Evolution Still Under Attack After 150 Years

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

Nearly a year ago, in “On Evolution, Biology Teachers Stray From Lesson Plan” (NY Times, 2.7.11), Nicholas Bakalar quoted Randy Moore, professor of biology at the University of Minnesota: “With 15 to 20 percent of biology teachers teaching creationism, this is the biggest failure in science education. There’s no other field where teachers reject the foundations of their science like they do in biology.”

A week ago, Sam Favate, in “A ‘Critique’ of Evolution Proposed in Oklahoma” (Wall Street Journal, 1.23.12), reported that Oklahoma has just introduced the sixth anti-evolution bill this year.

It’s not surprising that some people still deny evolution, but the size of the effort does not bode well for our future in science. Evolution is not only established scientific fact, but is the central unifying concept for all of biology. It allows scientists to understand life better and to decide where to look to find new drugs, cures for diseases, and prevent new infections from becoming pandemics.

Not only do 15 to 20 percent of biology teachers teach creationism, but 60% take no stand on evolution versus creationism. Generations of students are being handicapped in their desire to understand and succeed in life.

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, long after he had formulated his theory. He was attacked immediately and, at the same time, lauded by a minority who understood science. At that time, as today, too many people misunderstood the role of science, what it’s really about.

Science is not memorizing arcane terminology and mathematical equations. It’s a mode of thinking, of approaching problems and issues. It insists, first and foremost, on evidence that is repeatable indefinitely. We can reproduce the experiments of 200 years ago and obtain the same results today. We can do this anywhere in the world. Since 1859, the evidence in favor of evolution as the explanation for the diversity of species has grown enormously. Every new finding related to this area buttressed it more. None have shaken its basic truths.

Evolution does not deny God, but it does deny the interpretation that some put on their holy scriptures. Those people ignore that others read the same words differently and ignore the nature of science. Science does not set out to oppose religion. Scientists, like criminalists, follow the evidence. If the evidence seems to contradict current thinking, then the scientists seek more evidence before publishing their new ideas.

A portion of my own doctoral thesis contradicted current thinking. I went to great lengths with additional experiments to prove myself wrong but failed. During my thesis defense, one member of the panel attacked my conclusion savagely. My thesis adviser had to step in and defend our findings, and, because he had the stature I had not, he was able to prevail.

Even if you do not accept evolution literally, you must embrace it as a powerful tool to help understand and explain biology. However, you should accept it because it makes sense. Only those who either deny the four billion year history of the Earth or cannot comprehend the power of a simple process acting for tens of millions of year would deny evolution.

4 Responses

  1. Perhaps the supporters of creationism have been encouraged by the success of post-modern philosophy in higher education.

    • Nothing to do with post-modernism! – Christians and those of other religions believe in a God capable of creating from nothing – something scientists are incapable of doing. It is only they who deny that creation was an evolutionary accident who are capable of recognising the abilities of an all-powerful God.

      As a trained technologist I am used to investigating evidences and establishing theories but the amusing re-organisation of a collection of fossils does not prove anything other than how a child might arrange artefacts.

      There are thousands of highly qualified ‘double-degreed’ scientists, along with engineers etc who are Christians and have no problem with the concept of a Creator-God.

      I have heard your statement that “Evolution does not deny God” before. For a short period of my life as a Christian I tried to manage the compromise that ‘God was behind evolution’ ie ‘theistic evolution’ but soon came to the conclusion that ‘If God is able, then He is God. If He is not able, then He is not God.’ The debate about evolution is a sad distraction and an excuse to deny the infalibility of scripture.

      I agree that evolutionary theory can be used as a model but, as you well know, any theory is allowed to be refuted – and there are many, many arguments against evolution and for creationism.

      Your title says it all. This ‘new’ idea of Darwin does not stand up to the 5,000 years of man’s belief in an all-powerful creator God.

      • Greeting,
        I agree most heartily, Evolution is merely a theory or may I say a hypothesis of sorts premised on some cleverly constructed presupposition. Essentially, Evolution is a form of religion based on faith but covered over with some “scientific” garb. True science is about unbiased empirical evidence and repeatable experimentation. Lets face it, a theory is not neccessarily a fact as our colleagues want us to believe. I personally have no quarrels with true genuine objective wonderful science but certainly are at odds with attempts to hijack truth. For another thing, I have a right to hold a position on a matter such as evolution or creation!
        As theists, we may quarrel about some specifics e.g. age of creation/world etc but we are in sync that an almighty God created the world not some chance occurence out of control purposeless big bang some time ago. Neither do we subscribe to some deistic tenets of creation but in a transcendent and yet immanent all caring God that sustains His creation by His providence.

  2. What can you say? The responses seemed to have proved Harry’s point.

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