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Human Evolution: The Incontrovertible Controversy
Human evolution has been on trial in the educational system for decades. As proponents of teaching Intelligent Design continue to battle the proven science behind Evolution theory, their methods have evolved. Prior cases have upheld the teaching of evolution as scientifically sound, while creationism has been demonstrated as having no scientific basis – and therefore requires no educational mandate within the scope of a scientific study. As these trials continue, the education of young people is continually at risk by mainly religious proponents across the country. The stereotype lingers that religion is by necessity at odds with science and scientific learning. That is not necessarily the case. As studies have proven, the dichotomy of religious belief and science education is not as dire as initially believed. Those without religious beliefs have maintained the ideology that science is rational, while faith-based religion is irrational by default. Further investigation, however, brings some interesting observations to light. For example, acceptance of evolution increases along with the level of education – even among self-described religious fundamentalists. Furthermore, the stereotype that religion and science are automatically at odds dissapates the more students learn about science. (Scheitle, C.P., 2011, 50:175-186)
Proponents of Intelligent Design maintain that it is integral to the education of youth to be taught both sides of the issues. They therefore place intelligent design (the belief that evolution may have occurred naturally, but there was a “mind” or an intelligence that set the ball in motion) on equal footing with evolutionary theory, when in fact, they are not even on the same playing field at all. Creationists (the belief that macro evolution is false, though smaller micro evolutionary changes can occur, and that all “kinds” were created by a deity) maintain that teaching creation alongside with evolution will give students a firmer grasp on the issues, while simultaneously failing to recognize that creationism has no scientific background and cannot, by definition, be proven using verified scientific methods. If the creationist ideal were sound, it would mean one event in history that was unable to be tested, falsified or reproduced – which removes it from the scientific purview completely.
The most notable case on the subject comes from history in the 1925 Scopes Trial. At the onset of the trial, teaching evolution was outlawed by Tennessee’s Butler act. Although Scopes was eventually found guilty of teaching evolution and fined, the case went up the ladder to higher level courts and proved relevant to future trials focused on the evolution vs. creationism debate.
While the Scopes “Monkey” Trial was the most notable, other similar cases have followed. In December 2005, the Intelligent Design policy in place in Dover was overturned. In the judge's final decision, he maintained that Intelligent Design could not be uncoupled from its religious overtones, and therefore violated the establishment clause in the constitution. Furthermore, Judge Jones declared that Intelligent Design could not be considered a science since it had not been tested, proven or undergone the rigorous peer review process required to gain acceptance and understanding in the scientific community.
Despite the many cases of similar nature springing up across the nation and being overturned, adherents of creationism and intelligent design both continue to file lawsuites around the nation in an attempt to equate religious belief with scientific study. This presents a real danger to the education that should be standard for all youths nationwide by placing science and scientific means on trial and comparing it with something that, by definition, cannot be scientific – relying on miracles and divine mandates rather than naturalistic results that can be observed, tested and repeated. Among the most notable cases are Segraves v. State of California in 1981, McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education in 1982, Edwards v. Aguillard in 1987, Webster v. New Lenox School District in 1990, Peloza v. Capistrano School District in 1994, Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education in 1997, Rodney LeVake v. Independent School District 656, et al., and Selman et al. v. Cobb County School District. (Matsumura & Mead, 2001)
This topic has been on the mind of educators and scientists alike. Acceptance of evolution is seen as contradictory to the teachings that current religious beliefs hold. Proponents of creationism and intelligent design see the concept of evolution in humans as a threat to their tightly-held religious beliefs, and therefore do not want to see this proven, testable and falsifiable theory taught to impressionable youths who may, in turn, turn away from their religious upbringings. The idea of evolution in and of itself is therefore thought of as threatening – and should be halted by any available means.
Moreover, human evolution is a hot button topic among many with religious beliefs, with a Harris poll in 2005 showing that 54% of those studied did not believe that humans had evolved from an earlier species – a number that grew by 10% from a previous study completed in 1994. (Wallis 2005). A recent interview of creationists after a debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye showed that even the basic fundamental ideals of evolution are misunderstood. When given the opportunity to ask questions, many of the attendees asked “If humans evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” Further studies have been conducted recently, comparing the DNA of modern Europeans against the DNA of Cro-Magdoids and Neanderthals. “"The Paglicci 23 individual carried a mtDNA sequence that is still common in Europe, and which radically differs from those of the almost contemporary Neandertals, demonstrating a genealogical continuity across 28,000 years, from Cro-Magnoid to modern Europeans.“ (Caramelli et al. 2008. ) That the fundamental elements and ideas behind evolutionary theory is still so unknown to many is a disturbing trend. This is especially true considering the scientific and educational advances being performed in other countries where evolution is more universally accepted. By keeping our education in the dark ages and placing preferential treatment on religious ideals rather than scientific ideals, the nation as a whole is placing itself at a huge disadvantage in terms of science when compared to other nations worldwide.
What do you think about the controversy?
