Science, Religion, Politics,
Law, and Education
by Tim Berra
Chapter 5 -- from the book Evolution and the Myth of Creationism
The evolution-creation debate is ostensibly about science, but that is simply what the fundamentalists want us to believe, for a great deal more is at stake, and they are well aware that creationism is not science. The goals of "creation science" have far more to do with religion, politics, law, and education. To whatever extent the scientific trappings of "creation science" are accorded credence, by the schools or by the courts, much will suffer: freedom of thought, an informed, open-minded American public, the vitality of science and technology, and the fate of our society in an increasingly competitive, increasingly educated world.
The Grim Realities of Science Education
How Bad, Really, Are Our Schools?
That Americans are generally poorly educated is not news, and our younger citizens, as a group, may have learned less than their parents or grandparents did. Our politicians routinely preach a commitment to education, but a look at some surveys demonstrates how hollow that commitment is. The National Geographic Society, in the summer of 1988, released a report on "the dismal state of Americans' knowledge about the globe." Young Americans, "like their predecessors, still lust after adventurous trips to exotic places, but now don't have a clue how to find them on a map." The survey compared U.S. geographic literacy with that of our neighbors Mexico and Canada and other industrialized countries (West Germany, Japan, France, Italy, Sweden, and the United Kingdom), on the basis of Gallup interviews "with representative samples of adults 18 and older -- 10,820 in all." Among Americans, 14 percent could not even pick out the United States on a map, "and among 18- to 24-year-olds, the Americans finished dead last" on a complete battery of questions.
This is a terrible indictment of American society, politics, and education, and we fare little better in our knowledge of science, biological or otherwise. A recent study conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Education Achievement compared students, 10-year-olds, 14-year-olds, and 17-year-olds, among various countries. American 17-year-olds ranked in the bottom 25 percent in biology, chemistry and physics, behind students from England, Hong Kong, Singapore, Hungary, Poland, and Japan, to name a few. Out of seventeen countries, American 14-year-olds ranked fourteenth in science and mathematics, and American 10-year-olds finished in the middle of the group. Results from different American schools varied widely. The American showing was in fact similar to that of developing countries that display sharp contrasts between elite schools and other schools. They concluded the summary with the understatement, "For a technologically advanced country, it would appear that a reexamination of how science is represented and studied is required."
In a survey of undergraduates in three states more than half said they were creationists and one-third or more believed in ghosts, communication with the dead, extraterrestrials, aliens, Big Foot, etc. The prevalence of such pseudoscientific beliefs is an indictment of current science-education practices, which seem less effective than education via supermarket tabloids. The survey also revealed that those who accepted creationism were less likely to read books and had lower grade-point averages than the noncreationists. What that may mean is not altogether clear, but at the least it suggests an anti-intellectual suspicion of knowledge on the part of those sympathetic to creationism.
Several opinion polls have revealed a public sympathy toward teaching creationism along with evolution at both the high school and the university level. Even university students fall prey to the equal-time argument, notwithstanding that the creationist interpretation of life is on a par with the idea of a flat Earth. In spite of a trend toward greater acceptance of evolutionary theory with increasing biological education, well over half the biology graduate students surveyed at The Ohio State University favored teaching creationism in public schools.
Another survey showed that only 12 percent of Ohio's high school biology teachers could select from five choices the phrase that best described the modern theory of evolution! This is pathetic testimony to both science education and teacher training. In an equally alarming survey of 730 Ohio school board presidents, bringing 336 responses, 53 percent felt that "creation science" should be favorably taught in public schools, and most of this group felt it should be presented in biology or science classes. Less than 2 percent of the school board presidents were able to correctly select the statement that best described the theory of evolution from a list of five choices. Nearly 50 percent said they would do nothing of they learned that "creation science" was favorably taught in science class in their district, and 57 percent indicated that school boards themselves should determine whether "creation science" or evolution should be included in science classes. The crisis in science education is certainly alive and well in Ohio.
So what became of the Columbus public schools' Biology Curriculum Guide that I mentioned in the preface? [Proposed in 1982, it was about 50 percent creationist. It misrepresented the Second Law of Thermodynamics, it distorted the fossil record, it claimed a young earth and worldwide flooding as scientific fact -- and it even quoted the National Enquirer as a scientific reference!] As a result of protests by scientists and concerned citizens, it was withdrawn, and in October 1984 the Columbus School Board removed the teaching of creationism from science classes. But when the Board's new outline appeared in March 1985, the word "evolution" was also removed from the list of topics to be covered in biology class. We were assured that evolution would continue to be taught in the genetics unit of biology classes, but that it was prudent to avoid the "E" word. That the central unifying theory of a major discipline, accepted almost without exception in the rest of the educated world, must be smuggled in the back door of the classroom, for fear of offending the fundamentalists and creationists, is an incredible commentary on the state of public education in the United States.
