Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Kansas Weakens Evolution Curriculum

After months of debate, the Kansas Board of Education with a 6-4 vote on Tuesday approved a draft standard declaring evolution largely unproven and possibly damaging to religious dogma. The core aspects of evolution and the curricula that required it have been reduced, though there is no movement to force the teaching of creationism or intelligent design. The board is sending the drafted standard to a Denver-based education consultant before a final vote in September or October.

Evolution made to work with creationism.

First, let me admit I am not a scientist, only a failed biology major who loved genetics in high school but couldn't cut it in college. Second, I am a Christian, though far from being a conservative one. Third, I believe that science and religion can coexist without one having to trump the other. Ultimately, religion and science ask different questions: religion attempts to grapple with the grand question of "why" while science by using quantative observations is focused more on the "how." So that being said, I really do not understand why this debate is raging like it is.

I am not going to attempt to justify evolution as many others have done that work for me. The honest truth is that the very basis of evolution is evidenced in observation for me as it was for Charles Darwin as he traveled the world in the HMS Beagle. What he saw and all of us see everyday is a world in constant flux, changing and evolving from one state to another. Species become extinct, they mutate into new species and the fossil record provides links between these disparate species, emphasizing our common origin with the rest of the planet. Beyond this, evolution has provided a framework by which we have come to understand genetics, viral and bacterial diseases, platetectonics, archeology and countless other sciences. So, not only has evolutionary theory attempted to grapple with deep questions of origin, it is the basis for a working science that improves health and life in general. In other words, this theory has led to cures, better environmental awareness, space exploration, and other practical accomplishments outside the purely scientific world.

Creationism has attempted to place itself as an alternate theory. Creationists believe that the beginning of all things is documented in the book of Genesis and take the Torah literally. Some creationists do not believe in science of any kind and reject almost all common scientific theories including the geological history of Earth (claiming the Earth is only as old as humans are), the formation of the solar system (some even insist the Earth is center of it, not the Sun), and most importantly, the origin of life from non-life. Other creationists debunk these theories using quasi-science to justify their biblical history, seeming to believe that faith can be supported by science. These creationists are the hypocrites. They claim that science can prove their faith, but when it is convenient, they abandon science to fill some of the logical leaps with unobservable faith. My belief is that creationism attempts to reinforce religion in an increasingly secular scientific world. However many Christian scientists reject creationism for the same reason non-believers do: it is based upon faith, not science.

What is perhaps most troubling about creationism is its insistence on destroying evolutionary theory without any regard to providing a true scientific alternative. As a matter of fact, one wonders if Genesis was ever meant to be taken literally and if trusting on English translations of Hebrew won't skew variations on creationist theory. After all, recent biblical experts found the time-honored Number of the Beast is not 666, but 616. Could there not be other errors in the Torah? I believe that is the danger in making literal translations of a human-created book; there are bound to be mistakes, mistranslations. Faith should be bound up in the meaning behind the words, not the words themselves.

Then finally, there is Intelligent Design (ID). ID doesn't disagree with evolution at all, except on one minor point: natural selection. ID theorists believe that a higher being created life from non-life and directs the constant mutations, controlling the selection process. ID "scientists" typically use probability statistics to prove their point that there must be something out there controlling evolution, because the chances this all happened by chance and through random events is slim. They epitomize Einstein's observation that God does not "play dice." Many ID theorists believe in a God as the "prime mover" behind the universe, but others claim it is the work of alien beings. ID is fairly harmless, but as equally unfounded as creationism. As a Christian, I find ID an interesting belief system, combining the observable with the unobservable, but my beliefs aside, it has no place in science directly.

The major problem I have with creationism and ID is that they propose theories against evolutionary theory, but provide no working alternative. I cannot fathom coming up with a cure to cancer based on creationist theory or how ID would help scientists better piece together the fossil record. The reason is because they are not based on quantative observation and so thus have remained the same since their inception. Even evolutionary theory has altered over the years since its embrace, and will continue to evolve as new observations are documented. Nothing is left unchallenged in science as hypotheses are proven and disproven and theories are embraced and then later abandoned. Unlike organized religion, which is typically founded on absolute unprovable truths, science is a constant flux of ideas where logical proof and observation reign supreme. That is how it should be.

This is really a non-issue. If scientists need to abandon evolution, it will be disproven scientifically, not theologically. Science will never justify faith nor will faith ever have a place in science. That having been said, I wonder if perhaps some religious fanatics should observe more and judge less what they do not want to understand.


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