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Are Evolution and Creationism Compatible?

by Steven Novella, Apr 02 2012

The Tennessee bill that requires science teachers to teach the “strengths and weaknesses” of “controversial” topics has sparked public discussion on evolution and creationism once again. This means that we will cycle through the same series of arguments that have already been wor Getting Back With Ex ked through, but that is the nature of the popularization of any topic, such as science. Inevitably in these discussions some people, wanting to be accommodating to all sides, ask some version of the famous question, “Can’t we all just get along?”

This view touches our democratic and individualistic sensibilities and our sense of fairness. Further, the political process is often one of compromise. Creationists are happy to exploit these facts, and claim that they just want what’s fair, they want “equal time,” they want to “teach the controversy,” and they just don’t think evolution should get any special treatment. They use these strategies because they resonate with the American culture. Also it’s easy to portray egg-headed intellectual scientists as ivory tower elitists. This all may be effective politics, but it is bad science and bad for education.

A recent editorial in the Tennessean plays the “compatible” card – here it is in its entirety:

Science has proved the universe began with a collision of two specks moving in an oversize void a very long time ago, evolving into what we have today.

How did they get together? Where did they come from? That is where God came in.

What I don’t understand is, why argue over evolution and creation when both theories are true?

There is so much wrong with this brief editorial, but it’s worth breaking it down. I am not sure where the writer got his impression of the Big Bang, but it was not a collision of two specks moving in a void. I don’t know but I suspect the “void” comment is an attempt to mirror language from Genesis. Of course, we are a long way from fully understanding the nature of the Big Bang, but our best theory today does not resemble the above summary. A better description would be – the Big Bang was some sort of quantum singularity containing all of the energy of the universe, that rapidly expanded and cooled forming not only the stuff in the universe but the time and space of the universe. There was no void into which the universe expanded – space itself expanded. I could also add that both matter and anti-matter emerged from the Big Bang (just like matter and anti-matter virtual particles emerge from the quantum foam), and for some reason there was a tiny excess residue of matter. That left over matter residue is our universe.

The second sentence, “How did they get together? Where did they come from? That is where God came in,” is a god-of-the-gaps fallacy. This strategy attempts to insert God into any gap in our current understanding of the universe. This is a flawed strategy on many levels. First, it is a logical fallacy, an argument from ignorance. It also confuses unexplained with unexplainable. Over the last several centuries, since the application of scientific methods to our models of the world, we have been making steady progress in developing testable theories that explain how the world works. It is folly to assume that anything we cannot currently explain will remain forever unexplainable by science.

This is just a set up for future conflict. If you insert God into a current gap in our knowledge, then you will resist attempts to fill that gap with scientific explanations. That is creationism in a nut shell. Before we had any idea where humans and other life came from we filled in that gap in our knowledge with superstitions about an all-powerful creator. Today those superstitions are religious dogma, and there are those who vehemently resist scientific explanations of origins in order to preserve their creation myths.

I guess it is progress if more creationists acknowledge that the universe evolves in many ways, including organic evolution, but retreating to the origin of the universe itself is not really a solution. There will always be gaps in our knowledge into which one can insert  God – that strategy itself has to be exposed as fallacious and counterproductive.

The main problem with the final sentence is that it calls evolution and creationism both “theories.” This is a false equivalency, and explains why the writer feels the two can be compatible. Evolution is a scientific theory, in that it is a web of connected facts and explanations for a group of observable phenomena – namely life. Theory, in the scientific sense, does not mean “guess” and does not imply uncertainty. The term “hypothesis” is used to refer to a guess that has not yet survived systematic testings. Evolution actually contains many subtheories, such as natural selection, and common descent, which have been established to varying degrees. Common descent is the most solidly established part of evolutionary theory, and deserves to be treated as a confirmed scientific fact. All life on earth is related through common descent. There are multiple independent lines of evidence that all point to that conclusion, and there is no other viable theory that can account for those lines of evidence. Common descent is as well established as many other facts that we take for granted – the sun is the center of our solar system, the earth’s crust is divided into plates that move around, DNA is the molecule of inheritance, and gravity is a force that attracts all matter to all other matter, to give just a few examples. There is no more scientific controversy over the fact of evolution than there is about the fact of gravity or plate tectonics.