Following a speech to a fundamentalist coalition in Dallas in 1980, then Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan held a press conference at which he was asked if he thought the theory of evolution should be taught public schools. He replied, "Well, it's a theory, it is a scientific theory only, and it has in recent years been challenged in the world of science and is not yet believed in the scientific community to be as infallible as it once was believed. But if it was going to be taught in the schools, then I think that also the biblical theory of creation, which is not a theory, but the biblical story of creation, should also be taught" (Science, 1980, 209: 1214). One must wonder where the President got his scientific advice. Here is ignorance (and pragmatic politics) celebrated at the highest level through an anti-intellectual appeal to a voting constituency.
In just such ways, a great deal of misinformation has been propagated in the public media about the evolution/creation controversy. For this the scientific community must accept some blame. We have done a very poor job of explaining our work to the public, to the press, and even to biology students, as the dismaying recent surveys have shown. Scientists are usually deeply involved in research, and do not feel moved to spend time popularizing their work. Some scientists cherish the isolation of their ivory towers, and it is in any case difficult and time-consuming to explain elaborate technical theories in a way easily understood by the public. By failing to explain our research, however, we invite its misrepresentation at the hands of unqualified spokespersons.
Evolution vs. Religion
What Do the Creationists Hope to Achieve?
Science and religion are concerned with totally different spheres of human activity, and for the great majority of people -- believers and nonbelievers alike -- there is no conflict between them. In an encyclical in 1950 entitled Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII stated the Catholic position on evolution: a Catholic is free to accept any scientific theory about human origins provided it is acknowledged that, at some stage, God infused an immortal soul into the human body. To believe this requires an act of faith, but not a denial of science, because science has nothing to say about gods and souls. Pope John Paul II, speaking to an audience of scientists and theologians in April, 1985, echoed this position and urged continued scientific study, which he termed "serious and urgent."
Many evolutionary biologists are Catholic priests or nuns. Others are members of many of the world's other religions. They see evolution as God's plan, not as a denial of their belief in God, a view called theistic evolution. Most of the mainstream Protestant denominations such as Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Methodists have also accommodated evolutionary theory. That they have done so without compromise to basic beliefs or principles is reflected in the fact that the biology departments of the universities operated by these religions teach the same evolutionary theory as the major universities. In liberal theological circles it has become a cliché to state that, "The Bible was written to show how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go."
This rather comforting view of theistic evolution has been disparaged by a Cornell University professor of the history of biology, William B. Provine, who claims that theistic evolution is no different from the Deism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. But this is the playground of the philosophers, and I shall leave it to them.
The only Christian religious groups that have problems with evolution are the Protestant fundamentalists, who insist on a literal interpretation of the Bible, much as Moslem fundamentalists insist on a literal interpretation of the Koran. Like Provine, Protestant fundamentalists reject theistic evolution, but for different reasons than Provine. It is the fundamentalists who are trying to infuse their brand of religion, taught as science, into the public school classrooms. Having failed to have evolutionary theory banned from the classrooms, fundamentalists have adopted a new strategy: the promotion of a patchwork enterprise they call "creation science." Their goal is to have the biblical version of creation taught alongside evolution. To disguise the essentially religious nature of creationism, they have dressed it up in scientific terminology. Since they have no persuasive arguments of their own, or even intuitively satisfying suggestions, their plan is to attack selected particulars of science and pretend to a science of their own.
A principal advocate of "scientific creationism" is a group of fundamentalists called the Creation Research Society (CRS). To be a member of CRS one must have an advanced degree in some field of science and sign a statement of faith. The statement begins: "1. The Bible is the written Word of God, and we believe it to be inspired throughout, all of its assertions are historically and scientifically true in all the original autographs. To the students of nature, this means that the accounts of origins in Genesis is a factual presentation of simple historical truths." The statement concludes with other points involving God's direct creation of the Earth and all things in six days, Noah's flood, Adam and Eve, sin, and salvation through Christ.
The membership of CRS consists mostly of engineers, chemists, aerospace workers, technicians, computer specialists, and such. Few legitimate biologists, geologists, or anthropologists are willing to sign such a statement, and a degree in engineering, chemistry, or computer science scarcely qualifies a CRS member to speak with knowledge and authority about biology, geology, astronomy, or anthropology. The aim of the CRS is nonetheless to force scientific evidence into compliance with a literal interpretation of the Bible. The arguments of these fundamentalist missionaries often involve tortured logic, a stubborn denial of evidence, a shallow understanding, or a reckless disregard for the truth. Some of their favorite arguments and a brief scientific refutation of each are set out below. It can be seen that the creationists' arguments are not only anti-biology but also anti-physics, anti-astronomy, and anti-geology. In short, they reject all scientific knowledge that does not fit their view of the world. They do not question the methods or philosophy that yield, say, the science of flight, for who could doubt that airplanes fly? But when the same methods or philosophy are put to the study of life and human origins -- a subject the Bible does address -- they question the integrity of science. The creationists fight a desperate, rear-guard action, seeking to increase their numbers while refusing to accept the obvious.
Some Creationist Claims
Do They Raise Any Legitimate Doubts?
1. Evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics. Entropy (disorder) is always increasing. Since order does not arise out of chaos, evolution is therefore false.
These statements conveniently ignore the fact that you can get order out of disorder if you add energy. For example, an unassembled bicycle that arrives at your house in a shipping carton is in a state of disorder. You supply the energy of your muscles (which you get from food that came ultimately from sunlight) to assemble the bike. You have got order from disorder by supplying energy. The Sun is the source of energy input to the Earth's living systems and allows them to evolve. The engineers in the CRS know this, but they permit this specious reasoning to be published in their pamphlets. Just as the more structured oak tree is derived from the less complex acorn by addition of energy captured by the growing tree from the Sun, so sunlight, via photosynthesis, provides the energy input that propels evolution. In the sense that the Sun is losing more energy than the Earth is gaining, entropy is increasing. After death, decay sets in, and energy utilization is no longer possible. That is when entropy gets you. What does represent an increase in entropy, as biologists have pointed out, is the diversity of species produced by evolution.
2. The small amount of helium in the atmosphere proves that the Earth is young. If the Earth were as old as geologists say, there would be much more helium, because it is a product of uranium decay.
Helium, used to suspend blimps in the air, is a very light gas and simply escapes into space; like hydrogen, it cannot accumulate in Earth's atmosphere to any great extent.
3. The rate of decay of Earth's magnetism leads to the calculation that Earth was created about 10,000 years ago.
The Earth's magnetic field does indeed decay, but it does so cyclically, every few thousand years, and it is constantly being renewed by the motion of the liquid core of the Earth. The "fossil magnetism" recorded in ancient rocks clearly demonstrates that polar reversals (shifts in the direction of Earth's magnetic field) have occurred both repeatedly and irregularly throughout Earth's history; the calendar of these reversals was established over two decades ago, and quickly became the linchpin in the emerging theory of plate tectonics and continental drift.
4. If evolution were true, there would be transitional fossils, but there are none; therefore, evolution did not occur.
There are many transitional fossils, including the ape-human transitional form, Australopithecus. Eusthenopteron shows marvelous intermediate characteristics between the lobe-finned fishes and the amphibians. The transitional fossils between amphibians are so various and so intermediate that it is difficult to define where one group ends and the other begins. Archaeopteryx is clearly intermediate between reptiles and birds. In spite of such reptilian affinities as a long bony tail, toothed jaws, and clawed wings, creationists declare that because Archaeopteryx had feathers, it was a bird, not a transitional stage between reptiles and birds. Having no explanations of thier own, the creationists attempt to deny the transitional fossils out of existence.
5. Fossils seem to appear out of nowhere at the base of the Cambrian; therefore, they had to have been created.
The earliest microfossils date back, in fact, to the Precambrian, about 3.5 billion years ago. A variety of multicellular life appears in the fossil record about 670 million years ago, which is 80 million years before the Cambrian. The Cambrian does seem to explode with fossils, but that is simply because the first shelled organisms, such as the brachiopods and the trilobites, date from the Cambrian; their resistant shells fossilize far more readily than their soft-bodied ancestors of the Precambrian. What is more, Precambrian rocks are so old that they have been subjected to a great deal of deformation. We are thus fortunate to have any Precambrian fossils of soft-bodied animals. Still more fossils are discovered every year, and each one further weakens the creationist position.
6. All fossils were deposited at the time of the Noachian flood.
There is not one shred of evidence in the geological record to support the claim of a single, worldwide flood. Geological formations such as mountain ranges and the Grand Canyon require millions of years to form, and the fossil record extends over several billion years. The time required for continents to have drifted into their present positions is immense. These things cannot be accounted for by a single flood lasting a few days or years.
7. There are places where advanced fossils lie beneath more primitive fossils.
Earth movements such as faulting and thrusting produce these discontinuities; the older rock has simply been pushed over on top of the younger rocks, as we sometimes see even along highway cuts. These places are easily recognized and explained by geologists. They cannot be explained by the creationists' belief that all fossils are the result of the Noachian flood. Thus the creationists' attempt to fault evolutionary theory by these means ends up demolishing one of their own pet claims.
8. The chances of the proper molecules randomly assembling into a living cell are impossibly small.
Simulation experiments have repeatedly shown that amino acids do not assemble randomly. Their molecular structure causes them to be self-ordering, which enhances the chances of forming long chains of molecules. Simulation experiments also demonstrate that the formation of prebiotic macromolecules is both easy and likely and does not require DNA, which is a later step in the evolution of proteins. The stepwise application of cumulative natural selection acting over long periods of time can make the improbable very likely.
9. Dinosaur and human footprints have been found together in Cretaceous limestone at Glen Rose, Texas. Therefore, dinosaurs could not have preceded humans by millions of years.
