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The Ceaseless Wonders of the Evolution Debate

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After much reading and careful consideration, I find myself on the side of the religious right on one issue, even though I firmly believe that this ambiguous group of fundamentalists, evangelicals and fanatics has, through their political machinations and incessant meddling into numerous other matters of secular public policy, brought the injustice of Selman v. Cobb County School District upon themselves — and the rest of us.

In Selman v. Cobb County School District, the U. S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia ruled on January 13, 2005 that a sticker placed into science textbooks is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. The sticker in question reads, “This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.” In determining whether the government-sponsored message is in violation of the Establishment Clause, the court applied the “Lemon test,” provided by the Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurtzman, which asks whether the message: 1) has a secular purpose; 2) advances or inhibits religion in its principal or primary effect; or 3) creates an excessive entanglement of the government with religion.

Now, call me crazy, but the text of the sticker appears to easily pass the Lemon test because it has the secular purpose of encouraging critical thinking, which should be considered essential to any sort of education. And since the sticker doesn’t even mention religion, it cannot advance or inhibit it. Thus it cannot not create any excessive entanglements of the government with religion.

Those who believe in Charles Darwin‘s theory of evolution without question might be offended by these assertions, but please lower your defenses ( I am quite sensitive to the deteriorating condition of that proverbial wall that is supposed to separate church from state), keep an open mind and remember that the theory of evolution is based upon empirical evidence and observation which cannot be completely verified which means that evolution is indeed a scientific theory, not scientific fact. Therefore, belief in evolution (and many other scientific theories and hypotheses which are still being studied) requires more than a few leaps of scientific faith, even if some of the faithful cannot accept that uncomfortable truth.

The theory of evolution is still a scientific work in progress and there are several big questions that it does not answer such as how evolution adds information to a genome to create progressively more complicated organisms, how evolution brings about drastic changes so quickly and — most pertinently — how the first living cell arose spontaneously to get evolution started. As more study and research are done, the theory of evolution will either become complete, answering those questions which are currently unsolved, or it will be replaced by a new theory that better explains nature’s phenomena.

That is how the scientific process is supposed to work. As new discoveries are made, new theories are created and expounded and existing ones are modified in order to explain that which was previously misunderstood or unexplained. For example, Newtonian physics answered many types of problems — and still does — but it did not explain the many things that were eventually answered by Einstein’s theories of relativity.

And yet, there are many disciples of Darwin who insist that evolution is a fact, sometimes with a closed-mindedness which is not unlike that of which they readily accuse creationists who believe that the Biblical accounting is the absolute truth. To these believers, this talk about critical thinking with regard to the questions still surrounding the theory of evolution is nothing but religiously motivated nonsense. Can you smell the irony?

About Margaret Romao Toigo

  • Temple Stark

    Let me beat someone to it.

    What!!!!!!! (count ‘em, 7). There are no Bibles in public schools.

    Now we can move past that.

    The best part Albanesse? You’re right. The sticker would be, too.

  • mpho

    The writings of the bible do not constitute scientific theory. That’s the whole point. There are huge differences between theory, fact, and belief, but unfortunately the terms have become to emotionally loaded for them to be used rationally without raising someone’s ire.

  • George

    Should the followong be tagged to remind students that they are all only “Theories”?

    Analytic Geometry
    Atomic theory Stellar Spectroscopy
    Baroclinic Instability (theory for why storm systems form)
    Carnot Cycle
    Celestial Mechanics
    Cell Theory
    Chaos Theory
    Chapman mechanism that explains why the earth has an Ozone Layer
    Cloud physics theory of precipitation
    Conservation Laws and implications
    Conservation of Mass (Lavoisier)
    Continental Drift
    Discovery of the Electron 1897
    Endosymbiont Origin of Eukaryote Organelles
    Equivalence of Work and Energy – Joule
    Euclidean Geometry
    Existence of Antimatter (positron)
    Existence of subatomic particles (protons, neutrons, etc)
    Existence of Subnuclear particles (quarks)
    First Law of Thermodynamics – Conservation of Energy
    Germ Theory
    Heliocentric Solar System
    High Temperature Superconductivity
    Ice Ages
    Ideal Gas Laws
    Inverse theory (using observations to reconstruct unobservable things, like the interior of the earth or of you (seismology and MRI, for example).
    Kepler’s Laws
    Kolmogoroff theory of isotropic turbulence
    Laplace’s Tidal Theory
    Maxwell’s Equations for Electromagnetism
    Mendelian Genetics
    Milankovitch theory of ice ages
    Monin-Obukhov theory of convective turbulence
    Navier-Stokes Equations of Fluid Dynamics
    Newtonian Optics
    Newton’s Law of Gravity
    Newton’s Laws of Motion
    Non-euclidean geometry
    Nuclear power plants
    Nucleosynthesis (what makes the sun shine)
    Numerical Weather
    PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction)
    Plate Tectonics
    Principle of superposition (geology)
    Prion Theory of Disease
    Punctuated Equilibrium
    Quantum Chromodynamics
    Quantum Mechanics
    Radioactive Dating
    Radioactivity – Becquerel 1895
    Recombinant DNA
    Second Law of Thermodynamics
    Stommel and Arons theory of the Abyssal circulation
    The Big Bang theory
    The Modern Synthesis (of Mendelian genetics and evolution)
    The Norwegian Low (theory from meteorology)
    The Periodic Table
    Theory for the form of the earth, including isostacy
    Theory for the geostationary satellite – Arthur C. Clarke
    Theory of convection
    Theory of Data Assimilation Theory of the Ventilated Thermocline
    Theory of flight
    Theory of General Relativity
    Theory of Radiative Transfer (tremendously improved by Chandresekhar 1950, though it existed more or less for the previous century)
    Theory of Special Relativity
    Theory of the Chemical Bond
    Third Law of Thermodynamics – Nernst
    Unification of the Electromagnetic and Weak Nuclear Force
    Vaccination (Jenner, 1xxx)
    Variational Mechanics
    X rays
    Zernike’s phase contrast