This former Iowan’s prose has the elegant rhythms of rolling cornfields. In an Editorial Observer piece in the August 23rd New York Times, Klinkenborg reaches-out gently to understand the difficulties that some may have when faced with the immensity of questions about the origin of life and its subsequent evolution. Klinkenborg writes:
“One of the most powerful limits to the human imagination is our inability to grasp, in a truly intuitive way the depth of terrestrial and cosmological time. That inability is hardly surprising because our own lives are so very short in comparison. It’s hard enough to come to terms with the brief scale of human history. But the difficulty of comprehending what this is on an evolutionary scale, I think, is a major impediment to understanding evolution.”
Kinkenborg takes the misapprehension of time as a major error that has led astray those who wish to deny evolution. He writes: “Nearly every attack on evolution—whether it is called intelligent design or plain creationism, synonyms for the same faith-based rejection of evolution—ultimately requires a foreshortening of cosmological, geological and biological time.”
Evolutionary biologists have often been criticized for arrogance and lack of sensitivity to the concerns of the lay public in the face of the creationism onslaught—what I find especially compelling in Klinkenborg’s essay is the absence of arrogance when he writes “Humans feel much more content imagining a world of more human proportions, with a shorter time scale and a simple narrative sense of cause and effect.”
While the essay is full of empathy it also has the bright light of rationality—the high quality of enlightenment thought that seems all but gone from public discourse in faith-based America. For Klinkenborg speaks clearly, quieting metaphors, when he makes critical points about Intelligent Design—he writes: “Intelligent design is not a theory at all, as scientists understand the word, but a well-financed political and religious campaign to muddy science.” He goes on to say that the vast numbers of Americans who believe the creation myth as presented in Genesis “isn’t a triumph of faith”—it is instead “a failure of education.” “The purpose of the campaign for intelligent design,” Klinkenborg emphasizes, “is to deepen that failure.” And that is why scientists and teachers must work against the insidious intent of the Intelligent Design movement and the advocates it has at all political levels.