This Fred Flintstone version of pre-history is one of the most preposterous and devious claims the fundamentalists make, and they have made it in books and films. The "man-tracks" seen by creationists stem from two sources. One is wishful imagination, whereby water-worn scour marks and eroded dinosaur tracks are perceived as human footprints. The other is deliberate fraud. Creationist hoaxers obscure the foot pads of the dinosaur tracks with sand and photograph what remains, the dinosaur's toe impressions. When reversed, the tip of the dinosaur toe or claw becomes the heel of a "human" print. These prints are shown in poor-quality photographs in creationist literature and films. Because the stride length (7 feet) and foot length (3 feet) exceeded any possible human scale, the fundamentalists call these the giants mentioned in Genesis. In addition to the doctored tracks, there are other hoaxed prints circulating in this area of Texas. In fact, carved footprints were offered for sale to tourists in curio shops during the Great Depression. These caught the eye of the paleontologist Ronald T. Bird, who recognized them as fakes, but they eventually led him to the legitimate dinosaur footprints at Glen Rose. This area has since been extensively studied by paleontologists, and numerous species of reptiles and amphibians have been catalogued. No genuine human tracks exist there.
10. Biologists have never seen a species evolve.
On a small scale, we certainly have. Using allopolyploidy and artificial selection, scientists have manufactured crop plants and horticultural novelties that are reproductively isolated from the parental stock. In addition, one can see stages of incipient speciation in nature by looking at clinical variations and subspecies, that is, gradual change in the characteristics of a population across its geographical range. Major evolutionary changes, however, usually involve vastly greater time periods; we cannot watch such changes, but we can deduce them by inference from living and fossil organisms.
11. Evolution, too, is a religion, and requires faith.
Creationists are beginning to admit that their "science" is not science at all, and that it depends on faith, but, they are quick to add, so does evolution. Not so. Biologists do not have to believe that there are transitional fossils; we can examine them in hundreds of museums around the world, and we make new discoveries in the rocks all the time. Scientists do not have to believe that the solar system is 4.5 billion years old; we can test the age of the Earth, Moon, and meteoric rocks very accurately. We do not have to believe that protocells can be easily created from simple chemicals in the laboratory; we can repeat the experiments with comparable results. We can also create artificial species of plants and animals by applying selection, and we can observe natural speciation in action. That is the big difference between science and religion. Science exists because of the evidence, whereas religion exists upon faith -- and, in the case of religious fundamentalism and creationism, in spite of the evidence.
12. The number of humans today would be much greater if we have been around as long as evolutionists say we have.
This notion makes very naive assumptions about birth and death rates, and the fecundity of early humans, and assumes that populations are always growing, when in fact most animal populations are at a level somewhat lower than the carrying capacity of their environment. Such stable populations remain stable for long periods of time, held in check by environmental constraints. It is only our own species' recently acquired ability to modify our environment that allowed our numbers to get dangerously out of control. Ironically, it is our ability to master the environment -- as the Bible commands us to do -- that may yet do us in.
13. The current rate of shrinkage of the Sun proves that the Earth could not be as old as geologists say, because the surface of the Sun would have been near the Earth's orbit a few million years ago.
This simplistic view neglects the fact that stars, such as our Sun, have life cycles during which events occur at different rates. The characteristics of a newly formed star are quite different from those of stars near death. Astronomers can see these differences today by observing young, middle-aged, and old stars. By now, we know that it has not been shrinking at a constant rate.
14. A living freshwater mussel was determined by Carbon 14 dating to be over 2,000 years old; therefore, Carbon 14 dating is worthless.
When used properly, Carbon 14 is a very accurate time-measuring technique. The mussel in this example is an inappropriate case for 14C dating because the animal had acquired much of its carbon from the limestone of the surrounding water and sediment. These sources are very low in 14C, owing to their age and lack of mixing with fresh carbon from the atmosphere. Therefore a newly killed mussel in these circumstances has less 14C than, say, a newly cut tree branch. The reduced level of 14C yields an artificially older date. The 14C technique has no such problems with the tree branch that gets its carbon from the air, or with the campfire sites of ancient peoples. As with arcwelding or Cajun cooking, one must understand the technique to use it properly. This is another example of the self-correcting nature of science.
15. The influx of meteoric dust from space to earth is about 14 million tons per year. If the Earth and Moon were 4.5 billion years old, then there should be a layer of dust 50 to 100 feet thick covering their surfaces.
This estimate of dust influx is simply out of date. Space probes have found that the level of dust influx from space is about 400 times less than that. Creationists are aware of the modern measurements, but they continue to use the incorrect figure because it suits their purpose. Such is thier honesty and scholarship. Do you think the astronauts would have been allowed to land on the Moon if NASA thought they would sink into 100 feet of dust?
16. Prominent biologists have made statements disputing evolution.
The out-of-context quote is one of the most insidious weapons in the creationists' arsenal, and reflects the desperation of their position. Biologists do not deny the fact of evolution. We do, however, debate its mechanisms and tempo. The debate reflects the vigorous growth of a major scientific concept; it is what goes on routinely in all healthy, growing branches of scholarship. Creationists dishonestly portray this as a weakness in the theory of evolution.
The Scopes Trial
Why Did this Modest Case Shake the Country?
