When evolution went on trial in Alabama

As I heard Rick Perry’s latest assertion that evolution is “a theory that’s out there,” and that it has “some gaps in it,” I thought back to the early 1980s, when I was sent to Montgomery to cover the Alabama Legislature’s debate over evolution.

Why the bunch of fat guys who were known as the Alabama legislature found it necessary — or why they thought themselves qualified — to referee the matter was lost on me. But they did, so the top creationist guns in the U.S. descended on Montgomery for the debate. They included Henry M. Morris, an engineer who wrote The Genesis Flood and who was considered the granddaddy of creationists. Along with him was Wendell Bird, a young lawyer who was considered the creationists’ top legal gun in those days.

Morris, the elder statesman, argued that the biblical flood turned things upside to such an extent that geology is useless, because we really don’t know which layer was where before the flood. And of course, any Carbon 14 dating based on geologic layers won’t work because, after all, the flood turned everything upside down.

I swear, folks, I’m not making this up.

It gets better. Where did all that water come from, anyway? The earth in those days, Morris explained, was surrounded by a canopy of water vapors. This explains the long ages of folks like Noah and Methuselah, who was said to have lived to be 969. (Apparently, the layer of water protected them from the damage of the sun’s rays.) In the flood, all that water crashed down, mixing up all the geologic layers.

I forget how the Legislature eventually voted, but it doesn’t really matter, because the circus never ends. In fact, another scientist, whose name I have forgotten, also testified, suggesting that it would be more acceptable to attribute all this not to God, but to “intelligence.”

He was, of course, a progenitor of today’s more fashionable creationists, who instead argue in favor of “intelligent design.”

And here we are, 30 years later, with at least two serious presidential candidates who question what has been regarded as scientific fact since the 19th century.

In fact, it’s been settled, re-settled and re-settled again. But it never goes away. Because the creationists morph, re-brand and re-label, but they never go away.

In short, they evolve.

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