The New York Times reported today on an unusual development in an Ohio election in which 75 professors from Case Western Reserve University entered the political arena by endorsing Tom Sawyer, a candidate for the Ohio Board of Education. Mr. Sawyer is a former mayor of Akron and Congressman.
The scientists were moved to action in the hope of defeating Deborah Owens Fink, "a leading advocate of curriculum standards that encourage students to challenge the theory of evolution." Ohio professors are acting thoughout the state to fight for candidates who support the teaching of science without religious censorship. Physics professor Lawrence M. Krauss was the organizer of the letter and reported nearly 90% of the Case Western science faculty had joined in the signing. They included physicists, chemists, biologists, geologists, and, it was said, psychologists.
When interviewed by the Times, Dr. Krauss said, “This is not some group of fringe scientists or however they are being portrayed by the creationist community. This is the entire scientific community, and I don’t know of any other precedent for almost the entire faculty at an institution” joining in this kind of concerted political effort. Dr. Owens Fink, the other candidate, is a Professor of Marketing at the University of Akron and a registered Republican.
Even back in July, the Ohio School Board debated guidelines to control the teaching, not just of evolutionary science, but other "controversial" subjects such as cloning and global warming. The Americans United For The Separation Of Church And State sent a plea from their Executive Director, Reverend Barry W. Lynn. "Public school students in Ohio deserve sound science education, not religious dogma masquerading as science. It’s time for Religious Right allies on the board to drop their unwise agenda and focus on policies that will benefit all of Ohio’s students."
This type of local and state school board debate is current news, but the freedom of the academic community to teach the natural sciences without interference from some religious groups is a continuing, deep division somewhat unique to the United States. In the rest of the industrialized world it is, as The New Scientist published as reported the August 20 online edition, "Why Doesn't America Believe In Evolution?" just not an issue.
They recounted a study showing the U.S. is above only Turkey (in the 32 countries polled — U.S., Japan, and 32 EU countries) in its unwillingness to accept evolution as scientific fact. The reasons they give for the national blindness are poor science education, a fiery political debate, and religious fundamentalism. "Republicans have clearly adopted this as one of their wedge issues. In most of the world, this is a non-issue," according to Jon Miller of Michigan State, who conducted the survey.
The Michigan State professor's report is not heartening for supporters of evolutionary science. The average American may now have more years of education than 20 or more years ago when Dr. Miller began his study, but the percentage of Americans who adhere to the idea of evolutionary change has gone down to 40 in the year 2005 from 45 in 1985. Dr. Miller said, "We don't seem to be going in the right direction." He pointed out those 20-plus years included great strides in genetics and even in "genetic sequencing." Genetic sequencing shows "… a strong overlap of the human genome with those of chimpanzees and mice."
Religious fundamentalists lead the fight against science. Fundamentalist Christians in numerous sects and cults fight against biology education because of a belief the Bible (the English, King James version, I assume) is literal. They have a belief the world and humans were created 6000 years ago and no amount of physical evidence moves them from this idea. They maintain something called "intelligent design," where a practical-joking God sprinkles fossilized remains, geological strata, and all the other millions of bits of evidence around just to test the faith of the faithful.
Miller thinks more genetics should be on the syllabus to reinforce the idea of evolution. American adults may be harder to reach: nearly two-thirds don't agree that more than half of human genes are common to chimpanzees. How would these people respond when told humans and chimps share 99 per cent of their genes?
However, the Internet has added a new armory of scholarly support to anyone willing to study the issue. An Internet site, Darwin Online, has digitalized the largest existing collection of written materials, manuscripts, ancillary sources, and images on the great naturalist.
The homepage lists the important collection and its offerings, which include "The first ever complete collection of all Darwin's publications. Many have never been reproduced and almost all appear online for the first time." Texts are said to be complete and "as close to holding the book in one's hand" as possible. Electronic and image forms of documents can even be viewed side-by-side.
There are, we saw above, some in America who would liken this collection of fascinating historical study or a glimpse of the works of the "great English naturalist and author of The Origin Of The Species, Charles Darwin (1809-1882)" to pornography and sacrilege. It is, however, a repository of knowledge in a field where emotion reigns often above any knowledge.
One site dedicated to explaining the science of evolutionary change quotes the eminent biologist, Douglas J. Futuyma in his book, Evolutionary Biology:
- In the broadest sense, evolution is merely change, and so is all-pervasive; galaxies, languages, and political systems all evolve. Biological evolution … is change in the properties of populations of organisms that transcend the lifetime of a single individual. The ontogeny of an individual is not considered evolution; individual organisms do not evolve. The changes in populations that are considered evolutionary are those that are inheritable via the genetic material from one generation to the next. Biological evolution may be slight or substantial; it embraces everything from slight changes in the proportion of different alleles within a population (such as those determining blood types) to the successive alterations that led from the earliest protoorganism to snails, bees, giraffes, and dandelions.
Obviously, the religious fundamentalists may not believe in planet-forming, star-birth, amoeba, dinosaurs, chimpanzees, or the possibility of man evolving into a more reasonable creature, but, if they thought more about "bees, giraffes, and dandelions," the educational system might be less under attack in our country. As a scientist is reported to have said, the discussion of "evolution" is fruitless and merely being looked at from the wrong perspective. "When someone claims that they don't believe in evolution they cannot be referring to an acceptable scientific definition of evolution because that would be denying something which is easy to demonstrate. It would be like saying that they don't believe in gravity!"