The history of creationism in America has been reviewed by R. L. Numbers. He traced its origins from the early twentieth century fundamentalist roots through the Scopes trial to the foundation of the Creation Research Society (CRS) and its current incarnation as the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). [The following account of the Scopes trial has been gleaned in part from Darwinism Defended by M. Ruse.]
In the South, following the Civil War, several movements were formed to stem the influence of Bible-threatening science in schools. Following World War I, conservative Christians, spurred on by their success in establishing Prohibition, turned their attention to what was being taught in science classes. Several states passed anti-evolution laws, owing to pressure from groups called "fundamentalists" (because they adhered to Bible-affirming fundamental principles expounded at the 1895 Niagra Bible Conference).
Tennessee enacted legislation that prohibited the teaching of evolution in public schools. A young biology teacher in the Dayton, Tennessee, High School, John T. Scopes, with support from the American Civil Liberties Union, allowed himself to be prosecuted under the anti-evolution law in 1925. Scopes was defended by the brilliant lawyer Clarence Darrow and prosecuted by three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, himself a fundamentalist and a great orator. The judge ruled that expert scientific witnesses for the defense would not be allowed, which left Darrow to fend for himself. The court took on a circus atmosphere when Darrow cross-examined Bryan on the literal truth of Genesis, and Bryan eventually conceded that the world was far more than 6,000 years old. The stress of the trial undoubtedly contributed to Bryan's death a few days after the trial.
Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution in violation of Tennessee law (which, of course, he did do) and was assessed the minimum $100 fine. The verdict was overturned on appeal, due to a technicality, but in spite of the guilty verdict, the evolutionists were perceived as having won a major moral victory. Tennessee was held up for ridicule to the entire nation, owing in large part to the caustic newspaper reporting of H. L. Mencken. The affair caused other states to quietly shelve or dismiss proposed "monkey laws." In 1968, in Epperson v. Arkansas, the Tennessee law and similar laws in Mississippi and Arkansas were declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
An eyewitness account of the Scopes trial by a deeply religious and much respected geologist, Kirtley F. Mather, was republished by the Journal of the Tennessee Academy of Science in 1982. The Scopes trial was recreated in the 1960 film Inherit the Wind, directed by Stanley Kramer and based on the play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee. The movie stars Spencer Tracy as Darrow, Frederic March as Bryan, and Gene Kelly as Mencken. It is a powerful film classic worthy of a second look, and in fact a new production, starring Jason Robards as Darrow, Kirk Douglas as Bryan, and Darren McGavin as Mencken appeared on TV in 1988.
After the Scopes trial, creationists channeled their energies inward, organized various creation research groups, and reemerged in their current guise as "scientific creationists" demanding equal time with evolution, rather than the omission of evolution from the curriculum of public schools. This tactic led ultimately to the Arkansas trial.
The Arkansas Balanced Treatment Act
What Do the Creationists Say in Court?
The 1981 trial of Arkansas Act 590, the "Balanced Treatment Act," which required "creation science" to be taught in public schools along with evolution, provided an opportunity to see creationists' scholarship and thier case at their best. [The following summary is based on the report by Roger Lewin in Science, 1982, 215: 142-46.] A witness for the fundamentalists, Norman Geisler, of the Dallas Theological Seminary, testified that "it is possible to believe that God exists without necessarily believing in God." He also declared that UFO's were agents of Satan. Another fundamentalist witness, Henry Voss, a California computer expert, was withdrawn by the creationists after he expounded upon demons at a pretrial deposition.
Many of the "creation scientists" admitted in pretrial depositions that what they practice is not scientific. Harold Coffin, of Loma Linda University (a Seventh-Day Adventist college), stated, "No, creation science is not testable scientifically." Ariel Roth, also of Loma Linda, when asked if "creation science" was really science, said, "If you want to define 'science' as testable, predictable, I would say no." (That a proposition be testable or predictable is the definition of science.) Remember, these are people who support the fundamentalist position; they were handpicked by the creationists to defend that position; but they cannot bring themselves, in a court of law, to claim that "creation science" is really science. Their honesty is refreshing.
Roth, not a member of CRS, was presented as an expert on coral reefs whose thesis is that corals grow very rapidly and do not need millions of years to form massive reefs. He testified for 70 minutes, but the cross-examination was brief. Q: "What is the last sentence of your article on the growth of coral reefs?" A: "...this does not establish rapid growth of coral development." Q: "Is there any evidence that coral reefs were created in recent times?" A: "No." Q: "No further questions."
Coffin testified to the usual creationists' position of sudden appearances of complex organisms in the Cambrian, the absence of transitional fossils, etc. The cross-examination pointed to his scientific credibility. Q: "You have had only two articles in standard scientific journals since getting your Ph.D. in 1955, haven't you?" A: "That's correct." Q: "The Burgess shale (a geological formation in the Canadian Rockies with exceptionally well preserved marine fossils) is said to be 500 million years old, but you think it is only 5,000 years old, don't you?" A: "Yes." Q: "You say that because of information from the scriptures, don't you?" A: "Correct." Q: "If you didn't have the Bible, you could believe the age of the Earth to be many millions of years, couldn't you?" A: "Yes, without the Bible."
