How to Make a Creationist Weep
Do you want to know the real reason Barack Obama is going to win the 2012 election? The big, grinning hunk of overwhelming evidence that has little to do with the not-very-terrific job he's doing and not nearly enough to do with the fact that the man has actually accomplished quite a lot, despite being savaged and hobbled and compromised at nearly every turn?
The reason, as most comparable explanations are, is sort of awesome in its pureform power. The most interesting part is that it has almost nothing to do with Obama at all and everything to do with the fact that his opponents are, largely and comfortably, insane.
What, too harsh? Too mean? Not even close, honeybomb.
Let me back up for a second. Because here I am, reading over this swell little science item that whipped through the newswires recently, all about how some paleoecologists just discovered some stunning prehistoric feathers locked in a tiny hunk of amber they calculate to be about, oh, 70 million years old.
It's a fascinating little finding, really, one of thousands like it happening all the time in the science world; it tells of life long past, how protofeathers later evolved into actual feathers, how flight first came to be. Wonderful.
Then it strikes me. There was that magic word, "evolved." Oh my sweet goddess, to many Americans, these scientists are totally lying. They are part of some mass liberal conspiracy begun hundreds if not thousands of years ago, specifically designed to ruin homeschooled kids' minds and taint the blood of virgins and demean angry Almighty God.
Is it not true? Is this not the belief of many of the nation's current crop of top GOP presidential candidates? You bet it is.
See Rick Perry over there? He doesn't really believe in evolution. Says "It's a theory that's out there" which "has some gaps in it," which is not even remotely true, but he's been far too busy killing inmates in his home state and rallying evangelical homophobes to, you know, care much for book learnin'.
Perry "knows" only one thing. We came from God. That's it. He's just not really sure what happened next. Probably some combination of confused monkeys and flying iguanas and, like, oil or something. Poor Rick. The world must be so weird.
Over there, it's Michele "Crazy Eyes" Bachmann, who, aside from being a grade-A nutball conspiracy theorist of terrifically paranoid dimensions, is an avowed creationist, believing all existence began less than 10,000 years ago, during which man and dinosaurs co-existed, prehistoric cave paintings never happened and the planets are nothing but God's little sack of marbles.
Bachmann believes in teaching creationism in schools. She says we should "put all the science on the table and let kids decide," as if creationism has the slightest whiff of fact behind it, as if there was some sort of valid debate happening anywhere but in her own madly short-circuited brain, as if kids were somehow savvier than, say, Richard Dawkins. Isn't she adorable? Keep her away from your pets.
Mitt Romney! He's not so bad, right? Romney actually believes evolution is fact, more or less. He believes God created everything and then, well, then Joseph Smith found it all etched on some shiny plates under a rock one day while out evading his seventeen petulant wives. Yes! Who needs creationism when you've got a whole religion to "translate" on a whim?
Awesome. Let's sum up! To the majority of the "serious" GOP presidential hopefuls -- and let's toss Sarah "I Really Love the NBA" Palin in there for kicks and adulterous, coke-snortin' giggles -- our little 70-million-year-old golden nugget, well, it does not actually exist in current spacetime.
It's a fake. A sham. It cannot be real. Carbon dating is a gimmick. The Ph.D scientists in question are frauds and swindlers as are the major university programs and departments to which they belong. And the media? Oh, honey. The media is clearly the devil himself for reporting such bogus findings as "fact."
Do you see? It all provides a deliriously high level of raging ignorance against which, I firmly believe, the nation will calmly recoil when it comes time to weigh the presidential options at the polling place.
Put the other way: No matter what you think of Obama's performance to date, the man's intelligence is undeniable, his education formidable, his values regarding science and truth unshakable. Among this gaggle of science-denying misfits, he's the only real adult in the room.
And me, I believe in intuition. I believe in a certain collective wisdom, a deep instinct among the hoi polloi when it comes time to pull the lever. I still believe most Americans, if they actually vote, will sense at some deep level just how destructive it would be to basic human intelligence to have a single one of these mental infants at the helm.
Of course, I said the same thing about Bush versus Gore. And Kerry. Whoops. But now the chasm is, unbelievably, even wider.
We must be careful. We must not deride these creationist nutballs too nonchalantly. We must remember that a mere 20 years ago the vast majority of the nation, upwards of 93 percent of us, knew evolution to be a fact, and only seven percent walked around smacking themselves in the face with coloring books and wondering when Jesus was going to return with lollipops and hugs.
And now? Bad news, America. According to a new survey, in a scant two decades, the number of Americans "uncertain" about evolution has tripled. What's worse, roughly third of the nation believe evolution to be "absolutely false." Only Turkey ranks lower in such basic smarts. Thanks, megachurches!
But is this sad report really irrefutable evidence that we're on a collision course with a great wall of dumb and the gas pedal is nailed to the floor and the passengers are all snorting oxycontin and chortling at Rush Limbaugh as we hurl toward the great Walmart in the sky? I'm not so sure.
For here is our not-so-big secret. (And here, for that matter, is how to make a creationist weep. I know! Finally!)
Tell them advanced civilizations do not ever really intellectually degenerate. Tell them that, developmentally speaking, the human brain is not really designed to unfurl and regress, to suddenly erase complex, deeply learned wisdom. It is not our nature to understand, say, electromagnetic waveform and photosynthesis and suddenly revert to thinking it's all magic fairies and gnome spit.
You can say we will never return to slavery. Our hospitals will never again lop off gangrenous limbs with rusty hacksaws and no anesthesia. Never again will we believe the earth is flat, that we are the center of the universe, that trepanning will release evil spirits from your skull. And sorry, but we will never again believe that everything was created when angry bearded grandpa suddenly snapped his fingers and belched.
You can thusly summarize: If the arc of history bends toward justice, it also lurches, hiccups and stumbles toward basic progressive intelligence. Barring some sort of environmental cataclysm and starting all over, there really is no going back.
As the tears begin to flow, you can offer solace: "It's OK," you can smile, "we just evolved that way."
© 2011 The San Francisco Chronicle