How to fight off Creationist school boards and politicians

January 21, 2007 | By | 27 Replies More

Here’s a site for scientists looking for help in presenting the need to vigorously teach evolution, when confronted by anti-science types. 

I keep falling into the trap that this should be easy to convince people to study evolution in light of the abundant evidence in support and the elegance of natural selection.  On the issue of whether the Earth is 6,000 years old, how about this:  If you believe in God, the universe would (it seems to me) to be God’s elaborate “clock.”  Dozens of physical and biological mechanisms are commensurate in suggesting that the Earth is far more than 6,000 years old.  Why deny these numerous testable clock mechanisms in order to pursue a narrow inquiry-ending view (one of many) of an ancient book of aprochraphal (un-testable) origins? 

But, alas, presenting well-established scientific facts don’t convince Creationists.   In fact, no evidence convinces them that the version of the Bible that they bought at Wal-Mart is the one true inerrant version, despite an avalanche of evidence to the contrary.  To me, it is a red flag when non-experts reject the experts when virtually all of the experts (those trained and practicing in a field) speak in unison.

Certainly, then, announcing broad-minded scientific principles is not enough to pry open most of those closed minds.  In fact, the terms “science,” “academic” and “intellectual” make many creationists bristle and turn away.  Turn on any 24-hour Christian AM radio show for confirmation.

This new site is sponsored by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Rockville, Maryland, an umbrella society of numerous other scientific organizations.  At the site, you’ll find many links relevant to evolution, of course. Noteworthy, though, are templates for op-ed letters, and rubber to the road strategies for discussing the issues with public officials and power point presentations.  These can be modified as needed, at the invitation of the Society.  This is not the only site a school board would need to fight the good fight, of course, but it’s a good start.

I thought the approach to these materials was effective.  Yes, studying evolution is important for “science.”  But these materials hit the reader “in the pocketbook” too, by putting real life-applications of evolutionary theory into the spotlight.  Here’s a sample letter: “Why is it important to teach evolution?”

Understanding evolution is critical for understanding biology. As the preeminent scientist Theodosius Dobzhansky stated, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Evolution is the only scientific explanation for the diversity of life. It explains the striking similarities among vastly different forms of life, the changes that occur within populations, and the development of new life forms. Excluding evolution from the science curricula or compromising its treatment deprives students of this fundamental and unifying scientific concept to explain the natural world.

Teaching and learning about evolution have immense practical value that extends beyond understanding our world. The principles of evolution underlie improvements in crops, livestock, and farming methods. Natural selection accounts for the rise in pesticide resistance among agricultural pests and informs the design of new technologies to protect crops from insects and disease. Scientists are applying lessons from evolutionary biology to environmental conservation: plants and bacteria adapted to polluted environments are being used to replenish lost vegetation and to clean up toxic environments. Species from microbes to mammals adapt to climate change; studying the mechanism and rate of these changes can help conservation experts formulate appropriate measures to protect species facing extinction.

Understanding evolution is also central to the advancement of medicine. Indeed, the entire field of “evolutionary medicine” is devoted to using the principles of evolution to study and treat human illness and disease. Concepts such as adaptation and mutation inform therapies and strategies to combat pathogens, including influenza. Models developed by evolutionary biologists have shed light on genetic variation that may account for an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and coronary heart disease. Knowing the evolutionary relationships among species allows scientists to choose appropriate organisms for the study of diseases, such as HIV.  Scientists are even using the principles of natural selection to identify new drugs for detecting and treating diseases such as cancer.

Studying evolution is an excellent way for students to learn about the process of scientific inquiry. Evolution offers countless and diverse examples of the ways scientists gather and analyze information, test competing hypotheses, and ultimately come to a consensus about explanations for natural phenomena. Understanding science is essential for making informed decisions and has become increasingly important for innovation and competitiveness in the 21st century workplace. It is critical, therefore, that students receive a sound science education including evolution.

Removing evolution from the science classroom or allowing it to be compromised not only deprives students of a fundamental tenet of biology and medicine, but it will undermine their understanding of how scientific knowledge is amassed.



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Category: Education, Evolution, Medicine, Politics, Science

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (27)

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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    Dan writes: "The Schwartzschild radius is not the physical size to which a mass must be compressed to create a singularity."

    To quote Wikipedia: The Schwartzchild radius "is the radius for a given mass where, if that mass could be compressed to fit within that radius, no force could stop it from continuing to collapse into a gravitational singularity."

    In any case, the point is that, according to the Big Bang theory, all the mass in the Universe was initially compressed into a radius far smaller than the Schwartzchild radius for such a mass. Therefore, if today's laws of physics were valid at that (space-)time, and if we assume the Wikipedia definition is correct, then our Universe should be a gravitational singularity; i.e., a "black hole."

  2. Scholar says:

    Devi, Grumpy deserves the credit for supplying the link about "first cause" that we enjoyed.

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