Posted by: Brad | June 26, 2008

Modern Creationism is Hurting America

There is an ill polarity in the acceptance of evolutionary theory in the United States. The scientific community overwhelmingly supports evolution, while something like half of the general public believes creationism over evolution. The reason: religious fundamentalism and scriptural literalism. Religious leaders continually indoctrinate children about the literal truth of Genesis or phony flaws in the scientific theory of evolution. (I cringed watching this Nightline clip.) Ignorance breeds ignorance. It’s always been fundamentalists that have gawked at evolution. That isn’t to say religious people are all against evolution, it is in fact split in that sphere as well. Fortunately, the Catholic Church has seen its scientific validity. (Although it has still tainted evolution with a “divine intervention” addendum to explain the existence of souls.)

But the dead horse seems to be on some ungodly life support thanks to quite a bit of misunderstanding of evolution in popular culture, and that has been an active barrier to evolution’s acceptance. Issues such as Lamarckian evolution and “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” have been settled well over a century ago, and yet they are still painted upon the face of evolution by creationists. Shall we carry on the traditional discourse of gill slits and circular reasoning in the fossil record, or has everyone moved on yet? If not, then I highly recommend the TalkOrigins Archive.

This problem has been pummeled in the kingdom of science, but creationists have groped and gasped for air and then creeped over to the place where it has a chance to thrive – the political realm. (Take a look at the Wedge strategy.) Now we are sporting such ideas as “teach the controversy” and “academic freedom,” all of which fly in the face of true science. Shall we start teaching the “Stork Theory” alternative to our modern theory of sexual reproduction? (Dawkins uses this analogy to satirize Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.) Of course not, and so why should we teach something outside of scientific theory in our science classrooms? Creationism needs to gain legitimacy before it starts being taught in public schools. Creationism has the freedom to gain this legitimacy, and we should not confuse this with its lack of ability to do so.

Hence the birth of Intelligent Design theory. ID has no evidence; it has only proposed gaps in evolution. (Famously Behe’s “irreducible complexity.”) It purports to be entirely scientific, but it is not. ID has brought to light a more general social problem here: the God versus no God debate in culture. “One nation under God”; “in God we trust.” School prayer is out of the question; is God? Indeed, many take evolution to be a denial of God’s existence, and many see its teaching in schools as just another way the secular left is getting God out of the school system. Both atheists and religious have argued either side of the evolution + God question.

(Personally, I don’t think evolution rules out a god altogether. Obviously, it raises serious questions about things like the emergence of consciousness, the existence of souls, or our divine place in the cosmos. I can’t say there isn’t a logically possible god who would choose to have the universe give birth to life in order to evolve us. But one would expect any theory speaking to the human’s rank among the life on Earth as well as the origin of all known life in the observable universe would have some kind of tribute to its planner, and I don’t see any indication of that at all. Alas, we move on.)

The distorted views on evolution can range from the depressing to the hopefully ignorant, but I think there is almost always a measure of intellectual dishonesty involved in the hardcore activist. Is it really all that hard to go looking for the other side of a “controversy”? How difficult can it really be to conceptualize the processes of natural selection, adaptation, and divergence? It seems like creationists like to sit around their campfires telling their own yarns and guffawing at how we came here by “chance”, while genuine progress is being made in today’s biologically-related sciences as if it were a totally disconnected domain of intellectual thought.

This needs to stop. Science education has to be representative of the actual scientific train of thought; if anybody wishes to dissent, that would be fine, but don’t teach the views of the fringe. (Obviously this works in more than just science classes…) If evolution were taught correctly, if our biology teachers all knew what they were talking about, then creationist ignorance of evolution wouldn’t get very far in the our education system at all. So what we need are more teachers who are knowledgeable about evolution to educate our public, and more importantly, our children.

This is important because it is one of many ways to protect our free society from building theocratic underpinnings. It would be a slippery slope to making our nation (nearly-) officially sponsor uniquely religious viewpoints (which is definitely “respecting an establishment of religion” in my book). Beyond this, it proves internationally that America can walk the walk, not just talk the talk. America has a real potential to be a huge beacon of science, but the fact that America has the highest number of evolution “skeptics” makes us laughable. It’s just one more part of America that the rest of the civilized world makes fun of.

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