The Ultimate Genealogical Quest: God, apes, or little green men?

Bragging rights are up for grabs. Are we God-like, ape-like, or do we bear resemblance to little green men? After all, people love to show pride in their heritage: their family tree. And the study of human origin is the ultimate genealogical quest. That is precisely why the terms evolution, creationism, and intelligent design spark controversy among groups and individuals alike. A controversy that has spilled over into many areas of our lives; though none so heated as the debate over which theory should or should not be taught within the science curricula at public schools. Although, a closer look at the controversy shows that there is a greater diversity among the combatants than simply pitting disciples of Darwin against the holy rollers of the Bible belt (or pro/con view), like the media erroneously portray.

Up until 150-years ago a belief in God or gods had rarely been contested. Although Charles Darwin, the English scientist, was not the first person to claim a theory based on the natural selection of nature to evolve (other scientists had made similar claims off and on for a half-century before him), his 1859 publication of On the Origin of the Species was the catalyst to solidify interest and spark movement within the science community. As David Masci, author of “Evolution vs. Creationism: Should Schools be Allowed to Teach Creationism?” stipulates, Darwin’s book “sells out immediately and creates an intellectual firestorm.” Within a year after publication the Church of England’s opposition to evolution was silenced after Bishop Samuel Wilburforce was publicly humiliated by scientist Thomas Henry Huxley (Masci). Ironically, the debate did little to change individual minds, but it clearly showed how an over-confidant, yet ill-prepared Bishop could create such bad publicity that the church wanted to step back from the negative spotlight.

The controversial spotlight has flared off and on in America from the early 1900s until present-day. Especially during the 1920s with the famous Scopes trial which pitted Clarence Darrow against William Jennings Bryan.  Although Darrow officially lost (Scopes was fined $100), he clearly won the popularity vote after winning over the media (Masci). Bryan, though better prepared than the aforementioned Wilburforce, still made the mistake of presenting an argument based on only one side of the facts. However, major events like the Great Depression, World War Two, and the Korean War slowed the controversy until mid-century when it began to gather momentum once again. The political, judicial, and educational arenas each began pushing pro-evolution agendas during the 1950s. It took awhile to gain the strength necessary to sway the issues, but in 1968 the Supreme Court finally ruled in Epperson vs. Arkansas that states could no longer prevent schools from teaching evolution (Masci). And once the evolution proponents gained the upper-hand they have continued to further their goals. Unsatisfied to merely be allowed to teach evolution as a theory, by 1987 evolutionists pushed creation science out of most public schools through the Edwards vs. Aquillard Supreme Court ruling (Masci). This created the perceived image that, since it was now the only theory of origin left in the majority of schools, evolution must be the truth (forgetting how creation had been the only theory prior). Their victory, however, was short lived.

Creationists, though not as publicly combative, and with less media coverage, did not simply go off to sulk after their setbacks. Within a dozen years they regained enough momentum to get school boards in various areas to rule that disclaimers must be printed on science textbooks stipulating that evolution is just one of the theories on the origin of life. Likewise, various other controversial proposals have been in and out of the education and judicial systems from the point of evolution’s main victory until now. Furthermore, though there are close to a dozen variations in groups with a specific interest in this controversy’s outcomes, the evolution vs. creationism pro-con view is still predominant.

The core contentions by evolutionists in the ongoing debate center round their belief that creationism should be considered a religion not science; that creation science is not testable, therefore non-provable; and they believe evolution is a proven fact, so there is no need to bring in alternative considerations. In the thousands of books and articles defending their view, each attempting to approach the argument from a different angle, the vast majority still fall within the three core contentions. For instance, when interviewed by Leon Lynn for the article “Creationism Should Not Be Taught in Science Curricula” Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, claimed the equal-time argument by creationists is flawed by asking “Why would we pretend that an idea that was created outside science is science?” (Scott and Lynn). She further stipulates “It’s perfectly reasonable to expose children to religious views of origin, but it’s not OK to advocate those views as empirical truth. And the place for those ideas is not in the science curriculum” (Scott and Lynn). Similarly, Michael Ruse, a professor of philosophy and zoology at Florida State University and author of Monad to Man: The Concept of Progress in Evolutionary Biology and Taking Darwin Seriously: The Evolution-Creation Struggle, contends that Intelligent Design should not even be taught in theology classes, but strictly in classes of comparative religion, so that “ID would not be taught as the truth, but as a system to which others subscribe” (Ruse). And Barbara Carroll Forrest, author of Inside Creationism’s Trojan Horse: A Closer Look at Intelligent Design postulates that creationists are conspiring to circumvent the laws regarding separation of church and state by sneaking their agenda through as Intelligent Design: like a Trojan Horse (Forrest). Therefore, invariably all three approach the issue from different angles, but each has built upon the core contentions.

