There was always some question about the moon, though most of us never really thought it was made of green cheese. Still, you never know, for Nature is wondrous and penicillin, after all, came from mold on canteloupe rinds and you never would have dreamed of that, either.
So for my part, I kept an open mind on the moon, suspecting it was very like Dakota, California or similar wastelands, but keeping in mind that it might indeed be green cheese, just as people have always said it was.
But there came a day in which men actually landed on the moon. It was, indeed, just like California, all rock and so forth, and I fancy I know when a fact is proved and when it is not. I perceived then that the moon is not cheese in any sense of the word, folk wisdom or no folk wisdom.
It is, moreover, clear that anybody who continues to believe in the cheesiness of the moon is simply ignorant or (far more likely) crazy like a loon.
Which brings us rapidly to one of the great shames of this nation. More than one legislature of the assorted sovereign states has passed a law giving equal time in schools for the teaching of what is called creationist science, since (it is argued) schools already teach secular doctrines like evolution.
And what is more fair than giving equal time for the teaching of the equivalent theory that God made everything in six calendar days, perhaps 10,000 years ago. After all (the argument goes) the creationesque folk merely want time to argue their case; they do not require anybody to believe it. All they want is the chance to be heard, along with the evolutioned set.
I read somewhere recently, probably in Science 81, which is much interested this month in the matter, that 13 state legislatures have been considering equal time for the imbeciles and they doubt that equal time is a good idea.
But as a card-carrying liberal, I rather like the idea that the Book of Genesis might be taught as literal scientific truth, especially the part about the Flood.
American schoolchildren have rarely been entertained or vastly amused in their grim classrooms, and the teaching of scientific creationism has a great many more possibilities of giving pure pleasure than either Baby Rae or See Jim Run.
But suppose the teaching of creationism is deemed to be so contemptible intellectually that it would be morally wrong to teach it.
No matter. The course of American education in the past three centuries or so is adequate comfort to those who fear the little fellows will learn bad things. The history of American education proves beyond any remote doubt that the tots are not going to learn anything, period. Good, bad or indifferent.
And now that teachers are no longer able to make passing scores on tests measuring verbal and mathematical ability, there is even less danger than there ever was that children would learn incorrect science.
The point of American education has always been to socialize natural-born savages, which is what children are, in all societies.
And much has been accomplished. Just the other night I was dining in a seafood place on Wisconsin Avenue at 9 p.m. and it suddenly struck me: All those people (including me, the Widow Barnes and others who were born quite wild, actually) were sitting still in their chairs, using knives and forks and not fighting over the rum buns.
This, when you reflect on it, is a tremendous accomplishment of our national school system. Every one of us had learned not to run around the room or holler at top volume for the waitress or snatch rum buns from one another. We were, I felt, quite well trained and fit for society.
There are people who believe in pie in the sky, of course, who think that after years of schooling we should have learned a bit more than how to sit still in a chair and eat with something besides bare paws. They think we should also have enough facts at our command to perform what they call the responsibilities of citizenship.
Most of us, who are sane, do not expect so much from a mere six or 20 years of schooling. We think it enough (and we think it a miracle) that Americans have learned to sit in chairs in restaurants. And I never hear a discussion of American education but I think of Americans behaving nicely in restaurants, and I say Mission Accomplished, and I think very well of our schools.
There is one further thing, however. I know for a fact that Americans in school learn nothing of science, so I have never feared they would learn bad science from the creationists.
But I also see that while no facts are learned, still language is picked up more or less from what is droned at pupils year after year.
So I do acknowledge that language is taught (however unintentionally) in American schools. And I respectfully suggest, therefore, that when the creationists succeed in their aim of teaching how the Flood was, etc., etc., they use the great 1611 translation of the Bible, commonly known as the King James Version.
I am not the least worried about its science, and I am lost in wonder at its gorgeous sentences. Few exertions of English letters have equaled, and none has surpassed, such insights or such word choices as the Book of Genesis. If I regard it as a virtual miracle and do not believe a single word of its account as factual truth, then I do not imagine it is going to be any great stumbling block to others.
And if there are those who cannot quite conceive that the story of Noah's Ark (that's the one in which the animals march in two-by-two to be saved from drowning) is totally unreliable as a factual account of anything, no harm is done by letting it be taught as fact in the schools. For there are some (a number increasing by geometric leaps in America now) who cannot be taught anything at all by means of reason, demonstration, intellectual proof or careful observation. They might as well be left alone to count the giraffes and zebras (two of each, please, no more and no less) in peace, and maybe the general threat of being drowned to death if they don't behave will not be a bad thing.
Furthermore, if I may allude to a silver lining here, if the King James Version is used (and fortunately it is the favored version by the creationists, we are assured), its introduction into the classroom might be splendid indeed. At least for their science period the youngsters would be exposed to superb language.
It is certain they will learn no false science from the Book of Genesis (though the book abounds in total error) any more than they ever learned good science from Thales or Boyle or Darwin or anybody else (though their works abound in truth).
Since they are not going to learn science true, false or nitwit, no harm will be done (for all our natural fears in the first flush of panic) by the teaching of creationist science. And much good must ultimately be done by the constant exposure, earwise, to the Book of Genesis.
But, and here is the great point, if there is any attempt to substitute translations other than the great one of 1611, then the matter will turn serious indeed. We must then man the barricades.