The creationism/evolution issue which I touched on in my articles
almost two weeks ago, is still generating comments and emails, so why the hell shouldn't I keep talking about it? For the next few days, anyway — I'm going to see Expelled
, Ben Stein's pro-intelligent design documentary today or tomorrow, so I'm sure I'll have plenty to say about that. In the meantime, there are one or two arguments I keep getting from creationists that I've addressed in emails and the comments section of my articles, but haven't yet mentioned in a proper article.
The first argument is that students have the right to decide between creationism and evolutionary biology, that responsible science education would consist of teaching both ideas, and giving the student the option of which is true. I'm totally against this, so much so that some people I've corresponded with have gotten the impression that I advocate some sort of inquisition to ensure that every high school graduate is a professing evolutionist. That's not it. The point isn't to dissuade students of their religious beliefs, or to swear them in as members of Richard Dawkins's sinister atheist cabal; the point is to teach students scientific truth in science class. Evolution is part of that scientific truth, and the only argument against teaching it along with every other scientific truth is that it contradicts the religious myth accepted as literal truth by a number of people.
The best resource I've found online for creationist/evolution arguments is the List of Creationist Claims
maintained by Mark Isaak at the Talk.Origins Archive
. It's unbelievably comprehensive, divided into sections that deal with different types of creationist arguments, philosophical, biological, cosmological, etc. One of the first arguments tackled is the idea of teaching both creationism and evolution, to be fair.
It's indexed as Claim CA040
, and it reads in part:
In fairness, creation and evolution deserve equal time in science classes.
1. The teaching of creationism does not belong in science classes because creationism has no science to teach. It is based on personal religious belief, not on evidence. For the most part, creationism can fit with anything we find, making it unscientific. Where creation models do make specific predictions that can be tested against evidence, they fail the tests. Asking for equal time is asking for nonscience to be taught in science classes.
2. Equal time would open creationism, and by extension Christianity in general, to ridicule and attack. Saint Augustine recognized this in the fifth century:
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, . . . and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. (Augustine 1982, 42-43)
3. Equal time would mean teaching: a) other versions of creationism from other denominations of Christianity (including young-earth, old-earth, day-age, gap theory, geocentrism, and flat earth). All have equal basis for being taught, since they are all based on exactly the same Bible. All are mutually incompatible (DYG 2000; Watchtower 1985, 186; Morris 1984, 215-247); b) other versions of scientific creationism from other religions. Claims have been made for Muslim, Hindu, and Native American versions of creationism; c) creation traditions from other religions and cultures; d) other ideas for the origin of life and the universe, such as solipsism, Last Thursdayism (the unfalsifiable view that the universe and everything in it was created last Thursday with only the appearance of earlier history), multiple designers (Hoppe 2004), Raelianism or other extraterrestrial involvement, creation by time travellers. Creationists do not want all of these taught in science class any more than science educators do. Clearly, creationism in school is an attempt to get greater time than all the opposing views, not equal time. That is not fair.
4. Creationists do not advocate equal time for evolutionary theory in church services. Why?
A related argument is that students ought to be taught the controversy, that they should be informed by their science teachers of the challenges to evolutionary theory. Mark Isaak has a superb response to this suggestion as well, in his response to Claim CA041
Students should be taught all sides of a controversial issue. Evolution should not be taught without teaching the controversy that surrounds it.
1. On the fundamental issues of the theory of evolution, such as the facts of common descent and natural selection, there is no scientific controversy. The "teach the controversy" campaign is an attempt to get pseudoscience taught in classrooms. Lessons about the sociological issues of the evolution-creation controversy may be appropriate in history or other nonscience classes.
If the object is to keep bad science from the classroom, the same standards should be applied to the counterarguments from creationists, which are all bad science.
2. There are controversies over details of evolutionary theory, such as the relative contributions of sympatric versus allopatric speciation. These controversies require a great deal of background in biology even to understand what they are about. They should not be taught to beginning students. They should be taught to graduate-level students in biology, and they are.
3. Evolution is almost certainly the most hated scientific theory in history. Many people think it threatens morals, civilization, and their very souls, and virtually nobody wants it to be true. Starting from the first day that Origin of Species was published, it has faced constant challenges from some of the most powerful politicians and religious leaders, not to mention incessant disapproval and attacks from the general public. The only thing evolution has going for it is the evidence. If that evidence were not extremely strong, evolution would have been torn to irreparable shreds decades ago.
Like all theories, evolution is subject to scientific attack, too. Achieving a major revision of established theory is something that many scientists dream of. Plus, many scientists feel the same emotional opposition to it that so many non-scientists do. If a credible alternative to evolution appeared, biologists would race to publish it. Indeed, scientists have made some significant revisions of details to the theory of evolution, but there has been no such race to overthrow the basic theory.
The theory of evolution is stronger than ever, accepted around the world without a hint of informed scientific challenge to the basic theory. The controversy surrounding evolution has made it one of the most scrutinized theories of all time, and evolution has withstood that scrutiny with flying colors.
4. Should teaching the controversy be expanded to include so-called alternatives to evolution? There are many mutually contradictory creationist positions, with disagreement on such fundamental issues as how old the universe is and which religion's book best describes the creator. Since the basis for creationism is its emotional religious appeal, and since such attraction varies between cultures and individuals, creationism will always be hopelessly controversial. Surely any lesson on the controversy should include the whole controversy.
So there. The List of Creationist Claims
is a great resource, whether you're an evolutionist argument against a creationist, or a creationist who wants to find out what the theory of evolution actually says, as opposed to what Ken Ham and Jonathan Wells say
it says. I can't recommend it highly enough. Check it out.