Creation, on the other hand, is not a theory at all. It fails at the first criterion of a scientific theory – it is not falsifiable. At least the form of creationist belief most commonly put forward today is not falsifiable. If stated in a falsifiable manner, then creation has already been falsified. In order to evade the overwhelming scientific evidence, however, creationists needs to state their belief in terms that are not falsifiable. This usually takes the form of, “well God could have created life to look like anything he wants.” In practice this means that whatever we find when we look at nature, that must be how God intended nature to be. Therefore there is no observation that can falsify creation, because that would be “constraining the mind of God.” God could have, for example, created life to appear exactly as if it had evolved through natural mechanisms. Stripped down, that is the essence of the creationist explanation for evidence that appears to support evolution.

This strategy is often exposed by taking it to the absurd extreme of stating that God created the entire universe 5 minutes ago, but simply made it look as if it is ancient and has a history, including all of your memories. If God is omnipotent then by definition he could do this. You cannot falsify this idea, that is why it is not a legitimate scientific hypothesis. Many creationist arguments (such as the notion that God created light already on its way to earth from distant stars) are functionally the same as the above statement.

Conclusion

Science is a meritocracy of ideas and evidence – not a democracy of opinions. All opinions are not considered equal. There is, rather, a hierarchy of ideas, theories, fact, and claims. The better established a theory is by observation and experiment, the more weight it is given by the scientific community. Some theories are so well established that we consider them laws of nature. Others are established to the point that they are treated as facts. Then there is a spectrum of theories from probably true, to genuinely controversial, to probably not true.

The point of using scientific methods is to figure out which theories are objectively better. Evolution is an established scientific fact. Creation is a pre-scientific myth that has already been discarded by science as completely wrong. They are not compatible.

I will add, however, that “creationism” actually encompasses a spectrum of belief. Most of that spectrum denies evolution to some degree. Young earth creationists deny evolution almost entirely (maybe they allow for some micro-evolution, whatever that is). At the other end of the spectrum are those who accept all of the scientific findings on origins, but argue that God set the universe in motion, or intended the universe to evolve the way it did. These are faith-based claims. If they are framed and acknowledged as personal choices of faith, without making any scientific claims or using dubious logic, then they can be compatible with evolution in that they are completely separate. This is not really creationism any more, but is closer to a deist position. This represents a retreat all the way outside of the realm of science. If one wishes to maintain faith but still be compatible with science, this is the only viable position. (Being compatible with materialist philosophy is a different issue.)

The deist position, however, appears to be a small minority. Creationists generally deny science to some degree, and it is that pseudoscientific denial that we are opposing. The pseudoscientific denial of science is not compatible with science.

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48 Responses to “Are Evolution and Creationism Compatible?”

  1. John K. says:

    Others have pointed out that even “god guided evolution” is not compatible with actual evolution. Evolution is based entirely on natural processes, no supernatural ones. “Chemistry all the way down”. Even the most liberal attempts to reconcile evolution with religious creation fail. They make about as much sense as “god guided gravity”.

  2. Deen says:

    A better description would be – the Big Bang was some sort of quantum singularity containing all of the energy of the universe

    Actually, it appears that the energy content of the universe is exactly zero, with the positive energy of matter balanced out with the negative energy of gravity.

    • Bill Minuke says:

      You’re being Pedantic; So I’ll be pedantic too.
      Dr. Novella didn’t specify a quantity. “All the energy of the Universe.” can thus include zero.

  3. Trimegistus says:

    This is a conflict in which both sides consider themselves embattled victims fighting a monstrous wave of evil. Both sides may actually be correct, too.

    I don’t think I need to explain how skeptics see ignorance threatening to overwhelm the teaching of science — and for many, some dreadful theocratic plot behind it all, deliberately seeking to stamp out science and return us to some new Dark Age.

    But it probably is important to explain that religious people see genuine moral corruption threatening to overwhelm their teaching of right and wrong to their kids. And for many, this implies a dreadful atheistic (or even consciously Satanic) plot behind it all, deliberately seeking to stamp out religion and return us to some new Dark Age.

    The problem seems to be a loss of trust. There was a time when religious people could trust scientists, and scientists respected religion. If you demonstrate hostility to the other side (if you think it _is_ the “other” side), you remove any reason for people in that community to trust you.

