Origin of the specious

In the beginning there was the noble savage. And he was good. He hunted, gathered, and had a sufficient familiarity of the game he tracked and the plants he collected. He understood his place in the food chain.
In time, Man developed strategies of agronomy and animal husbandry. And that too was good. Food became more plentiful, people gained increasing knowledge of their surroundings, and the species thrived.
It wasn't long before Man started gazing into the night sky. Looking into the heavens he saw that the sun, the moon, and the stars were orbiting around the Earth. And, again, that was good.
There, at the center of the cosmos, Man started to take a closer look at his role in the universe and to contemplate the very meaning of life itself. That curious Neolithic man asked one question after another. He grew wiser, his primitive brain grew larger, and the twin towers of science and religion were born.
This ancient Stone Age man was, in fact, the common ancestor from which all great thinkers of today have evolved. Jews, Christians, Buddhists, believers and skeptics can all trace their lineage back to the prehistoric stargazer. From his innocent questions, his many descendants each arrived at their own answers, and today they roam the Earth, continually bickering over who has a monopoly on the truth.
The family tree of ontology branches off in many directions, but for purposes of taxonomy, we can identify three schools of thought: evolution, creation, and a recent mutation called intelligent design (ID).

Church vs. science
The first major fork in the tree of knowledge came around the middle of the 1600s, when a man named Galileo Galilei decided to point a new fangled telescope into the stars for a closer look at the inner workings of the universe. That's when the trouble really started -- enough to make all that serpent-in-the-apple-tree business look like a day in the park.
Galileo's findings were revolutionary in every sense of the word, and as a scientist he felt obliged to share his observations -- moons orbiting other planets, stars fading from the sky -- with the rest of the world.
In what was probably their greatest coup, the Spanish Inquisition called Galileo to task and tried him for the victimless crime of heresy. But what really went on trial in that 17th-century kangaroo court was an idea -- an idea that challenged Papal Infallibility, the Holy Scripture, and the geocentric universe.
For better or worse, Galileo refused to recant his scientific observations, rejecting Biblical dogma and clinging to his belief that the planets revolved around the sun. He was succinct in his reply.
"I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use," he said.
Science lost, at least for that century, and the groundbreaking astronomer ultimately spent the last 10 years of his life under house arrest. Not until 1992 did Pope John Paul II publicly reverse the church's official position on Galileo.
By now, virtually everyone in the faith-based camp accepts the heliocentric model of our solar system. But their philosophy has evolved, and they now focus on other points of contention, which is why school boards in Kansas, city councils in Pennsylvania, and the opinion pages of various newspapers continue to dwell on the validity of teaching the Book of Genesis in public classrooms.
With obvious parallels to the trial of Galileo, the Scopes Trial of 1925 -- dramatized by the popular film "Inherit the Wind" -- once again put an idea on trial and found a man guilty. The idea was Darwin's model of evolution, and the man was not Darwin himself, but a high school teacher from Tennessee who insisted on teaching the theory to his biology students. Although the Bible Belt jury delivered a guilty verdict, the court of public opinion would exonerate John Scopes in much the same way as it did Galileo.

Old World vs. New World
Fortunately for us, the Middle Ages are over, and we now live in an age of reason, where religious fundamentalists no longer guide the course of scientific inquiry. The general public, in its infinite wisdom, has slowly come to allow the scientific method to supplant the dogma of creation. And as more and more Christians have learned to accept the gospel of geophysics, they've been forced to reject Bishop Ussher's timetable -- based on a literal reading of Genesis --that dates the creation of the Earth to Oct. 18, 4004 B.C.
In the latter half of the last century, the family tree took another turn, and the creationist line split in two directions. One group held on to the young-universe theory, believing that the world is just 6,000 years old. Some of them argue that evidence of an older Earth is just wrong, while others maintain that the Earth was created with the appearance of age -- trees with old rings, light waves from distant stars, and 100-million-year-old dinosaur fossils were all included in the creator's master plan.
But just like Darwin's old world and new world monkeys, the genus of creationists includes both young-earth and old-Earth believers. Old-Earth creationists have adopted a few more of the principles of modern geology and astronomy, and have therefore evolved slightly further, to believe that the universe is indeed about 16 billion years old.
Some of these old-Earthers have gone out on yet another limb, and now wear the badge of intelligent design. ID is advertised as a nondenominational theory on the origins of life. Having accepted certain advances in science, ID proponents are convinced that science has finally reached its dead end. And to avoid this scientific dead end, the ID camp chooses instead to spend eternity circling an intellectual cul-de-sac.
Too many unanswered questions can only be explained, they say, through the supernatural forces of what they call the agent of intelligent design. In common language, this agent is God. But intelligent designers, in an attempt to shed the stigma of Christian Fundamentalism, don't call him God, because ID is supposed to be an all-inclusive, non-religious ideology that embraces all spiritual orientations. Oddly enough, however, Christian fundamentalists are the only ones really promoting ID.
At the same time, they insist that ID rests on a rock solid foundation of scientific evidence. In his convincing treatise on the certainty of ID and old-universe creationism, "Creation and Time," Dr. Hugh Ross writes, "The work of secular scientists is the friend, not the foe, of Christians. Their efforts have given us some of the strongest evidences for our Creator, God and Savior."
Ross effectively apologizes for those who insist on the 6,000-10,000 year old model of creation, admitting that they have cost ID a great deal of credibility. He goes to on to resolve any discrepancies between the Bible and the 16-billion-year-old universe through an exhaustive presentation of scientific evidence and a thorough reinterpretation of the Good Book.

