Theories & Ways of Knowing

The local debate over evolution and creationism still continues. This letter by Ed Brunson was published today under the headline, “Science: Evolution is a theory.”

The fact that the scientific theory of evolution is being debated in the same breath with the religious theory of creationism and intelligent design is appalling. In the 1920s, Tennessee was the scene of the famous Scopes monkey trial that debated the legitimacy of teaching evolution. Since that time, scientific evidence has continued to come in supporting the theories involved in natural selection and evolution. Recently, the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine published their updated edition of Science, Evolution & Creationism. In it, they state, quite succinctly, "The evidence for evolution can be fully compatible with religious faith. Science and religion are different ways of understanding the world. Needlessly placing them in opposition reduces the potential of each to contribute to a better future." Evolution is a scientific theory, testable, but not 100 percent provable. Isaac Newton's theories, including that of gravity, are theories. Not provable. But you don't need to prove gravity, because, when you try to deny it, you fall. Creationism, and intelligent design are not scientific theories; they are religious explanations for unknown happenings. The story of creationism is allegorical, nothing more, nothing less. The infusion of religious theory into scientific teaching is folly; it should have ended in the 1920s along with the Scopes monkey trial.
This letter in support of teaching only evolution in public schools is fairly standard and I would just like to comment on the texts written by other parties.

First, I find the heading printed by the newspaper misleading. Many detractors of evolution argue that it's “only a theory,” implying a lack of supporting evidence, but the author of this letter emphasized that a scientific theory is not something to be proved. Perhaps they could have written something like, “Evolution: Gravity is also only a theory.”

Second, I have objections to the statement by the National Academy of Sciences. Evolution can be compatible with religious faith, but that depends entirely on what that religion teaches. It's not compatible with the belief that humans were miraculously created by God six thousand years ago. It's not compatible with the belief that humans have existed on earth for all eternity. It's not compatible with the belief that humans were brought here by space aliens. No one is placing science and religion in any more opposition than they actually are; some people just aren't willing to pretend that there's no contradiction when there actually is, radically change their religious beliefs, and sweep the issue under the rug. I don't object to changing one's religious beliefs and acknowledging that this change was made in the light of new evidence, but it's simply dishonest to strip a belief of its original meaning in order to save face, especially if while still claiming infallible certitude for this and other completely unsupported assertions. Science and religion aren't two different ways to understand the world because religion just isn't a way to understand the world. One might as well say that a magic eight-ball is yet a third way to understand the world since it's no less reliable than religion in ascertaining the truth.  Of the various ways to gain knowledge, only science offers consistent results and we shouldn't give religious dogma receive any more respect than any other variety of quackery.


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