    • Janet Camp says:

      I think the mutually respectful situation you described changed when the evangelical movement became a more public political force and began its mission to infiltrate school boards everywhere as a springboard to gaining political clout. Most mainstream churches, even today, don’t interfere with the teaching of science (including evolution) in schools. They may justify this with the “god directed evolution” stance, but they keep that in the sphere of personal interpretation and don’t push it at the schools.

    • MadScientist says:

      The loss of morality is entirely imaginary though; morality is not provided by some god. So how are the accommodationists or religious ‘right’?

      The issues is *not* one of a loss of trust – go talk to a SB minister and they’ll tell you outright that they believe science is wrong and the bible is right.

  4. Daniel says:

    In some ways “teaching the controversy,” so to speak, might be a good thing. Perhaps I’m a bit naive, but a half-way decent science teacher, if forced to provide instruction on intelligent design or creationism, would be able to point out the many fallacies you speak of and maybe get through to a few students who might not be convinced otherwise why intelligent design and creationism aren’t science, or at the very least what creationists or intelligent design proponents would have to demonstrate in order to make them viable scientific theories.

    I know this is not what the creationists have in mind, but they would have a lot of difficulty complaining when a science teacher does exactly what they’re asking.

    • MadScientist says:

      “Teach the controversy” would be time wasted in the classroom. It’s bad enough that there isn’t enough time to present much of the evidence for evolution etc., why give evolution even less time by talking about superstition? If a student asks a sensible question then the question should be addressed, but introducing the nonsense as part of the course just doesn’t make sense.

  5. Tri – the problem as I see it is tying a moral code to specific claims about the natural world. This is a losing strategy, in my opinion. Scientific ideas seem to have a lot of power in the long run. If fundamentalists think that acceptance of evolution diminishes their morality, then their morality will suffer- because evolution is correct.

    Daniel – I agree, exposing incorrect or fallacious arguments that have been historically raised against evolution is good science teaching. But as you said, that is not what “academic freedom” and “teach the controversy” laws have in mind – they want to present pseudoscientific anti-evolution arguments as legitimate.

    • Daniel says:

      Why not try and hoist them by their own petard.

      Despite all pretty successful attempts to keep this stuff out of the science class room, including litigation, belief in intelligent design and the like appears to be on the rise, or at the very least remains relatively strong. To your average person who is predisposed (culturally, not biologically) to believe in creationism, it appears that the “other side” is “trying to hide something.” While it might be a bitter pill to indulge this kind of thinking, maybe a few students might get a better understanding of what is science and what isn’t and why that is so.

      • Student says:

        Problem is, Science Teachers are not necessarily scientists, or even particularly scientifically literate. They cover a whole spectrum of people, and some of those people may indeed teach the facts, there are others who can use the law as a license to teach what they like. The problem is that the freedom involved in the law gives the teacher freedom to choose the facts they present to the students, which means that you’ll have those who teach evolution, some who teach the debate, and it’s proper conclusion, some who teach a debate, and some who teach that Creationism is a scientifically valid theory.

    • WScott says:

      @ Daniel: That would be a great idea, if actual scientists got to write the textbooks & curriculum. Sadly, the odds of that happening in this country are next-to-zero.

      • SLC says:

        Actually, the most popular high school biology textbook in the US is written by Ken Miller and Joe Levine, both professors of biology at Brown, Un.

    • Trimegistus says:

      Oh, I absolutely agree about trying to link pronouncements about the natural world with moral teachings. St. Augustine thought it was a stupid idea, too.

      But if you’re a Biblical literalist, those are both props in the Jenga tower. Pull either one, and it falls down. Moreover, pace MadScientist above, there has been an observable decline in public morals over the past half century and it would be hard to prove there isn’t a connection to the decline in religiosity (my bet is that they’re both effects of some deeper cause, but that’s not provable either). So to a religious person the problem is real, and serious.

      • shayDblue says:

        “observable decline in public morals”?
        What is your metric for that, and where is the evidence?

        Are better legal protections for gay rights, women rights, minority rights and better acceptation in society a “decline” or improvement, in your humble opinion? What are public morals, really?

  6. oldebabe says:

    Naive me, I keep wondering why, apparently, `creationism’ isn’t taught in churches, Sunday Schools, private religious schools, etc.,( and must now be inserted everywhere, if one believes that that is how it all began), which is where promotion of that kind of story belongs… ;-)

    A philosophy is a philosophy is a philosophy – interesting, perhaps, maybe even a fun concept, but simply not a fact IMO, it has nothing to do with science. It boggles my mind that is so hard for some to accept when it is so obvious.

