Feb 6, 2011

By Jeremiah Tattersall

Art by Diana Moreno

Creationism is not science.

I wish I could leave it at that, but this anti-science has reared its head again, this time in the recent election of creationist April Griffin to the Alachua County school board. The problem with creationism comes from a deep-seated misunderstanding of evolution and its relationship with religion.

Evolution is the glue that holds biology together. Without it, the life sciences make no sense. The basis of evolution is simple: Genetic variations with selective pressures given long periods of time will produce speciation. Put more plainly, if there is a trait that helps you survive and reproduce, you will have an advantage over your competition. Given enough time, the prevalence of that trait will grow until it becomes common.

There are numerous claims that creationists make against science. The majority are based on pointing out holes in current scientific understanding, a kind of “God in the gaps” approach. As science progresses and fills in the gaps, creationists have to continuously step up their anti-science (see Kirk Cameron trying to explain how a banana fitting into a human hand disproves evolution) — a sort of who-can-close-their-eyes-the-hardest contest. Here are some of the most common talking points creationists use.

1) No one has seen evolution in action. This theory is based on speculation.

As a microbiologist, I find this offensive. I witness evolution all the time when bacteria gain antibiotic resistance. This is small but very easy to see if you look at Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a bug that arose due to evolution and the overuse of antibiotics selecting for specific traits.

2) There are no transitional fossils (intermedeary fossils that show evolutionary transition).

There are. A lot of them actually. My favorites are whales. The Fossils we have have put their evolution as so: the land mammal Indohyus, returns to the water and transitions into Ambulocetus, then after two more known transitions (Protocetid and Basilosaurus), finally ends as Cetaceans – modern whales. Besides, evolution itself is a fluid transitional process. All living species are currently in a state of “transition”.

3) Evolution can’t explain how life started.

Well, it’s not supposed to. The process in which life started that so many creationists talk about is something else all together called “abiogenesis.” This branch of science has many theories (I’m particular to the RNA world hypothesis) but has nothing to do with evolution. Evolution explains how species change over time through natural selection.

Having creationism (or its dressed-up inbred cousin, “intelligent design”) taught in any science class is detrimental to children’s cognitive development. If we teach kids that the earth is 6,000 years old, we’re teaching them that it’s okay to ignore empirical evidence. Being able to shape your beliefs on things that are testable and falsifiable is one of the most important skills anyone can learn.

The majority of creationist B.S. science comes from an unfounded fear of empiricalism, as a challenging of God. This false dichotomy has done nothing but embarrass religion by demonizing science. The danger of Griffin’s recent election is that she is in a position of authority. A position in which she can push for a religious agenda over a scientific one.

A recent study published in Science found that only 28% of high school biology teachers teach evolution, 13% teach creationism, and around 60% either skip the subject altogether or teach both. The most disturbing part of this statistic is the 60% that choose to mention creationism despite every major court case coming down against its teaching in public schools. While the vanguards of science were fighting the creationist in the classroom, these crafty bunch launched the “teach the controversy” campaign — a brilliant strategy that has led to the majority of high school biology teachers being too scared to do their jobs.

Despite what the Tea Party claims, this country was founded on secularism. The founding fathers felt so strongly that religion should be separate from public policy that they mentioned it in the First Amendment. Teaching creationism in public schools would give affirmation to a specific branch of fundamentalist Christianity — a direct contradiction to the Constitution.

Believe what you want, but remember: Reality is what exists in spite of your personal beliefs. And reality is what we need to teach our kids in school.

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7 Comments

  1. Henry Taksier says:

    IMPORTANT note for anyone who reads this:
    You are all going to hell. Just kidding. Actually, the important note is that if you look closely at her belt buckle, it says “fuck science.” Make sure you notice the intricacies of this artwork by the talented Diana Moreno!

    What perplexes me is that creationists have accepted other scientific discoveries that contradict the bible — for example, the Earth is round, the Earth revolves around the Sun, the Earth is not at the center of the universe — why do they make such an exception for evolution?

    Good work, Jeremiah. Every month, you eloquently manage to attack some aspect of society that pisses me off.

  2. Michael says:

    I have a better answer to “3) Evolution can’t explain how life started.”
    -and the theory of gravity can’t explain why you’re stupid. Therefore, by your logic, the theory of gravity is invalid, and we all stick to the ground only because God is holding us there. oh, and jumping is a sin.

  3. woahdmo says:

    This is a really great article. I’m so glad to see a local newspaper challenge the growing acceptance of religious dogma seeping into the public sphere.
    Brilliantly written, and funny too! I hope it reaches a Biology teacher, or two.

  4. Ron says:

    If the founding father’s thought it was so important, then why did put it in an amendment?

  5. Henry Taksier says:

    Jeremiah,

    Kelley’s roommate, Angela, brought up a valid point on my Facebook page. She said:

    Can you change this line in the article: “This branch of science has many theories…” to “This branch of science has many hypotheses,” pretty please with a cherry on top? I tend to hear the line, “EVOLUTION IS JUST A THEORY” quite a lot when I’m arguing with other Christians about evolution. That’s when I have to sigh, roll my eyes, and explain things using little words. Theories are not things scientists come up with while sitting on the crapper.
    The writer of this article (especially being a microbiologist) should be more careful not to use “theory” when he means “hypothesis” when talking about anything related to science, simply because it confuses laypeople and perpetuates the idea that “theory = hypothesis.”

    I’m curious to see your response to this. I’m not sure whether the word “theory” or “hypothesis” in that case would have been a better choice. What do you think?

  6. Henry Taksier says:

    Ron:

    They put free speech in the First Amendment, too. That’s pretty important, isn’t it?

  7. mike says:

    america is getting more ignorant, not less. de-evolution in front of our eyes–christians are the proof of de-evolution…going from a complex organism to a more simplistic organism. So, if we have de-evolution we must also have evolution.

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