Precession of the Equinoxes
It was odd the way it had worked out. She had imagined that Palmer Joss would come to the Argus facility, watch the signal being gathered in by the radio telescopes, and take note of the huge room full of magnetic tapes and disks on which the previous many months of data were stored. He would ask a few scientific questions and then examine, in its multiplicity of zeros and ones, some of the reams of computer printout displaying the still incomprehensible Message. She hadn’t imagined spending hours arguing philosophy or theology. But Joss had refused to come to Argus. It wasn’t magnetic tape he wanted to scrutinize, he said, it was human character. Peter Valerian would have been ideal for this discussion: unpretentious, able to communicate clearly, and bulwarked by a genuine Christian faith that engaged him daily. But the President had apparently vetoed the idea; she had wanted a small meeting and had explicitly asked that Ellie attend.
Joss had insisted that the discussion be held here, at the Bible Science Research Institute and Museum in Modesto, California. She glanced past der Heer and out the glass partition that separated the library from the exhibit area. Just outside was a plaster impression from a Red River sandstone of dinosaur footprints interspersed with those of a pedestrian in sandals, proving, so the caption said, that Man and Dinosaur were contemporaries, at least in Texas. Mesozoic shoemakers seemed also to be implied. The conclusion drawn in the caption was that evolution was a fraud. The opinion of many paleontologists that the sandstone was the fraud remained, Ellie had noted two hours earlier, unmentioned. The intermingled footprints were part of a vast exhibit called “Darwin’s Default.” To its left was a Foucault pendulum demonstrating the scientific assertion, this one apparently uncontested, that the Earth turns. To its right,
Ellie could see part of a lavish Matsushita holography unit on the podium of a small theater, from which three-dimensional images of the most eminent divines could communicate directly to the faithful.
Communicating still more directly to her at this moment was the Reverend Billy Jo Rankin. She had not known until the last moment that Joss had invited Rankin, and she was surprised at the news. There had been continuous theological disputation between them, on whether and Advent was at had, whether Doomsday is a necessary accompaniment of the Advent, and on the role of miracles in the ministry, among other matters. But they had recently effected a widely publicized reconciliation, done, it was said, for the common good of the fundamentalist community in America. The signs of rapprochement between the United States and the Soviet Union were having worldwide ramifications in the arbitration of disputes. Holding the meeting here was perhaps part of the price Palmer Joss had to pay for the reconciliation. Conceivably, Rankin felt the exhibits would provide factual support for his position, were there any scientific points in dispute. Now, two hours into their discussion, Rankin was still alternately castigating and imploring. His suit was immaculately tailored, his nails freshly manicured, and his beaming smile stood in some contrast to Joss’s rumpled, distracted, and more weather-beaten appearance. Joss, the faintest of smiles on his face, had his eyes half closed and his head bowed in what seemed very close to an attitude of prayer. He had not had to say much.