    • MadScientist says:

      The zealots are concerned with kids losing their religion when they go to those evil public schools. The kids do get their weekly brainwashing sessions and yet when they grow up, about 30% of them still leave their fairytales behind. Of course the teaching of evolution is not the only culprit – any critical thinking at all is a threat to the fairytales. Evolution and Cosmology are not the only enemies of superstition.

  7. WScott says:

    Whoever wrote that editorial should win some kind of award for packing so much false equivalence into a mere 60 words! Confusing evolution with cosmology, conflating creationism with deistic intelligent design, mistaking unknown for unknowable, equating “scientific theory” with “wildass guess,” and missing the distinction between faith-based beliefs about the unknown vs. faith-based denial of known reality.

    That last distinction cuts both ways, tho. The progressive/deist belief that yes evolution works the way science says, but God set up the rules and is pulling the strings from behind the scenes is completely unfalsifiable. But then so is my atheistic belief that they are wrong. From a curriculum standpoint, it’s not relevant who is right and who is wrong – neither claim belongs in a science classroom.

    I make this point because I think it’s important that we distinguish between when we’re speaking as scientists/educators/etc, and when we’re speaking as atheists/agnostics/etc. The fact that those two worldviews have so much overlap, especially online, makes this problematic. But particularly when discussing school curriculums, I think we have to be careful to base our arguments on what is/isn’t science, not what is/isn’t “True” on a metaphysical level. Where creationism or any other faith-based belief contradicts science, then we can and should say “that’s wrong.” But if believers want to advance nonfalsifiable progressive/deistic beliefs, then our response should be “that’s not science.” This is especially important because we know creationists like to use nonfalsifiable progressive/deistic beliefs as “wedge” arguments to leave the door open for Big-C Creationism, and when we respond from an atheist viewpoint it makes it easy for them to play the freedom of religion card.

    • Bill Minuke says:

      Your atheistic belief is irrelevant, as is theirs. We compare their assertion(s) to the null hypothesis and they fail.

      You need to use rational thinking and scientific method to demonstrate their failures.

      Given that most people aren’t swayed by facts, the fight in public opinion needs to happen with anecdotes and stories ( which I find personally distasteful, but that’s just me.)

      This should not be a fight between the “isms”, instead we need to point out that by promoting Creationism we are essentially saying that GPS, Computers, Space flight, Nuclear power, etc. are invalid because these technologies rely on science that Creationism more or less denies. We should also have an echo chamber hammering home how disasterous this attack on science will be on the economy.

      • WScott says:

        I don’t disagree with you, but you kinda missed my point. In defending science curricula, we don’t have to convince people that religion is wrong – we just have to remind them that religion is *not science* and therefore does not belong in a science classroom. Believe whatever you want, teach whatever you want in Church, home, or theology class. That’s a MUCH easier sell for the majority of Americans, and also makes it harder for the right to claim the issue is really about evil atheists trying to turn kids away from God.

    • Student says:

      A good point, but you’re wrong on the Atheism point. Atheism is falsifiable, but that’s not the issue. Atheism isn’t a theory, or a belief. It’s a philosphical rejection of an unsupported hypothesis. Any mention of Atheism referring to proving, or falsifying it, is to miss the point, and shift the burden of proof onto the default position.

      • WScott says:

        Fair enough. I didn’t mean to imply that because atheism and theism are both unfalsifiable, that means they are equally valid. I’m saying 1) in the context of defending science curriculum the question is irrelevant, and 2) the “it’s not science” argument is a much easier one to win anyway.
        Reminds me of Neil Tyson’s comments re a case of creationism being taught in public school: “This case is not about the need to separate church and state; it’s about the need to separate ignorant, scientifically illiterate people from the ranks of teachers.”

      • Student says:

        Totally agree. And the NDT quote is one I just heard in one of his videos, love it.

        And yeah, you’re exactly right, not only is it easier to win the debate about whether something is science, but the answer is irrelevant. I’m falling for a distractionary tactic where the Creationist tries to call doubt on my position to validate theirs. I should try not to do that.

      • noen says:

        “Atheism is falsifiable, but that’s not the issue. Atheism isn’t a theory, or a belief. It’s a philosphical rejection of an unsupported hypothesis.”

