(HOST) Commentator Allen Gilbert noticed an interesting dis- claimer on an interpretive sign while traveling. It seems that the debate over creationism now extends to glaciers.
(GILBERT) My son and I recently spent a few days bicycling on Block Island, which is south of Point Judith at the mouth of Narra- gansett Bay. One day we went to the end of the island and hiked down to Mohegan Bluffs, the impressive headland that forms the southern end of the island.
Interpretive signs explained how glaciers formed the islands off the New England coast. The glaciers stopped just off what is now the southern New England coast. As they retreated, the glaciers left rock debris that became the islands.
A small note at the bottom of the interpretive sign caught my eye. The EPA had helped provide money for the sign, the text read, but this did not mean that the federal agency endorsed the views ex- pressed in the sign. Views about glaciers? Glaciers are based on hard science, I thought. How can information about glaciers express any point of view?
And then it hit me. Could the disclaimer be a silent nod to “intelligent design”, the new term for what used to be called “creationism”?
Creationism grew out of fundamental religious groups’ disbelief in evolution. In the famous Scopes “monkey trial” of 1925, William Jennings Bryan argued that evolution wasn’t possible. The Bible said that God created the earth, and all living things on the earth, in seven days. Evolution requires a drastically longer time frame. Charles Darwin’s theory of man’s descent from apes couldn’t possibly be true, Bryan asserted.
If you’re a creationist, Block Island couldn’t possibly have been created by glaciers. It had to be created within the biblical time- frame described in Genesis – not over the millennia that scientists say the huge rivers of ice sculpted New England’s natural features.
We are in the midst of a battle. The battle is raging on the letters to the editor page of my local paper, where there’s been a sharp exchange of views between creationists and evolutionists.
It’s also cropped up at Grand Canyon National Park. The canyon is so magnificent that it could only have been created through the intelligent design of a Supreme Being, according to some funda- mental Christian groups. They’ve pressured the federal government to allow “their view” of the canyon’s formation to be told in a book sold at a park bookstore.
The French writer Bernard-Henri Levy has been traveling around the United States for The Atlantic Monthly magazine, playing a modern-day de Tocqueville. In a recent article, Levy termed in- telligent design an “inspired” concept because it elevates to the rank of “science” what Levy says is “patently superstition and imposture.” Yet Levy notes that the concept is seeping deeply into the American psyche and represents a “cunning” ideological maneuver.
We’re engaged in the same battle that John Scopes and his attorney, Clarence Darrow, fought with Bryan 80 years ago in Dayton, Tennessee. Or that Galileo fought with the Church 400 years ago. It’s the age-old battle of faith versus reason.
It’s an experience that modern-day rationalists probably thought would never occur in their lifetimes.
This is Allen Gilbert.
Allen Gilbert is a former journalist, teacher and consultant currently serving as executive director of the ACLU of Vermont. He has a longtime interest in public policy issues.