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Friday, August 05, 2005

Creationism vs. Evolution





The Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that creationism, the belief that God created the universe as explained in the Bible, is a religious belief — not science — and may not be taught in public schools along with evolution. However, debates are ongoing in various places around the nation over whether creationism should be taught in public schools. In the news recently were items on that subject from Virginia, Kansas, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

Kansas and Pennsylvania are debating whether or not to reinstitute creationism (or intelligent design) as subject matter. That debate will be going on for some time.

In Virginia, however, at issue is the actual discussion of creationism in a classroom. A biology teacher has been talking about creationism in his science classroom for 15 years, much to the dismay of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the school superintendent. "Creationism is not biology and has no place in a biology class," declared the executive director of the ACLUV. The superintendent of Washington County, Virginia schools said, "[The teacher] must teach evolution exclusively — observable scientific fact, not beliefs or religion."

The message from the school superintendent and the ACLU is that religion and science should not, must not, be mixed.

The ACLU official declared that creationism isn’t biology. Fair enough. Creationism is not biology. But when it comes to explaining how the universe began, biology and evolution do not provide the answer, either. The “Big Bang” theory, not evolution, is the accepted scientific explanation of the beginning of the universe. Evolution deals with what happened after creation, by whatever “mechanism” creation happened to have come about. Biology and creationism are like lug nuts and milk duds: totally unrelated in this context. However, the argument has been framed as evolution vs. creationism, science vs. religion.

In Georgia, 34,452 stickers placed on science textbooks across Cobb County some time ago have been removed, as classes are about to start up for the fall semester. A federal judge ordered the stickers removed after six parents filed a suit saying the disclaimers violated the principle of the separation of church and state. The stickers read: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."

Nothing in that statement relates to religion. It is only a disclaimer noting the theoretical nature of evolution as the explanation for how it all began, and the advice to keep one’s mind open on the subject. How can that be offensive to anyone?

Many scientists assert that the theory of evolution is THE explanation for how it all began. Yet the theory of evolution contains gaps that science cannot fill with fact. As leading evolutionist and paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould stated: "All paleontologists know that the fossil record contains precious little in the way of intermediate forms; transitions between major groups are characteristically abrupt. The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. We fancy ourselves as the only true students of life's history, yet to preserve our favored account of evolution by natural selection we view our data as so bad that we never see the very process we profess to study."

Mr. Gould is one scientist who will shoot straight about the uncertainty of this particular scientific theory, but more than a few do not shoot straight. Scientists like to consider scientific matters in a science vacuum. That is to say that anything that is not science is not allowed in a discussion of science. Thus, even though science has been unable to fill in the gaps in its theory of the origin of the universe, creationism cannot be part of that discussion because it is not a legitimate scientific subject. Having so handily disposed of the only other broadly accepted hypothesis for how it all began, scientists then crow that evolution is, indeed, the true story.

Some evolutionists get apoplectic when it is pointed out to them that because science has not been able to conclusively prove its case on “evolution,” evolution and creationism are equally possible: Neither can be absolutely proven; neither can be absolutely disproved. The scientific community is unable to conceive that science, despite its failure to close these gaps with provable evidence, could be wrong. Arrogance replaces searching for answers.

So, while it is true that creationism is not a science, the story that science peddles is riddled with holes. How the universe began is a legitimate and important area of study for public school students. Why, then, do we allow one “theory” on that subject to be taught, but not the other? Why do we teach as truth a theory than can’t be proven?

10 comments:

i eat puppies said...

Hmmm, it's hard to decide where to begin with this, so I'll just quote and rebut.

Mr. Shott, when you say creationism here, do you really mean intelligent design? B/c they are not interchangable names, at least by their own definitions.

First, let's distinguish between intelligent design and creationism. Creationism is taking the biblical account of the the origins of the universe literally- the whole seven days thing, with Adam and Eve. Uterally absurd and I'm not going to waste time picking it apart here as anyone who truly believes that is not going to be convinced otherwise. ID on the other hand suggests that life is too complex to be explained by the randomness of natural selection- there must be a guiding hand (the whole "if there's a clock, there's a maker" theory). The current ID movement seems, in actuality, more of a trojan horse for introducing faith and creationism into our public school systems. It is more of a PR campaign relying on doubts about evolution and employing political sloganing techniques while providing no scientific basis for backing up its ideas. So...

