Erica Ogg: In his “800 Words” column in The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Dan Neil, on location in Patagonia, tosses off a comparison of the evolution debate in the United States and the lack of one in Puerto Natales, Chile, a place where people hold Charles Darwin in high esteem. In a travel piece that morphed, somewhere along the line, into a diatribe, Neil openly sympathizes with evolutionists and mocks the “38 percent [of Americans]…who want to replace evolutionary biology with a Babylonian fairy tale about Adam and Eve.” He seems impressed by the people of Patagonia because they teach Catholicism in schools alongside evolution without controversy. But he doesn’t stop there. He uses their system to needle the Dover, PA, school board and anyone who would “credit nature’s complexity to some supernatural power as opposed to the theories of random mutation and natural selection.”

Neil intimates that small-town Chile’s brand of Catholicism — which he deems “both universal and unusually easygoing” — is somehow superior to American Christianity, whose practitioners are seemingly striving for coherence in their beliefs and the application of them in everyday life. Neil quotes a local mayor on the evolution debate, who sees no conflict between Catholicism and evolutionary theory: “Personally, I don’t care if I’m descended from a monkey or a mouse.” Neil adds, “This is what culture would look like without the culture wars.” The fact that Patagonians actually support Darwinism is admirable too, Neil says, because the 19th-century British naturalist was not very kind to them, calling their ancestors “subhuman and beasts.” Besides this laudable quality, Patagonians also are apparently more imaginative than us uptight Americans. Down in Chile, the locals find our academic and scientific debates over the origin of man puzzling, apparently. Why bother pondering “the distinction between Nature and God”? After all, Neil writes, “The Patagonians actually seem a little bewildered that the most advanced nation on the planet cannot somehow manage this low hurtle of imagination.”