Directly opposite of those core contentions are the traditional creationists. There are several groups among creationists, though they all fall under the young Earth or old Earth categories. The young Earth believers adhere to the literal biblical translation of the six-day creation period, while old Earth creationists accept a lengthier symbolic interpretation. Masci asserts “Others read the Bible with an eye toward current scientific thinking, taking the six days of creation to mean six epochs… [therefore] the Bible does not have to contradict cosmologists and geologists” (Masci). Additionally, most creationists appear to rely on generalized or broader based arguments such as, the evolution is not proven argument, the equal-time (or what’s fair for them is fair for us) argument, along with faith-based contentions on the infallibility of the Word of God. For instance, Robert E. Kofahl, science coordinator for the Creation Science Research Center in San Diego, contends evolution “should not be taught as scientific fact because it has not been proven” (Kofahl). He equally points out that while evolutionists often quote the first part of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion [i.e., a government sponsored church or religious belief system]” (Kofahl), they often forget the section immediately following it which states “or prohibiting the exercise thereof” (Kofahl). He further makes the claim that if the “State’s schools teach a student who believes in creation by God, that evolution is a fact, even though it cannot be proved to be a fact, the State is telling the student that his or her religious belief is a falsehood” (Kofahl), which is a clear violation of the student’s Free Exercise rights under the First Amendment. Similarly, you can find some of these broader arguments among proponents of Intelligent Design. However, ID proponents equally include specific scientific claims.

Most evolutionists believe Intelligent Design is simply an end-around strategy by traditional creationists to slip passed the laws of separation of church and state. There are, in fact, ID proponents who were part of the early founders of the movement, along with others who have joined since, that do adhere to traditional creation beliefs. However, there are many others who came to their belief in ID, not from the faith-based biblical view, but from the scientific community. Michael Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, claims “I started to have doubts about Darwinian evolution for reasons having to do with biology, not religion” (Masci). After many years studying complex biological systems Behe, and many other scientists, have surmised that Darwinian evolution cannot account for the multitude of irreducible complexities. And yet, there are additional groups with varied beliefs who add further complexity to the controversy.

Most of the alternative schools of thought are so obscure, and easily disprovable, that they do not rate mentioning. However, there are two that have enough of a following that a brief mention is warranted within any detailed explanation of the origin of life controversy. The first is a group of individuals who believe science and theology should coexist in all facets of the debate. Charles Henderson, author of God and Science and Faith, Science, and the Future, believes “Those who will make significant contributions to understanding and knowledge in the future will not come from the ranks of those who see this as a confrontation between two opposing and largely contradictory views of reality” (Henderson). And secondly, we find well-funded organizations like SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), with a small percentage of its participants open to not only the possibility of life on other planets, but maybe some of those alien races are so advanced that there is a possibility they had a hand in the creative origin of our species. Both these groups, however, choose to keep a low profile regarding the theory of origin debate, even though they have clearly defined alternative schools of thought on the issue. Therefore, like the past, present, and foreseeable future, evolution, creationism, and intelligent design will continue to take center stage in the ongoing controversy.

Unfortunately, none of the controversial combatants have been able to clearly prove their theories. Yet each is a valid school of thought based on the various interpretations possible from the available evidence. Each side, likewise, has accomplished scientists diligently striving to discover additional facts to support the credibility of their theory. Therefore, each should be allowed a fair and uncompromised playing field whether you, I, or anyone else believes in them personally. For the sake of humanity, and with the hope that collaborative efforts will bring additional discoveries in the search for truth, each school of thought backed by valid evidence should be encouraged and unhindered in their pursuits. Discovering the answers in the great genealogical quest to ascertain our true origin far outweighs the costly and time consuming debate. It’s time to end the debate and encourage all the scientists to endeavor until the undeniable truth is finally discovered. 

Works Cited

Forrest, Barbara Carroll. “Intelligent Design Movement Undermines the Separation of Church and State.” At Issue: Intelligent Design vs Evolution. Ed. Louise Gerdes. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2008. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Web. 15 Oct. 2009.

Henderson, Charles. “Intelligent Design vs Evolution: A False Dichotomy.” Cross Currents. God Web. 22 July 2009. Web. 15 Oct. 2009.

Kofahl, Robert E. “Scientific Evidence Against Evolution and for Creation Should Be Included in Science Curricula.” Opposing Viewpoints: Education. Ed. Mary E. Williams. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2000. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Web. 15 Oct. 2009.

Masci, David. “Evolution vs Creationism: Should schools be allowed to teach creationism?” CQ Researcher. 7.32, 745-768. CQ Press, A Division of SAGE Publications. 22 Aug. 1997. Web. 15 Oct. 2009.

Ruse, Michael. “Intelligent Design Should Be Taught in Religion Classes, Not Science.” At Issue: Intelligent Design vs Evolution. Ed. Louise Gerdes. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2008.

Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Web. 15 Oct. 2009.

Scott, Eugenie and Leon Lynn. “Creationism Should Not Be Included in Science Curricula.” Opposing Viewpoints: Education. Ed. Mary E. Williams. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2000.

Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Web. 15 Oct. 2009.

[*This article is a reprint by author from 2009.]


Remember, those who think themselves wise

often prove themselves fools.

    © JW Thomas


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