I just finished reading an essay by John D. MacDonald called Reading for Survival, written in 1985, just before he died. He wrote it as a conversation between his fictional characters Travis McGee and his brainy economist friend Meyer. Meyer is explaining to Travis why it is essential today for all people to be able to read, that man’s stored knowledge in books is a necessary ingredient for the survival of mankind, that all men must be able to tap into that stored knowledge. Among other things he uses to make his point, the following passage about the Bible and Creationism is interesting in light of Texas governor Rick Perry’s attempts to win the Republican nomination for president. Here’s what Meyer had to say:
The Bible is a powerful piece of ecclesiastical literature, a poetic and historical document. But to believe it is literal truth is nonsense, acceptable only to the gullible. To believe that every word is true demeans the Bible. It insults it. It turns the Bible into some sort of magic talisman with meanings accessible only to the chief wizard. To believe every word is true deprives the reading of the Bible of any meaning and turns it into a magic ceremony, as empty as the spinning of the prayer wheels in the village streets of the Himalayas.
It is in the interest of unscrupulous men who presume to teach the Word of God to insist that their flock accept the Bible as literal truth. This gives those men the option of translating those parts which seem obscure, translating them into terms which always favor the translator.
Creationism is a case in point. They want it taught in the schools. What is there to teach? That God created the earth six thousand years ago? They say that it is as respectable a point of view as the Theory of Evolution. Out of their abysmal ignorance comes the idea that theory in this context means some kind of assumption open to dispute, not yet proven, whereas the word is used in the same way it is used in the theory of diminishing returns, or the theory of relativity. Those theories are not open to dispute because the proof of their correctness is available to anyone who can read. As to the age of the earth, measure how long it takes the tiny creatures which make up the coral reefs which have become the Florida Keys to build one inch of structure from the sea floor. Divide that time period into the height of the keys and you get a minimum figure of ten million years. The Himalayas are still rising, still being pushed upward at a measurable inch at a time by the pressure of a vast tectonic plate against the Asiatic land mass. How long did it take to push flat land up into six-mile-high mountains?
I’ve long been an admirer of the writings of John D. MacDonald. This essay only increases that admiration.