"The ACLU official declared that creationism isn’t biology. Fair enough. Creationism is not biology. But when it comes to explaining how the universe began, biology and evolution do not provide the answer, either."

Well, you're both right. Biology and evolution never have attempted to explain the _origins_ of life, only how that original, single cell of life became the complex being we are today. The "Big Bang Theory" is what attempts to explain how the universe began, and it is physics, not biology. And the BBT does not attempt to describe why the beginning of time happened, only how it happened, using the knowledge we have today.

Creationism and ID on the other hand, don't try to explain that- they simply say since science can't definitively prove what it thinks is true, the real answer must be(my)God. Again, if you believe in creationism's account for how the universe began, you are taking the word of people with no scientific training who passed a story down through generations, multiple languages, ands who have 1/1000th the understanding of our world and the average high schooler has today.

"The stickers read: 'This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.'

This is a good example of the PR tactics of the ID people. By drawing the distinction that evolution is a theory, not a fact, they seeks to denigrate the theory. However, in science, a theory is as close to fact as you can come. It's the best a most widely accepted explanation for a phenomenon. There are no facts in science. Imagine how silly a sticker would be that said "Gravity is a theory, not a fact", or "The American Revolution might also be referred to as an insurgency, depending on your point of view". Students who learn the scientific method are taught what a theory is, and what a rule is, and what a hypothesis is, etc. They are already taught that evolution is a theory, and they know what a theory is in the scientific sense. Therefore the sticker is redundant, unecessary. There must be an alterior motive for its placement, and when you look at who pushed to have it put on there, it is not hard to see the attempt to inject religion, which is based on faith and conjecture, into science, which is based on seeking to try to explain using repeatable results.

"Many scientists assert that the theory of evolution is THE explanation for how it all began."
As I mentioned before, most scientists assert that evolution is what happened AFTER it began.

"Scientists like to consider scientific matters in a science vacuum. That is to say that anything that is not science is not allowed in a discussion of science. " This is true to the extent that is is also true that creationists and IDs attribute any gap or flaw in a scietific theory as proof of God, case closed.

"Why do we teach as truth a theory than can’t be proven?"
It may not be much, but it's the best we got.

James Howard Shott said...

It looks as if you started rebutting before you read the entire post. As a general statement on my use of terms, try this: Definitions have become confused. “Creationism” and “Intelligent Design” have become interchangeable to (I believe) the vast majority of people, even though an argument can certainly be made, as you did, that “Creationism” is limited to the Biblical account. However, the fact is that in both of those terms the common link is that God controlled the origin of the universe. Thus, the two terms mean essentially the same thing (to most people): Creation by God, not by chance.

The same sort of thing has happened with the term “Evolution.” As I said in the original post, Evolution has nothing to do with the origin of the universe; it has to do with what happened since then. Since evolution is a part of biology, the terms “Evolution” and “Biology” have come to be used somewhat interchangeably to refer to the origin of the universe.

If you read my quotes from the Virginia case, you will have noted the following: “Creationism is not biology and has no place in a biology class," … "[The teacher] must teach evolution exclusively — observable scientific fact, not beliefs or religion [in Biology class]." Clearly, these two officials equate Biology and Evolution with the origins of the universe, at least for the purpose of making their points. I think most Americans do also.

The “science” explanation for our origin (as opposed to the “scientific” explanation) starts with the Big Bang and moves forward in time using Evolution to explain how things got to be as they are today. The two are linked and often used together within the term “Evolution.” That is not technically correct, but it is reality.

Terms like “theory,” “hypothesis,” “scientific method” are not commonly understood by most people, certainly not in the same sense, or to the same degree that they are understood by those working or interested in the various fields of science. So providing me and other readers with a lecture on “science” is kind of beside the point. I am not completely, or even substantially ignorant of science and its rules, hypotheses, theories, etc. However, I did not want, and thus did not attempt, to reduce this piece to a column using a lot of scientific jargon and terminology.

