October 06, 2005

A wink or a nod?

I've been casually following some of the reporting on -- for lack of a better way to put it -- the whole Intelligent Design v. Evolution debate. Casually, because I simply can't be impartial about most of the issues involved in this debate and I'd rather not sit around with my blood boiling. But something I've come to appreciate is the sheer plurality of views on the matter, and how it's not as simple as one might think to know in advance what someone thinks about it; for example, there are biologists who are firm believers in some form of intelligent design, and there are theologists who accept the scientific evidence for evolutionary theory. (See, I told you I can't be impartial.)

But really, this is relevant to language. Or at least, to Language Log. Read on.

Today there was this article in the NYT about the supposed geological evidence for Intelligent Design. The article begins with "Tom Vail, who has been leading rafting trips down the Colorado River here [at Grand Canyon National Park] for 23 years", who is quoted as saying:

"You see any cracks in that?" he asked. "Instead of bending like that, it should have cracked." The material "had to be soft" to bend, Mr. Vail said, imagining its formation in the flood. When somebody suggested that pressure over time could create plasticity in the rocks, Mr. Vail said, "That's just a theory."

But the immediately following quotation is what struck me:

"It's all theory, right?" asked Jack Aiken, 63, an Assemblies of God minister in Alaska who has a master's degree in geology. "Except what's in the Good Book."

The problem is, there's no further reference to Mr. Aiken anywhere in the article. None. And I'm completely stumped as to what his position is on the matter, and therefore what the relevance of the quote is. On the one hand, he's a minister. On the other, he has a degree in geology. And as I noted above, a minister may accept evidence for the relevant scientific theory (in this case, the "Old Earth" theory of loooooong-term erosion) and a geologist may firmly believe in the intelligent design alternative (the "Young Earth" theory of God-did-it-fairly-recently). Even if Mr. Aiken was quoted directly and completely, his intonation could very well have been dismissive (imagine a rolling of the eyes, or a wink and a smile, as he says what's quoted above), or it could have been knowing (imagine a reassuring nod). Which is it, and why is Mr. Aiken being brought in at random to say it?

[ Comments? ]

Posted by Eric Bakovic at October 6, 2005 11:21 PM