29 April 2005

As Darwin turns in his grave

Just catching up on life science news. This article from Nature caught my eye: Intelligent design. The most startling statistics are that:

  • 43% of American teenagers believe that "human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process";
  • 38% believe that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so"; and only
  • 18% think that humans have developed from less advanced forms of life, and God had nothing to do with it. (don't ask me where the other 1% went)

As for the theory of evolution as first set out by Darwin (note scientist's use of theory vs hypothesis), I can understand why 33% "don't know enough about it to say", 30% think it "isn't backed up by evidence", with only 37% assured that it is a well-supported theory (this is to do with education, or lack of it). Assuming the 18% who don't hold truck with creationism nor intelligent design are part of the 30% who agree that the theory of evolution holds true, what's happened to the other 12%? (The other assumption is, of course, that the same population was asked both questions... Polls being less reliable that laboratory-based experiments...)

It appears that some teens think Darwin and friends got it right, but still believe that to be compatible with supernatural intervention. OK, that's over simplifying things a bit. The intelligent design argument is that you need not involve theology, and this is how creationism is sneaking it's way back into the classroom. It worries me that there is little common ground between Darwinists and creationists. How can scientists and school teachers explain to their students and the lay public that acknowledging that a deity had nothing to do with our evolution is not being unfaithful to their religious beliefs? Is it PC to say to people with religious convictions that perhaps the tomes they put their faith in should not be taken literally? For me, it seems to come down to a question of faith. I have faith in my own ability to understand and draw logical conclusions from published evidence, and they have faith in their teachings. For me, evolution is a fact, whatever the current hypothesis on the workings of evolution are (i.e. How it comes about. The fact that it happens at all is just that. A fact.). Hey, maybe I should find out if Darwinism is a recognised religion; then we could argue that schools that refuse to teach evolution are discriminating against our religion!

If you want a layman's explanation of how humans came to be who we are today, have a look at a BBC site on prehistoric life: Human Evolution. Then look at BBC's History of Evolution pages for the story of how scientists evolved their ideas on evolution.

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