A high-ranking Republican congressman has dismissed evolution, the Big Bang theory, and embryology as "lies straight from the pit of hell."

Representative Paul Broun (R-Ga.), whose speech at Liberty Baptist Church in Georgia last September was posted on YouTube earlier this week, may not be unique among Republican congressmen in holding such ignorant views or even in stating them so publicly. What adds an element of urgency to the situation is that he's a high-ranking member of the House Science Committee, of which, incidentally, Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), now infamous for his comments on rape and pregnancy, is also a member.

Broun, who is a doctor, says that "as a scientist" he has found data that "actually show that this is really a young Earth." "I don't believe that the Earth's but about 9,000 years old," he continues. "I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That's what the Bible says."

You might notice that the shift from "data" to "belief" occurs quite abruptly in that sentence—and that the only data Broun seems to mention or care about are what's in the Bible, whose opening verses in Genesis count among its most poetic.

But statements such as his underscore how closely beliefs about evolution correlate with religious behavior—a troubling, potentially volatile situation in this country, not least when powerful politicians wield such claims as truths.

Not only that, but Rep. Broun has a pre-emptive explanation for those who would challenge his ignorance of geology, a science that dates the planet to roughly 4.5 billion years old. Such findings, determined from radiometric-dating (especially uranium-lead dating), amount in his thinking to "lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior."

Since so many Christians have found ways to reconcile the opening verses of Genesis with the broadly confirmed age of the planet, it's worth asking why "Young Earth" literalism has become the latest dogma in Republican circles.

Here's what I unearthed when researching this topic for a book on religious certainty and doubt. In his series The New Answers, Ken Ham, president and CEO of Answers in Genesis (USA) and author of The Lie: Evolution, doubtless an influence on Broun, offers a chapter called "What Really Happened to the Dinosaurs?" In it, he writes: "According to the Bible, dinosaurs first existed around 6,000 years ago. God made the dinosaurs, along with the other land animals, on Day 6 of the Creation Week (Genesis I:20-25, 31). Adam and Eve were also made on Day 6—so dinosaurs lived at the same time as people, not separated by eons of time" (150).

How's that for a syllogism? Dinosaurs "could not have died out before people appeared," Ham continues, "because ... death, bloodshed, disease, and suffering are a result of Adam's sin (Genesis 1:29-30, Romans 5:12, 14; I Corinthians 15:21-22)." Apparently, we must also add meat-eating to that list. If you believe the CEO, who helps run the so-called "Creation Museum" in Kentucky, all dinosaurs before the fall of Adam were herbivorous! Except that their transformation would also amount to a form of evolution, wouldn't it? Alas, there's no chapter on how the tyrannosaur got its fangs ...

To insist that such lines in the Bible be burdened with scientific accuracy is of course not just absurd, but also to overlook that it was written centuries before the emergence of modern science, under completely different conditions.

In his docu-comedy Religulous, Bill Maher usefully wonders, "Why does insisting on the coexistence of Adam and Eve with the dinosaurs matter so much" to certain Christians, especially when others take Genesis on faith, not as historical truth?

That's no idle question, especially after Rep. Broun's remarks. In the United States, in the year 2012, we are seemingly beholden—for the next few weeks, at least—to powerful Congressmen serving on the House Science Committee who think that anything other than their beliefs amount to "lies straight from the pit of hell." Disagree with them on their version of science and, as the congressman tells his audience, you're assumed to be threatening their salvation.

Fortunately, at least for this occasion, there's an election next month...

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