I have witnessed a thousand evolutionists descend upon Moscow, Idaho. At this conference, I've heard biologists discuss in exquisite detail new research connecting specific genes to specific evolved phenotypes, I've been regaled with stories tracing the pathways of evolution, I've seen tests of explicit historical hypotheses, and I've seen yet more data supporting predictions made by evolutionary science.
I have also been driven to my hotel by a friendly local taxi-cab creationist, something that is not at all unusual. In fact taxi drivers are my main interaction with creationism, in Rhode Island, in Georgia, and now in Idaho. When I teach Macroevolution to biology majors in California, I have come to realize that many of the students are unaware of the evolution denialism that is common in this country. I show them the DVD of the PBS documentary of the Dover trial (Judgment Day), and that is enlightening for many. I also teach them about anti-evolution arguments, and about the evidence against those arguments, and this is quite popular. But I also tell try to begin to relay some of my own experiences with anti-evolutionism, which has usually involved taxi drivers.
"So, what are you in town for", I lecture in my best southern drawl, mimicking some typological taxi driver.
"Well, I'm giving a lecture at the university".
"Aw, so whadya do".
"I'm an evolutionary biologist".
Moment of stunned silence. "Mmmm. I've heard evolution's pretty debatable".
Well, tonight I again entered a taxi, and the conversation started something like the lecture snippet above. But today, since my hotel is out of town I had some time in the cab, and since I was curious, I asked my driver a few questions, and I mostly listened. He was quite friendly, seemed determined to avoid a debate, but also shared many of his beliefs with me. I think he had given this pretty much thought, and he'd argued before about this. He'd always have his caveat, however non-factual.
I didn't ask his name, but he wore a red had, a T-shirt and had several days worth of stubble. He started making small talk about the conference, and said that he had driven someone from the conference recently. I asked him point blank what he thought about evolution - consider it field research for teaching my class, I suppose.
"Well, I'm a creationist, to be quite honest", he said. "But I don't push my beliefs on anyone".
He seemed to value greatly the fact that he wouldn't push his beliefs on anyone. Maybe he just wanted to maintain a chance at a tip.
"I used to be on the opposite side of God", he said. For a brief moment, I thought he meant he was once an evolutionist, but I came to realize he was saying he was once a "sinner". I suppose this means he was once an addict. I've known many people to convert drug or alcohol addiction into an obsession with religion.
"I used to live in New Zealand for 10 years". This seemed important to him, I'm not sure why. "We can debate, but I believe in my faith and my science, and other people believe in their faith and their science, so in the end no one will change their mind. It's fun to debate, but I guess we'll know when we die."
I said it sounds like he is really agnostic, since he says we won't know until we die. He reiterated his faith in God.
At one point I asked him how old he thought the earth is. He said 50,000 years old. "Of course that's debatable, my number comes from scripture. I know there's this carbon dating stuff, and yeah maybe the earth is billions of years old. But carbon dating has been proven to be wrong. Sure, some people argue it's right, but some people argue it's wrong. I'm actually really into collecting fossils", he said, "when I was in New Zealand, I found a turtle egg, a really rare thing, and this had the embryo in it. It was carbon dated, not the whole thing, just a little piece, and the date came back 70,000 years, even though science says these turtles are only 15,000 years old. You can do this carbon dating stuff, but you can't prove it."
I asked him why he required proof of Carbon dating, but didn't require proof in God.
"I just have faith, and I guess we'll see when we die."
At some points it sounded like he accepted some parts of evolution. I said at one point, that an important thing for me is that we share common ancestry with every single other living thing, and that I found that continuity of life beautiful.
"Well, yeah sure, but if we're connected to some green slime and apes and everything, then there is nothing that makes us special", he said. "I believe in the literal word of genesis, and - yeah sure it was translated by man, and humans make mistakes - but genesis and evolution are incompatible".
I asked him if it were possible that God said "let there be evolution". Sometimes he did sound like a deist.
In the end, he said his faith gets him through another day. "Nothing wrong with that", I said, as I got out of the cab, and paid the fare. I did give him a good tip.
Tomorrow I'll go back to the conference. I'm sure I'll see yet more amazing, detailed science, fueled by the predictions of decent with modification. That is what will get me through another day.