Issue and Date

Revolution #85, April 22, 2007

Inherit the Wind Poster

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“Inherit The Wind”

Last week, I attended a preview performance of “Inherit the Wind” with Christopher Plummer and Brian Dennehy in the main roles. The play is set some time ago in a small town described by a character in the play as the “buckle in the Bible belt,” and it is loosely based on the famous Scopes Trial which resulted in a high school science teacher being convicted for teaching evolution to students in Tennessee (where the law mandated that creationism be taught and not evolution). This was a thoroughly enjoyable experience! Full of humor, even as it speaks to burning questions of our time. There is a powerful back-and-forth in the play between the Bible-thumping literalists who uphold the “revealed truth” that the world was created in seven days by God and cry that those who reject creationism should be struck down and eternally damned and those who are fighting for the truth—for the right and importance of people to think critically—and for the scientific theory of evolution.

Consider the following exchange between the lawyer for the state, Brady, and the lawyer Drummond who is defending the high school science teacher:

Brady: ...Is it possible that something is holy to the celebrated agnostic?

Drummond: Yes! The individual human mind. In a child’s power to master the multiplication table there is more sanctity than in all your shouted “Amens!”, “Holy, Holies!”, and “Hosannahs!” An idea is a greater monument than a cathedral. And the advance of man’s knowledge is more of a miracle than any sticks turned into snakes, or the parting of the waters! But are we now to halt the march of progress because Mr. Brady frightens us with a fable? . . . Darwin moved us forward to a hilltop, where we could look back and see the way from which we came. But for this view, this insight, this knowledge, we must abandon our faith in the pleasant poetry of Genesis.

Two nights ago, the play opened, and the next morning, the New York Times prominently featured an unfavorable review of the play. While the Times acknowledged that the question of teaching evolution in the schools is more “topical” than ever—and called this an “abidingly important debate”—the article went on to review the current staging of the play as “wooden” and to pretty much trash the performance of many of the key actors (while favorably reviewing Christopher Plummer’s performance), effectively (and knowingly, given the impact a New York Times review can have on the success of a play) discouraging people from attending and in many ways supporting this effort. This objectively gives weight to those who are aggressively working to suppress the established fact of the theory of evolution and critical thinking and the search for the truth—who seek to replace it with subservient Biblical ignorance. At the same time, other critics disagreed and gave favorable reviews to the play.

It is very good and important that this play is being brought to Broadway at this time—and in such a moving, thought-provoking performance—when the very battles being fought out in the play are also being fought out in society... when there is an onslaught against science and truth—and when this is focused up sharply around the teaching of evolution in the schools, with attempts to actually change the laws in many places to force teachers to teach creationism alongside of evolution. The performance brings to the audience a sense of what is at stake today in the struggles to defend the theory of evolution and the scientific method and critical thinking more generally—and the importance of people courageously standing up, of going against the tide and fighting for what is true and correct. And to produce this play makes that statement broadly to society. Many, many people—whoever can—should see this play!

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