Humans are fascinated by their beginnings. We like to know who we are in the world and where we belong. We like to know where we came from and where we’re going. This can range from where we were born, to where we want to go to college, to where we want to work for the rest of our lives. But the epitome of human mystery is the origin of life, the beginnings of our race. To that end, there are two schools of thought in modern times that deal with that idea, and they are two terms you’ve probably heard of before: evolution and creationism.
Most likely you heard of these two ideas together not in the sense of their ideas, but in the sense that their constituents tend to butt heads often in public discourse. Interestingly enough, it’s not about the specific ideas within their schools of thought, but rather where each should be taught or put on display. Essentially, they are competing for space in the public domain.
Before I go on, I should probably briefly explain what each one is, just in case you’re reading this and have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. Evolution is the idea that our ancestors were the descendants of older animals, in our case apes. It’s the idea that through a variety of natural processes, animals change and form to the demands of their environment. Giraffes evolved to have longer necks, turtles evolved to have protective shells, and so on. It’s the predominant scientific theory for our origins, put together by one Charles Darwin in the 17th century.
Creationism is a different idea, that the numerous species of animals that inhabit our planet with us were created in an act of divinity. Essentially, it’s the idea that all life has a creator, a being who decided to infuse organisms into the planet (read: God). Creationism is also commonly called Intelligent Design. It is a common proponent of religious fundamentalists, and is very closely linked to religion itself. Unlike evolution, as far as I can tell creationism doesn’t have a single, unified creator, but rather developed as a counter-idea to evolution itself, with its adherents at one point being called “anti-evolutionists”.
Now for those of you who have followed my blog for a while, you probably remember that I’ve said at least once or twice that I am not a religious person. I was never raised that way, never went to church, never believed in God even for a moment. So it’s probably obvious which side on this debate I’m going to fall on. That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe that creationism and evolution can exist as separate schools of thought. One does not necessarily need to eclipse the other. The problem that is going on here is one of appropriateness, specifically in relation to where each idea is presented.
The time most people probably remember evolution and creationism coming up in the same breath is when a debate is started about what should be included in a school’s curriculum. Recently, such debates have become more and more common, with more creationists trying to push the idea of creationism into the science classrooms, under the idea that they want to encourage people to look at both viewpoints.
Now if this is actually their intent, that’s all fine, but I have my reservations about the true motives of such people. But if it is actually their true motivation, we have to ask ourselves if such a thing is appropriate. Should creationism as an idea be taught in a science classroom? For my part, the answer is no.
Anyone who has taken a science class has run into a little thing called the scientific method. It is the method by which all scientists collect and interpret data about our world. It starts with an idea, which scientists hammer into a hypothesis. Then they design an experiment to test and either confirm or debunk their hypothesis. After the experiment is executed, the data is analyzed and a conclusion is reached, regardless of whether the hypothesis is confirmed or not.
So what’s the problem with creationism then? Why can’t it be taught in a science classroom? Because, it breaks the scientific method.
It cannot be tested. You cannot, I repeat, CANNOT design an experiment to test for God. How would you go about doing that? God is such an intangible concept that science has neither proved or disproved. Faith and science will intersect from time to time, but on the whole they are very different things. Science finds its answers through rigorous application of scientific experiments and methods, and carefully examines the evidence to reach its conclusion.
Faith, to me, is a much more personal thing that instead of experiments requires introspection. Faith is commonly belief in spite of the lack of evidence, which is why it is called faith in the first place. However, sometimes to me it seems that faith is belief in spite of the evidence, which implies a certain stubbornness on the part of many faith-based people. But, like before, faith and science are not polar opposites. They will sometimes intersect on subjects, just in different ways.
But the differences between them lead me to say that creationism should not be taught in a science classroom because it cannot be subjected to the same scrutiny as scientific theories. And besides, you don’t go into a church to learn about something that isn’t religion, so why would you go into a science classroom to learn about something that isn’t science?
One thing I’ve commonly run into when I talk about this subject is that people assume that when I’m saying that creationism should not be taught in science classrooms, I’m saying that it shouldn’t be taught in any classrooms. That’s not the case. I do think that creationism has its place, but it is not a valid scientific theory.
Creationism is something more akin to a philosophy, a sort of spiritual thing. It relies on far too many assumptions and gut feelings to truly be taken seriously as a scientific theory. But as a philosophy, I could see it being taught alongside many other ideas in a philosophy class. But if people really want it to be in the science classrooms, then that’s a problem.
I understand that a public school should present different and even opposing ideas to encourage open-minded discussion, but what does it say about them if they try to pass creationism off as true science? Here they are, trying to teach kids about the rigors of the scientific method, and then they present them with a theory that can’t even go beyond the hypothesis stage, thus breaking the method completely. It kind of makes them look a little incompetent now doesn’t it?
The main problem I feel here is that many religious fundamentalists are incredibly pushy with their ideas. They want their voices to be heard all around the nation, in every facet they can insert themselves into. Now, a big part of our country is the idea that we have free expression to share our various ideas, but it only goes so far.
Churches and religious groups commonly set a double standard in this country, where they want to be free to practice and preach their own ideas in private, but also want to force people to include their ideas in all areas of public discourse. It’s like how churches don’t have to pay taxes to the government because of the separation of church and state, but the Mormons were able to use their money to influence the outcome of Prop 8 in California.
What it comes down to is that religious people sometimes don’t understand the way our country works. They say they very highly value our freedom of religion in this country, rightfully so because it is a very powerful idea. However, they tend to make a grievous error of interpretation, or at least they choose to ignore it, I can’t really be sure. They fail to realize that freedom of religion also means freedom from religion. They like it until it doesn’t suit them.
You can’t have your cake and eat it too, as the cliché goes.
The debate between evolution and creationism is one that is most likely going to continue raging on for some time. Neither side shows any signs of backing down. It’s sad in a way, because I feel like both ideas have their place on our society. But there are groups of people who believe that one must destroy the other, that in the end there can be only one.
Not being a religious individual I commonly find myself on the side of science far more often than on the side of religion. But as I’ve said, I believe both have a right to exist. In fact, I don’t believe that they are opposed to each other in any way. The way I tend to go about it is that each is a different way of interpreting the world. One uses measurements and observations, and the other uses faith.
But neither should trample on each other’s territory where at all possible. Science doesn’t belong in a church any more than religion belongs in the science classroom. Co-existence is possible, we just have to realize it.
After all, we share the same planet together so we may as well get along.
And that’s all for this week. Next week’s post will shoot itself directly into your FACE. But until then, have a wonderful week everybody.