Orchids lovers are a motley bunch, sharing an interest that draws people together who would never otherwise willingly stand in the same room. One of the Orchid forums I subscribe to is (in)famous for a membership that is as illustrious as it is combative, and I’m used to the juvenile name-calling that flames up fairly regularly. Lately, however, there have been some truly weird exchanges.
It started when one of the more *ahem* colourful members (and fairly highly placed within the American Orchid Society, I might add) trashed the World Orchid Conference in Dijon, France, this coming March. For reasons of his own, he called for members to boycott it and attend the Miami orchid show in 2008 instead. I can’t recall the fullness of his rationale, but it included a complaint about the cost of "fancy" meals in France. He invited all to partake of the inexpensive fast-food restaurants in Miami instead, and I’m guessing this was supposed to be persuasive. Another of his arguments against Dijon was a groundless complaint about the difficulties of bringing plants in and out of France for the show (The cost of the paperwork – several hundred dollars – is included in the registration price for the Dijon conference, which is not the case for the show in Miami).
Responses followed a familiar progression: Someone wrote in pointing out the difficulties in entering the U.S. for any reason, let alone an orchid show, and immediately several posts appeared slamming the "America haters" and reminding us all of 9-11, prompting a heated and possibly libelous exchange. So far, nothing out of the ordinary.
Then a young woman, an American student in France, wrote a thoughtful and fairly rational post to soothe the troubled waters, but she threw in this off-hand remark:
It took a long time for science to triumph over creationist beliefs… and as orchid lovers, you should all know full well that Darwin was right.
She might as well have thrown a live grenade. Guess what happened next.
"Orchids are just one of many reasons I believe in God… Evolution is not a law….it is a theory.."
"I still hold creationist beliefs…"
"Orchids provide one of the most elegant examples of evolution…"
"If God himself decides to create the world through an evolutionary process, … does it mean I can´t be a Baptist?"
At this point the Hindus jumped in, quoting 3,000 year old Upanishad texts. Others posted questions about orchids, hoping that by ignoring the religious topic, they could overpower it and make it go away. Someone demanded to be unsubscribed, and someone else rather plaintively asked if anyone knew of any other orchid lists he could subscribe to?
There was no stopping this one.
"The notion that one cannot both believe in God and accept Evolution is totally puzzling to me".
"Its bad enough putting up with (so and so), but now the bible bashers have got in."
"despite the label "theory", evolution is, in fact, recognized by science, and the educated world, as entirely real…""
At this point someone mentioned that the Old testament was never intended to be taken literally, and in response a Jewish scholar jumped into the fray. The first author apologized (who, by the way, started this whole thing with her off-hand remark), saying she hadn’t meant to discredit the Judaism, then added, "As to the two Testaments, according to the Christians (thus, applying to all who call themselves Christians), the New was brought by Jesus to replace the Old."
Oops. Fuel for the flames.
"Sorry but I have to chime in on this one! In NO WAY did Christ dismiss the Old Testament…"
Then, what we all dreaded most came to pass. Someone quoted scriptures. And that someone wasn’t even a fundamentalist.
Another person piped up and demanded that everyone please refer to God as G*d, that it was sacrilegious to do otherwise. I made a polite request that God be properly referred to as She, not He. Someone else suggested that everyone read the Da Vinci Code for the final word on the matter.
Interestingly, the hardcore Christians were fairly well-behaved, in that they didn’t have much to say. I suspect that this vociferous exchange was prompted by discomfort over the political power held by right-wing fundamentalists in the United States. Well, whatever the motives, it was all weirdly entertaining.
One person did persuade me that there was SOME relevance to the whole sorry debate, and I will give him the last word:
"The reality of evolution is well documented…Orchids provide one of the most elegant examples of evolution: with divergence of species, convergent evolution, introgression, co-evolution of flower and pollinator, and other mechanisms of evolution clearly visible throughout the family. Many consider the Orchids to be the most evolutionarily active of plant families. Speciation does not occur by chance, but in response to selection pressure of all sorts."