A query for creationists: If the Earth is so young, why did God make it appear so old?

Since the born-again began enjoying their 10 minutes of fame four years ago, we've all become painfully familiar with their once-obscure beliefs, sociology, entertainment preferences, world view and, in particular, their vast catalogue of resentments. Apparently, chief among these is their impression that non-evangelicals (a.k.a. elitists) think they're stupid.

They're right. We do.

Why do us millions of destined-for-hell pagans cleave unto this opinion in spite of all those scared-straight articles and columns arguing that Bible-beaters are so as smart as the rest of us? (Our very own Star's recent decision to stop listing HBO (bad language! nipples!) in their program guide and replace it with listings for two--count 'em, two--religious channels (sparkly sets! con artists!) must have been made in this cowering spirit; it couldn't have been made in the spirit of capitalism. Is pissing off a big chunk of literate Tucson going to be good for circulation?)

Or do we think Bible-beaters are dumb because many of them have twangy accents? Or because their heartland is in states almost as benighted as Arizona? Or because they think that followers of the world's other religions--including less-punitive Christian sects--are going to roast in hell?

Or is it that praying-to-Jesus-for-a-good-parking-place thing? (Actually, this really is moronic, but what's startling is its narcissism.) No, we're liberals, which means that we're just too big and accepting and fuzzy-minded to think that fundamentalists are stupid for any of those reasons. What brands them as dolts can be summed up in one word: creationism.

No less reliable a source than the Internet tells us that people who call themselves creationists range all the way from flat-Earthers and solar-system-deniers to intelligent-design people, some of whose views are as mild as holding that the universe, with all its patterns and processes, began as a thought in the mind of God. Some card-carrying cosmologists are of the same opinion. All their calculations have failed to produce a more plausible account of the first moment of creation.

But what we're talking about when we say "creationism" is the belief that the Bible contains only facts. And this, folks, is deeply, willfully stupid: The scientists' story about how things came to be is supported by every detail of the natural world. But creationism is dumb not just because its adherents have to bend over, twist to the left, jump over the stove and walk on the ceiling to account for everyday phenomena, but because it arises from a drastic confusion of belief and knowing. There is a difference between those two modes of thought. I believe that land developers are evil; I know that George Johnson bulldozed more than 2,200 acres of pristine ironwood forest, including 270 acres of state trust land without a permit, and then introduced goats that passed on a horrible disease to rare bighorn sheep. I believe that he did this deliberately to get around the Endangered Species Act. (I also believe that he deserves to be executed, not fined. Or fined and then executed--by bulldozer.)

The evangelicals' inability to distinguish between belief and knowing is both a deep mistake in thinking and profoundly irreligious. (Here I generously pass over our president's thought processes.) What makes religion religion is the leap of faith, not twisting reality to fit dogma.

(By the way, while the flap over teaching evolution in the schools is a side-show--the failure of our schools to teach basic skills is much, much more important--instruction in creationism is a real disservice to the fundamentalist young, who can forget careers in the sciences or medicine, not to mention conversation with normal people.)

Creationism also raises classic theological problems. If God formed the world in every detail, why did He put an active subduction zone smack against Sumatra and then encourage millions of people to live along the island's western shore? Or was it Satan who created the tsunami? If so, why didn't God stop him? These are not new questions.

On a lighter note, why did God go to the trouble of making the Grand Canyon appear to reveal the complex geologic history of a billion years when, of course, the Earth is only about 6,000 years old? I mean, are we to believe that the God of our fathers is just a big old fake-out artist? That's one I can't swallow.