One of the advantages of having a day job -- aside from the paycheck -- is that you avoid the narcotic called daytime television, most of the time at least.
There are places, however, such as hospitals and car dealer waiting rooms, where it is inescapable. That is when you are introduced, like it or not, to the wonderful world of characters such as Doctor Phil, and those jolly people who preside over chat shows that have words such as "wake up" and "good morning" in their titles.
It was while trying (unsuccessfully) to not watch one of the latter a couple of weeks ago that I became convinced that the world in which we live is like a huge videotape that unbeknownst to us began to rewind shortly after the millennium. If my calculations are correct, we are now in the late 19th century and headed at flank speed for the 18th.
I came to that conclusion after watching a television reporter interview a disarmingly pleasant and soft-spoken woman in a town somewhere in Georgia. The woman was newsworthy because she had organized a campaign that had recently persuaded the local school board to attach notes in the high school science texts warning students that evolution was simply an unproven theory and should not be viewed as the last word on how we got where we are. And furthermore, that creationism should be given equal billing.
One of Jon Stewart's Daily Show reporters could have had a field day with this interview, but unfortunately the fellow asking the questions was a network newsman who was required to play it straight. And so when he asked her, unnecessarily, I thought, if she was an evangelical Christian, she replied that she was indeed and what is more she believed the world in which we live was created six thousand years ago. The reporter nodded, and went on to the next question.
Form dictates that his response, or non-response would have been the same had the woman said she also believed that if you put a horse hair in a jar of water it would turn into a snake after four days. Reporters are not allowed to ask in such situations: "In the face of all known scientific evidence, do you really believe what you just said?"
The woman's assertion that the world is six thousand years old is shared by many fundamentalist Christians and is based on conclusions arrived at by Bishop James Ussher, a 17th century cleric and amateur chronologist, who, by a process best known to himself, placed the date of creation at 4004 B.C.
If the woman in Georgia and others like her want to believe that nonsense, they have every right to do so. But they should not be able to inflict their beliefs on others, especially students and teachers in public schools.
At about the time this interview was being conducted, scientists around the world were marveling at the discovery of remains of a population of tiny humans who lived on the Indonesian island of Flores 20,000 or more years ago, or, to put it another way, 16,000 years before there was a Flores or an Indonesia, or anything else.
Then again, the archaeologists and paleontologists who discovered these early humans may be simply dabbling in "junk science," a catch-all term popular among fundamentalists and Bush administration spinners -- used to dismiss everything from evolution to air pollution and global warming.
And the flight from reality is spreading. If you visit the Grand Canyon of the Colorado and stop by the information center these days you will find a book on sale -- put there by order of the National Park Service -- explaining how the canyon really came to be.
Forget all that secular junk science about millions of years of erosion by the Colorado River. According to the book, the canyon was created by the great flood described in Genesis.
You could look it up.
Rossie is associate editor of the Press & Sun-Bulletin. His column appears on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Write to him c/o P.O. Box 1270, Binghamton, N.Y. 13902-1270.
© 2004 Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin