It was more than 35 years ago. Details have a way of fading into the woodwork. At some point, we each see our past through a glass darkly. The tint grows more pronounced and memories become less distinct. But I remember the man and much of his argument.
The young conservative pastor, my friend, had brought a special guest with him. Joe Cruz had long been a radio evangelist. His ministry was multi-faceted. His radio broadcasts had been going since the mid-1960s. He had established a religious magazine. He was widely known in the Baltimore area.
And he was a frequent defender of creationism.
Joe was a blizzard of detail. The lack of fossils in the Cambrian layer, and the explosion of detectable remains in more shallow earth, were evidence to him that there had been no evolution before that time. He quoted Charles Darwin who, himself, had pointed out several possible arguments against evolutionary change.
I asked if there were other ways of looking at his evidence. Could the lack of fossilization simply be due to the lack of bone structure at that point in evolutionary history? Could some accidental mutation of the beginning development of more rigid tissue have carried a profound survival advantage? Could that account for a sort of proto-skeletal structure that soon exploded across the animal kingdom?
Did the presentation by Darwin simply prove the personal integrity of the man? And did his willingness to consider opposing views, and consider them carefully, add credibility to his conclusions?
Mr. Cruz nodded. Without conceding anything to my skepticism, he amiably acknowledged my pointed questions as legitimate points.
I pointed out what I felt to be the most compelling argument against his thesis. Oil in the ground, fossils themselves, pre-cambrian or not, carbon dating, even light from stars mega-light years away. Did the clearest, most obvious, evidence that could be seen in every direction stack up conclusively against his 6,000 year timeline?
He had an answer, of course. I was not surprised. Oil and fossil remains, carbon dating and star light, were all pretty much in-your-face. It wouldn’t take much wild guessing to anticipate the argument.
He patiently tried to educate me. All of those were put there by God at the moment of creation in order to affect the appearance of age. That was how he put it: “the appearance of age.”
I confess I made some fun of his proposition. If God had gone through that much effort to create the appearance of age, it seemed a bit unsporting of us, of Joe in particular, not to along with the Almighty and simply believe all that planted evidence.
Joe laughed, then thought about it, then laughed again. The man was impossible to offend. It was hard not to like him.
We all prayed together before he and the pastor left.
The real story behind Biblical creation is simple. Literalists know the Bible is the inerrant Word of God.
Many of us believe the scriptures were inspired by God, but written by men. Those men were limited by that part of wisdom in the ancient world that was made available to them at the time.
Creationists understand that we are simply wrong. The appearance of age happened at the creation. So arguments can be embraced that support the creation of the universe and all it contains, a creation that happened a very few thousand years ago. Opposing evidence can be dismissed – appearance of age, you know.
I thought about the creation myth and the inerrancy of scripture as I listened to Donald Trump describe his conversion away from birtherism.
The birther theory might strike the casual observer as an absurdity.
A young woman from Kansas meets and marries a man from Africa who, it develops, has character flaws. They break up. But not before she becomes pregnant and they conspire together to have her deliver her child in Kenya but keep the baby eligible to run for President of the United States.
They entice officials in the fairly new state of Hawaii to join the conspiracy. A hospital and two newspapers also join in. The newspapers publish birth announcements, the hospital documents the birth, and public officials falsify records.
But they forget, all of them forget, to create an actual birth certificate. A bit of an oversight, wouldn’t you say?
The theory may strike many of us as implausible. But it turns out to have a very special appeal to those who very much want not to believe that Barack Obama is actually, legally the real President of the United States. Those poor lost souls will seize on any technicality, on any pretense of a technicality, to show that the American people had no right to choose this individual as the President of all of us in America.
There are cynics who can think of nothing that would motivate those people to such a point of desperation other than racism. I confess to finding myself among those cynics.
Donald Trump recently announced his departure from that shadowy path: “President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period.”
Well, not quite period. We are now witness to the creation of a new creation story, birth of a new birtherism, a new legend based on its own form of inerrancy.
Donald Trump did not admit he was wrong, because he never was actually wrong. President Obama had originally presented the birth document issued to the parents of every little baby born in Hawaii. Donald Trump forced him to apply for, receive, and present the long form version of a Hawaii birth certificate.
From that singular moment in 2011, Donald Trump knew President Obama was the real deal. As far as Mr. Trump was concerned, the controversy was over. “President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period.” And that period, for Mr. Trump, ended emphatically on April 27, 2011.
Mr. Trump also pointed an accusing finger at the guilty person who actually started the terrible rumor that Barack Obama was, and remains today, an illegal alien. An undocumented worker, to put it into a nice, politically correct way.
Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it. I finished it, you know what I mean.
– Donald Trump, September 16, 2016
The idea that Hillary Clinton started birtherism has been floating around for a while. It rests on three propositions.
- Strategist Mark Penn, working for candidate Clinton in 2008, wrote a memo about Barack Obama’s upbringing. Obama had represented those few boyhood years he had spent in Indonesia as a strength. It gave him an accurate picture of the world. Penn suggested it could be used against him. His years abroad meant he had missed out on good, solid, Midwestern upbringing. He had missed out on American values.
