Young Earth Creationism would be a funny little religious belief worthy only of a footnote discussion if it weren't for the fact that it appears to be gathering steam. The farther along science gets, the more this subsection of the Christian Right clings to the notion that the world was created 6,000 years ago in six days. This creationism club also includes, I've come to realize, a relative of mine.
As I recently sat across the dinner table from my cousin and his girlfriend, both in their 20s and she a chemical engineer, I found myself rendered speechless. They were proposing that we descended from Adam and Eve not too long ago, and that the fossil "record" had been hijacked by atheistic scientists bent on distorting the truth about the Earth's age. I was dumbfounded not so much by what they were saying — though it was pretty profound — but more for the fact that I was now able to debate this issue face to face. Our conversation stayed with me all week, infusing every activity I undertook, which, of course, included the godly activity of barhopping.
A couple days after dining with my cousin, I went to Kezar Pub on Stanyan, choosing a night when the bar wasn't overly infused with soccer fans and loud talkers. I wanted to go on a slow evening to get a sense of what makes this place so popular, aside from the buffalo wings. Hidden around the corner from all the tourist watering holes, Kezar is one of the few Haight District bars that truly feels "local" — the kind of place the normal blue-collar neighborhood folks drop into regularly.
Kezar is probably the best-looking pub in the city, with two main rooms flanked by the usual forest-green and maroon wood tones, and old-timey sports pictures on the walls. It has one of those great jukeboxes where you can find any song ever recorded, but someone had gotten to it first and picked out some tribal techno reggae crap. Maybe my cousin is right — we haven't evolved at all.
A cute guy was holed up in one corner with a large plate of wings and a beer. At the other end, a middle-aged couple cuddled together, watching soccer and drinking pints. The pool table was taken up by another couple, wearing matching jerseys and downing bottles of brew.
As an evolutionist, I found the place rife with Darwinian examples. Beer, for example, dates back to at least 9,000 years before the birth of Christ, beating the Young Earth Creationists' timeline by 3,000 years. (Though I suppose it is possible that, in the beginning, there was Beer, and it was Good. Actually, perhaps beer is God. Whoa ...) But just the yeast in beer alone (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) is a single-celled organism that has existed long before almost everything else got here.
But the thing that really got me about my cousin and his gal is that they see the world through completely different (beer?) glasses than I do. Isn't life much richer when you can appreciate science? What do they think of the Exploratorium, or a natural history museum, or, heck, even the Epcot Center? What mental gymnastics must they undertake every time they are presented with a new idea? Whenever they are faced with scientific fact, do they just see "lies"?
I brought up carbon dating, and Neanderthals, and how it takes a million years for the light from the stars to reach Earth, and how there are thousands of species of beetles alone, so how could Noah get all that on one ship? ... They just pointed to Scripture. "There can only be one truth," my cousin's girlfriend said. "So everything else is a lie."
I suppose there could be only one truth. The problem then, of course, is figuring out which "truth" to go with.
Folks, obvious regulars, had gathered at the bar and were chatting up the bartender, a pretty young woman with a bit of a swagger. Though the people here all seemed to know each other, it was apparent that newbies like myself were also welcome, which was a nice feeling. And, Jesus Christ, even the life cycle of a popular bar undergoes a gradual change over time, improving and adapting to its environment. Knickknacks add up on the walls, wood gets worn to a soft shine, surrounding property values go up as more people flock into the neighborhood for a drink ...
And, like any organism worth its salt, a bar also has the power to repel undesirables: The happy hour crowd was arriving. Soon the televised sports would become too overwhelming for me. It was time to migrate elsewhere.
I headed out toward Haight, passing by what looked like a ginkgo tree. The ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest strains of tree in existence, going back 270 million years. It is also not related to any other species on Earth, and exists as its own "living fossil." I felt lucky not only to know this, but also to be able to see knowledge as something to be embraced and not feared. My cousin is sad for me because he believes I will spend eternity in hell (along with billions of other good people who haven't accepted Christ), but I am sad for him, because he will never appreciate the awesome beauty of our Earth's history.
Still, our evening together at my house ended with a meaningful hug. I love my cousin, and not just because that's the Christian thing to do. I love him because of a biological response to familial altruism, which will ultimately transmit our genes to a future line.