The Right Coast

July 09, 2005
Creationism update
By Tom Smith

Short article from New Scientist on creationism controversies.

I was back East last week for my father-in-law's 80th and my 12 year old son's 12th. For his birthday, we treked to NYC's Natural History Museum. For the first time in nearly 20 years, I rode the NYC subways, one day before London. Some sort of irony there. I can only say, don't ride the subways on a warm summer day. It's far, far better than in the 1980's, but still. I insisted we take a cab back from the Museum to Grand Central, even though we didn't have a car seat for the toddler. Subways have their risks, too, I insisted. I wonder how much more risky holding a toddler without a seatbelt in a Manhattan cab is than holding one in a Manhattan subway. And how to weigh that against 45 minutes of, if not hell, at least a sweaty purgatory.

Anyway, while I didn't like the crowds, the Natural History Museum is a wonder. It struck me that most of it conflicts with creationism. The IMAX film on the scale of the universe was an unbelievable display of projection technology. They said it was the most sophisticated planetarium projector in the world, and I believe it. But no way was the show consistent with the universe popping into being 10 thousand instead of 15 billion years ago. Ditto for the dinos. I thought it was interesting how the Museum refused to show any (that I saw) mock ups of dinos with the colorful skin now standard post Jurassic Park. A plaque noted that we really don't know what they looked like, and stressed how much more research had to be done. If you care about dinos, that is. They don't do it for me; I'm more into mammals. The big North American mammal displays were stupendous, even if they are probably 75 years old or something. Incredible care obviously went into them. Indeed, they made wish I was in the Rockies chasing big horn sheep, instead of in the City, chasing my children. (But I often feel that way. I can't watch A River Runs Through It without crippling homesickness, even though I couldn't cast a fly to save my life. I just like the trees and stuff.) The collection of stuffed primates was astonishing. Dozens of apes and monkeys; I had no idea half of them existed, and I have read a fair bit about primates. Many of them creepy looking little fellows; some reminded me of former colleagues back at the firm. Highly intelligent no doubt, but scary. The descriptions of chimpanzee social life struck me as either extremely outdated or else, I am. I am under the impression chimps do indeed form social groups, that males do have a part in it, and that they are indeed territorial, at least in some senses, like attacking other chimp groups that get too close. It did make me wonder when the wall plaques had last been revised. The whole museum is set up to follow the phylogenetic tree. You walk forward in time as it were. Yet I suppose that would be out too under some versions of creationism.

As my religion is an insufficiently theorized version of Catholicism, I have no problem with evolution; indeed, I like it. But I have more contact with creationism than I ever thought I would through my martial arts instructor who is, it seems, a "young earth" creationist. He is highly intelligent and could kill me with his bare hands, something I sense when grappling with him deep in my chimpy brain. It is an extremely unpleasant feeling, for reasons I tend to think are evolutionary.