Tuesday, February 20, 2007
As I mentioned a while back, Q was taking a distance learning course EPGY Writing last fall (she is now taking the next in the series).
Her final assignment was to write an essay on a controversial topic. What you see below is that essay.
Evolution vs. Creationism/Intelligent Design in Our Schools
December 6, 2006
The goal of public education is to teach children about the world so that they can get a job, to think clearly, and to know about the world. Most people agree that what is taught in school should be based on facts. This includes subjects like language, history, and science. These days, some religious people are trying to have religious topics taught in public school, and specifically they are trying to have Creationism taught along with Evolution. This is a big controversy and has caused a lot of negative feelings between some religious people and people who want to keep public school free of religious teachings. I believe that Evolution and not Creationism or Intelligent Design should be taught in public school.
In America, our public schools have traditionally followed the idea of government (which includes public schools) and religion being separate so that people can be free to believe what they want. (See this link about the doctrine relating to the Seperation of Church and State) Kids should not be forced to believe religious ideas that are different from their own, and they should not be taught that things are facts when they are actually made up myths. This means that religion should not be taught in school but in churches and temples or people's homes. It would not be fair to teach just one religion because each person has the right to their own religion and a public school that taught just one religion would hurts the rights of those from other religions (and those with no religion).
To understand the controversy, the ideas of evolution, creationism, and intelligent design need to be understood or defined. According to the Theory of Evolution, life evolved from simple ancient life forms into the species that we see on Earth today through a huge number of small changes called mutations from one generation to the next over billions of years. Even though Charles Darwin didn't know about DNA molecules, he is credited with stating the whole Theory of Evolution in the way we know it, which is that mutations that turn out to be helpful for a species' survival and reproduction are the ones that get passed on to future generations, and the ones that lead to death or less reproduction just don't get copied into future generations of a species. (On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles Darwin) The theory of Evolution says nothing about how life started or why, just how it has changed over time. Understanding evolution helps scientists better understand everything from how molecules in the body behave and came to exist the way they do today to how ladybugs got their red shells to why butterflies migrate.
People who believe in Creationism believe that one single all powerful supernatural being, usually referred to as a god, or just God, created the universe and all of the things in it, including the Earth and the living things on it, in their presently observed forms. There are actually many different forms of Creationism or creation myths (See this link). The ancient Norse, for instance, had an entirely different mythology that had a Theory of Creation with it. (See this link). Most religions have some kind of story about the origin of the universe and life.
Intelligent Design, as it is being used today, is a very recent set of ideas that argues that there are aspects of life and some molecules inside living cells that are so complex that they could not possibly have been formed spontaneously in nature without a supernatural "intelligent designer." Thus a supernatural designer had to exist before life existed. Like Creationism, Intelligent Design comes in different varieties, including some that say that a Christian God was the entity that had to be that supposed designer and some that don't. For the purpose of this essay, they can be taken together with all the different varieties of Creationism because they all imply and assume the existence of a supernatural being with power and influence over the origin of the universe and life.
One goal of the supporters of Intelligent Design is to have these ideas taught in public school along side or instead of Evolution in biology classes. From the beginning, public school teachers and principals and others involved in running the public schools have had a problem with this. (See National Academy of Sciences) Many believe that the two would clash, and kids would get confused almost to the point of saying that Evolution means that God created the universe. In 1925 there was a court trial that concerned just this problem. It is called the Scopes Monkey Trial (See this link). The basic idea was that it should not be illegal to teach Evolution in schools. The jury said that they agreed that teaching Evolution in public schools should not be illegal. Since then, many different states have tried to pass laws that make it illegal to teach Evolution, then trials have occurred to stop these laws. (See this link)
It seems like there has always been controversy when new scientific ideas have developed, especially those that suggest something different than the established religious ideas of the day. The idea that the creation story in the Bible is not the only true answer to the question of how man came to be has been brutally attacked for hundreds of years. It is no surprise that this controversy continues today.
I believe that the big conflict between evidence and fact-based science and Creationism / Intelligent Design would not happen if everyone just kept them separate, with Evolution taught as science in school, and Creationism / Intelligent design discussed elsewhere if people want to. But it seems like this conflict might go on for decades or more. We might not ever stop fighting about it because its very, very fierce on both sides, and it looks like nobody is backing down. Everyone is rushing to get a tiny bit of proof, or at least a logical argument, so more people will believe their side of the debate.
But the basic important fact is that that Theory of Evolution has a great deal of evidence supporting it ( See "Evidence of Evolution" for a summary of some of it; there exists a great deal more), and Creationism has none at all. No offense to people who take the Bible as historical fact and truth, but the Bible is a collection of myths written by human beings many years ago. There just isn't any scientifically verifiable proof that the Genesis story of how the Universe and Earth and humans that comes at the beginning of the Bible is a true explanation of what actually happened. On the other hand, scientists in the fields of biology, geology and paleontology have discovered a great deal of evidence to support the basic predictions of Darwin's Theory of Evolution, and those many individual pieces of evidence have been subjected to a lot of debate over the years and still seem to point to proof of Evolution. It's not any single piece of scientific evidence that proves Darwin's theory is correct, it is all of the evidence together that agrees with each other that makes a strong case for the factual correctness of the Theory of Evolution as we know it today.
As I wrote above, Intelligent Design seems very similar to Creationism because it assumes that a supernatural being played a role in creating life and guiding evolution. Michael Shermer, who is a philosopher and a regular columnist in Scientific American and Skeptic magazines, made a good argument about why Intelligent Design does not come close to what scientists would consider as a good scientific argument.
In an essay titled, "Not Intelligent, Surely Not Science" in March, 2005, Shermer wrote that Intelligent Design (ID) "is saying, in essence, that if there is no natural explanation for X, then the explanation must be a supernatural one. IDers cannot imagine, for example, how the bacterial flagellum (such as the little tail that propels sperm cells) could have evolved; ergo, they conclude, it was intelligently designed. But saying 'ID did it' does not explain anything. Scientists would want to know how and when ID did it, and what forces ID used."
I agree with what Shermer said. If we assume that science that is taught in public schools should be theories based on actual evidence and not myths like what is written the Bible, and also that recent ideas based on unscientific bad logic should not be treated like real evidence-based science, then clearly only Evolution should be taught as the real scientific theory about how life came to be on Earth. Evolution has a huge amount of evidence that makes it worthy of being taught as science in public schools. Creationism and Intelligent Design simply don't.
The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles Darwin
The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex by Charles Darwin
Wikipedia articles that are used for general background and not for quote evidence for proving things:
Wiki on Evolution
Evolution. (2006, November 17). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:08, November 17, 2006
Evidence of evolution. (2006, November 13). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:09, November 17, 2006, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Evidence_of_evolution&oldid=87493218
History of evolutionary thought. (2006, November 14). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:10, November 17, 2006
Creation-evolution controversy. (2006, November 17). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:11, November 17, 2006
Creation science. (2006, November 14). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:12, November 17, 2006
Intelligent design. (2006, November 15). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:12, November 17, 2006
Creation and evolution in public education. (2006, November 15). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:13, November 17, 2006
Teach the Controversy. (2006, November 17). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:13, November 17, 2006
Scopes Trial. (2006, November 16). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:18, November 17, 2006
Separation of church and state. (2006, December 5). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16:27, December 6, 2006
Essay by Michael Shermer:
"Not Intelligent, Surely Not Science", March, 2005
Websites that are also just for background:
Tree of Life
Evolution for teachers at Calif Museum of Palentology
Evolution 101 at Calif Museum of Palentology