It Ain’t Necessarily So: Science in the U.S. and the Very Strange Story of Marcus Ross, Creationist Paleontologist

Science is in deep trouble in the U.S. I realized this when my eldest daughter informed me, in bemused shock, that a classmate (with a high GPA)  had asserted during a classroom discussion at school, that human beings were "created from mud a few thousand years ago."  As Sporting Life, villain in Gershwin's opera "Porgy and Bess" sang, "It Ain't Necessarily So." Lyrics to Gershwins song.  To watch a brief clip from Trevor Nunn's recent production, click here. Today, all around us, there are people, including physicians, pharmacists, executives and engineers, who take the Bible's story of creation all too literally.  Oh, yes, and scientists.  I left out the scientists. 82 years after the Scopes trial, poor old Darwin must still "prove" his "controversial" theory. A growing number of U.S. college students (according to research by University of Michigan professor Jon Miller) say they have "doubts" about it.  (This same survey* revealed that the average U.S. citizen's knowledge of basic science is increasing to the dizzying point where 28% of the population can now understand basic science articles in newspapers, written to the reading comprehension level of the average 12-year-old.  OK, a few years ago, that figure was 10%, so it's all good. ) Not to demean anyone's religious beliefs. But I don't see any contradiction between religious teachings and science and can't understand why so many people have trouble reconciling evolution with spirituality. After all, some of the first paleontologists were very religious people, and a few were even ordained ministers.  If one accepts the concept of God as being vast, why couldn't each "day" of the seven days of Genesis represent millions of years?  Must everything be brought down to a mundane, microscopic level because 10,000 years are so much easier to visualize than 100,000, a million or a billion? So I was fascinated to read about Marcus Ross, the creationist paleontologist.  who recently received a Ph.D. in paleontology, yet believes that human beings came into being 10,000 years ago. No doubt there are more like him, although they may not be studying paleontology. Liza Gross in an article published in the Public Library of Science, suggests that scientists need to become more politically active and to push a pro-research agenda to change this picture.  David Triggle, at the State University of New York (Buffalo) is doing this by starting a new science education program designed to turn out generalists and teachers with a good understanding of science. Can we give poor Darwin a break, and get people in the U.S. to move beyond "evolution"  and to become more excited (and informed ) about science?  Especially at a time when the basic body of knowledge is growing, and changing, so quickly. Most people don't want to dip their toes into this ocean, much less take a refreshing little swim.   * Other disturbing results from the survey (as summarized in the press): people still don't know the difference between astronomy and astrology!  There was also an (unfair) connection made between females and anti-science feelings, based on the fact that women were more likely to read the horoscopes and less likely to study science in school....first, does reading a horoscope mean that you actually believe it?  And second, the reasons for more of them not choosing to study science are complex, have nothing to do with innate ability, and will gradually disappear as more role models are provided (and fewer university presidents choose to make demeaning comments at commencement exercises). -AMS