The New Creationists

The foremost student of a belief held by nearly half of all Americans traces its history from Darwin’s bombshell through the storms of the Scopes trial to today’s “scientific creationists”—who find William Jennings Bryan too liberal

The year 1963 brought the death of George McCready Price, whom the science writer Martin Gardner described as “the last and greatest of the anti-evolutionists.” The greatest perhaps, but certainly not the last. That year also witnessed the birth of the Creation Research Society and—more generally—the age of scientific creationism. By the end of the decade battles were being waged over including creationism in public school curricula; the fight culminated in the 1981 court challenge to the Arkansas creationist law. If the proceedings lacked the carnival atmosphere of the 1925 Scopes trial, they compensated by attracting an impressive list of expert witnesses from the ranks of scientists, philosophers, and theologians. Unfavorable court decisions have settled for the moment the issue of equal-time state laws, but creation science as a movement has hardly slowed. Several creation research institutes continue seeking evidence to confute evolution, and the theory’s proponents have evolved new tactics for including special creation in public school curricula. The phenomenon of scientific creationism has evoked a cottage industry of analysts: journalists, sociologists, philosophers of science, theologians, and particularly scientists, who believe they have the most to lose from a theory that denies Darwin. The call to arms that went out among various scientific groups characterized creationists almost uniformly as dangerous quacks who were gulling the public with a specious science.

Astounding Story

What makes science fiction the literature of choice for so many? Arthur C. Clarke, the novelist and scientist, gave a good answer once, when asked why he chose to write in this genre: “Because,” he said, “no other literature is concerned with reality.” Read more »

Dusting Off America’s First Dinosaur

It was discovered in New Jersey in 1858, was made into full-size copies sent as far away as Edinburgh, and had a violent run-in with Boss Tweed in 1871. Now, after fifty years out of view, the ugly brute can be seen in Philadelphia.

During the summer of 1858 almost no one in the United States had even heard of dinosaurs. The term itself was only seventeen years old, having been coined by Sir Richard Owen in 1841 to describe a few scattered bones and teeth found in England some two decades before. Several colossal models had been built on the grounds of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, England, but even with Owen’s expertise they bore little resemblance to the iguanodons and megalosaurs they were supposed to portray.Read more »

Elm Street Blues

Since 1930, more than half of America’s splendid elm trees have succumbed to disease. But science is now fighting back and gaining ground.

They left behind great names —the Divine Elm, the Justice Elm, the Pride of the State, the Green Tree. In their dappled shade countless towns found repose, places like Elmhurst, Illinois; Elm Grove, Wisconsin; and New Haven, Connecticut, “City of Elms.” The trees carried the names of American heroes: the William Penn Treaty Elm, the Washington Elm, the Lincoln Elm. Under trees such as these, revolutions were pledged, treaties signed, oaths of office taken.Read more »

Part Iii What Can We Do About It?

For more than two hundred years, Americans have tried to change the weather by starting fires, setting off explosions, cutting trees, even planning to divert the Gulf Stream. The question now is not how to do it, but whether to do it at all.

RAIN MADE TO ORDER: PRELIMINARY EXPERIMENTS IN TEXAS PROVE SUCCESSFUL . The headline might be yesterday’s, but in fact it appeared in August 1891. At that time, an expedition funded by Congress was traveling through the drought-stricken Southwest trying to make rain by aerial explosions. Its early reports exuded optimism, as though the United States, its land frontier erased, had now begun the taming of the weather. Read more »

Part I Four Centuries Of Surprises

We talk about it constantly and we arrange our lives around it. So did our parents; and so did the very first colonists. But it took Americans a long time to understand their weather—and we still have trouble getting it right.

Weather makes news headlines almost every day in some community in the United States. “The weather is always doing something,” said Mark Twain, “always getting up new designs and trying them on people to see how they will go.” On any day of the year, two or three weather systems are in action, dividing the country into distinct weather zones and producing what Twain called a “sumptuous variety” of conditions. A northeaster may be racing up along the Atlantic seaboard with gales and drenching rains, menacing ships and planes.Read more »

Knowledge Beyond Numbers

At a time when our civilization is trying to organize itself on scientific principles of mathematical probabilities, statistical modeling, and the like, is traditional narrative history of any real use? Yes, says a distinguished practitioner of the discipline; it can always help us. It might even save us.

I was recently sent a well-argued report written by sensible people which insisted that a larger place must be found in our schools and colleges for instruction in mathematics and “quantitative thinking.” Scarcely had I finished reading it when a full professor came by to tell me that cliometrics (which applies statistical analysis and the theoretical explanations of social science to investigations of the past) was sweeping the country and threatening to destabilize all future tenure decisions in history departments.Read more »

The Oddest Of Characters

Slovenly, impulsive, impoverished, and grotesque, Constantine Samuel Rafinesque was the greatest naturalist of his age. But nobody knew it.

It is quite fitting,” wrote a Philadelphia journalist in 1804, “that the name ‘Rafinesque’ rhymes with ‘picturesque’ and ‘grotesque,’ because so the little man is.” The subject was a struggling twenty-one-year-old scientist named Constantine Samuel Rafinesque, who actually was a rather attractive fellow when he was neatly groomed and at ease and in a good humor, but that was not often. Read more »

The Prizewinners

America has won more Nobel Prizes in medicine than any other nation: it’s easy when you have the money, the technology, and people from every other nation

In 1977 the sociologist Harriet Zuckerman published a comprehensive study of the American Nobel laureates in science called Scientific Elite . She used these words of Simone Weil for an epigraph: “Science today must search for a source of inspiration above itself or it will perish. There are just three reasons for doing science: (1) technical applications; (2) chess game; (3) the way toward God. (The chess game is embellished with competitions, prizes and medals.)” Read more »

“life On Mars Is Almost Certain!”

…And what’s more, the planet’s highly civilized inhabitants live together in perfect harmony. So argued an eminent astronomer named Percival Lowell, and for decades tens of thousands of Americans believed him.

EXPLORATION HAS A way of destroying as much knowledge and as many features as it reveals. At the first approach of an impartial observer, bodies of water have evaporated into thin air, navigable passages have healed up without a scar, and great lands firmly fixed on the map have sunk beneath the waves, carrying whole species of beings down with them. Exploration claimed new victims in the 1960s, when the Mariner space probes gave the world its first close view of the surface of the planet Mars. Hopes had run high.Read more »