According to Wikipedia, here are some facts about Virginia Heffernan (my emphasis):
Virginia Heffernan was born  in Hanover, New Hampshire. She received her B.A. from the University of Virginia in 1991, and an English LiteratureMaster’s Degree and Ph.D from Harvard University, in 1993 and 2002, respectively.
Heffernan began her career as a fact-checker with The New Yorker magazine. She served as an editor at Harper’s and Talk magazines, and as TV critic for the online magazine Slate. In June 2002, the Columbia Journalism Review named Heffernan one of its “Ten Young Editors to Watch.” In September of the following year, Heffernan departed Slate to join The New York Times.
Which makes it all the more bizarre that Heffernan has become. . . a Biblical creationist. Or so she explains in a piece at Yahoo News, “Why I’m a creationist.” It’s a celebration of willful ignorance that begins with a denigration of scientists followed by some false modesty:
. . . the people I know who consider themselves scientists by nature seem to be super-skeptical types who can be counted on to denigrate religion, fear climate change and think most people—most Americans—are dopey sheep who believe in angels and know nothing about all the gross carbon they trail, like “Pig-Pen.”
I like most people. I don’t fear environmental apocalypse. And I don’t hate religion. Those scientists no doubt see me as a dopey sheep who believes in angels and is carbon-ignorant. I have to say that they may be right.
I’ve been around scientists all my life, and I don’t recognize the stereotype. Even though most scientists aren’t religious, they usually keep quiet about it, and I rarely hear a denigration of most Americans as “dopey sheep.” The data do show, however, that between 60% and 70% of Americans believe in angels, so that’s not a stereotype. But most scientists aren’t even aware of that figure.
Here’s Heffernan’s explanation of how she came to creationism. In the end, she did it because the Bible tells a better story than evolutionary biology. Damn the facts—and this from a fact-checker!
I’ve put every lie or misconception in her explanation in bold:
Also, at heart, I am a creationist. There, I said it. At least you, dear readers, won’t now storm out of a restaurant like the last person I admitted that to. In New York City saying you’re a creationist is like confessing you think Ahmadinejad has a couple of good points. Maybe I’m the only creationist I know.
This is how I came to it. Like many people, I heard no end of Bible stories as a kid, but in the 1970s in New England they always came with the caveat that they were metaphors. So I read the metaphors of Genesis and Exodus and was amused and bugged and uplifted and moved by them. And then I guess I wanted to know the truth of how the world began, so I was handed the Big Bang. That wasn’t a metaphor, but it wasn’t fact either. It was something called a hypothesis. And it was only a sentence. [JAC: the preceding sentence is a “deepity”.] I was amused and moved, but considerably less amused and moved by the character-free Big Bang story (“something exploded”) than by the twisted and picturesque misadventures of Eve and Adam and Cain and Abel and Abraham.
Later I read Thomas Malthus’ “Essay on the Principle of Population” and “The Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin, as well as probably a dozen books about evolution and atheism, from Stephen Jay Gould to Sam Harris.
The Darwin, with good reason, stuck with me. Though it’s sometimes poetic, “The Origin of Species” has an enchantingly arid English tone to it; this somber tone was part of a deliberate effort to mark it as science and not science fiction—the “Star Trek” of its time. The book also alights on a tautology that, like all tautologies, is gloriously unimpeachable: Whatever survives survives.
If she knew anything about evolution, she’d know this isn’t a tautology. For an explanation, see the discussion of “the tautology argument” at the TalkOrigins archive. With all the education Heffernan received, she can’t be bothered to keep educating herself.
But I still wasn’t sure why a book that never directly touches on human evolution, much less the idea of God, was seen as having unseated the story of creation. In short, “The Origin of Species” is not its own creation story. And while the fact that it stints on metaphor—so as to avoid being like H.G. Wells—neither is it bedrock fact. It’s another hypothesis.
The Origin is full of facts—did she actually read it? No, it doesn’t touch on human evolution (Darwin didn’t do that till 1871), but there’s plenty of evidence for evolution in general: so much so that within a decade the book convinced virtually every thinking scientist of the truth of evolution. And has Heffernan kept up with all the multifarious evidence for human evolution that has accumulated in the last 100 years? It’s absolutely unbelievable that someone so educated and intelligent can ignore that evidence. A trip to the American Museum, or the Smithsonian, would be most enlightening for her. Finally, she needs to learn the difference between a hypothesis and a theory.
Cut to now. I still read and read and listen and listen. And I have never found a more compelling story of our origins than the ones that involve God.
“Compelling” does not equal “true”, and that’s the big mistake that religion makes.
She adds that evolutionary psychology’s “just so stories” change all the time—that women used to be the monogamous gender and men the polygamous one; now evolutionary psychology tells us it’s the opposite (something I hadn’t heard). From this Heffernan concludes that you shouldn’t trust anything that science comes up with! That’s a typical creationist ploy: if science was wrong before, as with continental drift, then we can’t trust its conclusions at all. That’s like saying that if one of your friends made a mistake, you can never trust her judgment again. That ploy is also used by Sophisticated Theologians to show the “limitations of science.” But I wasn’t aware that evolutionary psychologists had reversed their conclusions about the differences between the sexes in their variance in offspring number. Well, even if that’s not the case, we still have cold fusion and Piltdown Man. . .
Heffernan finishes with a flourish of remarkable ignorance.
All the while, the first books of the Bible are still hanging around. I guess I don’t “believe” that the world was created in a few days, but what do I know? Seems as plausible (to me) as theoretical astrophysics, and it’s certainly a livelier tale. As “Life of Pi” author Yann Martel once put it, summarizing his page-turner novel: “1) Life is a story. 2) You can choose your story. 3) A story with God is the better story.”
What a remarkable celebration of ignorance! ”What do I know” indeed!! Well, maybe she could figure out what she knows if she’d acquaint herself with the facts, which show to all rational people that the world and its inhabitants were not created within a few days.
And no, you can’t choose your story—not if you want a true story. You can’t choose a story in which you never die, and you can’t choose a story in which you win the lottery. Yes, those are better stories than the ones we have, but if we want to live in a rational world instead of some dopey la-la land, we’d better choose stories that are true. It’s the adherence to false stories, of course, that is the basis of all religious mischief that’s been inflicted on the world.
It reminds me of the verse in Hebrews 11:1:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Rarely do we have someone of intelligence and education (a Ph.D from Harvard, for instance) showing themselves to truly be a “dopey sheep.” I wonder if Heffernan regrets what she wrote. I haven’t read the 300-odd comments after her piece, but I doubt she’ll find much agreement that we should ignore the facts and just believe “the better story.”
I wonder what Yann Martel thinks of evolution.