I received a fascinating pdf of a book from the author of the Cape Cod History page — it’s by Bergen Evans, was published in 1946, and is titled The Natural History of Nonsense. As far as I’ve read yet, it’s a wonderful example of rational thinking, and makes one wonder why this kind of writing isn’t more representative of American popular literature.
Here’s a short sample from the chapter titled “Adam’s Navel,” which is about the curious history of the omphalos theory, and it also gets into some of the mixed signals our country was sending about race and intelligence.
This ingenious theory, that the real “use or office” of
Adam’s navel was to tempt men into the sin of being sensible, was
revived in 1857 by Philip Henry Gosse, the naturalist, as an
analogy to prove that while the fossils which the paleontologists
had discovered seemed to imply organic evolution, God might
have so arranged them at the Creation in older to damn nineteenth-century skeptics. Gosse had a few followers among the Plymouth
Brethren, but most men greeted his suggestion with shouts of
derision. It was inconceivable that God would have baited a trap
for anything so respectable as the Royal Society. And anyway,
they said, Adam’s navel was as dead as a doornail.
But they were wrong. Although it was no longer a fashionable topic among the learned, it must have continued as a
subject for speculation among millions. For in 1944 it suddenly
raised its head in no less august surroundings than the Congress of
the United States, when a subcommittee of the House Military
Affairs Committee, under the chairmanship of Representative
Durham of North Carolina, opposed the distribution of The Races of Mankind to our soldiers on the ground
(among other reasons) that in one of its illustrations “Adam and
Eve are depicted with navels.”
The Honorable Gentlemen’s motives for raising this particular objection can only be surmised. Perhaps they were
uncertain of orthography and of the scope of their duties and in
consequence assumed that Navel Affairs came under their
jurisdiction; but the chances are that they were just laying down a
smoke screen, for the pamphlet in question, a thirty-page booklet
prepared by two Columbia professors, contained information that
almost any politician would feel it his duty to conceal. It stated that
the concept of race is based largely on prejudice, that most of us
are of mixed blood, and that nonphysical racial characteristics are
probably the product of environment. And, most horrible of all, it
chose to illustrate this last assertion from tests given by the United
States Army in World War I which indicated that the average
intelligence of Negroes from some Northern states was higher than
the average intelligence of whites from some Southern states.
The OCR on this scan is very well done, and it’s only a 1.2M download despite being the whole book — let’s try not to bring the guy’s server to its knees, though.