Journalists love to get “both sides” of an issue, so nothing could be a better setup for a story on the conflict between creationists and evolutionists than this: two rafts traveling through the Grand Canyon, one led by a creationist, the other by an evolutionist. On the former is a “pastor’s wife from Greensboro, N.C.” who suggests that “In the book of Genesis, it talks about God walking the face of the earth. Maybe His footprints are there.” On the latter is an “emergency-room doctor in Colorado Springs” who thinks “it is evolution that answers ‘the great philosophical questions why are we here, where did we come from,’” joined by these folks:
Among the rafters on this year’s trip were Susan Epperson, 64, a former high school biology teacher who was the plaintiff in the 1967 Supreme Court case that found Arkansas’ law banning the teaching of evolution unconstitutional, and Ken Saladin, 56, a professor at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville who has been protesting any mix of church and state for 30 years.
So it should be pretty obvious who are the dogmatists and who are the open-minded enquirers, right? Scientist Eugenie Scott, of the evolution raft, explains how she engages the controversy:
“I won’t defend evolution,” Dr. Scott said in exasperation one evening. “We don’t defend the spherical Earth. We need to stop defending, as they put it, Darwinism, and just make them show they have a scientific view.”
And thankfully she managed to keep her charges in line:
“I’ve always believed in evolution,” Irene Rosenthal, 71, a semiretired psychologist, said over soup one night.
“Accepted evolution,” interjected George H. Griffin, 58, a retired law enforcement officer in Colorado. “That’s what Genie wants us to say,” he said, referring to Dr. Scott. “Genie said anyone who said ‘believed’ would have to walk home.”
Dr. Scott and others cringe at creationists’ charge that Darwin’s theories have become dogmatic faith, that creationism and evolution are just two parallel belief systems, equally plausible and unprovable. “We have faith in science, but it’s not a religion,” said Herb Masters, a retired firefighter. “It’s a faith in a body of knowledge.”
Then there are the members of the creationist raft:
Diana Panes began questioning evolution, which she had studied in school like most everyone else, seven years ago when Andrew came home from school asking whether Genesis was fable or history, and about dinosaurs dating back millions of years.
“I was gobsmacked,” Mrs. Panes recalled.
So she started reading, attending lectures, watching creationist videos. “I don’t want to believe in fairy tales. I’m interested in truth,” Mrs. Panes said.
Convinced that Jesus himself believed the global flood and genealogy of Genesis were true historical accounts, “the whole thing becomes his reputation at stake,” Mrs. Panes, 54, said of why she felt compelled to come to the canyon to see for herself. “For years there were huge areas I couldn’t answer. My faith was devotional.”
. . .
But Brenda Melvin, 46, a nurse practitioner, was not so sure. “My Christian heart wanted to believe, but my scientific mind had questions,” Ms. Melvin said. “I believe totally that God created heaven and Earth – I don’t know how he did it, I don’t know exactly when he did it. I don’t know that we’re ever going to learn the answers here.”
Her pastor, Paul Phillips, also did not accept Mr. Vail’s explanations of rock layers and fossil remnants without question. “Whatever he says, I’m just trying to think: There’s a really smart person, there’s tons of really smart people, that think the other side,” he said.
Ah, thinking. That can only get you in trouble.