What I tried to do was to make a point, which I believe is a valid one. Science is not infallible. Science is not omniscient. Science does not provide all the answers. Therefore, to regard the scientific explanation, with all its gaps and unanswered questions, as the “correct” story of the creation, is foolish. It is a possibility, and no more, as of now. That a Supreme Being is responsible for the creation is also a possibility. Science cannot prove its own theory is correct, and it cannot prove that there is no Supreme Being. Why, then, should we look to science over religion to answer the Universal Question?

Your statement, “It may not be much, but it's the best we got,” is simply not good enough.

Evolutionists say of the gaps in the “science” story, “Take my word for it,” and its believers do. But scientists are supposed to, according to their own statements, live by observable scientific facts. Yet their story doesn’t have the facts it needs to prove its case. The science explanation doesn’t connect, and the theory is not complete within science’s own system.

Creationism says, “Take my word for it,” and its believers do. It is the Supreme Being who says, “Take my word for it,” and in their belief system, that statement is authoritative because of their belief in the Supreme Being. The religious explanation connects. It is complete within the religious belief system.

I have tried to be very careful to not take either side in this argument. I believe that either “theory” has the possibility to be the correct one. However, I am arguing against the “science” story (as opposed to arguing for the Creation story) because it is an incomplete, unproven and not provable theory, and yet the scientific community and science lovers advance this story as if it were true. The religious story can’t be proven, either, but since faith in the existence of a Supreme Being is fundamental to their belief system, believing what that Supreme Being says is sensible.

So, until science is able to fill in the gaps and find the missing links, it is arrogant and condescending to denigrate the beliefs of religious people about Creation.

i eat puppies said...

Well, I agree that Creationism and ID as terms have become interchangable to most people. I commend the scientific community for this expose- that the current efforts to promote ID are pro-creationist in disguise. I may agree to some extent w/ ID (I'm not going to expound on my spirituality here), but it seems obvious the intent of its most vocal proponents is political, not scientific or educational.

Because Creationism is inherently religious, if you believe ID should be presented in contrast to Darwinian evolution (and I'm talking natural selection here) you should be teaching your readers the distinction (actually I don't know where you stand on teaching ID, as opposed to teaching the shortcomings of Nat Select.)

You state that "the two terms mean essentially the same thing (to most people): Creation by God, not by chance." Fine. But then most people have the wrong understanding of the two, and you should enlighten them to the distinction. Creationism is the origin of the universe by the Christian God according to Genisis(and I guess Muslim and Jewish Gods, since they accept the Old Testament as well). ID is agnostic.

You say:
"Evolutionists say of the gaps in the “science” story, “Take my word for it,” and its believers do. But scientists are supposed to, according to their own statements, live by observable scientific facts. Yet their story doesn’t have the facts it needs to prove its case. The science explanation doesn’t connect, and the theory is not complete within science’s own system.

"Creationism says, “Take my word for it,” and its believers do. It is the Supreme Being who says, “Take my word for it,” and in their belief system, that statement is authoritative because of their belief in the Supreme Being. The religious explanation connects. It is complete within the religious belief system."


Very specious. First I'll address science. Evolutionists do not present the gaps and say "take my word for it." They say "I don't know, but based on my other observations, here is what I think, and maybe you can discover something to prove, or disprove, I'm right." Refer to the search for the "missing link". Scientists believe we are descended from apes based on much scientific evidence, but that doesn't stop them from continuing to search for the remains of a being that confirms this.

That the religious explanation connects really doesn't say much. The religious explanation can say anything it wants. It can never be proven wrong. Anytime it contradicts itself, it simply rewrites itself and says "hey, who are you to question God?"

James Howard Shott said...

The ID argument is not Creationism in disguise; it takes the basic point of Creationism -- that the universe began purposefully rather than accidentally -- and leaves the rest behind. It is an attempt to advance the argument absent the distraction of whether the Biblical account should be believed verbatim. I believe most Creationists do not take the Biblical account literally. I believe, further, that the Big Bang and Intelligent Design are not necessarily mutually exclusive concepts.