        I love it when people contradict themselves in the very same sentence. Extra points for mocking other people for not being as intelligent as you are at the same time.

        Which is it? Is atheism a falsifiable theory or is it not? If atheism is a scientific theory how can it also be a philosophical belief?

        “Atheism is falsifiable [...] Any mention of Atheism referring to proving, or falsifying it, is to miss the point”

        The amazing part is not that you can say that with a straight face, any dogmatic ideologue can do that, but that you’ll defend it tooth and nail while railing on about how ignorant your opponents are of the very logical fallacies you adopt with such abandon.

        Atheism is not falsifiable.
        Atheism is not science.
        Science is not atheism.
        Skepticism is not atheism.
        The null hypothesis is not atheism.
        The null hypothesis is not falsifiable.

        Atheism is not a lack of something. It is the presence of disbelief.

      • Student says:

        Oh Noen.

        Not believing a hypothesis is not non-falsifiable. Show there’s a God, and it’s falsified. See how that works?
        That’s not a contradiction. That’s the null hypotheses-something you’ve yet to grasp.
        From the viewpoint of methodological naturalism, or the scientific method, or whatever you want to call it, a claim must be proven to be considered true, else it is considered to not be necessarily true.

        The burden of proof will always remain on a person making a positive claim to knowledge: I don’t believe because I haven’t the proof.

        The philosophy behind it is the scientific philosophy of evidence. You’re making a strawman of a strawman now.

        I didn’t mock anyone. Strawman, and a Lie. You’ve accused me of repeating dogma-that’s a lie.

        Atheism is not falsifiable.
        Yes it is. Show there’s a God, and the position that there is no god is false. You don’t understand words.

        Atheism is not science.
        No, it isn’t. Non-sequitur.

        Science is not atheism.
        Totally agree! But science is secular and rejects supernatural explanations. But again, irrelevant. More non-sequiturs from the master of obfustication and logical fallacies!

        Skepticism is not atheism.
        Again, totally agree! But a skeptical position on religious claims often results in atheism, but no, they’re not equal. So? More non-sequiturs!

        The null hypothesis is not atheism.
        You don’t understand how to phrase this: If I say “I hypothesise a supreme creator-being, who I call God.”
        The null-hypothesis is “God isn’t real.” That’s what theists have to overcome-show that their God exists. So, being atheist is to accept the null hypothesis. So, yeah, accepting the null hyptothesis RE God, is Atheism. Hate to burst your bubble.

        The null hypothesis is not falsifiable.
        Actually, it is. If you falsify the null hypothesis, that’s the point where you’ve found the evidence that’s enough to show that there’s a tangible effect, which supports your claim, at which point, the falsified null-hypothesis is wrong, and all sorts of wonderful questions are raised!

        But, more to the point, Atheism is falsifiable. If I presume, due to a lack of proof, that God doesn’t exist, and you show that a God exists, you’ve falsified it!

        Read up on the null-hypothesis before you spout nonsense.

  8. Phea says:

    I have always been somewhat baffled by folks that believe in the Bible literally. What I don’t understand is how they pick and choose which dogma is so important it must be included in a school’s curriculum, while other teachings are ignored,(find a creationist who never works on Sunday, or believes in stoning to death adulterers, astrologers, and witches.

    I can fully accept, as an atheist, (actually, I’m probably more of an agnostic), how someone might believe, logically, that intelligence begat matter rather than the other way around. I also really can’t argue with someone who might believe God lit the fuse that caused the Big Bang. I do have a problem believing old Hebrew myths, for example, how Noah fit all them critters in his ark, the Earth being less than 10,000 years old, and so on.

    The really sad thing is the harm rigid, inflexible, intolerant, belief systems of any kind can and do cause.

  9. MadScientist says:

    Creationist who never works on Sunday (well, at least not during Shabbat): plenty Jewish creationists like that.

    Creationists who believe in murdering adulterers etc.: plenty in some Muslim communities.

    There are always some people who will believe the craziest things and kill you if you don’t agree. Fortunately the various christian churches no longer have enough influence to institute their regular pogroms (vs. Jews, Muslims, and other christian cults).

