Republican Misquotes Bacon as Proof Einstein Would Support Creationism

Apr 20 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Albert Einstein

Conservatives hate actual history so much they have to invent new history. The real thing just isn’t…oh, how do I put this…conservative-friendly. So they have made an industry out of faked history and science.

David Barton is leading the way in the conservative effort to re-write history – particularly but not only – American history. But other conservatives are busy too, like all those who try to turn our Founding Fathers into rabidly zealous modern-day Christian fundamentalists, and like Tennessee Rep. Frank Nicely (R-Strawberry Plains), who argued that “critical thinker” Albert Einstein would support the teaching of creationism alongside evolution.

That this is hogwash is beside the point. In the highly authoritarian Republican and Tea Parties, when a person in a position of authority says something is true (be it Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann or another), it is instantly become gospel.

You can take it to the bank.

In the blink of an eye, history has been re-written. It makes one queasy to think of how many parents just went home and re-adjusting their children’s’ thinking.

This is what Rep. Nicely told all those gullible folks:

I think that if there’s one thing that everyone in this room could agree on, that would be that Albert Einstein was a critical thinker. He was a scientist. I think that we probably could agree that Albert Einstein was smarter than any of our science teachers in our high schools or colleges. And Albert Einstein said that a little knowledge would turn your head toward atheism, while a broader knowledge would turn your head toward Christianity.

Of course, the problem for history and for all the rest of us about to become victims of a pernicious religious ideology is that Albert Einstein said no such thing. Einstein, as it happens, was agnostic, as he told M. Berkowitz in 1950: “My position concerning God is that of an agnostic. I am convinced that a vivid consciousness of the primary importance of moral principles for the betterment and ennoblement of life does not need the idea of a law-giver, especially a law-giver who works on the basis of reward and punishment.”[1]

I would like to tell you that the quote comes from Francis Bacon, a 16th century philosopher, but Nicely didn’t even get Bacon right, let alone the Jewish agnostic Einstein.

Francis Bacon

This is what Bacon (1561-1626) actually said in his essay “Of Atheism”:

“a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.”

Ironically, since he is now being (indirectly) used to attack the foundations of science, Bacon is known as the father of modern science in England. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy goes so far as to call him “the prophet of modern science” (Encyclopedia of Philosophy, New York, 1967, 1:236).

We already know how the Tea Party has attacked funding for science and education. Francis Bacon believed that science must be lavishly funded.

Bacon wanted to establish scientific institutions; the Tea Party and the Republicans want to tear them down. While not irreligious himself, as his quote demonstrates, Bacon wished to separate metaphysics from science. So-called Creation Science wants to make them one and the same. Bacon didn’t think it was terribly important what people believed but he was adamant that they should not be deceived in science. Creationism is nothing but deception on a grand scale.

Here we have Bacon, a man who helped usher in the scientific revolution, being used to demolish the very thing he helped to create.

And that makes Frank Nicely an agent of deception.

No, I think we can say with some certainty that Bacon would not agree with Nicely.

If there were ever arguments for federal support of education in this country we need only turn to Republicans and Tea Partiers for support. They are living, breathing billboards for education, because they don’t “got” it.

Transcript:

Rep. FRANK NICELEY (R-Strawberry Fields): I think that if there’s one thing that everyone in this room could agree on, that would be that Albert Einstein was a critical thinker. He was a scientist. I think that we probably could agree that Albert Enstein was smarter than any of our science teachers in our high schools or colleges. And Albert Einstein said that a little knowledge would turn your head toward atheism, while a broader knowledge would turn your head toward Christianity.

Now I want to quote one other person: Thomas Sowell. In my opinion, the smartest man in America today. I’ve read him for twenty years. He’s a genius, and he is a critical thinker. And he says, why in our colleges and in our high school, why do we spend so much time arguing two theories, the theory of creationism and the theory of evolution, when neither side can prove without a doubt that they are right, when there are so many cold hard facts that our children need to know that we could be spending that time teaching? So if I was a teacher, I would teach them both as theories, and let the child as he grows up make up his own mind. And I’d spend my time teaching them cold hard facts like two and two is four and pi r squared.

Keep in mind that bad as things may seem in Texas they can be as bad – or worse – elsewhere. This “insight” by Rep. Nicely (a “fact” of which no historian was aware until that moment) too place in a state where the Tennessee House voted for a bill to teach the (often nonexistent) “controversy” about scientific matters “including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

The problem is that what the GOP and Tea Party are pushing is ideology. Pragmatism and compromise, the lynch-pins of any modern liberal democracy, are anathema to them. And of course, since the actual facts of recorded history show a great many things its not really suitable for pushing an ideological message. You must, in order to make use of it,  twist the facts into a pretzel a la Karl Marx. The result is catastrophic. History does not survive contact with ideology.

This is simple fact.

None of this bothers conservatives. They’re not interested in learning from history, either for its own sake or to inform decisions in the present or future. What they are interested is purely ideologically motivated: justifying their actions in the present and future, and that’s a completely different kettle of fish. Let’s face it: you can’t learn from something you invent on the spot.

And just as the Church once misused polytheistic Greek science to prove monotheism, they are now misusing science to prove religion.

Rep. Nicely asks, “Why do we spend so much time arguing two theories, the theory of creationism and the theory of evolution, when neither side can prove without a doubt that they are right?”

This question is based on false premises, namely that there is any debate between two theories. He attacks evolution in order to defend creationism, relegating evolution to unproven theory. Biological evolution is not theory. It is scientific fact. The debate is between the doctrinal views of one particular religion and between provable science. Evolution is taking place all around us. The only way to avoid seeing it is to close your eyes against the facts, as Nicely and his fundamentalist cohorts with their literalist interpretations of their Bible have done.

Therefore the only answer that can serve is this: “We wish evolution to be taught so that our children do not grow up to be imbeciles, or our nation to be relegated to a backwards, third-world status through the teaching of superstition.” In other words, if you want to go back to the 13th century, go ahead. But you are not taking the rest of us with you.


[1] Albert Einstein in a letter to M. Berkowitz, 25 October 1950; Einstein Archive 59–215; from Alice Calaprice, ed., The New Quotable Einstein, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 216.

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