Monday, June 25, 2012

Skeptical Creationism in Texas

The Economist recently ran this great review of a Texas Observer article about the many combinations of creationism and evolutionary thought in the small Texas town of Glen Rose. Apparently, the town has a large constituency of Biblical literalists but is also home to some very old dinosaur tracks. The tracks bring in about $23 million in annual revenue, so the town residents can't easily deny their existence or ridicule the scientists and science tourists who come to study and look at them. To make the story more complex, they share the same geological stratum with tracks that look like human tracks. The result is a series of compromises between young-earth creationism and long-duree evolution.

 “Most everyone in Glen Rose that I know believes man and dinosaurs coexisted,” Alice Lance tells me at the annual tractor pull. “The only conflict we have is when people move from metropolitan areas and have different value systems. I think some don’t have a strong [religious] belief system, and they’re more likely to go with science than faith.”

Indeed, the people most intransigent about young-earth creationism seem most concerned not about the literal truth of the Genesis account, but about one thing:  values. For them, any challenge to their interpretation of the story of creation represents a challenge to the existence of God and can only lead to moral anarchy. Complicating the story of Genesis means complicating morality, and complicating morality means relaxing human beings' moral accountability.

Mary Adams, the niece of George Adams, who found the dinosaur tracks more than a century ago, recently delivered a presentation to youth at the First Baptist Church warning them against belief in evolution.

“If we were not created by God,” the 87-year-old Adams tells me, “there’s no one to whom we are accountable. We can live exactly as we please.”

[ . . . ]

For Adams, the idea that God may have worked the miracle of life through the mechanism of evolution, or that science explains “how” and religion explains “why,” doesn’t hold water. It’s “too much of a mixture,” she says.
But others are more willing to embrace the complexity offered by seemingly contradictory evidence:

“Mixing,” though, is how residents like Alice Lance reconcile science and religion.
“How long was that week [described in Genesis]?” Lance wonders. “Until the seasons were established, we don’t know how time would have operated. If you believe in a superior being, he could manipulate time.”
Even kids are willing to read the Genesis account in a more complex way:

One student recently told [biology teacher Wendy] Thompson how she and her father reconciled evolution with the Genesis account. God created the sun and moon on the fourth day; before that, a “day,” the student reasoned, could have been millions of years long.

Then there are the Busseys, who own a fossil shop:

Morris Bussey runs the Stone Hut fossil shop in an old whiskey cabin close to the state park and the Creation Evidence Museum. Though his formal education stopped at sixth grade, Bussey knows a lot about fossils.

Unlike his wife, he’s not religious. “You ask me what I believe in, it’s the almighty dollar,” he says, pointing upward.

Over the years, the Busseys have learned from professional geologists and paleontologists. “One thing they taught us was about pseudofossils,” Sue says. “That’s a wannabe fossil. Either someone’s made it, which happens around here, or more likely it’s just a rock that looks like a fossil.”
Of interest in Bussey's statement is the metaphysical significance he jokingly attributes to the dollar--a gesture which would have great significance both for Adam Smith, who formulated the doctrine of the "invisible hand" of the market, reflecting a popular strain of early modern theology, and for Karl Marx, who theorized that commodities are "fetishized" under capitalism, meaning that people attribute the power of gods to them (under capitalism, money is also treated as a commodity).

It's notable also that while he is not religious and his wife is, they both are quite capable of discerning fake fossils from real ones.

Clearly, "creationism vs. evolution" does not characterize the real debate in Glen Rose, Texas--and perhaps this can give us a more complex picture of the priorities that people bring to the table when they interpret evidence.

No comments:

Post a Comment