A Proud Day for Science (and Common Sense)

As this ABC News story reports, today the Texas State Board of Education voted to remove wording from their science standards that allowed teachers to slam evolution in public science classes. The wording – which seems innocuous enough – invited teachers and students to debate “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories.  Unfortunately, this phrase was basically a veiled way for teachers to smash evolution whenever they felt like it.  About time it got fixed.

Because if common sense can win out in Texas, it can win out anywhere.

As a bioinformatician (yes, that is an actual word) by both trade and education, I couldn’t be happier about the Texas Board of Education’s decision.  Anyone with any serious training in biology knows that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”  There is no debate over whether or not evolution happens.  You may have heard the argument that “evolution is just a theory,” but I hope you realize the idiocy of this argument.  Gravity is also a theory.  So is the existence of germs (germ theory).  Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, atomic theory, plate tectonics, number theory – would you like me to go on?  Evolution is in the same class as all of these, so if you don’t believe in “theories” you will need to reconsider most of the foundational constructs of the modern world.

As linked above, one of the great essays on evolution comes from Theodosius Dobzhansky, a man sometimes referred to as “the father of modern biology.”  Dobzhansky was a faithful Christian and a brilliant evolutionary biologist, and a complete copy of his famous essay (“Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution”) is available here:

http://people.delphiforums.com/lordorman/light.htm

To quote from it:

“Seen in the light of evolution, biology is, perhaps, intellectually the most satisfying and inspiring science. Without that light it becomes a pile of sundry facts some of them interesting or curious but making no meaningful picture as a whole.

This is not to imply that we know everything that can and should be known about biology and about evolution. Any competent biologist is aware of a multitude of problems yet unresolved and of questions yet unanswered. After all, biologic research shows no sign of approaching completion; quite the opposite is true. Disagreements and clashes of opinion are rife among biologists, as they should be in a living and growing science. Anti-evolutionists mistake, or pretend to mistake, these disagreements as indications of dubiousness of the entire doctrine of evolution. Their favorite sport is stringing together quotations, carefully and sometimes expertly taken out of context, to show that nothing is really established or agreed upon among evolutionists. Some of my colleagues and myself have been amused and amazed to read ourselves quoted in a way showing that we are really anti-evolutionists under the skin.

Let me try to make crystal clear what is established beyond reasonable doubt, and what needs further study, about evolution. Evolution as a process that has always gone on in the history of the earth can be doubted only by those who are ignorant of the evidence or are resistant to evidence, owing to emotional blocks or to plain bigotry. By contrast, the mechanisms that bring evolution about certainly need study and clarification. There are no alternatives to evolution as history that can withstand critical examination. Yet we are constantly learning new and important facts about evolutionary mechanisms.

It is remarkable that more than a century ago Darwin was able to discern so much about evolution without having available to him the key facts discovered since. The development of genetics after 1900 especially of molecular genetics, in the last two decades has provided information essential to the understanding of evolutionary mechanisms. But much is in doubt and much remains to be learned. This is heartening and inspiring for any scientist worth his salt. Imagine that everything is completely known and that science has nothing more to discover: what a nightmare!

Does the evolutionary doctrine clash with religious faith? It does not. It is a blunder to mistake the Holy Scriptures for elementary textbooks of astronomy, geology, biology, and anthropology. Only if symbols are construed to mean what they are not intended to mean can there arise imaginary, insoluble conflicts. As pointed out above, the blunder leads to blasphemy: the Creator is accused of systematic deceitfulness.

One of the great thinkers of our age, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, wrote the following: “Is evolution a theory, a system, or a hypothesis? It is much more[;] it is a general postulate to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems much henceforward bow and which they must satisfy in order to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light which illuminates all facts, a trajectory which all lines of though must follow.  [This] is what evolution is.” Of course, some scientists, as well as some philosophers and theologians, disagree with some parts of Teilhard’s teachings; the acceptance of his worldview falls short of universal. But there is no doubt at all that Teilhard was a truly and deeply religious man and that Christianity was the cornerstone of his worldview. Moreover, in his worldview science and faith were not segregated in watertight compartments, as they are with so many people. They were harmoniously fitting parts of his worldview. Teilhard was a creationist, but one who understood that the Creation is realized in this world by means of evolution.”

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