  10. Walter says:

    In fairness to the Tennessean, what Bob quoted was a letter to the editor, not an editorial. The newspaper actually wrote an editorial attacking the bill back on March 21, with mixed results. It starts:

    “Natural selection, mutation, speciation, the empirical bases of evolution are in dispute…”

    Uh, no, they’re not. But the editorial board goes on:

    “This bill is about wedging open a door to include a radically divisive, ultra-conservative Christian agenda disguised in politically correct language… Because the innocuous language of the bill shields not seekers of knowledge, shields not critical thinking about scientific debate, it opens the gates for some Sunday school teachers to hijack biology class by proxy.”

    It would be a decent editorial if it weren’t for that unfortunate opening line. Here’s the whole thing:

    http://www.tennessean.com/article/20120321/OPINION01/303210097/Evolution-debate-bill-religion-poorly-disguised?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|Opinion|s

  11. Phil says:

    Which creation myth to tell? I like the one where the world is on the back of a turtle swimming in an endless ocean. Or maybe I heard that in a movie…..

    • Student says:

      I like the one where the turtle was on the backs of elephants…

      • shayDblue says:

        What happens when the turtle meets another space turtle and wants to mate?
        I do hope we’re on the back of the male one and not the female one(with apologies to Terry Pratchet)…

  12. BillG says:

    I would more than love to see it all be taught – mandatory for every HS teen. Creation myths from the world’s major religions, the solipism from philosphy and the wild speculation from some scientists.

    “Brain in vat” and brane universes, m-theory, many worlds theory, living in a computer simulation, etc. Expose it all as a introduction of what actually qualifies as science and our limitations.

  13. d brown says:

    EVERYBODY!!! Think about this. Not how the Republicans say they are bankrupting the country with tax cuts back to before the 1930. And that’s what has been said for years. Talking about how much more you know may be fun. But you will never ever sell it to the true believer s or the people pushing them.

    • Trimegistus says:

      Spending has increased by $800 billion under Obama (27 percent over 2008) — but it’s the Republicans who are bankrupting the country? Don’t you get tired of repeating such obvious bullshit?

      • Beelzebud says:

        War expenditures are included in the budget now, and not in “emergency supplements”, as they were in the previous administration. War isn’t cheap, and hiding it from the budget doesn’t make it cheaper.

      • Max says:

        If the 2008 budget didn’t count the $160 billion war supplement, then accounting for it means spending increased by $640 billion, or 20% over 2008.

    • Daniel says:

      What does this have to do with the price of tea in China?

    • noen says:

      “But you will never ever sell it to the true believer s or the people pushing them.”

      Most people are not fundamentalists or creationists. They *are* reachable as long as you frame the debate in a way they can accept or understand. Brow beating, arrogance, aggression, belittling, condescending and in general “being a dick” is surprisingly ineffective at winning friends or influencing enemies.

      Imagine that.

      • tmac57 says:

        Brow beating, arrogance, aggression, belittling, condescending and in general “being a dick” is surprisingly ineffective at winning friends or influencing enemies.

        That fact hasn’t stopped the fundamentalist religious types from using those tactics. Maybe you should drop them a note,and tell them where they are going wrong.

      • noen says:

        “That fact hasn’t stopped the fundamentalist religious types from using those tactics.”

        Which of course only means they will be just as ineffective at achieving their political goals as anyone else who employs a failed strategy. I am not saying that people should not mount a legal response to silliness like this. Just that, in the larger picture, social success comes about by convincing enough people that your cause is right.

        Women in the 70′s and gays in the 90′s achieved their objectives in part through legal means but what tipped the scales was the shear numbers of people talking to other people about their issue. Gays succeeded in convincing enough people that they should be treated just like anyone else that now it is just a matter of time, basically older folk dying off, until full social equality is achieved.

        “Maybe you should drop them a note,and tell them where they are going wrong.”

        I don’t care about them.

  14. noen says:

    “The deist position, however, appears to be a small minority.

    No, not of people in general. Most of the people that I have known all my life more or less hold that science is true, that evolution is a valid scientific theory, but they also hold some belief in some kind of god who either directed evolution or set the universe going. Which automatically includes evolution.

    Or they just try not to think about it that much because, really, it isn’t that important in most people’s lives. Whereas their faith community *is* important to them. People in general just do not spend their time puzzling about the ontological argument for god or all the other priestly debates some people like to obsess over on the internet.