Relative to each side making its case, or each system’s explanation being complete, science purports to be based on something it regards as more legitimate than faith: observable, verifiable facts. I agree that science has the more difficult task, because the observable, verifiable facts concerning the origin of the universe, and even the ensuing evolutionary chain, are difficult to find. But that is the task that science has set for itself. Right now, the story has gigantic holes in it. Perhaps someday, science will be able to fill in those holes with observabl, verifiable facts.

And I disagree with your explanation of how science thinks about the Big Bang. Many scientists and science buffs take the arrogant position that only science -- through its method of observable facts, which they think is far superior to mere “faith” -- can possibly be correct about the origin of the universe, even though they don’t have the evidence to prove their theory. I have had more than a couple of people on other sites where this subject is being discussed call me stupid and other insulting things simply because I point out weaknesses in their flawed explanation.

There is no reason for people of faith to try to prove science wrong, because in their belief system, science is wrong. Science must make its own case. The whole system of belief of religious people, of whatever/every religion, is based upon “faith.” Therefore, their system is complete/makes sense/is logical: one can believe anything his or her faith allows. The essence of “faith” is believing in something, even if it cannot be factually proven.

You can’t hold religious people to the principles of science, but science must remain faithful to its own principles. Science and religion are at opposite ends of the spectrum. One involves a rigorous, detailed effort to prove theories, and the other depends instead upon a series of beliefs. Neither is right and neither is wrong, until someone can conclusively prove that there either is a God/Supreme Being, or there is no God/Supreme Being.

i eat puppies said...

Well said.
Although I am still a little put off by some of your reasoning.

"Neither is right and neither is wrong, until someone can conclusively prove that there either is a God/Supreme Being, or there is no God/Supreme Being."

On pretty much every matter I can think of where religion/faith and science have clashed (and a clear winner was determined), science turned out to be right- faith has a pretty bad track record. And while I agree that the two are not mutually exclusive, I'll continue to look to science for answers- science checks and double checks itself to be sure it is correct. Faith simply declares and is done with it.

"You can’t hold religious people to the principles of science, but science must remain faithful to its own principles. "

OK, fine, but then religion should not be included in a SCIENCE class. Leave the musings on the supernatural beginning of time to theology and philosophy classes. (Yes, I know, no theology in public schools- but there exists plenty of other options for teaching one's children about one's beliefs without coercing another's).

i eat puppies said...

Oh, and I'm sorry to hear others have belittled you b/c of your faith. I've experienced the other end- condemned and berated for my lack of faith.

i eat puppies said...

And finally, a little humor

http://www.theonion.com/nib/index.php?issue=4132&nib=3

James Howard Shott said...

“On pretty much every matter I can think of where religion/faith and science have clashed (and a clear winner was determined), science turned out to be right- faith has a pretty bad track record.”

Perhaps you can educate me on a few of these issues. I don’t mean that as a challenge, but just to see what you are referring to.

“OK, fine, but then religion should not be included in a SCIENCE class. Leave the musings on the supernatural beginning of time to theology and philosophy classes.”

For the sake of discussion, let’s accept your (and others’) assertion that ID doesn’t belong in science classes. Generally, that assertion is made because as an element of religion it is obviously not a part of science.

However, if science is going to promote the Big Bang/Evolution as the explanation for the creation of the universe, and if science cannot conclusively prove that the BB/E theory is correct, as long as creation is being discussed in science class (or philosophy class), other possible explanations can justifiably be included in the discussion, since the origin is in question. To do otherwise is to falsely lend credence to an unproved theory, giving the science explanation credibility it does not deserve. In the absence of a contrary theory, the scientific explanation becomes “true” in the eyes of science students, even though it may not be. The “religious” explanation, which has not been disproved, wrongly loses credibility in the eyes of science students, even though it is possibly the correct theory. Is it the role of science to mislead its students?

