Thursday, November 04, 2004

Red and blue America

"Was Darwin Wrong?" asks National Geographic boldly on the cover of the November issue.

National Geographic is as quintessentially American as mom and apple pie. There was a time when the yellow-edged magazine might be found in school rooms, doctors' offices, and homes across the heartland. It stood for curiosity, cultural diversity, and global vision.

And how does the magazine answer the question posed on its cover? With a resounding "NO" in letters two inches high. The evidence for evolution by natural selection is "overwhelming," says National Geographic, and shows us why in concise and convincing words and pictures.

Yet Gallup pollsters tell us that nearly half of Americans believe the Earth and its myriad species were created pretty much as we find them sometime within the past 10,000 years. Only 12% of Americans believe evolution can account for the diversity of life without divine intervention.

Perhaps never in its 116-year history has there been such a disconnect between the venerable magazine and its readers.

I'd wager that the answers to no other question posed by Gallup would more perfectly correlate with red/blue politics than the one about evolution. What is at work here are two ways of knowing: faith versus empiricism, authority versus curiosity, scriptures versus nature.

Jan LaRue, chief counsel for the conservative group Concerned Women for America, says of the recent election: "The real issue at play is whether there is absolute truth or there isn't. That's the dividing line in America."