Sunday, July 19, 2009

Don't Single Out Evolution as Bad Science

For the past couple of days I’ve been entertaining myself by taking part in the discussion forum attached to a Facebook opinion poll. The poll is really an overly simple one with only three options. It is called the Evolution vs. Creation Poll and the three choices are evolution, creation, or don’t know.

There are more than 18,000 responses so far and the results show that almost half pick evolution while about 44 percent pick creation. That is better than it could be, but it is not better than it SHOULD be. It never really ceases to amaze me how in the 21st century in a country that is still (barely) the world leader in technology that so many people still believe whole-heartedly in a quaint, antiquated story about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and how God created the universe and everything in it in only six literal days.

I know that the majority of Christians do not believe that the bible can be taken literally. I also know that most mainstream Christian denominations have no problem accepting evolution. But even with that knowledge, as a science teacher, it still disturbs me to know that there is still a very sizeable minority who do not accept the theory of evolution at all. They actually believe in the magical creation of the earth and all life in less than a week about 6,000 years ago. It’s depressing.

Public education in this country is not up to par with other industrialized nations. I do my part by devoting a lot of time to evolution in my science classes and to how science is supposed to work. But it doesn’t always take, because so many kids these days have grown up on biblical fairy tales. They stop believing in Santa Claus by the time they are 10, but they still believe in divine creation even as adults. Why?

I guess I know the answer to that question. It really is a multi-part answer. For one thing most people are afraid not to believe. They are afraid of going to hell. Hell is one of those places thought up by the early Catholic Church to keep people coming every week with their donations. Jesus never mentions hell. Some bibles translate his references to Gehenna as hell. But Gehenna is an earthly place, near Jerusalem. It has a long history in the Old Testament as a really bad place. It was like a garbage dump that was kept burning all the time. It is where they dumped corpses of criminals who had been crucified.

Jesus used Gehenna many times as a metaphor, the same way we might actually use the word hell as a metaphor for an extremely bad situation. For example, “Yesterday was a living hell for me.” It just means you had an extremely bad day. For a very interesting treatise on hell, go HERE.

Another reason people still believe in the allegories of the bible is that they have been taught them in Sunday school ever since they were young children. They believe the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, and Jonah just like they also believe in Santa Claus. But because the children’s picture bibles have an actual adult counterpart that includes the same stories, they never get the message that these stories are only allegories (fables with deeper meanings).

Finally, when they get into high school and are (hopefully) taught science, which includes the teaching of the theory of evolution, they protest. I see it almost every year in my classes. I can’t tell them what to believe; all I can do is offer up evolution as a scientific theory that has been proven using real facts and empirical evidence. Then I proceed to list and explain all the evidence to them. I allow them, using methods of logical reasoning, to deduce for themselves what the evidence tells them. Most of them finally get it.

But it is an uphill battle when we have institutions like the Institute for Creation Research. It is a Christian apologetics organization. The bad thing is that it pretends to be science (Note the word research in its name). Its goal is to infiltrate public schools with its dogma by disguising it as science. Nothing it does involves scientific inquiry; its sole purpose is religious.

Then there are those who don’t see the importance of believing in evolution. They might be open minded to it. They might believe it but say it was directed by God. But to them it isn’t that important that they believe it. So why is it really important that people understand and accept the theory of evolution?

Evolution is the base theory of biology. It is the foundation. If you don’t accept evolution, it is difficult to understand any of the tenets of biology as well as other sciences, such as earth science or cosmology. If we, as a nation, fall short in educating our kids about science, then we lose our leadership role as a nation. We no longer will be a global factor in scientific research, inquiry, and technology. We will become a backward nation.

It is already happening. Most Europeans have no problem with the theory of evolution. They don’t understand why we backward Americans have a problem with it. Their children are being properly educated in science. And their schools don’t have to fight with the belief system of their students’ parents. Science teachers in America have sometimes received so much flack about teaching evolution that they no longer teach it, which is just what the Institute for Creation Research wants.

I hear the tired old rhetoric from conservative Christians that evolution is only a theory. A theory, in science, is more than a guess. It is a coherent and logical explanation of a natural phenomenon based solely on evidence and empirical data. It is widely accepted by scientists and, most importantly, it makes predictions about what should take place given a specific set of circumstances. Evolution theory is very good at being useful. Thank evolutionary theory the next time you get cured of an infectious disease or the next time you eat a vegetable or fruit that has been genetically enhanced through techniques obtained by studying the processes of evolution.

People want to reap the rewards of science. They hold scientists in high esteem, except for the one case of evolution. But evolution is no different from any other scientific theory. If you reject it based on nothing more than a belief system, then you must reject all science. That means no more going to the doctor, watching TV, eating modern food supplies, or using your computer. All science follows the same rules. Either believe in it or don’t. But don’t single out evolution as somehow being bad science. It’s simply science. And not believing it will not make it go away.

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