The Washington Post reported the other day that Justice Antonin Scalia, in a commencement address, said,
Humanity has been around for at least some 5,000 years or so, and I doubt that the basic challenges as confronted are any worse now, or alas even much different, from what they ever were.
I suppose that âat least 5000 yearsâ gives you some wiggle room, but I would hardly call, say, 200,000 years âat least 5000 years.â That is a bit like saying, âThe trip from Boulder to New York is at least 20 kilometers.â
Jerry Coyne, who is much nicer than I am, thinks that it might have been âjust an offhand remark thatâs been blown out of proportion.â Well, maybe, but I watched most of the speech on Professor Coyneâs website, and I could not help but notice that Justice Scalia was reading that text: he did not misspeak.
Justice Scalia dissented in Edwards vs. Aguillar, but he seemed more concerned with whether the legislature intended creation âscienceâ as a religious doctrine than with its scientific merit. He also supported the âbalanced treatmentâ argument to the effect that students who learn evolution are entitled to the opposing view as well. His argument was well reasoned but depended on the assumption that creation science is not a religious doctrine if its supporters think it is not.
Contrary to some reports, Justice Scalia did not say, âThe body of scientific evidence supporting creation science is as strong as that supporting evolutionâ; rather, he was paraphrasing the testimony of witnesses and states explicitly âthat I by no means intend to endorse its accuracyâ but that âwhat is crucial is not [the legislatureâs] wisdom in believing that [a certain secular] purpose would be achieved by the bill, but their sincerity in believing it would beâ [italics in original].
Still, Justice Scalia generally comes across as an authoritarian, uncomfortable with ambiguity and guided by literalist interpretations. If he takes the Bible as literally as he takes the Constitution, then it is easy to see that he might well believe in a young Earth. I hope I am wrong and Professor Coyne is right.