  15. CountryGirl says:

    One of the nicest and most charitable people I know is very religious and actively promotes creationism. Do you think you are going to change her mind with a good arguement? If you were her friend or relative would you really want to harm your relationship by trying to change her mind? Those two points are important. You aren’t going to win many converts to science and specifically evolution by becoming more strident in your arguement. I think the correct approach is to continue to present and teach science and ignore or at least refuse to be sucked into arguements with creationists. The two different views may not be compatible but they can coexist. Most people who are religious accept evolution. But if you force them through legislation and social pressure to choose sides they may choose their comfortable and familiar religion roots and join those who reject evolution. How does that benefit your cause? Teach good science. Let religious people and religious views alone? Don’t go poking them with sticks just because it’s fun and makes you feel superior. Look for the good in people who don’t agree with you. I can only hope in my lifetime to be as good and charitable person as my cousin who actively promotes creationism.

    • Daniel says:

      All well and good, but a line has to be drawn somewhere, which I submit is when a religious creation story is taught in SCIENCE class, not so much as a church/state issue, but because it just isn’t science. I agree though that people ought to pick their battles, not just for strategic reasons, but also because it isn’t right to drag the legal and political process into trivial matters. For example, I think the ACLU could make much better use of its time than to call in the cavalry every time a local government wants to put up a nativity scene or Santa Clause in front of city hall. Words of wisdom: Don’t make a federal case out of everything that offends your sensibilities and get a life.

    • Student says:

      The issue isn’t your friend. The issue is when people try to introduce bills to make it legal to teach this and create more of your friend: Nice people who are misinformed about something that they refuse to be informed about. Well intentioned zealots.

      You can’t leave the dogma alone if it isn’t leaving the science alone.

      • CountryGirl says:

        You are correct that we should not teach things in our schools that we know or believe are false. But yet you only seem to disagree with teaching the possibility of creationism. Do you really believe that everything we embrace because it is politically correct is fit to be taught in our schools? But more to your point why pursue this Quixotic quest and make it a big issue? Why not ignore it. Do you really want to fight this for 40 years and keep it on the front burner?

      • Student says:

        Well, while it may offend and upset the religious (And I know many of them, and I feel sorry for them about it), it’s not them I have a problem with, and many of them have a problem with the encroach of religion on science.

        I’m only disagreeing with the teaching of creationism here, because that’s the issue. If they wanted to teach the world is flat, or that germs are bad-juju, or karma, or anything, my response would be the same. It’s wrong to teach lies to children. I went through the Sunday School process. It doesn’t help anyone, it just leaves you with a bunch of irrational, wrong beliefs you have to deal with on your own time. The world won’t wait for you to, and if it stops you from learning, so be it. That’s not a good way to continue, in my eyes, we should avoid it.

        “Do you really believe that everything we embrace because it is politically correct is fit to be taught in our schools?”

        Not sure what you mean here. We should teach things which are pertinent and correct, regardless of unfounded consequences. I would never embrace a position which is repugnant or revulting, so I’m not sure how fit to being taught is a problem. Political correctness seems a red-herring: Acknowledging religion is the politically correct thing to do. I’m firmly for teaching the truth, regardless of the offense that’s taken by some. We’ll have to deal with it as a society. The religious are going to have to modify their position, as they always have.

        It is a big issue. Arguing that the issue isn’t big enough is a false dichotomy: I can think about this and bigger things, without having to stop one for the other. Likewise, letting the issue go will screw the kids over: They’ll fail biology they won’t understand. This isn’t the way to go. As WScott reminded me, the NDT quote is a good description of the problem:
        “This case is not about the need to separate church and state; it’s about the need to separate ignorant, scientifically illiterate people from the ranks of teachers.”

        It’s not the job of teachers to further religion. It’s their job to educate them for their careers. If they want to pursue science, they’re going to need to know actual science. I wouldn’t let them teach that gravity was caused by invisible pixies holding them down either.

        We’re not the ones fighting for it, we’re not putting it on the front burner. We’re resisting, we’re not starting it. We’re not trying to take religion out of schools, we’re trying to keep it out. It’ll get off the front burner the instant the religious stop trying to get it into science classrooms.

        I do feel sorry for those who feel a dissonance between what their children are taught, and what they’ve been taught to believe by their religion, but that’s not my problem, and it shouldn’t be the problem of all children, including those of other faiths or a lack thereof. It’s theirs.