In the aftermath of last week’s attempted coup by the alt-right crowd, NBC ran a story about conspiracy theories. Specifically the lizard people (actually aliens) who secretly run the world. If you hang out in weird places, like I do, you already know the story behind this: fueled by David Icke, some conspiracy theorists believe a race of shape-shifting alien lizard people control the government. They’re deadly serious. (You can fairly easily find videos purporting to show lizard people caught transforming at government events.) The NBC story, by Lynn Stuart Parramore, traces the belief to an old anti-Semitic trope. I haven’t studied this enough to have any opinions on the idea, but what caught my attention is that this particular conspiracy grew out of objections to Darwin.
While teaching I’d planned to write a book on Darwin and Genesis—I researched it for years. I would add to Parramore’s story the fact that most of our political troubles today can be traced back to that same unwillingness to accept evolution. Over the centuries in western culture, the Bible (while not necessarily read) had grown into such an object of veneration that anything which challenged it had to be rejected. Charles Darwin was well aware that anyone following the dictates of science would be pilloried by a “Bible believing” culture, and this was in the middle of the nineteenth century. Elitist intellectuals assumed this literalism would just go away but it never has. When it appears (which it frequently does) they laugh at it and insist that if we ignore it it’ll just go away. Then an armed mob takes over the U. S. Capitol.
The concern shouldn’t be that people believe in lizard people, but that they can’t let go of a threadbare literalism toward a book. Biblical scholars are routinely ignored by those who believe their way of reading the Good Book is the only possible way to do so. All other ways are “interpretations,” and these interpretations don’t reflect what God has told them personally, so they’re clearly wrong. This view, simply dismissed by most of the educated, is extremely widespread. It must be addressed in some way, rather than being treated as some passing fad. There may be no lizard-people taking over, but this view of the Bible has been politically active for going on two centuries. Instead of studying it and trying to understand it, we cut departments and positions that might help to solve the problem. Maybe the lizards are controlling us after all.