The Slow Death of Creationism

Creationism, the notion that all life on Earth was created at one instant around five thousand years ago and has not evolved since, is one of many baseless concepts in society that just refuses to die.

I recently came across a talk discussing the current status of creationism being taught in the classroom.  It appears that in the United States of America, creationism is alive and well in many states.  But, I must say, I do not know just how long this silliness can endure.

The very idea of teaching creationism in a science class is contradictory.  Science is an evidence-based field of study, and there is no evidence on which one can base the theory of intelligent design (another name for creationism).

Two hundred years ago, the origins of life were not well understood.  At that time, many scientists worked very hard to diligently categorize the overwhelming number of life forms on the planet.  Through this process of close examination of different species, one was faced with the question, "Where did all of these organisms come from?"

And then, along came Charles Darwin in the mid-nineteenth century.  Darwin's evidence-based theory of evolution by means of natural selection was man's first coherent alternative to creationism.  Since its first appearance, evolutionary theory has been backed by an overwhelming spectrum of evidence.  The central concept is simple: Genes are passed on from progeny to offspring, and the offspring who happen to inherit the qualities best-suited to their environment are more likely to thrive in it than those lacking them.  Those most likely to survive are also more likely to pro-create and pass on their genes to future generations. 

This concept is concisely summarized by the phrase, "Survival of the fittest."  And, there is a very key corollary to evolution, which says that those species that fail to adapt to their changing environment are at increased risk of extinction.

It should be noted that the laws of science go through a similar process of evolution as do living things.  The laws of science develop over a period of time, and are adapted through reason and observation.  Scientific data and the conclusions that they lead to must jump through several hoops in order to attain law status, and even more refined hoops in order to remain there.

A good example of the adaptation of scientific law may be found in the work of Sir Isaac Newton, who in the late seventeenth century, developed the laws of motion.  These laws describing the motion of all objects endured for over two hundred years, unchallenged by any scientific evidence.  But, in the early twentieth century, Albert Einstein showed that the very measure of time and space were relative, and as a result, Newton's Laws, while still applicable in most instances, were simply incorrect when discussing the motion of objects at very high velocities. 

So, the laws of motion were refined, adapted, such that they were congruent with observation.  Some decades later, the development of quantum mechanics showed that these laws needed to be refined even further, as they were also incompatible with very small objects, like subatomic particles.

Were Newton alive today, I am certain that he would appreciate that the best 'genes' of his scientific laws survived and continued to thrive, while those genes that were, well, false, did not.  That is because, science, by definition, is devoid of ego and authority (the same cannot be said of all scientists, but I digress).

This example illustrates why I believe that creationism is currently on its death bed.  It sits there because it is unfit.  It lay there motionless because it exists in a framework of religious literalism, which is itself, by definition, incapable of adaptation. 

In contrast, science is an area of study that is not just open to change - it is all about change.  Scientific research is an exploration in which one questions the extent of our knowledge, and aims to expand the boundaries of our knowledge.  If a scientific law is proven false within a certain context, scientists celebrate.  Here is what scientists do not do: Go to court to argue that an antiquated and clearly false scientific theorem be taught in schools.

A science class should not teach creationism just as it should not teach that fire is one of four elements of life.  We now know that fire occurs due to a chemical reaction we call combustion.  An introductory chemistry course will usually mention that fire was once thought to be one of four elements of life.  That is because science has a rich history, which is often as interesting as the scientific laws themselves.

In a similar way, a biology course should give an appropriate treatment to creationism.  Creationism should appear in the same chapter as evolution, but as a historical footnote.

Quite frankly, as a science teacher, I cannot imagine how to teach creationism to a class of students.  What educational material would the course consist of?  Every aspect of a science course is arrived at through some sort of observable, or at the very least, theoretical basis.  To attempt to validate intelligent design as a reasonable theory given all of the evidence in direct discordance with it amounts to an act of deceit.  How can the basis of a science class be, "It is so simply because it is so?" 

As legal battles continue to rage on in America, the majority of biology students are informed about evolution, while a reasonably sized minority are subjected to creationism.  This lie must not continue.  

It would be a 'darwinian irony' if creationists could not thrive and pro-create in the future, but this is unlikely to occur.  The real death of creationism will come about when the offspring of creationist progeny allow themselves to abandon the antiquated views of their parents.  This outcome is likely for anyone who embraces science, and its fundamental notion of inquisitiveness over authority. 

Creationists will one day be viewed by society with a similar regard to cigarette smokers who deny that their act of smoking has any negative health effects on themselves or others, despite the abundance of evidence to the contrary.  There is no question that the presence of creationism in the public discourse will eventually be phased out; the only question is "When?"

Unfortunately, nature has more patience than I do.


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