All public school students in the country should receive a standardized curriculum in order to prepare them sufficiently for whatever higher educational goals they may hold. Science curriculum should teach evolution as a proven scientific theory that has been tested, demonstrated and proven repeatedly through rigorous means, as are all theories under the Scientific Method. Teaching the controversy and introducing alternate explanations for the diversity of life on this planet necessarily has to include religious teachings which have not conformed to the same rigorous ideals that the scientific method has produced. It serves to only isolate religious students from the rigors of the scientific world, and confuse them as they continue their learning while seeking degrees in higher educational institutions at colleges and universities across the country. A standardized textbook and curriculum can alleviate some of these controversial teachings and ensure that the youth of the country receive the same education that prepares them for further study. It is imperative that all public school students across the country receive the same, standardized education in order to prepare them for higher educational opportunities and to prepare them for regularly scheduled standardized testing that takes place nationwide.
While the Federal government regularly oversees curriculum and standardized teaching opportunities nationwide, they often leave decisions of specific curriculum to the state level. Placing this at a Federal level instead will allow the opportunity for all students to receive the same basic education nationwide, and give the government more control over controversial topics like human evolution taking place in the classroom. This takes the controversy out of the hands of particularly religious-leaning states, and sets a standard for all students nationwide. The controversy can be taught in religious institutions, but unproven and unprovable hypothesis such as creationism do not belong in science classes in the public school system.
Pew Research Survey, 2009
1% deny evolution
30% reject evolution
87% Accept Evolution through natural processes
31% accept evolution through natural processes
9% accept evolution with divine guidance
21% accept evolution with divine guidance
Although the Supreme Court decision in 1982 and 1987 put an end to the teaching of “creation science” in the classroom citing a clear violation of the concept of the separation of church and state, the inherent controversy among creationists and Intelligent Design adherents still remains. The controversy comes in a wide variety of different forms, and intelligent design is one of the most common approaches. Even proponents of intelligent design admit, when questioned, that there is no scientific basis behind the conclusions that they've drawn, but they find solace in the dissenting opinion of Supreme Court justice Scalia. Justice Scalia made plain in his dissenting opinion of the 1987 ruling that “religious fundamentalists are quite entitled, as a secular matter, to have whatever scientific evidence there may be against evolution presented in their schools” (Wallis, 2005). This opinion has been used to put forth additional legislation such as the numerous court cases previously mentioned in order to allow the controversy of Intelligent Design to be legislated and pressured into scientific curriculum nationwide.
Until a standardized text is put forth, proponents of both creationism and intelligent design will continue to pressure teachers to teach creationism and intelligent design in their science classes. This will continue to confuse the youths they are responsible for teaching, and contribute to new, more controversial ideas. If creationism is to be taught, which version should be put forth? Would science teachers be required to teach the creation stories of all religious faiths alongside Darwin's theory of evolution? If one belief took precedent over another, would that not be a first amendment violation against the followers of other, competing faiths? Would biology classrooms turn into a comparative religion class, with no actual science being taught? What affect would these changes have on the overall scientific literacy of the nation's youth, and how would this affect their studies in later life?
The backlash of such a decision will likely be decisive, but not insurmountable. Proponents of both intelligent design and creationism will most likely present more lawsuits to various courts in order to counter the government's decision, but their reaction will likely be as easily overcome as proven to be in the past with multiple court cases previously mentioned. It is important to reaffirm the fact that religious education will not be impeded or restricted within appropriate venues such as churches, private religious schools and at the home level. Overwhelming evidence, however, suggests that having a defined scientific curriculum demonstrating the strength of evolution theory and its implications will have a large impact on scientific advancements and study in the generations to come. The number of people in this country who deny evolution at a fundamental level is on the rise, not decreasing – and this trend presents alarming possibilities for the next generations responsible for scientific literacy and understanding.
Additional research completed by Ronald Numbers brought to light the fact that in certain states, anywhere between 30-69% of high school biology teachers thought that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in the public school classroom. (Numbers, 2006)
Furthermore, other nations that have taught evolution theory exclusively in the classrooms have made great scientific strides and advancements. This graph demonstrates that the United States is far behind other competing powers in terms of scientific literacy and the understanding and acceptance of human evolution – as well as evolution theory as a whole.
Ethically speaking, the government of the United States bears a responsibility to its people to teach subject matter which will be of pivotal use. Teaching the controversy of creationism and/or intelligent design in a science classroom is the equivalent of teaching the controversy of a flat earth in history classrooms. It's unethical to purport hypothesis as possibilities with no facts, evidence, falsifiability or testability to impressionable young people who associate what they learn in classrooms as truth and view teachers as authorities when it comes to the matter of public education. The government needs to take a stand for education, and put no emphasis on religious ideology that has no place in a public school classroom, but is more than welcome to be shared at the home or religious institutional level.
Presentation on the Paper
Caramelli et al. A 28,000 Years Old Cro-Magnon mtDNA Sequence Differs from All Potentially Contaminating Modern Sequences. PLoS One, 2008; 3 (7): e2700 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002700
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Scheitle, C. P. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (2011) 50:175–186
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