about Poland?

Exorcism - the church rite of expelling evil spirits from tortured souls - is making a comeback in Catholic regions of Europe. In July, more than 300 practitioners gathered in the Polish city of Czestochowa for the fourth International Congress of Exorcists.

About 70 priests serve as trained exorcists in Poland, about double the number of five years ago. An estimated 300 exorcists are active in Italy. Foremost among them: the Rev. Gabriele Amorth, 82, who performs exorcisms daily in Rome and is dean of Europe's corps of demon-battling priests.

"People don't pray anymore, they don't go to church, they don't go to confession. The devil has an easy time of it," Amorth said in an interview. "There's a lot more devil worship, people interested in satanic things and seances, and less in Jesus."

Amorth and other priests said the resurgence in exorcisms has been encouraged by the Vatican, which in 1999 formally revised and upheld the rite for the first time in almost 400 years.

Although a Vatican official denied reports in December of a campaign to train more exorcists, supporters said informal efforts began under Pope John Paul II - himself an occasional demon chaser - and have accelerated under Pope Benedict XVI. A Catholic university in Rome began offering courses in exorcism in 2005 and has drawn students from around the globe.

One of the recruits is the Rev. Wieslaw Jankowski, a priest with the Institute for Studies on the Family, a counseling center outside Warsaw. He said priests at the institute realized they needed an exorcist on staff after encountering an increase in people plagued by evil.

Typical cases, he said, include people who turn away from the church and embrace New Age therapies, alternative religions or the occult. Internet addicts and yoga devotees are also at risk, he said . . . .

Jankowski cited the case of a woman who asked for a divorce days after renewing her wedding vows as part of a marriage counseling program. What was suspicious, he said, was how the wife suddenly developed a passionate hatred for her husband.

"According to what I could perceive, the devil was present and acting in an obvious way," he said. "How else can you explain how a wife, in the space of a couple of weeks, could come to hate her own husband, a man who is a good person?"

The primitive Poles blame Satan for this unfortunate young woman's marital troubles. If, like us, they'd taken the time to read The Red Queen, by Matt Ridley, and The Evolution of Desire, by David M. Buss, they'd be able to pinpoint the real culprit: Darwin!

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