Millions of Americans insist that the earth was created on a particular day thousands of years ago, that evolution is rubbish, and that the Bible is the literal truth. But even haters of Darwin, who may include President Bush, would be surprised by the central contentions in The Fourth of July and the Founding of America. I was brought up in America, and every week in school, with my right hand over my heart, I pledged allegiance to the flag. Of course I sniggered at the ‘Guidelines for Displaying the Flag’, which stipulate that the flag must never touch anything beneath it, and that worn or soiled flags must be ‘destroyed in a dignified manner, preferably by burning’. But like the Darwin-bashers I assumed that the first American flag had been designed and stitched in 1777 by a simple American woman, Betsy Ross, acting on the secret instructions of three men, one of whom was George Washington.
I also believed that the huge painting hanging in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington DC really depicts the signers, on 4 July 1776, of the Declaration of Independence. And I believed that the original Liberty Bell that hangs in Philadelphia, with its celebrated crack, was rung on 4 July 1776