Putting the "Reaction" in "Creationism"

I love Vanity Fair.  I once described it to my boyfriend as "a cerebral magazine about fashion, film, and politics" and he replied, sarcastically, "wow, sounds like nothing you'd be interested in." Duh.

It's not a publication for everyone's tastes, but it should be. Whatever your political leanings, tolerance for high art, or fascination with what Vanity Fair writers would probably call célébrité (there's a three accent minimum for most adjectives), Vanity Fair is the best written thing in the whole damn world.

Yeah, the writers are sometimes over my head, too, and they pack so many cultural allusions into one paragraph it makes you feel like Andy Warhol is reading you the Bible.  But every article is extraordinarily well composed.  It's writing that illustrates the craft of writing -- writing that makes you (forces you, sometimes, those words can be BIG!) to slow down and really digest the text.  It's like eating before swimming -- where "eating" is reading Vanity Fair and "swimming" is reading Dan Brown; after the former the latter makes you feel kinda queasy, and though it probably won't kill you, it's just not a good idea.

So when VF did an article about DINOSAURS, I  kind of freaked out.  (I know, I know, you all thought we'd gotten away from the dinosaurs. But we haven't. In fact, the theme of this blog may just be dinosaurs forever. Bruce Campbell fighting dinosaurs. So get over it.)   More specifically, writer A.A. Gill visited the hilariously backwards "Creationist Museum" in Petersburg, Kentucky.  This museum is devoted to a "literal interpretation of Genesis," which, yes, includes Adam and Eve fighting dinosaurs.  Gill's article was obviously brilliant and perfectly put together and utterly scathing. And I, an Anthropology major with a deep-rooted Darwin fetish, should have been absolutely knocked naked by his piece.

But I wasn't.  Something about Gill's article seemed too mean.  I know, I know, who doesn't want to mock Creationist hillbillies in rural Kentucky?  But maybe that was just it; it was like shooting prehistoric fish in Noah's barrel -- too easy.  To spend so much energy critiquing this museum, this temple of stupidity -- which is so obviously an object of disdain for anyone reading VF in the first place -- seems like a moot pursuit.  And, even worse, where there was plenty to attack about the ridiculousness of this fundamental concept (like Adam's suspicious belly button?) and the educational system that allows 21st century grown-ups to legitimately believe implausible myths and fairy tales, Gill's jabs were oddly personal:
"Science has it a whole lot easier [than Creationism]: It can change things. It can expand and hypothesize and tinker. Scientists have all this cool equipment and stuff. They’ve got all these “lenses” and things. They can see shit that’s invisible. And they stayed on at school past 14." 

"Here, it’s safe to say, no one is going to get flung into the fiery pit for overdosing on vanity, though they may get done in early for overdosing on carbs."

"A fossil with thorns is proof that it must have been made after the fall from Eden, because Genesis is quite specific about Eden’s being un-sharp and blunt, or, you might say, dull and pointless."


Look, these "literal Creationists" are undeniably under-educated and over-funded.  So make fun of them for that, Gill!  Use your awesome prose (doesn't he just make "shit" ring like an aria?) to call attention to their misapplied facts, not take pot shots at their carb intake. The oxymoron of a "Creationist museum" doesn't need your help to look stupid. To use a law term, it's res ipsa loquitur: the thing speaks for itself.

This whole thing reminded me of a little Aesop moment I had in college. A dude named Robert S. Root-Bernstein wrote an article called "Darwin's Rib" about being a young professor trying to teach an anatomy class.  He asked his students what the difference was between male and female skeletons and a girl answered, "men have one fewer rib than women."  The professor was shocked and dismayed and mildly horrified that this college student literally believed the Genesis rib story.  But if he'd admonished her or mocked her he would have just made her defensive and pushed her further from ever understanding Evolution.  So instead, he responded, "if you had an accident, and had your thumb amputated, would your children be born without a thumb?" The girl said of course not, and suddenly realized that Adam's missing rib would not have been inherited by his children any more than a missing toe or ear or foreskin (too bad on that one, right Jews?) would have.

I read this story in college, and, as someone who'd made some enemies defending Evolution, it really stuck out to me. Insults don't get you converts; Mr. Root-Bernstein taught a lesson without debunking all of that poor girl's Sunday School classes. And, unlike a fundamentalist who stumbles upon the Gill article, the girl walked away not totally hating science...and not totally doubting Darwin.



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Mr. Glenn
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February 16, 2010 at 11:32 PM delete

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

No, not relevant. Just wanted to.

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Emily
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February 17, 2010 at 7:46 PM delete

I thought that rib thing was true. Like, scientifically.

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