30-cubit-tall Adam

I used to have a principle not to be overly discouraged about any insanity I might observe in the US. After all, something similar but worse was bound to have taken place in Turkey. I could then be happy I didn’t live there.

With the increasingly entrenched right-wing nature of US public life over the past couple of decades, I can’t hold this principle consistently anymore. We now routinely do things here that I would find out of place in a low-income, half-ass-democratic, fervently Islamic country.

But every now and then, my old practice of reading Turkish news to make me feel better about the US in comparison works again.

Just this morning I was reading about the state of universities in Turkey. And one example being discussed was a textbook written by a biology professor in “9 Eylül” University (a decent enough, long-established public university, in the more liberal Western part of the country). Apparently, this biology professor mentioned that Adam was 30 cubits tall in his textbook. But later, he had second thoughts and removed the reference. The reason, however, was not its biological absurdity. It was that he decided that the degree of reliability of the tradition of the 30-cubit Adam was not high enough (as ascertained by the clergy/scholars) to include it.

We’re fortunate to have a thoroughly secular academic culture in the US. It’s not just that fewer science professors believe religious bullshit—though a minority, many do—it’s that letting that interfere with your professional activities is a sure way to destroy your academic reputation. And reputation counts.

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About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University