Now, let’s further accept for the sake of discussion that we somehow learn that 1) there is a Supreme Being and 2) that the Big Bang actually occurred. Do we then cease to discuss the Big Bang theory of the universe because it and all things thereafter have a “religious” origin? Or perhaps just stop talking about the Big Bang because of its religious origin, but continue to discuss evolution and other science subjects that are legitimate subjects of science? Wouldn’t it really be the case that if a Supreme Being were confirmed, its existence would become part of the scientific world, given that without that Supreme Being, there would be no science?

Science “knows” certain things absolutely. For example, we know by direct observation that an apple falls to the ground when it disconnects from the apple tree. We have learned through scientific investigation that water is 2 parts hydrogen and 1 part oxygen. Even religious people acknowledge these scientific truths.

It seems to me that if proponents of science and opponents of religion want to exclude ID from science classes because it is an unproved, non-science theory, then honest and forthright scientists and science teachers ought to formally exclude the discussion of the Big Bang because it is an unproved and perhaps faulty theory that is being taught absent a competing theory.

So, let’s exclude both from science classes.

RE: your comment about my being belittled because of my faith, I have a couple of comments for you that I would prefer not to make on the Observations page or in its comments. If you would not be averse to my having your email address to facilitate this, please send it to me at james_shott@yahoo.com.

I abhor ridiculing people for their religion or the lack thereof. It is the mark of people lacking sufficient talent to make a lucid argument for their own opinions.

I also appreciated The Onion piece. Thanks.

i eat puppies said...

Posted from email from i eat puppies:

If possible, could you include what you said that incurred the wrath?

Also, regarding science vs. religion track record, the most obvious is the helio-centric galaxy (Copernicus, Gallileo), and also the earth being round, which was an idea endorsed by the church just as the sun revolving around the earth. Those are a couple, I could probably find some more, but I'm at work. And there are countless examples about old misconceptions, not necessarily pushed, but endorsed by religious institutions, that later turned out to be false (ie- manure turns into flies). And they were shown to be false by the practice of science.

And finally, the very definition of God precludes proving he doesn't exist. It would be only slightly less difficult to prove he does exist. The point is, ID says there necessarily IS a God- his guiding hand led us to where we are today. Evolution does not necessarily preclude the existance of God- any single theory always be explained by the devout as "that's b/c he wanted it that way, and he's omnipotent". I've actually read a creationist biology teacher (story in the Wash Post) use that (almost) exact phrase to explain why, if the earth began 6,000 [sic] years ago, there were dinosaur bones, and dinosaurs are not mentioned in the bible.

ID brings nothing new to the table in its "theory" except an affirmation that a conscious God does, truly exist. This affirmation is inherently religious.

James Howard Shott said...

I don’t recall exactly what the comment was, but it had less to do (I think) with what they perceived as my religious orientation as with my challenge to what they regard as settled science. They didn’t like my pointing out that the Big Bang Theory and the Theory of Evolution were flawed and incomplete.

I don’t mean to be argumentative, but the Earth-centered universe and the flat Earth theory were both widely held ideas, even by “scientists” of the day. These ideas and religion were inextricably linked for a long time, prior to when “science” discovered that they were false. Man was simply too unsophisticated to know better for decades/centuries/millenia. I think that religion clung to those old ideas in large measure because for so long they were almost universally believed, and their entire belief system was based upon such ideas. I also believe that religion was far too slow to accept the new knowledge.

It’s difficult to prove a negative, to be sure, and I know it’s frustrating to those who are accustomed to searching for and finding answers to deal with a belief system that does not require answers. But we assume too much if we believe that all questions have answers that can be found, if only we search long enough. The problems with evolutionary theory are a good example. Despite millions of years of fossil records, there are still unexplainable periods and huge gaps preventing the connecting of pieces together into a continuous, compelling story.

The entire essence of “faith” is that believers remain steadfast in their beliefs despite a lack of hard evidence to support them. Those who are trained not to believe anything they cannot see/hear/feel disallow any belief system that also doesn’t depend upon observable fact. But that doesn’t mean that there can’t be legitimate belief systems that depend upon faith instead of observable fact.

Does it?