Feb. 12 marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. Darwin’s theory of evolution as set forth in his Origin of Species, published in 1859, and his subsequent writings, is considered the foundation of biology. Darwin’s theory is supported by information that has been tested again and again. The later discovery of DNA further confirmed Darwin’s theory and explained how traits are passed on. Genetics also confirmed the most controversial part of Darwin’s theory: that humans and apes have a common ancestry. Remarkably, today only 40 percent of Americans accept Darwin’s theory of evolution. Here is a bit of background on the issue.
The Bible (Genesis) tells us that God created heaven and earth and all contained therein in six days. (God rested on the seventh day.) Genesis is treated by most scholars as an allegory, not literally true. Adherents of an “intelligent design” theory of creation believe the Bible is literally true. (“Intelligent design” is “creationism” repackaged.) While most Americans probably agree that God was responsible for the creation of life on earth, many disagree on what happened next. Darwinists believe that humans and other living things evolved over time, while the creationists believe that humans and other living things have stayed the same since creation.
The courts have ruled that intelligent design and creationism should be taught, if at all, in Sunday school—not in our public schools. An important court decision in this area is the 2005 federal district court case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (Pennsylvania), where the court ordered the school district to refrain from maintaining an Intelligent Design Policy whereby intelligent design had to be offered as an alternative to evolution. The court stated: “Intelligent design cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents” and thus, he ruled, is unconstitutional. The judge also stated: “Intelligent design is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory as it has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, engage in research and testing, and gain acceptance in the scientific community.” (I recommend Nova’s Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial (2007), a documentary about the Kitzmiller case.)
What is troublesome about creationism/ intelligent design is that it contributes to an anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism in our public life and in our schools, resulting in a dumbing down of Americans. The ignorance of the average U.S. adult about basic scientific facts has been well documented by surveys finding that fewer than one in five Americans met a minimal standard of scientific literacy. How are we going to keep up with the rest of the world in innovation and scientific discovery when adherents of pseudoscience wield so much influence in our society? What is more troublesome is that there are creationists teaching science in our colleges and universities and even in our high schools. Junk in, junk out.
Ralph E. Stone is a retired Bay Area attorney.