The story wasn't totally buried by the media-but it might as well have been. After all, the embarrassment it produced was fairly profound.
The discovery a couple of weeks ago that a noteworthy fossil find was instead a fake produced a flurry of finger-pointing. Over the last few months, experts in the field of paleontology had been excited beyond measure over the discovery of some bones in China that, to their way of thinking, proved that there once had been a species of dinosaurs that flew. National Geographic planned a cover story about the remarkable discovery.
Then came the bad news. The discovery was phony. An opportunistic Chinese farmer, finding several sets of old bones in a shed, managed to rearrange them in such a manner that he was later able to persuade a buyer that one tail structure from some large but unidentified fowl belonged at the back end of an apparently legitimate dinosaur. That's all it took to convince some pretty high-powered scientists that this remarkable animal was once covered with feathers instead of with scales, and that it had indeed been airborne.
Whether the buyer, who smuggled the bones out of China, was the gullible goof of this story, or perhaps just as canny as the Chinese farmer, has not yet been reported. Maybe both of them are simply part of China's new awareness of free-market economics!
What is of far greater concern is the equanimity and virtual silence with which such stories are greeted in our society today. The media, academia, the professional establishment, and common people as well all respond as if this deception were just a minor glitch-and as though all the major parties involved are still to be believed. Again and again, we are lied to about serious subjects-and we throw it off as if it were some joke about a distant Chinese farmer who discovered some bones in a shed.
But the joke's on us. We're the gullible ones.
Here are four examples. Over the last century and a half, human civilization has been subjected to huge ruses that have managed to change the thinking and behavior of millions of people. In all four cases, the concepts have been discovered later on to be virtual frauds. And yet, for some reason, society proceeds as if those who deceived us still deserve our respect.
Charles Darwin, in some ways, was the leader of this modern parade of charlatans. He and his disciples changed the way modern people think about supposed tensions between scientific evidence on the one hand and issues of faith on the other. And ever since his The Origin of Species, it's been easy for folks to exalt anything that sounded scientific while disdaining that which sounded religious. The problem, of course, is that Darwin and his followers have always been sloppy-and often deliberately deceitful-in their use of actual evidence. If you still have doubts about that charge, get and read a book by Philip Johnson.
Sigmund Freud did the same thing with his work in the area of human sexuality. For three generations, sophisticated people have supposed that they had to take Freud's theories seriously if they were to be taken seriously themselves. Yet even while such thinking continued to consume the happiness of millions, nearly all of Freud's disciples have long since forfeited their devotion to his basic ideas.
More physically vicious was the slavery that Karl Marx's ideas about economics inflicted on hundreds of millions of men, women, and children. But even with such a record to account for, Marxist ideals are still applauded in American universities-and the American media in recent weeks still haven't given up on Fidel Castro as one of the last holdouts for Marxist ideology in a real-life state.
Less overtly cruel, but still desperately corrupt, has been the effect of John Dewey on American education. For half a century and more, our culture has bought into the deception that education is about enhancing the good rather than replacing the bad. And the price of that lie has been astronomical as we dumb down our schools to the point where we know the charade can't last too much longer.
But in all this, evidence doesn't seem much to matter any more. Folks would rather cling to their illusions and their dreams than to look facts in the face. We go on pretending.
In all four examples, as in others that affect us all, noteworthy minds have bluntly challenged historic biblical assumptions about origins, sexuality, work, and human nature. "We don't need God's ideas on such subjects," we were told by folks like Darwin, Freud, Marx, and Dewey. "Listen to all this evidence to the contrary."
The "evidence to the contrary," though, turns out always to be like the bones in the Chinese farmer's shed. The tragedy is that so many keep taking the cover of National Geographic so seriously.