Yesterday, I took a bit of time to listen to this one hour lecture on Creationism and Evolution by Eugenie Scott, given in 2007 as part of the Science and Religion lecture series at Hampshire College. Credits go to Salman Hameed of Irtiqa for organizing the talks and kindly posting them on his blog. Dr. Eugenie Scott is an anthropologist and the Executive Director of the National Centre for Science Education (NCSE). She’s been heavily involved in the Dover trials as well as the continuing battle to ensure good science education in American schools (which in large part involves defending the teaching of Darwinian evolution).
Being an atheist herself, it is very admirable for Dr. Eugenie to be so respectful of various religious beliefs, even that of the Creationists themselves. She affirms that there are good theological grounds to accept both evolution and belief in God even though she does not personally adopt such a view, similar to the likes of Michael Ruse.
This lecture provides a very good introduction to Creationism and its offshoot, Intelligent Design. She starts off by clearing up some misconceptions about evolution i.e. humans didn’t evolve from chimpanzees, rather that humans and chimpanzees evolved from a common primate ancestor. She then goes on to present a short history of Creationism, having its roots in the Fundamentalist movement and the rise of Biblical literalism in America. She also looks into the similarities between Creationist arguments in the defining trials of the 20th century that would shape American education, arguments that are still used by Creationists and some Intelligent Design (ID) proponents today. Being a very diverse movement, we should be careful when trying to define or categorize Creationism (and ID). But I like how Dr. Eugenie groups their arguments into 3 distinct categories, which she refers to as the ‘Pillars of Creationism’.
The Pillars of Creationism
1. Evolution is a theory in Crisis
The claim is that more and more evidence from various scientific fields are turning up that disproves evolution, leading to many scientists doubting that evolution really happened. Creationists thus like to come up with various lists of Creationist scientists. The NCSE responded in kind through Project Steve, by collecting a list of scientists who accept evolution – but only those whose first names begin with Steve (inluding Stephenie for the ladies) – which alone were enough to outnumber the Creationist list! This was done as a parody, as scientists well know that numbers alone do not determine truth. And the truth is that every new scientific discovery points to evolution rather than opposes it. There is no crisis whatsoever.
2. Evolution leads to atheism and immorality
This is another favourite argument of Creationists… but is it true? The Catholic Church and the Anglican Church both officially accept evolution. The Clergy Letter Project, in which religious leaders from various Christian denominations came together to sign a letter in support of the teaching of evolution in schools, proves otherwise. Having been raised in a Methodist Church, it makes me proud to find out that the United Methodist Church in America recently endorsed the Clergy project officially. There are many good theologians working on the relationship between science and religion, who see no conflict between evolution and religious belief. And these are just the Christians. Similar movements can be seen within Islam and Judaism as well (I have intentionally ommitted the Far Eastern religions, as they didn’t have much of a problem with evolution to begin with). Evolution is only in conflict with a particular brand of religious belief, one espoused by the Creationists and rooted in a literal interpretation of Genesis. I have already countered the idea that evolution leads to immorality in another post.
3. It is only fair to teach both sides i.e. teach the controversy
Again, scientifically there is no controversy as to whether evolution occured, though there are lots of controversies over its minor details. If there is a scientific alternative to Darwinian evolution, then by all means, teach it. Except that there are currently none. ‘Creation science’ is not science, but a religious belief, and should have no place in the science classroom, just as astrology has no place in astronomy classes. Also, teaching Creationism in schools gives privileges to a particular religious viewpoint. What about all the other religious views on evolution, Christian or otherwise?
This is a sweeping post that barely touches the surface of this ongoing debate between Creationism (as opposed to Creation) and Evolution, and there will be time and space for a more detailed look into Creationist arguments in future posts. I end this one with a quote from the decision by Judge Jones in the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District trial:
To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions. ~ Judge Jones