Berger on Broun and Equal-Opportunity Superstition

Peter Berger recently noted the strange furor over Representative Paul Broun’s evolution comments.  The recently reelected Broun had attracted attention for sermonizing that evolution, embryology, and the Big Bang Theory were lies “straight from the pit of hell.”

Berger does not support Broun’s vision of true science.  But Berger makes the more sophisticated point that the uproar over Broun’s scientific vision has a long and unfortunate history.  Why, Berger asks, do such statements attract such vituperative responses on Capitol Hill?

Berger says it best:

“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.”

As we’ve argued here before, we don’t have to agree with Broun’s ideas to recognize them as commonly held notions about the nature of science and humanity.  We can fight against those ideas without being disingenuously shocked by them.  Instead of wasting time and effort telling one another that we can’t believe how someone could hold such beliefs in 2012, those like me who want better evolution education would be better off spending our time trying to understand the origins and nature of those beliefs.

Leave a comment


  1. ChazIng

     /  November 9, 2012

    “Berger does not support Berger’s vision of true science.” – shouldn’t this be Broun’s vision of true science?


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