Teaching Evolution

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An example of Telling people what to believe

Many Evangelical Christians and members of other religious faiths have a worldview which rejects the scientific theory of evolution, despite the fact that this is a well established theory in the scientific community. Among Christians the main objection to evolution (which explains how existing life forms arose from earlier and more primitive life forms without relying on God to explain this) and related scientific explanations of how life could have arisen without divine intervention, relate to discrepencies between these theories in the scientific field of biology and parts (the first eleven Chapters) of the book of Genesis in the Bible if that religious text is literally true.

In particular, many Evangelical Christians believe that the cosmos was created in six days by God, that the first human beings were created by God in the Garden of Eden, and that almost all life on Earth not preserved by Noah was destroyed in a worldwide flood. These Christians also often believe based on the geneologies in the Bible, that the Earth is only a few thousand years old. An individual who holds these beliefs is known as a "Young Earth Creationist" or "YEC". Each of these assertions is strongly contradicted by scientific evidence. Therefore, adherence to these beliefs requires a wide ranging rejection of the methods of science, which are taught in schools and widely held within the scientific community. A 1997 survey, with results typical given past experience, showed that 44% of Americans hold a Young Earth Creationist view, despite the fact that only 5% of scientists (including scientists who practice in fields that do not involve evolution) share this view. This widespread divergence between scientists in the population at large is not found in Europe. For example, in Germany only about 5% or less of the general population holds a Young Earth Creationist view.

Many mainline Christians and members of other faiths who are not Young Earth Creationists seek to reconcile Genesis and other creation myths with scientific evidence by viewing the religious texts as metaphorical, by claiming that God created the world with a false apparent history, and/or by viewing God's actual "creation role" as existing only at the moment of creation which set in place events that gave rise to our world (the Deists called this view the "Clockwork God" and this idea was popular in the wake of Isaac Newton's scientific discoveries). One of the major early proponents of the Big Bang theory in cosmology, which is now widely accepted by scientists, was a Catholic scientist who views the Big Bang as the true creation event for which Genesis provides only a metaphor that explained the situation as well as people in that time were capable of explaining it. These views are not necessarily contrary to evolution, although they are generally incapable of being proven or disproven by their very nature.

Another popular stance with regard to evolution is belief in the notion of "intelligent design" (aka "ID"). Those who hold this view typically acknowledge that natural selection, as described by Charles Darwin (one of the principal authors of the theory of evolution) does act in the world to influence the genetic makeup of organisms, but argues that the adaptation of living things to their environments and their complexity point to an "intelligent designer" rather than a scientific process that develops without direction. They often argue that certain developments are so "irreducibly complex" that they could not have arisen in the absence of an intelligent designer and that there is an absence of evidence for "macroevolution" (i.e. major species level and higher taxonomic level change). This stance is also not supported by the scientific evidence.

Because many people hold beliefs that are contrary to scientific evidence, politically elected school boards are often responsive to including "creationism" or "intelligent design" in the school curriculum, and are often hostile to or suspicious of the teaching of evolution, particularly in public schools, because many people who hold these beliefs feel affronted by the fact that "secular children" can receive a free secular education, but that "religious children" cannot have their religious education paid for by the state.

The U.S. Supreme Court, however, has held that treating creationism as fact in the schools violates the First Amendment establishment clause.

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