By Jeremiah Tattersall
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.