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SI Electronic Digest Appendix

Review of PBS' Firing Line Creation/Evolution Debate


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In the history of science vs. religion, there have been few issues more hotly debated than that of "Evolution vs. Creationism". There have also been few issues where the weight of evidence is so staggeringly in favor of science, yet where there are still so many who wantonly discard that fact in favor of the completely unsupportable religious point-of-view. My purpose here is not to rehash the arguments involved in the debate. Indeed, that would take vastly more space that is available here. Instead, I would like to pontificate a bit on the nature of the debate itself.
    While organized religion is, of course, far older than the sciences involved in evolution theory, Creationism did not come about until the 1900's. It grew out of "concern" (a politically-correct term for ignorance, fear, etc.) that science would eventually be able to prove conclusively that the Bible is not an unerring account of how Man and his world came to be. Since religion - especially the Fundamentalist variety - is based on faith instead of fact, anything that might erode that faith would inevitably cause the religion itself to crumble.
    The Creationists needed a specific target on which to focus their efforts. They could hardly attack and defeat the entire discipline of science, so they concentrated on one particular theory. In fact, they concentrated on one specific small part of one particular theory - the notion that Man and Ape evolved from a common ancestor. At first, they didn't bother with the remainder of evolution theory. They figured that the Biblical story of Man's separate creation by God would be sufficient, but this turned out not to be the case. When the initial assault failed, they broadened their horizons to attack larger and larger portions of the whole theory. When these attacks failed, they tried to win by denigrating the word "theory". When this also failed, they tried to attack the whole of science by ascribing all sorts of unrelated theories and questions to evolution. For example, even though evolution is a the ory concerned only with how life on the Earth has progressed and diverged since the first life form appeared, the Creationists go as far as to attack evolution since it can't explain how the Universe itself was created.
    The fact that the stupefyingly silly arguments made by the Creationists have any audience at all is testament to the scientific illiteracy of the average member of the general public. Of course, that's the environment in which religion has always flourished. A good example of the mindset of those individuals came from one of the many Creationists with whom I have been embroiled in a long series of E-Mail messages arguing this issue. After I had completely debunked this particular individual's arguments, his final comment was "I don't care what you say. I won't believe in evolution even if it is proven to be true." Needless to say, this is not what one might consider an intellectual attitude.
    Creationists have produced a lot of literature and vitriol espousing their arguments. Without exception, every single specific claim they have made has been conclusively debunked. They haven't had a new idea in at least 20 years and have failed to make the first dent in any theory of science. Many of their claims would be laughed out of a grade school classroom. Yet, this seems not to deter them. Ordinarily, such nonsense would be harmless. However, they persist in their efforts to force their claptrap into schools and science textbooks where it would greatly interfere with real learning. The day when they would willingly invite Stephen J. Gould to speak about evolution from a church pulpit and when their Bibles contain a disclaimer sticker about how the contents "have not been proven" and how "alternative theories exist" will be the day when we might consider allowing their silliness to invade the schools.
    One final note: It was interesting to hear the Pope recently declare that evolution is compatible with Catholic teachings. It remains to be seen how this will go over, but it could be a sign that reality may win after all.

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