Five of the witnesses called by the defense were members of the Creation Research Society (CRS), and thus had signed the statement affirming their belief in a literal interpretation of the Bible. Wayne Friar, a zoologist from King's College (a small Christian school in Now York State), devoted most of his testimony to reading from outdated books on evolution published in 1929, 1930, and 1953, to demonstrate that the authors had misgivings about evolution. Upon cross-examination, Friar said he had signed the CRS statement of faith and a similar one as a condition of employment at King's College. He also admitted that a great deal has happened in the science of biology since 1929. Friar was willing to concede that a limited amount of evolutionary change is possible "within kinds." He could not adequately define "kinds," a term that appears in Genesis but not in scientific writing. Fundamentalists use the word "kinds" for every taxonomic category from species, genus, and family to order. He was asked, Q: "You believe the choice between evolution and creation is a matter of faith, don't you?" A: "Basically, yes."
Margaret Helder, a botanist and vice president of the CRS, was shown to have published only one paper in non-creationist literature since 1971, and she stated in her deposition that there is no scientific evidence for special creation.
Donald Chittick, a physical chemist and member of the CRS, testified about geological evidence for Noah's flood, rapidly formed coal, and the invalidity of radiometric dating. He asserted the helium argument mentioned above. The cross-examination, which showed him to believe that the world was created in six natural days, hit directly at Chittick's lack of credentials. Q: "You have had no formal course in radiometric dating for 20 years, have you?" A: "Not since then." Q: "You have had only one article in a refereed journal since 1960, isn't that correct?" A: "Correct." (Lest the reader question this attention to numbers of published articles, it should be pointed out that working scientists, those who truly advance human knowledge, usually publish dozens of papers in comparable spans of years.)
There were two other witnesses for Act 590; both left the by-now familiar impression that the scientific evidence for creation is nonexistent. One of them, Chandra Wickramasinghe, a mathematician and an associate of Fred Hoyle in the Archaeopteryx fiasco [wherein they claimed that the feathers on this transitional fossil were faked], stated that no rational scientist could believe the Earth is less than one million years old, or that the world's geology could be explained by a worldwide flood.
The late Federal District Judge William Overton, of Little Rock, had no choice but to rule that Arkansas' Balanced Treatment Act was unconstitutional. His ruling stated that the act "was simply and purely an effort to introduce the biblical version of creation into the public school curricula." As such, it violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
The Louisiana Creationism Act
Why Do We Separate Church and State?
A similar law in Louisiana, the Creationism Act of 1981, was struck down on January 10, 1985, when Federal Judge Adrian Duplantier of New Orleans ruled that the law was unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds "because it promotes the beliefs of some theistic sects to the detriment of others." The law had required that creationism be taught when evolution is taught in public schools (because of all the legal challenges, the law had never been implemented).
On July 8, 1985, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Duplantier's ruling, and in December the same court refused to reexamine the decision. This case, known as Edwards v. Aguilard, was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Seventy-two Nobel laureates and 24 scientific organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief against the law.
On June 19, 1987, the Supreme Court, by a vote of 7 to 2, struck down Louisiana's Creationism Act. Justice William J. Brennan, writing for the court, said that the purpose of the Louisiana law "was to restructure the science curriculum to conform with a particular religious viewpoint." He added, "Because the primary purpose of the Creationism Act is to advance a particular religious belief, the act endorses religion in violation of the First Amendment." He further noted, "Forbidding the teaching of evolution when creation science is not also taught undermines the provision of a comprehensive scientific education."
The two recent Reagan appointees to the court, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Antonin Scalia, dissented. Scalia wrote the minority opinion and conceded that the law would be unconstitutional if there were truly nothing scientific to be taught under the rubric of "creation science." He felt, however, that "creation science" is a body of scientific knowledge.
Students and the public in general need to understand the difference between ideas based on religious beliefs and scientific theories based on evidence and reasoning. The appeal of creationism to a large portion of the population, and the fact that people such as Justice Scalia would give any validity at all to creationism, indicate how poorly the public understands science. The success of the creationists in building such extensive support is also a direct reflection of the failure of educators to make the facts known.
Put more emphatically, we educators and biologists cannot in good conscience gloat over the Supreme Court's decision; except for our failure, how could such an unworthy challenge ever have attained the status and celebrity of a serious court case? Imagine physicists dancing in the streets because a court decided to allow them to teach the theory of relativity, or geographers spiking the globe in the end zone after defeating the flat-earthers in court. If any of us has still not understood the gravity of the situation, we have only to realize that nonsense, in 1987, commanded enough influence to force a Supreme Court decision. And the decision was not even unanimous.
The Inevitable Triumph of Knowledge
Where Will It End?
