Perhaps the greatest danger posed by the creationists results from their almost universal lack of a sense of humor and their incredible credulity. They never laugh when they read each other's books, and they easily can be made to believe almost anything. A society where everyone is gullible will not survive for long, and a world without humor is indistinguishable from hell. I fear that creationist dominance of the schools is leading to a generation of Americans who have no training in critical thinking and will believe anything -- a generation which has never been allowed to laugh at preposterosity.
During the eight years that Ronald Religion was Evangelist-in-Chief, many humorless gulls found high places to roost in America, and NASA became broadly infested with creationists. The infiltration of creationists into NASA had actually begun earlier, during the period that Richard Nixon and Billy Graham were occupying the White House. One of these early infiltrators was the astronaut James Irwin, a man who walked on the Moon in July of 1971. By the time that Reagan moved into the White House and began to question the actuality of evolution, Irwin had moved beyond both NASA and the Moon. He had begun the quest for Noah's Ark.
It was in 1982. With a B-grade actor having made it as far as the Oval Office, no one was laughing at anything any more. If Irwin had gone to Turkey in pursuit of a rowboat on a mountaintop, there might yet have been some smiles. But when he announced that he was launching an expedition to find an ocean liner-sized boat -- a boat 50 percent longer than a football field and four stories high- an ocean liner on top of a seventeen thousand-foot high volcano, no one among the religiously repressed media raised an eyebrow, let alone laughed aloud. No one investigated to find out that Irwin, supposedly a product of the flowering of American technology and know-how, the ambassador of high tech science, was being advised by people totally devoid of a sense of humor. No one knew that Irwin's credulous companion Eryl Cummings had been taken in by an April Fool's joke, and had infected the credulous Irwin in turn.
The story began about ten years before James Irwin fell off a cliff atop Mount Ararat and made the United States the laughing stock of the civilized world. The story can be reconstructed from material published by Violet Cummings, the wife of Irwin's expedition partner Eryl Cummings. In her book Has Anybody Really Seen Noah's Ark?, Mrs. Cummings tells of a telephone call her husband received at their home in Farmington, New Mexico. Eryl was being called by Dr. Charles Willis, a physician from Fresno, California. After a long conversation the doctor told Cummings, "I have in my possession actual photos of the Ark." The photos were illustrations accompanying a Russian-language article which had been published in the early 1930s, in a White Russian refugee publication called Mech Gedeona ("The Sword of Gideon").
Violet Cummings learned that the editor of Mech Gedeona had adapted the story from an earlier photostory which had appeared in Rubez, another refugee publication. Rubez in turn had picked up the story and translated it from a German feature story published in the Kolnische Illustrierte Zeitung on April 1, 1933.
At this point, anyone except a fundamentalist would have started to laugh. But fundamentalists, as I have already remarked, are utterly bereft of a sense of humor. April 1 is just as good a day for divine revelation as any other day. After the editor of Mech Gedeona saw the German article with its photos of explorers, native guides, and the great-granddaddy of all the mountain boats itself, Mrs. Cummings tells us:
In all good faith the editor a Christian minister and physician, thanked God for the verification of the Bible and used the story for Mech Gedeona [sic]. He was completely unaware that on April 8, a week after its original publication, an editorial had appeared in the same German newspaper confessing that the entire story of the "discovery" had been a huge joke -- a "hoax" perpetrated upon the unsuspecting German public as part of their annual "All Fool's Day" . . . celebration.
The first version of the story seen by the Cummings was the Russian language Mech version, and they had a bit of trouble transliterating the names of the expeditioners from Cyrillic into the Latin alphabet. They wanted, of course, to get in touch with these people so they could get needed information with which to plan their own expedition to Mount Ararat. The names of the archaeologists in charge appeared to be either Stonehouse, Stoness, or Stoneass on the one hand and Meade or Mud on the other. Harvard, Yale, the Smithsonian, the Royal Geographical Society of London -- and a long list of other likely institutions -- were queried about the supposed archaeologists, but none of the authorities had ever heard of them or their expedition.
"At this juncture," Violet Cummings tells us, "those involved in the exhaustive and meticulous analysis of the photos began to harbor a slight suspicion of a hoax." Presumably, it was only the photoanalysts -- who noticed that flints were missing from all the flintlock weapons in the 1933 pictures -- who felt any flutter of doubt. The rest of the soon-to-be advisers of astronauts continued their quest all the more intensely.
Just how strong their predisposition to believe must have been can be appreciated only after one discovers that it was just two days after Cummings got the Russian pictures that he received I letter from John Bradley -- president of another boat-hunting outfit, the SEARCH Foundation -- revealing that Bradley had tracked down the original German article with, we must assume, the correct spellings of the names of the alleged participants. Quite early on, Eryl, Violet, and their daughter Phyllis knew the correct spellings of the outrageous names in question: Professor Stoneass, Professor Mud, and Mrs. Putrid Lousey. Violet reminisces that:
By April 4, 1972 -- exactly four months to the day after he had been given what he sincerely believed at that time to be photos of Noah's Ark to Eryl Cummings -- even Dr. Willis was beginning to entertain certain suspicions of his own. "The Stoneass story might be a hoax but time will tell," he declared.
Study of the original German article now revealed a lot of new "facts." "Professor Stoneass", it turned out, was "an American archaeologist from the Royal Yalevard University, Massachusetts, U.S.A., and an exchange professor to the French Academy". His financial backing came from one Mrs. Putrid Lousey, the wealthy "widow of the American sugar king."
After a thorough search of Massachusetts and New England, the Cummings concluded sadly, "It [the Royal Yalevard University], as well as 'Stoneass' and 'Mud' appeared to be nonexistent." Did this end the search? Of course not! The Cummings carried it to Turkey.
In Turkey a native guide who spoke fluent English was queried about the Stoneass discovery and the Yalevard University. The guide knew all about it, of course, having had an English professor at the University of Ankara who was from the University of Yalevard -- the University of Yalevard in London that is. So! Off to London to check out the University of Yalevard.
Alas, the search turned up no Yalevard University in London, and apparently no British Massachusetts, either. It was at that time that Phyllis Cummings noticed the April 1 date. Do the Germans observe April Fool's day? After learning that they do, mother Violet wrote: "The puzzle had been partially solved". [emphasis mine] Just what remained to be solved is not immediately clear, but the Cummings finally located one of the publishers of the German newspaper. On July 19, 1973, he sent them a photocopy of the April 8, 1933 editorial explaining the hoax. Of course, this still was not the end of the affair. The diluvialist crusaders had to find "proof of the authenticity of the hoax." I'm not certain they ever found it. Exactly when they stopped looking for the Royal Yalevard University is unknown, but Mrs. Cummings confides to her readers, "Note: To this day  the existence of such an institution has never been confirmed." If James Irwin had not died so prematurely, perhaps he could have found the college. If he had, I'll bet you a dollar to a doughnut, it would turn out to be an institution granting Ph.D.'s in Diluvial Demonology and Genesis Geology.
If creationists had their way, this mythical scene would be depicted as fact
in world history books.