Creation or Evolution?

By Murray Bourne, 20 Dec 2005

National Geographic is currently running a series on evolution, sponsored by IBM. The series is called "The Genographic Project". Part of IBM's input is to provide access to their vast computing resources for unlocking DNA information. The project is tracking DNA markers in peoples across the world and they have determined that humans arose in eastern Africa and spread around the world in the last 60,000 years or so.


The Monkey Trial and more Today's episode tackled the Creation/Evolution debate in the US. Ever since the Scopes trial in 1925 (where a science teacher was charged with violating a law that prohibited the teaching of evolution), the US has agonised over whether evolution should be taught together with creationism, kept separate from it, or not taught at all. The "dark ages" of the first half of the 20th century, when many states had anti-evolution laws, were shaken in the 1950s when the Soviets began leading the space race. Suddenly the Americans felt they needed some science and so evolution made a comeback.

Now that the right-wing Christians have got their man in power (Dubya), it's all on again. We have the Dover Area School District (in Pennsylvania) requiring students to hear a statement about Intelligent Design (creation) before each evolution class.

We have Jackson High School striking down a petition from students demanding that they be taught "Special Creation" alongside evolution. And note the cleverness of this - Special Creation attempts to be "scientific" so that it will be acceptable in a science class and note that they are careful to point out they are happy to see evolution taught as well. This is clever because this seems to be the latest tactic of the creationists - claim scientific legitimacy so that their vierw can be taught alongside real science.

No conflict? In many ways the programme paralleled my own experience, having been involved in churches in my teenage years. At that time, I had science teachers who were Christian, and they felt no conflict between their beliefs and what they taught - in fact, evolution gave strength to creation, and vice-versa. What surprised me in this National Geographic show, was the number of students who had deep conflict, since they had been taught since young that creation was the only true belief and evolution was of the devil. They found it very exciting when some speaker said he is a Christian evolutionary scientist and that he sees no conflict between the two. This was an extraordinary revelation for many of these bright, but very confused teenagers.

Original Sin According to the creationists, Adam had to be a specific person, otherwise, where did original sin come from? You only have to look at our closest relatives, the chimpanzees to answer that. They are violent. They will ostracise those that do not conform. The alpha male will attack and kill other males that get in the way of his sexual dominance. They have many odd sexual practices that I would prefer not to go into here, but rape is one of them. They will claim territory by violence. Sounds a lot like human failings?

What to do? It seems simple to me. Teach science as science. That is, science is a work in progress where ideas need to be presented with evidence, it needs to be replicable and it needs peer review. Teach the evidence behind evolution and let the students decide for themselves. Keep religion out of the argument (Hey Dubya and friends, remember the First Amendment, separating Church from State...?).

In fact, in religion classes, they should teach the way the Bible was put together, from many different sources over many years and many translations. This would at least give everyone a clearer concept of where their faith comes from. (The course could be called "The Evolution of the Bible". Now that's an interesting thought...) Also, teach about other religions, so that you understand where people in other countries are coming from and why they do what they do. Will it happen? Unlikely.

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