On his release from jail, Gordon Liddy, the Watergate conspirator, set up as a radio guru, with a nationally syndicated show dispensing cracker barrel philosophy and a folksy view of the world. A few years ago, I found myself a guest on the show as part of a tour to promote a book I had written on the long history of life on Earth. Liddy's avuncular manner belied his previous history, and he was apparently no creationist; but, as I had anticipated, a caller from Kentucky duly declared that the world had been created in seven days, and what did I have to say to that? I invited the caller to ask himself whether, when his grandfather used the words 'in my day', he meant one particular day, or rather a season or a phase of life. I went on to say that the biblical 'days' could be better understood as whole eras, domesticated by a familiar terminology in order to make them comprehensible. Had I but known it, the same argument had already been thoroughly rehearsed by French naturalists more than two hundred years earlier. My creationist caller was restating a position which was already unfashionable in the late 18th century.
LRB 9 February 2006 | PDF Download