Creation in SLO County
Still, some firm believers don't draw the distinction between old- and new-universe creation, and prefer to examine scientific evidence that could support either and other models.
North County Christian School (NCCS) in Atascadero is one of the only schools in San Luis Obispo County to teach creation to its students. Public schools are all required to follow state guidelines, which mandate the teaching of evolution without a discussion of creation. But NCCS aims to provide its students with all the scientific evidence, allowing them to discuss and decide for themselves. The school's principal, Dr. Bob McLaughlin, believes that's the only way to provide a solid education.
"There's plenty of scientific evidence to support the creation model that is separate from the religious discussion," said McLaughlin, who doesn't differentiate between the young- and old-Earth models. His students are also exposed to Darwin's theory, with all its strengths and weaknesses.
"The fact that there's a debate is a wonderful teaching tool," he said.
Science, according to McLaughlin, means postulating a theory and then looking for evidence to support it. Actually, that's not quite right. With the scientific method, you take a theory and look for ways to disprove it. That's called testing your hypothesis. But some theories, like the intelligent agent, can't possibly be tested. That's called religion, which is fine, but science it's not.
The crux of ID rests upon a scientific-sounding concept called irreducible complexity. This means that things like the human eye are so incredibly and inexplicably complicated that they could not possibly have come into existence on their own. Even in a hundred billion years of evolution, such an intricate and refined instrument of sight would never happen by accident.
Douglas Navolt, a local ID enthusiast, likens this so-called evolution to placing all the separate parts of a Swiss watch in a shoebox and shaking it for a million years. Eventually, a couple pieces might serendipitously snap into place, but you'd never open the box to find a perfectly assembled Rolex. And ultimately, after rubbing together for all that time, all those little pieces would finally just wear down and erode into dust.
Human beings, in all their rich complexity, are no different. Accidents like that just don't happen, Navolt argues. There has to be a watchmaker, a designer, who envisions a plan and assembles the pieces. On the other hand, comparing the universe to an empty shoebox should tell us something about the world in which these intelligent designers live.
Still, Navolt and his kinfolk purport to have the greatest respect for science. He has no doubt that the universe is 16 billion years old; it's been proven irrefutably. Nor is there any question that dinosaurs once roamed the Earth; the fossil record is incontrovertible.
In their effort to anchor ID with science, supporters also argue that there's nothing in the fossil record to support Darwin's theory of trans-species evolution. That is, we know of moths within a single species that grew darker and lighter during the industrial revolution, but we don't know of any creatures that suggest a link between different species.
Yet, a quick Internet search brings up the Archeaopteryx -- one of hundreds of trans-species fossils in the annals of paleontology. This exotic creature of the late Jurassic period is widely considered to bridge the gap between birds and dinosaurs. And that's just the beginning.
Certain scientific breakthroughs can't be denied, and even the most stalwart creationists will admit that science has advanced by leaps and bounds in the last 50 years -- paving the way for televangelism and, among other things. Sensible, old-universe creationists have accepted these advances and now scoff at those who read the first chapter of Genesis literally and who still insist that the world is only 6,000 years old.
But in spite of all that progress, here we are in the 21st century, and Harvard-educated astrophysicists are still at a loss to explain how a big bang created something from nothing, or how single cell organisms emerged from a lifeless bowl of primordial soup. † Or, at least, they sure haven't been able to explain it in common language that the rest of us can understand.
ID, however, offers exactly that -- layman's terminology that any liberal arts student or elementary school pupil can easily digest. The operative expression is abracadabra, also known as hocus pocus, and it consists of a supernatural being, who -- operating outside the boundaries of physical law as we know it -- snaps its celestial fingers and voila, monsieur, the universe is served.
It's spelled out plain and simple in the Bible, and probably every other holy text. I'm sure the Upanishads address the matter in some pithy haiku. And it's not like you even have to read every chapter and verse of the Bible. You can skip all that boring stuff like Lamentations and Ecclesiastes, because it's right there in the beginning.

Creative diversity
Trouble is, not everyone interprets the first book of the Bible the same. Navolt, like many forward-thinking Christians, can read the Bible and understand that when the universe was created in six days, that did not mean six consecutive 24-hour-long periods. A day for the Lord can last many thousands of years. So the opening verses of the Bible are open to interpretation, Navolt admitted, while other passages are not.
When God created all of the animals of the Earth, for example, and Adam named each one of them, Navolt says there is no room for interpretation. Millions of creatures, including all of the dinosaurs, came strolling through the garden, and Adam gave each one a name. Creationists of Navolt's stripe agree that men and dinosaurs roamed the Earth together, and eventually the giant reptiles went extinct, like the dodo bird.
Other Christians have different explanations for the dinosaurs, and it seems to be an effective way to identify different subspecies of creationists. Young worlders claim that dinosaurs roamed the earth just a few thousand years ago, that they are the dragons of King Arthur's time, and that they washed away in Noah's great flood. Still others believe that dinosaur bones were planted here by Satan to tempt the weak of heart. Teaching these theories in public school would certainly spark some stimulating discussion.
According to Newsweek, fewer than half of Americans believe in evolution, and 80 percent believe that God created the Earth. Thank God science isn't a democratic process, or we'd still be eating acorns and wearing leeches. I wonder how many Americans firmly believe in Einstein's special theory of relativity.
The role of science is to keep asking questions. The purpose of church is to provide an answer. Scientists aren't going to deliver the meaning of life in a silver test tube, nor should we expect them to. And your minister isn't going to map the human genome, so don't ask him to.
Neither institution is on the verge of extinction, but maybe it's time to clarify their roles and let them both carry on with what they do best. In the meantime, don't be surprised if another breed of creationist crops up in response to the next great discovery in astrophysics.

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