Defend Science, Evolution on Darwin Day: February 12

 

By Larry Jones
Darwin Day, February 12, 2009, marks the 200th anniversary of the Birth of Charles Darwin and this year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of his path breaking work “The Origin of Species by Natural Selection.” This year we hope that all readers of this site will find ways to celebrate Darwin Day and honor the enormous contribution Darwin made to our knowledge of how the world actually works.
 
This upholding of the evolutionary understanding of the world and of the scientific method is especially important now as fundamentalist religious groups try to get Intelligent Design/Creationism into public school science curricula. In Texas, for example, there has been a long fought battle by right wing religious people on the State Board of Education to get textbooks to include Intelligent Design as an alternative theory to evolution or at least to include discussion of the supposed “weaknesses” of evolutionary theory.
 
However, the National Center for Science Education has reported that “in a close vote on January 23, 2009, the Texas State Board Of Education approved a revision of the state's science standards lacking the controversial "strengths and weaknesses" language, which in 2003 was selectively applied by members of the board attempting to dilute the treatment of evolution in the biology textbooks then under consideration.”
 
Nevertheless this in no way indicates that the religious creationists will not continue their fight against reason in Texas, and anti-evolution legislation is pending in both Iowa and New Mexico. Continued vigilance is certainly called for.
Here are two comedians who address the problem.
And here is a serious academic discussion of Intelligent Design/Creationism.
 

 

 
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“We now know that our own human evolution as well as the evolution of all living things can be explained by entirely natural processes and requires no supernatural explanations. But will our ability to increasingly understand life without god leave us feeling in some way adrift and empty? Why should it? We still can, and should, be duly amazed, sustained, and even humbled, by the recognition of the wonders of diversity and complexity that naturally evolving life can itself bring forth, and by both the limitations and ongoing potentials of our own humanity…. Far from being a recipe for a grey, cold and passionless outlook, a truly materialist scientific method, systematically applied to uncovering the actual genuine wonders of the natural and social world, can uncork the imagination, the sense of purpose and the transformative consciousness and initiative of human beings in ways no reference to a presumed higher power ever could. Isn’t that an outlook worth striving for?”

—Ardea Skybreak

The Science of Evolution and
the Myth of Creationism:
Knowing What’s Real and Why It Matters

FOLLOWING IS AN EDITED VERSION OF A PIECE WHICH APPEARED ON THIS SITE IN 2006, BUT IS STILL RELEVANT TODAY.
 
THOUGHTS UPON LEAVING THE DARWIN EXHIBITION
(at the Nile's Eldredge Darwin exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History)
. . . [T]he reason why Charles Darwin is a world historical figure is the fact that he not only developed the theory of natural selection but documented it in a way so thorough, so meticulous, so well-ordered and in such overwhelming detail that to read Origin of Species and come away still thinking that the earth is only 6000 years old would be a bit like spending the day at the Uffizi [Gallery in Florence, Italy] and denying that there had ever been a Renaissance. Indeed, Eldredge has created his own mini Darwin museum within the Museum of Natural History documenting Darwin's power to document, his passion for detail and his astonishing ability to gather evidence and generalize from what he's found. You come away in awe at Charles Darwin's powers of observation and almost conclude that you're in the presence of an intellect of an almost entirely different species from your own. Origin of Species, simply put, is the greatest piece of detective work in history.
. . .
The great cultural tradition embodied in Origin of Species, the repository of natural history built up by Darwin himself, the body of medical knowledge that depends on knowing how natural selection works for its very existence, the methods of observation, cataloguing, and the language he used have also been attacked before. We all remember the Scopes trial, the attempts to label biology texts, the silly 'Creation Science' debates from the 1980s, all of the previous attempts to blow Darwin's image from the face of the cliff that just bounced off the hard rock of scientific fact.
But now . . . Darwin's opponents are armed with the latest weapons, partly developed by the very scientific methods they reject. A refined version of 'Creation Science', 'Intelligent Design' has been developed as a way to make teaching the Bible in science classes look reasonable. The corporate media in its 'fair and balanced' way would rather assume that there are two sides to any 'debate' and talk to 'spokesmen' for both rather than take the time to do the research necessary to distinguish between fact and fiction. …
No, the Christian right isn't literally throwing books into bonfires (yet) or blowing up gigantic statues of Buddha (yet) [as the Taliban did in Afghanistan] but their attacks on the theory of evolution and on natural science can almost be looked at as a kind of 'virtual book burning'.
This is not an attack on religion. The Catholic Church, reactionary institution that it is, while promoting ideas that are impossible to explain using the scientific method, does not attack the scientific method. Rather, it claims that faith and science are two separate realities. Every mainline protestant church, as far as I know, accepts the theory of evolution and the scientific method, as do all but the most ultra orthodox sects of Judaism. Indeed, John Stevens Henslow, Darwin's mentor at Cambridge was an Anglican clergyman and Darwin himself at one time considered becoming a Church of England vicar.
. . . [The leaders of the religious right] are trying to radically remake the way we acquire and evaluate information. Instead of throwing copies of Origin of Species into a bonfire and burning down repositories of fossils and natural specimens, these Christian fascists are attempting to shout down spokesman for evolution through the media, use the democratic process to make natural science subject to the standards of a barroom shouting match, to transform reality by preemptively outlawing any way of approaching reality that doesn't match their own.
Indeed, to talk to any Christian fundamentalist about the theory of evolution is to realize that their project is basically a destructive one. Any inability of any individual to explain why natural section works the way it does, any flaw in Darwin's methodology, any new information not yet assimilated into an evolutionary frameworks means that the entire explanation for the beginnings of humanity defaults to the King James Bible. So they attack and they attack and they attack because the more of evolutionary theory and natural science they can discredit, the more credibility (in their eyes) the King James Bible ultimately has.
The real danger here is that, once they realize that they won't be able to shout down every spokesman for evolution or indeed to explain how very much about medical science works without the theory of natural selection, the Christian fundamentalists will start burning books, blowing up museums, and killing biologists. This is almost as inevitable as killing Catholic priests in Poland was for the Nazis, once they decided that they needed their land as lebensraum.
In this sense, Niles Eldredge and the American Museum of Natural History would qualify as 'conservative' in the classic sense of the word and Falwell, Perkins, and Robertson as 'radicals'. Evolutionary theory is not only an educated guess about reality. It's a body of work, a repository of knowledge, a living body of work, an intellectual tradition, a physical reality. By gathering up so much of this rich this tradition in one place Eldredge has made the case better than any talking head in a debate on Fox News, and, what's more, he's made it obvious what the stakes are, protecting civilization from barbarism.
 

 

Main Culture of Bigotry Defend Science, Evolution on Darwin Day: February 12

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