Evolution

I wrote this for the:

The Charleston Gazette

March 2, 1997

          At Duval High School in Lincoln County, I teach chemistry and physics. Next year we may not be offering genetics at Duval unless creationism, as a science, is given equal status with evolution.

Jeff Harper lives across Sam’s Branch Creek from me. Jeff is the man who objected to evolution being taught in the genetics class. Jeff is a former student of mine and a friend. He is a wonderful father and neighbor and works hard at two jobs. He keeps National Guard planes flying and helps keep the family farm going. We fought side by side against one-school consolidation. So you can see the problem is not simple.

I think Jeff is wrong, but I know he is sincere in his beliefs and I know that he stands up for what he believes. I would much rather have him on my side than on the other side.

My guess is that in Lincoln County an overwhelming majority agrees with Jeff. Members of the board of education are aware of this. The night the board voted not to approve the evolution-tainted syllabus for genetics, a crowd of angry parents was on hand. This board of education, elected as opposed to consolidations, was busy consolidating some grade schools. The members didn’t need any more trouble that night in front of those already stirred-up citizens.

The creationists claim that evolution is “just a theory.” There is confusion as to what the word theory means. To scientists, a theory comes about after a hypothesis has been tested over and over by many different scientists and it appears the evidence points in a certain direction. A theory is the result of lots of data collection and evaluation; it is not just someone’s casual opinion.

It would be more accurate to say something is “just a hypothesis.” A scientific hypothesis is an idea that can be tested by experiment. Science deals with ideas that can be tested in the physical world. If it can’t be tested by experiment, it is not science.

Is creationism scientific? Can it be tested in the physical world? Can we use our senses or instruments to bring information to our senses to test the hypothesis? If the answer is yes, then creationism can be taught as a science. If the answer is no, then it could be included in a course that studies religion.

I don’t think creationism can be tested. To test it you would have to interview God and have the interview repeated many times by many different people. Maybe that is prayer. But I can’t check your prayer to see if God really spoke to you.

Evolution gets tested every summer. Farmers, using insecticides, breed resistant strains of bugs that by the end of the summer are laying eggs in the insecticide bags. Overuse of antibiotics has bred varieties of bacteria that are immune to the medicine.

Certain mutations, caused among other things by radiation, survive and their offspring are resistant and multiply. Creationists object to random mutations. They prefer God as directly causing the mutations. Why would God cause mutations that kill innocent people? If God is causing the mutations, God is not on our side.

When someone claims to have proven a hypothesis by experiment, other scientists jump all over it like a chicken on a June bug. Not too many years ago, two scientists in Utah claimed to have produced nuclear fusion at room temperature. Fusion is what causes the sun and all the stars to be so hot—if you believe scientists.

Other scientists were skeptical of this “cold fusion.” Science’s greatest virtue is skepticism. Skepticism is insurance against fraud. The skeptics tried to repeat the results. No one could get cold fusion to happen. The hypothesis that fusion could happen on a lab table in test tubes was tested and found wanting. Cold fusion never became a scientific theory because it could not be proven over and over by independent experiment. Science works only when evidence meets honesty.

The creationists, whom I have heard speak, seem to think that scientists are a bunch of dishonest people who make things up to fit the model they have for the universe. One even doubted that uranium decays into other elements. Proof that there are liquid regions beneath the surface of the earth was rejected because you can’t go there and observe—which is strange, since they base their beliefs on things unseen.

Officials at the Institute for Creation Research are sure that the space program and the search for extra-terrestrial life are government plots to “indirectly promote the rejection of Genesis as the true account of origins.” They count Orthodox Jews and fundamentalist Muslims as their only fellow travelers among the denominations and religions of the world. They come within a cat’s hair of calling the Pope a communist. Somehow, globalism creeps into their disgust for evolution, and they don’t fail to mention the Trilateral Commission.

Creationists aren’t looking for answers. They already know the answer, and the facts must fit that answer. Science doesn’t know the answer. Science examines the evidence and follows where it leads. If the evidence shows that God causes the mutations, then the scientist says so. Contrary to creationist paranoia, scientists are not a bunch of heathen atheists out to prove that God doesn’t exist.

Some people believe that evangelist Ernest Angley can heal by bumping the afflicted on the head and shouting, “heal!” The hypothesis that he can heal is a scientific hypothesis. It can be tested. Simply take him a person with an arm that has been cut off and ask him to put the arm back on.

Evangelist Jimmy Swaggart claimed that he healed his Plymouth many years ago on the way to a tent meeting. He simply rubbed anointing oil on the hood ornament and commanded the stalled car to heal, he said, and it ran just fine. This hypothesis, too, could be tested.

In 1600, a Catholic priest named Gordano Bruno was burned at the stake by the creationists of his day for saying that the earth wasn’t the center of the universe. Galileo was more fortunate. Because of his popularity with the people, he was merely threatened with torture and put under house arrest for the last eight years of his life.

Galileo had the gall to trust what he observed more than what the creationist leaders said he had to believe. Through his telescope he saw craters and mountains on the moon and four satellites going around Jupiter. From his observations he concluded that the earth went around the sun. Church leaders told him he couldn’t have seen these things because the earth is the center of God’s creation. The earth was the only place that could have moons. I am happy to report that the Pope cleared Galileo less than 10 years ago.

Creationism is an all out attack on the scientific method. The motto of science is “question authority.” The motto of creationists is “we are the authority.”

The proven theory of evolution isn’t the only theory that would have to be trashed under a new world order of creationism. The theory of relativity would have to be burned with Darwin’s books. Relativity depends on the postulate that the speed of light is the maximum speed throughout the universe. Many stars are millions of light years away. If the universe is only 6,000 years old, as the creationists claim, those stars can’t be more than 6,000 light years away–the Ice Age could not have occurred 10,000 years ago because there was no earth then.

If religion is brought into the schools, which religion will it be? Which creation story will be taught? To be fair, do we teach them all or just the Christian version? I have read that there are Hindus who believe that the world was created in a cosmic butter churn, and another religion believes that God created the world out of ant dung, and another claims that the world sits on top of a giant turtle. And what about Voodoo? Do reading chicken entrails get equal time? And of course there are those pesky snake handlers.

Who would be the creationist commissar for education—Jerry Falwell? The Pope? I lean toward the Pope. He declared last year that evolution is no longer just a hypothesis.

Can you imagine the power struggles that would go on between the multitude of denominations and religions? The founding fathers saw this one coming. Does God need all this coercion? Does God have to be defended against science and evolution? Many compromises will have to be made to accommodate every religion in this diverse country. Maybe the best compromise is to keep the separation of church and state.

If creationism is made part of the curriculum, as “creation science,” let’s be honest and call it divine revelation. Every test question could be answered with, “That’s the way God made it.” We wouldn’t have to do all those experiments in science class. But maybe God is revealed in the results of those experiments, maybe not. How would you test that hypothesis?

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to Amazon.com to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (wvhighlands.org), and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation (ksff.org). I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at martinjul@aol.com or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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