A study from Penn State has found that many high school biology teachers are not doing a good job of teaching evolution. Many in the scientific community are disturbed, and seem surprised by the results. They seem to think that further education for teachers would be one way to solve the problem, and while a lack of understanding may be contributing to the “problem,” I don’t think that is the real problem. Most teachers are not scientists; they’re teachers and like most Americans, they don’t like being told what to believe. I think the real problem revolves around the fact that many scientists feel this theory needs to be forced down America’s throats, and many in America look at it like a bad television commercial. I’m not buying what you’re selling.
One of the biggest problems in the evolution debate has been created by evolutionists themselves. They have intertwined science, evolution, natural selection, and abiogenesis, into one big inseparable category, and have caused confusion in the process. For the sake of argument, I have provided my simple, non-scientific explanations for these terms:
- life beginning from non-living matter without the aid of intelligent life
- natural selection
- the ability of a species to change and adapt to its environment through small mutations from one generation to the next
- the ability of a species to not only change and adapt to its environment (natural selection), but to change in such a way that new species arise
- a branch of knowledge dealing with facts and truths gained through systematic observation
- scientific method
- a systematic method of constructing a hypothesis, acquiring data, and testing that hypothesis
Bill Nye recently said in an interview, “it’s fine if you as an adult want to run around pretending or claiming that you don’t believe in evolution, but if we educate a generation of people who don’t believe in science, that’s a recipe for disaster”1. Based on the definitions above, it should be immediately clear where the problem with this statement lies. The problem isn’t that people don’t believe in science, the problem is that people don’t believe in evolution. That would be a problem if we educated a generation of people who didn’t believe in science, but evolution is only one area of science, and I don’t think science as a whole would suffer if it was scrapped. If fact, it may improve its reputation.
Another problem is the ambiguity of the word evolution. Since evolution describes a process of change, it has become common to describe any change as evolution. While this can make writing more exciting, incorrect usage can lead to problems of clarity. For example, in the article, Antibiotic Resistance: Delaying the Inevitable2, changes in Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacteria that causes gonorrhea, is used as an example of evolution. If we refer back to the definitions I listed above, we should again see the problem here. The strain of Neisseria gonorrhoeae that was not resistant to antibiotics, has mutated into a strain of Neisseria gonorrhoeae that is resistant to antibiotics. We do not have a new species, therefore, evolution has not occurred. Neisseria gonorrhoeae has adapted to the use of antibiotics, therefore, it is natural selection that has occurred. We have ended with the same species we started with, simply featuring different environmental adaptations.
Without going on and on, I’m sure you can understand the point I’m trying to make. Evolution, natural selection, and science are not the same thing, and the attempt to make these the same has not been without consequences.
One of those consequences has led to the belief that science and religion are incompatible. This belief is based primarily on two concepts: evolution and abiogenesis. While the two terms describe different parts of human origins, they are inseparable. If you don’t believe in a creator, you have to believe in some sort of abiogenesis and some sort of evolution.
While it’s true that these two ideas conflict with religion, we must remember that these two do not equal science as a whole. The argument that religion must conflict with all science based on these two is invalid. There are plenty of areas where theists believe scientists have made accurate observations using the scientific methods; there is no quarrel regarding most of science. It is the explanations that some scientists have used to describe what they see, not the science and/or scientific method that people have a problem with. There are many who feel that the explanations provided don’t match up to what can be seen in the observable world.
There are many evolutionists that seem to be shocked by the fact that people don’t believe the explanations. Evolution is not a matter of belief, they say, but based on data. Again, its not the data that people have problems with, but the explanations of the data. Evolution is a matter of belief if a person doesn’t t believe the explanations, just as it is a matter of belief if you do believe the explanations. The conflict is not between religion and science, as evolutionists would have you believe; the conflict is between religion and poor scientific explanations regarding human origins.
By the way, there is a “proof” of conflict that many evolutions love to bring up. That thing between Galileo and the Catholic Church? That was 400 years ago, can we move on?
Speaking of moving on, John Rennie writes, “High school students flunking biology might take some consolation in knowing that most of their teachers would be, too”3. There’s a difference between flunking biology because you don’t know the subject matter versus not believing the subject matter. I’d bet that many of those biology teachers could pass a test regarding evolution, but immediately following would still say they don’t believe it. “As one Michigan biology teacher infuriatingly told researchers, ‘I don’t teach the theory of evolution in my life science classes, nor do I teach the Big Bang Theory in my Earth Science classes… We do not have time to do something that is at best poor science”4. I think this is part of the key. It’s not ignorance that keeps people from teaching evolution, but the realization that it’s based on poor science.
For many, disbelief in evolution is not a matter of ignorance, but a matter of choice after looking at the evidence. To make this claim is condescending, and only serves to further the conflict between science and religion. I would argue that it actually shows the ignorance (arrogance?) of the one making the statement, since there seems to be an inability to see the real problem.
There have been a couple of studies during the last couple years correlating belief in evolution with higher education. This study is misleading at best. What needs to be correlated is what about evolution is being taught? Have the students been taught only the strengths and weaknesses of evolution, or only the strengths? What about opposing views? Have they discussed why do so many people still reject it? I chalk the correlation up to years of hearing, “Evolution is real. Evolution is real. Evolution is real,” with no objective, conflicting points of view. It’s not a matter of creationists providing an alternate scientific explanation, it’s a matter of showing the scientific problems with evolution, and abiogenesis, itself. A large portion of the theory consists of explanations that just aren’t convincing.
Blind faith is often described as believing in something there is no evidence for, yet believing anyway. While many in the scientific community would describe theists as falling into this category, there are many who would argue that evolutionists have fallen into the same trap. They can, and do, argue that the body of evidence supporting evolution proves that it is true, but one has to believe that the explanations provided explain adequately what we see in the real world. For many of us, teachers included, the scientific explanations just don’t do that. So, in effect, what we’re being asked to do is believe anyway, fulfilling the description of blind faith.
You will be hard pressed to find a Christian that doesn’t believe in natural selection, and you will be hard pressed to find a Christian that doesn’t believe in science, or the scientific method. You will however, find plenty of Christians who do not believe in evolution. We’re accused of ignorance and not critically thinking. Maybe the problem isn’t that people aren’t asking critical questions regarding what they believe, but maybe the problem is that people are asking critical questions and finding the scientific explanations wanting.
Fecht, Sarah. ”Science Guy Bill Nye Explains Why Evolution Belongs in Science Education.” Popular Mechanics. 4 Feb 2011.↩
”Antibiotic Resistance: Delaying the Inevitable.” Understanding Evolution for Teachers.↩
Rennie, John. ”Teachers Fail Evolution Education.” Scientific American. 28 Jan 2008.↩
Lebo, Lauri. ”One in Eight Biology Teachers Creationists.” Religion Dispatches. 3 Feb 2011.↩