In the eighth grade in public school on Long Island we learned a theory about how life started when things heated up in a puddle. The chemical mix and a zapping heat flash were perfect to form the first cell. Life began. Soon amphibians crawled out of the sludge and there was survival of the fittest. I knew Spencer Tracy starred in Inherit the Wind, about the Scopes monkey trial, which happened in olden times. Nobody ever on Long Island going to the mall or anything questioned evolution and besides, if you believed God started it all, you could still have your way because why did that spark and excellent formula coincide? It was the same thing later in college parsing Freud's Totem and Taboo. Those scientists! Explaining the earliest religion, Freud described the first son vs. father incident. You could go over that paragraph with a microscope looking for why those first cavemen sons went at the father with rocks and killed him and you could never find the exact why, what caused that specific, original fight? As in most moments of huge destructive and creative passion there's confusing wildness — a dust cloud with now and then a clear glimpse of a fist or foot or anguished face — and then settling dust, and it's too late for the scientist. There is only the effect: the cell, the earthworm, the clam, the frog, the snake, the rabbit, the monkey, the jubilant young caveman, the dead father. Human beings fail at describing and explaining everything. You could call that missing piece God.
People go on tv and talk about the most humiliating things … and yet here we are in Kansas, a whole state that ought to hang its head about science.
Now I live in Kansas, where the state board of education voted in August to stop requiring children to study evolution. The newspaper I read, The Wichita Eagle, was ripe late this summer with evolution news. Creationists argue the boe voted for free speech; now local districts can decide whether their schools teach evolution. Evolutionists argue the boe does not allow such local control in other subjects; that evolution is presented as a theory, like the theory of relativity or any other scientific theory; that Kansas children will be intellectually crippled if kept in the dark about what most scientists believe, and, that, anyway, evolutionists can still believe God organizes what Darwin describes.
So now Kansas is the laughingstock of the nation. Nowadays people go on tv and talk about the most humiliating things about their sex life and family life and yet here we are in Kansas, a whole state that ought to hang its head about science. It's true Kansas is isolated, and things need to seem more ah shucks here. A Midwesterner will get a hold of some with-it, hard, Eastern language and give it apple cheeks. My husband is from Nebraska. I talked to him one day about the wrecked house we bought to fix and "flip." A few days afterward, his face worn with worry folds, he said he figured we need to flop three houses. "Flop?" I said. "Flop?" He was working hard on the roof of that house through the late summer weeks when the Great Plains sun's obnoxious, like there's a circle of mirrors set around Wichita's perimeter flashing more heat and brightness at us. One hot Friday he told me he would quit early, but still was not home at six. When he finally got back he said he and his partner had all their roofing tools packed and were about to walk off when the neighbor came over to talk about evolution.
You guys listen to the liberal station, npr, Sid began. He listened to it once in a while to catch up on the opposition. Yes, said my husband, he listened to Rush Limbaugh now and then to do the same. Rush joked too much, said Sid, and then asked what the two greatest books ever published were. The constitution of the United States, Sid answered himself. Yes, my husband said. And the Bible, said Sid. Do you take the Bible literally? said my husband. He did, said Sid. You believe the earth is only 7,000 years old? my husband asked. That was so, said Sid. No, said my husband, it's language which is only 7,000 years old. He had practiced this argument many times living in the Midwest. He had rushed it out last summer on a camping trip to the Colorado mountains with a 13-year-old boy who is mad for Christian rock. After eight hours of driving, my husband whispered over the phone to me from a Wal-Mart, "He likes Christian rock," whispering in the hurried, sick voice of someone who'd been kidnapped and made it to a pay phone. He had only until the boy paid for another Christian CD to talk. It was when they came on some fossils in the Great Sand Dunes National Monument that they went at it about what is 7,000.
Sid has a boy about the same age and Sid said he'd had trouble with his son's public school teaching the boy evolution. Each night Sid had to go over science again with the boy. Sid described these teacher run-ins as "altercations." As the backyard evolution debate wore on, my husband did most of the talking for evolution and Sid for creationism and Tom just listened. After a while they switched off evolution to the big tree in our backyard. This was a tremendous tree which had grown untended by humans for years and had come to dominate the yard with its shade. The branches stretched over the garage and kept that roof so wet the shingles had rotted. They began to fight about what kind of tree it was. Sid, a landscaper by trade, said it was a hackberry. Tom and my husband said mulberry because the wood was yellow and it produced no fruit, so therefore it was a male mulberry tree. The men went round and round. Finally my husband said he was tired and had to go home. Yeah, you look tired, Sid said, kindly. I am tired, said my husband.