Conflict is where you find it, and of course one must sympathize with a kid whose school tells him he is "descended from an ape" and whose family assures him it was Daddy.

Often the child has no earthly way of knowing whom to believe and this bafflement produces many evils such as loss of weight, distrust of all authority and the like.

You may question the delicacy and taste, however, of putting a 13-year-old child on the witness stand to testify to his beliefs about the creation of the world. A witness is subject to cross-examination, and I doubt a child should be cross-examined by a sophisticated lawyer on a matter so tender and so personal.

Plenty of people -- the philosopher Mortimer Adler among them -- believe the world began with an act of creation, having found no better or more plausible theory. And the dogma of Christianity, as expressed in the Nicene Creed, insists on God as Creator "of all things visible and invisible" but says nothing about creating man of a Thursday and a woman (from his side) on Friday. It has always been an article of faith among Christians that God created the world, and there is nothing in the doctrines of evolution in the past century or so to contradict that belief.

But there are people -- I almost said "good people," but prefer to leave that judgment to a more competent judge -- who are furious at the thought we developed not from an original Adam, created to order and set in Eden of a Thursday. They cannot bear the thought we are related to all other forms of life, including (needless to say) crab grass and malaria mosquitoes.

As a child, I sometimes wondered why God, who created Adam, perfect, if not altogether prudent or virtuous, allowed the descendents of Adam to produce infants with deformities. It has always seemed to me the most brutal and horrible of the world's catalogue of shortcomings.

It is also difficult to believe you are all that different from a dog, if you have ever known a dog well. There is no escaping the insight of dogs, the astounding, sophistication of their perceptions and, beyond any doubt, their love. Thus one of the things I look forward to in paradise is the astonished expression of theologians who are startled to see the place alive with paws.

But back to evolution. The essence of it is the organic life changes. Everybody knows that among humans you get surprises from time to time -- offspring hardly to be accounted for. I always darkly suspected Socrates and Einstein were both tetraploids, or amphidiploids, though with diploid parents. e

If we persist in knowing nothing, observing nothing, perhaps we can go through life not puzzled by anything. Charles Darwin, on whom be peace, was not the first to notice -- nor even the first to produce a few answers about -- the variability of life, though the first to put it all together in a unified way.

It is a bit difficult to account for the moth that lays eggs in the blooms of the yucca and nowhere else, a bit difficult to account for fossil trilobites, and excessively difficult to explain the structure of orchids or sundews apart from a Darwinian chain of reasoning.

But quite apart from Darwin, whose evidence and whose facts convinced the world with astonishing force and speed, there remains (as a major obstacle for fundamentalists to face) the outrageous and sleazy science of the early opponents of Darwin. If you asked Archbishop Ussher, for example, how he arrived at the date of 4,004 B.C. for the creation of the world -- was it a Tuesday, I think he said it was -- he had no answer suitable for convicing a bright 10-year-old. There are trees still living in the world almost as old as that, and the mere fact that this would come as a surprise to Ussher, and a good many others ignorant of such matters, does not change the truth of it in the least.

One of the worst, or at least most disgusting, aspects of some religious apologists for Eden, the Gadarene Swine, etc., is their knack for twisting, obscuring, distorting and lying about even such truth as they know. As if God needed the defense of liars, bumbleheads, pawky callow fellows living utterly within the confine of their own poor heads.

There are problems in theology in any religion, and surely anyone can respect those problems and the good faith and honor of those who wrestle with them, and almost certainly a leap of faith is required, but that need not bring in its train a total entry into stupidity and witlessness.

If a man wishes to believe the world is in essence derived from pancake batter, I applaud his freedom to enjoy his own metaphysics, but I do not see why he needs equal time with the most serious men of his age in a symposium.

The real trouble in these disputes about evolution, I have noticed, is that mental pain is always involved if the mind is to be stirred beyond its normal lethargy, and not everybody -- not anybody, really -- enjoys anxiety of the sort.

To retreat to our most childish ways is, for some, and perhaps for all of us, an ever-present temptation. Not that the great religions of the world tolerate such retreats in their doctrines. Squeaking through by the easiest way out is hardly a permissible article of any religious faith worth the name.

A good bit of harm is done to society, beyond any doubt, by confusing the respect due to another human's religious faith with deference to balderdash.