Creative Nonfiction

Beyond the Primordial Ooze: “Real” Americans and the Supposed Divide Between Science and Religion

JEFF, JOHN ELDON, DAVE, BEN, AND BRUCE meet most weekdays around the back table at the only McDonald’s in Ravenswood, West Virginia, chomping sausage McGriddles and swapping theories about why “it has all gone to hell.” One reason, they tell me, is because the aluminum plant south of town has shrunk from 12,000 to fewer than 1,000 employees, and another is that “people nowadays simply have no common sense.” The men offer a variety of examples, focusing on out-of-town visitors who can’t drive, don’t think, and huddle mindlessly, blocking the fast food eatery’s back entrance.

The six of them are retired, having once earned their livings as electricians, aluminum smelters, mechanical engineers, and dairy farmers. They seem inordinately proud of the fact that Ravenswood is said to have once had more churches per capita than any other town in America.

“We got one on every corner,” John boasts.

“We’re in the Guinness Book of World Records,” Jeff adds, while the rest of the men sip their coffee and nod.

It is a chilly late-March morning and I’m an out-of-town visitor as well, on a road trip to explore the notion that America’s current political divisions are tied somehow to conflicting attitudes about science and religion, rationality and faith. Ravenswood, with its many churches and dying aluminum industry, seems a likely spot to ask some questions.

Jeff jumps right in, all too happy to oblige my curiosity.

“Science and the Bible go together just fine,” he reassures me. “They’re finding that more and more once they track the DNA. In fact, they’re finding that the people who were in Egypt actually came from Europe.”

Jeff—mid-sixties, stubble-faced, sporting a US Marine Corps ball cap and green plaid shirt—speaks at a dizzying pace, rattling off more ideas than my pencil can handle. But from the looks of him, he’s just warming up.

“A lot of people don’t know this,” he continues, “but Einstein got his theory of relativity directly out of the Bible. Of course, he was threatened not to talk about it because the powers that be wanted to push evolution. Science and religion used to be the same thing, before the Tower of Babel. You know that, right?”

Do I?

Jeff’s theories on Einstein and Babel are news to me, but the others just chuckle and smirk, like maybe they’ve heard all of this before.

Dave leans forward. “Listen, if you want to know about Bigfoot and UFOs, that guy right there’s your best source.” He points to John, a red-faced, thickset man in dungarees and a stained white T-shirt. “He got them both up his holler.”

I’ve clearly lost control of the conversation, and we’re only a minute or so in.

John puts down his breakfast sandwich, scowls in Dave’s direction. “They’re just trying to get my goat, trying to make me mad.” Then he turns back to the out-of-towner, the scowl widening into

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