In a scientific context, legitimate scientists do not take the creationists or their claims seriously. Creationists have no data of their own to prove their assertions. In matters relevant to the origin and nature of life on Earth, they pursue no pertinent research worthy of the name. They studiously overlook the more telling modern scientific literature, except to extract out-of-context quotes. Their scholarly publication record is nonexistent. With all their talk about "scientific creationism," the creationists have produced no documentation in the scientific literature. No empirical, experimental, or theoretical evidence for "scientific creation" has been published in peer-reviewed science journals, the traditional method whereby scientists communicate the results of their research.
E. C. Scott and H. P. Cole surveyed 68 likely journals for creationist manuscripts. Out of 135,000 submissions from 1980 to 1983, only 18 (0.01 percent) dealt with scientific support for creationism. Of these 18 articles, 12 were submitted to one science education journal (not the appropriate place for genuinely new findings). Fifteen of the manuscripts were rejected on grounds of poor scholarship. Three were still under review during the survey. (Dr. Scott has informed me that the remaining three manuscripts were subsequently rejected.)
Obviously there is no such thing as "scientific creationism" in the professional literature of science. It exists only in the house publications of creationist organizations, and what appears in such places is empty evidence, intellectual reasoning, or persuasive argument. Since the survey was of submissions, not of acceptances, creationists cannot claim that science journals are biased against them. It is clear that the creationists have nothing of scientific value to submit. The entire case of the creationists thus consists of trying to disprove evolution. Their attacks against evolution are somehow supposed to prove creationism. Beginning philosophy students should immediately recognize this exercise in anti-logic.
In a political sense, however, one must take the creationists very seriously. They are concerned with achieving their goal (presenting fundamentalist beliefs in science classrooms), not with truth. They know the value of publicity, the unconscious appeal of the notion that where there is smoke (a public trial) there must be fire (a valid position) -- for bad publicity is better than no publicity. Having failed to legislate their beliefs in the Arkansas and Louisiana cases, fundamentalists have turned their attention to local school boards and textbook selection committees in an effort to get their version of religion taught as science. Creationists will attempt to prevail by intimidating local board members, teachers, and textbook publishers into watering down science content. Parents who want to be sure their children are receiving a proper science education should take the time to find out what is being taught in their school system.
The proper place for the study of religious beliefs is in a church or temple, at home, or in a course on comparative religions, but not in a biology class. There is no place in our world for an ideology that seeks to close minds, force obedience, and return the world to a paradise that never was. It is unfair to the students, their teachers and the nation as a whole for the students to be taught beliefs and misinformation instead of factual, testable theories in science class. Students should learn that the universe can be confronted and understood, that ideas and authority should be questioned, that an open mind is a good thing. Education does not exist to confirm peoples' superstitions, and children do not learn to think when they are fed only dogma.
There is no law that mandates the teaching of evolution, and there should not be, yet it is practically universally taught in universities and colleges around the world. The theory of evolution is what is taught because it is what best explains the data in a rational manner. The National Academy of Science, The American Association for the Advancement of Science, The National Association of Biology Teachers, and 72 Nobel Prize winners have all gone on record as supporting evolution and rejecting the teaching of creationism in science classes.
Biologists do not derive any special benefits from espousing evolution, and they do not set out to undermine anyone's faith in a supreme being. They are simply seeking to understand how the universe operates. Science is highly competitive; and because its theories are by definition open to challenge, science is also self-correcting. Any biologist who could disprove the theory of evolution would instantly become famous, possibly a Nobel laureate, and probably very wealthy. The fact that biology has been so spectacularly successful in describing and explaining the structure, processes, and diversity of the living world points to the validity of its theories. For example, such new techniques as tissue typing for organ transplants, the cloning of commercially valuable organisms, and genetic engineering whereby a gene for a human product such as insulin in inserted into bacteria are direct descendants of evolutionary theory. The increase in production from livestock and crops is based upon principles of selection. The kinship of humans and other animals is inferred from the fact that the drugs are routinely tested in our mammalian relations before use on us. The rise of organisms resistant to pesticides is an example of evolution in action.
Evolution makes sense to the commonplace observation that organisms appear to be related, the more primitive groups show up in the fossil record before the more derived ones, that transitional fossils are difficult to classify, that mammalian embryos, including our own children, pass through a stage when they are equipped with the pharyngeal gill pouches of the lower vertebrates, that the limbs of all four-footed animals are built on the same plan, that vestigial organs exist in many animals including humans, that many essential biochemical pathways are common to all life, the essential unity of which is evident from the near-universal presence of DNA as the genetic coding molecule. The explanatory power of the theory of evolution led geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky to remark, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution."
We do not know all there is to know about evolution. A great deal more remains to be learned, but as more data are added, the theory itself evolves. The theory of evolution does not need the approval of the fundamentalists, and no scientific theory is validated by ratification. Truth does not give way for legislation or flights of fancy. The evidence is out there in the world of nature for all who are not blinded by religious preconceptions. Biologists, whose job it is to study life, have no doubt that evolution has occurred and is occurring, for evolution is a scientific theory that explains the facts.
