The Ku Klux Klan is a terrorist group. It was organized in 1865 for the purpose of controlling and oppressing newly freed slaves through intimidation, violence and murder.
Not many people will argue with that. Historians in particular will find the statement uncontroversial.
But 10 years ago in Vicksburg, Miss., I learned an alternate view. Vicksburg was an especially stubborn stronghold of Confederate sentiment during the Civil War - refused to celebrate the Fourth of July again until 1944. Small wonder, then, that a museum there featured an exhibit claiming the Klan was actually formed to save the South from corrupt black governments and that, while "many people suffered, some no doubt innocently," the night riders sought only to "restore some semblance of decency."
It's a lie, of course, but it's a lie some of us believe. So here's the question: When we teach schoolchildren about the Klan, must we give equal time to this view? Are we required to treat it as if it has the slightest credibility?
Or would that not be an affront to scholarship itself?
It's science, not history, that went on trial last week in Harrisburg, Pa., but the questions still apply. Parents are squaring off in federal court over a local school board's requirement that before children can be taught Charles Darwin's theory that humanity evolved from lower animals, teachers must read a statement acknowledging "alternate" theories of human origin. This would include the so-called theory of intelligent design, which holds that living things are so fantastically complex, they can only have been invented by some supernatural creator.
Proponents of the policy deny they are trying to sneak religion into the classroom. It is, they say, a matter of free speech: Students should be exposed to all sides of an issue.
But for that argument to hold water, you must have more than one side. Where science and the theory of evolution are concerned, you do not. It is the overwhelming consensus of the mainstream scientific community that Darwin had it right. So pretending there is another "side" to the question makes about as much sense as pretending there is another side to the Klan. It reeks of false equivalence, no-fault scholarship, judgment-free education, the bogus notion that all points of view are created equal and are equally deserving of respect.
And that just ain't so.
I believe in God. I believe God is the sovereign author of creation. But that is a matter of faith, not science. Faith, as it says in the book of Hebrews, is the evidence of things not seen. Science, by contrast, is founded upon observable phenomena. They are diametric opposites, but both seek the same goal: to help man and woman comprehend their lives and their world. To help them find answers.
I would argue that faith and science are in some ways more complementary than contradictory. But it's telling that where they do conflict, as in the question of human origin, it's always people of faith who beg for validation. I mean, when has any scientist ever sued for equal time in the pulpit? There is an unbecoming neediness about these constant schemes to dress religion up as science. Why are some people of faith so desperate for approval from a discipline they reject?
It suggests an insecurity that belies the bellicose battle cry of Bible literalists: "God said it. I believe it. That settles it." Or in the words of a church sign as related to me last week by a minister in Maine: Reason is the enemy of faith.
That's a sad, troubling and even pathetic mindset.
We inhabit a universe vaster than human comprehension, older than human wanderings, more wondrous than human conception. And in the face of that, we do the natural thing. We ask questions and seek answers.
That's not a denial of God. It is evidence of Him.