In a lab in Maryland, genetic scientists have built the first entirely man-made chromosome. Playing God, you might call it: They’ve built the complete DNA for a one-cell organism out of inanimate proteins. Some time in 2008, The Washington Post’s Rick Weiss reports, the scientists will transplant the chromosome into a microbe, where it is expected to “boot itself up,” like a software program, and start running the cell. For better or worse, human beings are developing the ability to create life out of inert matter, much as the Bible describes God creating Adam out of a handful of clay. How curious it is, then, that at this same moment in history, one of the leading candidates for president of the United States says he doesn’t believe in evolution—that everything he needs to know can be found in the pages of the Bible, written two millennia ago. “If anybody wants to believe that they are the descendants of a primate,” Mike Huckabee says, “they are certainly welcome to do it.” Nearly half of all Americans agree with him; in one recent poll, 48 percent said God created man exactly as he is today, sometime in the last 10,000 years.
These two stories, it seems to me, say quite a bit about the paradoxical nature of this strange and wonderful nation. We are simultaneously post-evolutionary, careening headlong into the 21st century, and pre-Darwinian, scowling suspiciously at the dangerous hoo-ha of scientific and social change. Global warming? Gay marriage? Abortion? For the foreseeable future, we’ll reach no national consensus on the issues of our times. How can we agree on where we’re going, when we can’t even agree on where we came from? - William Falk