But in another sense, evolution is itself a fact. Facts are individual data points -- real things, real events in the real world. The facts of evolution described in this book exist regardless of the theoretical mechanisms we construct to explain them. The evidence is too vast and too varied to deny. How evolution occurs, via natural selection and the other processes mentioned in this book, is theoretical.
Creationists have deified their interpretation of a book, and they expect all to worship at their alter. They would have us substitute blind faith for reason. Because they insist on a literal interpretation of that book (most Christians and Jews do not), they are forced to discard all of modern biology and a good deal of physics and astronomy. Creationists insist on a young Earth, but if there is anything science knows, it is the great antiquity of the Earth and the solar system. This has been verified by at least five independent radioisotope clocks. In thousands of tests, rocks dated by three or more independent clocks yielded ages in good agreement. These dating procedures are based on the same theories as are nuclear reactors and bombs. There is no doubt that the reactors react and the bombs explode. The data from astrophysics establish distances and time scales consistent with the data from evolving stars. Light traveling at 186,000 miles per second takes 100,000 years simply to cross our own galaxy. The decomposition of organic matter to petroleum in known to require millions of years. The movement of continental plates, which results in the formation of oceans and mountains, requires millions of years. Life has been evolving for billions of years.
In light of the track record of scientific accomplishments, it is astonishing that the fundamentalists would assume that the world's biologists, geologists, physicists, and astronomers are all wrong. They must think a devious creator is playing games with us by providing sequential and transitional fossils in rocks that can be dated. They must think that God is testing us by making it only appear that the older rocks are at the bottom and younger rocks are at the top of a stratigraphic column. If the Earth is only a few thousand years old, a devious god must have created the light that is already on its way to Earth from sources millions of light-years away. And as J. B. S. Haldane pointed out, God must have an inordinate fondness for beetles to have created over 250,000 different species.
Why would a creator make 2,000 species of fruit flies and put one-fourth of them only in the Hawaiian Islands? Were Adam and Eve created with all of man's parasites, including syphilis, herpes, and AIDS, already in place? Surely these things are much more rationally explained by evolution. Creationism has no explanatory powers, no application for future investigation, no way to advance knowledge, no way to lead to new discoveries. As far as science is concerned, creationism is a sterile concept.
The reason fundamentalists have such a deep hatred and fear of evolution is twofold. First, they mistakenly assume that science is inherently antireligious, that it is out to undermine their religious beliefs. Science is not attempting any such thing. It is saying that such religious beliefs cannot be considered as science, and that, when religious beliefs conflict with what science knows, it is not rational to assume that the science is wrong. Insisting on a literal interpretation of the Bible is a decision fundamentalists have made, not one that was thrust upon them, and a literal interpretation is one that most Christian and Jewish sects happily do without. (In recent times, Christian fundamentalism has been a particularly American movement; nowhere in Western Europe, in fact, has creationism been an issue.)
Second, most fundamentalists identify with an ultraconservative political movement. They long for the return of a more moral America, an America that may never have been. All around them they see what they perceive as declining morality and spirituality, as evidenced by pornography, crime, drug abuse, abortion, feminism, Atheism, liberalism, and all sorts of other threatening isms. They reason that if humans share ancestry with the other animals, we have no reason to behave as anything other than animals. This view neglects the fact that humans are the only known animals with the ability to contemplate the consequences of their own actions. It also fails to recognize that there is a great deal of good in the world, the nightly news notwithstanding. Crime existed long before the Bible, and biologists do not like crime any more than the creationists do. Evolutionary theory is not a license to run amok, and neither is the literal interpretation of the Bible a guarantor of moral behavior.
How will all of this end? I suspect there will be an evolutionary ending. As future generations acquire more knowledge through education, simplistic answers based on belief will become increasingly unsatisfying. Those religions that cannot reconcile their beliefs with advancing scientific knowledge and common sense will lose followers to the more flexible, less dogmatic religions. Religions, after all, are themselves subject to evolution. The religions that are unable to adapt will leave no offspring, so to speak, and eventually will become extinct.
History offers us a glimpse of this process in action. In 1543 Copernicus argued that the Earth and planets revolve around the Sun. To the Catholic Church, which for centuries had insisted that the Earth was the center of everything, this was a great shock and a blasphemy. Copernicus's disciple, Bruno, was burned alive at the stake in 1600 for this and other heresies, just 20 years before the first settlers -- leaving Europe to escape religious persecution and dogma -- arrived in Massachusetts. Galileo (1564-1642) spent the last eight years of his life under house arrest for his support of the Copernican system. But today I know of no religion that teaches that the Earth is the center of the solar system, or that it is flat, although there are geocentrists and flat-earthers who claim that their positions are supported by a literal interpretation of the Bible.
In 1859 Darwin completed the Copernican revolution by removing humans from center stage. By 1900, most of the scientific world was convinced of the validity of the theory of evolution. It is just a matter of time before this fruitful concept comes to be accepted by the public as wholeheartedly as it has accepted the spherical Earth and the Sun-centered solar system.