At a camping area on the Salmon River, two guys were hugging. Actually, one was doing the hugging; the other stood like a steel rod and held his arms straight out from his body. The steel rod had been a Marine and the other guy, who was much bigger, supposedly hated him. At least the Marine kept yelling that the big guy hated him. The big guy declared his fondness and yelled, “Hug me!” When their voices became especially shrill, the Marine’s dog barked. Its name was Private. “Private, stop,” the Marine barked. There’s no need to say they were very drunk. Their yelling was slurred. Their music—old, metallic rock and roll that was only vaguely familiar to me—was loud, and they yelled their conversation over its volume. That’s how I heard most of it—I was camped some 50 yards away. I had arrived at dusk and didn’t want to drive further downriver to find another campsite.
The Marine began to scream about the war in Iraq. “F___ the liberals,” he screamed. “F___ ‘em all! F___ the Geneva Convention!” His next words were lost in the barking of Private, but his sentence ended with “ . . . till the day that Christ comes.” He then screamed his plan to win the war in Iraq, which involved only the 101st Airborne and carpet-bombing, the way he said that World War II was won.
I looked up—wondering whether an old Flying Fortress piloted by Jesus might be making targeted strikes on liberals as well as Iraq—and then climbed into the back of my truck, where I closed the canopy door against the rage at least for the night.
There’s a spot on Interstate 84 in southern Idaho between Boise and Twin Falls where the only stations that aren’t playing top 40 hits are preaching Christian sermons. Between sermons, one station offered a story on global warming. “Fears about global warming,” the story reported, “are caused by evolutionary biologists.” Creationist radio likes to blame evolutionary biologists (or ‘Darwinists’ as they usually typologize us) for every social problem in America, but I had been unaware we were to blame for fears about global warming.
“Evolutionary biologists believe in uniformitarianism,” the story claimed. Uniformitarianism, they reported, biases evolutionary biologists to believe global warming and climate change will occur. I enjoy the way that creative creationists grab an old idea and twist it in a new way.
Uniformitarianism comes not from evolutionary biology but from Victorian era geology, especially that of Charles Lyell. I suspect it was Lyell’s connections with Charles Darwin that led some creationist to graft uniformitarianism onto evolutionary biologists. Lyell’s geological writings influenced profoundly the young Charles Darwin’s early natural history studies, and Lyell would later become an important supporter of Darwin.
Lyell’s uniformitarianism in its details has been left to the history of geology. It’s a stretch to suggest that it plays anything more than a general role in contemporary theories of evolutionary processes. It is, however, interesting to watch creationists graft historically rejected ideas on contemporary evolutionary biology in their attempts to redefine the science and slur its image before the public.
While uniformitarianism in its early details persists only as historical relict, there is a premise of uniformitarianism that remains important not just in evolutionary biology but also in all science. Part of the rationale of Lyell’s uniformitarianism was that past and present geological processes were largely the same. Thus, for Lyell, one could study contemporary geological processes to understand rocks, strata, and mountains formed in the past. That basic logic—that historical processes were largely the same as contemporary processes—guides scientific reconstructions of the past (which evolutionary biologists as well as climatologists do) and allows us to make predictions about the future because we assume that past and present processes will be active in the future. Lyell’s science was materialistic—it was centered in physical laws and repeatable processes—which is anathema to creationists who demand exception for divine interventions. The creationist report on global warming didn’t address directly why we should reject the general idea of uniformitarianism but implied that it was inconsistent with Biblical interpretation.
There was no need to fear global warming, the creationist story explained, because God controls Earth. The Earth has experienced only one catastrophe—the flood reported in the Bible—in its entire history of a few thousand years. Yes--since Earth is only a few thousand years old, not the few billion claimed by evolutionary biologists, global warming would not result in long-term change. The only catastrophes the Earth will face in the future, the story stated, are those God produces, and humans will be powerless to counter those God-given catastrophes. Thus, the report concluded, there is no need to worry about global warming.
Go forth to cut forests and burn fossil fuels as fast as possible.