A furious—and political—debate about the origins of mankind
THAT old-time religion is strong in America. To take just one measure, for decades more than 40% of all Americans have consistently told Gallup pollsters that God created humans in pretty much their current form, less than 10,000 years ago. They are embracing an account of man’s origins promoted by Young Earth Creationists who lean on a painstakingly literal reading of the Scriptures, swatting aside the counter-claims of science (fossils are a relic of Noah’s flood, they argue, and evolution is a myth peddled by atheists). In a recent poll 58% of Republicans and 41% of Democrats backed creationism. The glue that underpins such faith is the principle of Biblical inerrancy—a certainty that the Scriptures are infallibly and unchangingly true.
A quest for certainty is an American tradition. Old World believers often inherit religion passively, like a cultural artefact. Americans, an individualistic bunch, are more likely to switch churches or preachers until they find a creed that makes sense to them. They admire fundamental texts (the constitution, for example) that plain citizens may parse for immutable truths.