Nothing about Kenya, nothing about being born anywhere but in Hawaii. Hillary Clinton’s campaign must have thought the entire presentation was a really bad idea, and they were right. They never did question Barack Obama’s American values.
- A campaign volunteer in Iowa, a county coordinator, forwarded an email that accused Barack Obama of being a secret Muslim. Nothing about Kenya or whether he had been born in Hawaii. The 2008 Clinton campaign did respond this time. They got rid of the volunteer, asking him to leave. They wanted nothing to do with bigotry.
- Some die hard Clinton supporters just couldn’t take it when her campaign ended. They posted a few birther messages. It’s hard to believe Hillary Clinton was behind it, since she had just conceded the race to her rival and endorsed candidate Obama for President.
So Mr. Trump was, not to put too fine a point on it, um… inaccurate about Hillary Clinton starting the racist rumor and then spreading it in 2008.
But we do have something for which to thank him. He acted decisively to end those racist rumors, to stop all the controversy. He tells us so himself. I finished it. I finished it, you know what I mean.
You see, once proof had been presented, Mr. Trump was not one to embrace a discredited theory that, by April 27, 2011, had nothing behind it but the skin color of the President. Others have continued to believe Barack Obama was not the real President. They insist the American people had been fooled into voting for someone who had no right to get elected. But, beginning on that April day in 2011, Donald Trump knew better.
A casual observer might have thought that Mr. Trump had continued for years to hold tight with both clenched fists onto the belief that America had no right to elect Barack Obama: A casual observer like me, for instance. But folks like me… well, we were wrong.
Chris Christie is only one of a cacophony of supporters who point out that Mr. Trump has not, repeat not, been promoting the birther issue for the last 5 years.
After the president presented his birth certificate, Donald has said he was born in the United States, and that’s the end of the issue.
– Chris Christie, on CNN, September 18, 2016
In a mitigating defense of people like me, the error of our ways is understandable. Over a year after Donald Trump, as he now points out, put the matter to rest, he was confronted with obvious arguments about the birth of the President. The birth announcements, hospital records, and the long form certificate itself:
But many people do not think it was authentic. His mother was not in the hospital. There are many other things that came out.
He seemed, to the unpracticed ear, a lot like a birther.
And many people put those announcements in because they wanted to get the benefits being so-called born in this country. Many people did it. It was something that was done by many people, even if they weren’t born in the country. You know it and so do I.
– Donald Trump, on CNN, May 29, 2012
Wolf Blitzer pointed out an irony. Donald Trump was campaigning for Mitt Romney, and Mr. Romney firmly believed Barack Obama was an American, born in the United States.
Here’s what Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said today — today, not yesterday, not last week, not six months ago — “Governor Romney has said repeatedly that he believes President Obama was born in the United States.”
Donald Trump did not seem to care:
…he’s entitled to his opinion and I think that’s wonderful. I don’t happen to share that opinion.
In this, and dozens of other interviews and statements, Donald Trump seemed to insist that Barack Obama was not eligible to be President. A long series of messages from Mr. Trump, on the surface, looked a lot like a continuing birther campaign.
We never suspected how wrong we were.
The misconception that Donald Trump was pushing birther theory, the theory that President Obama is not a real American, even had moments that appealed to those of us who are burdened with a juvenile distorted sense of humor.
The year after his interview with Wold Blitzer, two years after Barack Obama released the long form, that year in 2013, on his cable television show, Bill Maher speculated about where Mr. Trump had gotten his bright orange hair. Donald Trump sued him over the joke.
That was venom. That wasn’t a joke.”
– Donald Trump, interviewed on Fox News, February 4, 2013
The comedian read, on his program, part of the formal legal notification that was sent to him by Donald Trump, through his team of attorneys:
Attached hereto is a copy of Mr. Trump’s birth certificate, demonstrating that he is the son of Fred Trump, not an orangutan.
Now that is a court document worth reading.
…not an orangutan.
Mr. Trump dropped the lawsuit a couple of months later, thus sparing him the task of proving in court that his own birth certificate was real. I try to imagine the legal drama of Donald Trump trying to demonstrate to a moral certitude that his secret father was not a member of an exclusively Asian species of great apes. Presumably, the orangutan would have been born outside of the United States, complicating Donald’s later run for President.
One creation myth does seem to fade into another. Birther myth to birther creator myth to the 6,000 year creation myth of the Creator of us all.
As with my brief friend Joe Cruz, opposing arguments are simply there to present the appearance of birther age. They are a test of faith.
Biblical literalists can now take communion with supporters of the Trump campaign. They both insist on similar dogma. Those who wrote what became scripture could never be wrong, and Donald Trump never said what we pretty clearly thought we heard him say.
Actually, they have a point.
Creation scientists tell us that, for the last 6,000 years, since the moment the universe was instantly formed, orangutans have never told a lie.
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