The Struggle Between the Evolutionists and Creationists, More Complicated Than Liberal and Conservative

An understated yet crucial point that Coyne has made is the way he explains the reactions that people had in several surveys concerning evolution.  Coyne explains that about forty percent of Americans believe that evolution is true, forty percent believe it is false, leaving twenty percent unsure.  While this statistic is much lower than most other places around the world, in many ways it is not surprising.  The United States of America is a very divided country, where we have a large amount of people supporting both sides of any major issue.  The supporters on both sides then try to convince the large undecided population to their side of any given issue, to give them the advantage over those with opposing views.  This is the exact way that any election in the United States works.  The two major candidates spend all of their time and effort on advertisements, rallies, and obtaining endorsements.  All of this is directed to the small, but important demographic of people who are undecided.  This gives these people much more attention and thus power in determining the outcome, since everyone else has made up their mind.

More importantly, I think that it is important to note the results of the survey about whether evolution should be taught in the classroom.  A majority, about sixty-six percent of Americans believe that evolution should be taught alongside creationism or intelligent design in schools.   Coyne believes this is because it appeals to Americans sense of fair play, or the idea that everyone’s ideas deserve to be heard.  This makes sense, but there is a difference between a person’s views on gun control and their views on evolution.  The problem with this is that evolution has become widely accepted in the scientific community, while other controversial topics do not have a clear solution.  As Coyne says “Today scientists have as much confidence in Darwinism as they do in the existence of atoms” (xvii).  This points out one of the biggest misconceptions about science today.  People believe just because something like evolution is called a theory or because it is impossible for scientists to observe and experiment on evolution, then it is not true.  This creates a public mistrust in science, even if the research is widely accepted by the scientific community at large.

The reason that such a clear scientific issue has been so controversial has to do with the way that people are being exposed to evolution.  As Coyne states, some people are not interested in evolution, and even people who have studied the sciences have not learned the complete background of evolution.  Another reason that has a factor on the public’s reception to evolution is the people who actively speak out against evolution by calling it unnatural and untrue.  The religious often asserts this, which is as Coyne states, “You can find religion without creationism, but you never find creationism without religion” (xvii).  This resistance is the single biggest struggle for people who are trying to teach evolution.  Many religious groups have a great deal of money and power that they use to promote their agendas, which can be antievolutionary.  This means that schools that are publicly funded have to cater to the religious groups if they want to continue to receive their funding.

The source of the controversy about evolution has to do with the idea that humans came from a “lesser” organism.  It is quite unsettling to many people especially if you believe that a creator designed humans.  However the science behind evolution is solid, and there has not been a serious alternative to it.  For example, Coyne references a court case in the preface where a conservative judge ruled in favor of evolution.  The judge said that the proponents of intelligent design lied when they said that they had no religious motivations, and simply substituted the phrase intelligent design for creationism.  Most importantly, the judge was able to recognize what evolution means.  According to him just because evolution does not perfectly explain every question possible, there is no excuse to “thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion” (xiii).  This conservative judge shows that evolution is more complicated than a simple Democrat-Republican issue.  There are many different ways to view religion and evolution.  Now the struggle to convince science of Darwinism is pretty much over, but the struggle to convince the public is still in full force.

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18 Responses to The Struggle Between the Evolutionists and Creationists, More Complicated Than Liberal and Conservative

  1. setollo says:

    I agree that indeed, politics should not be a part of the debate on evolution, and am glad to hear of a case of a judicial official who was able to go past his personal prejudice and see the issue objectively. I believe that evolution should be debated scientifically, not politically, but since, in order to teach it, money is required, the fact that such politics intervene is hardly surprising. It is, however, saddening to hear that after all of the evidence observed and collected about evolution, (and, in fact, evolution has been observed, on both the small scale and the large scale… the greatest misconception that critics of evolution tend to have is the confusing of the definitions for “evolution” and “speciation”) less then half of our country believes in it. Saddens, but again, does not surprise.

  2. lnzgirl says:

    I agree that politics should not intervene with the debate or evolution, mostly for the fact that amongst the scientific community, the debate fails to exist. I think the root of the misconceptions amongst the public as to the legitimacy of evolution lie in the educational system. 9 out of 10 students attend the public school system, a system run by government, which supposedly teaches a non-biased, rooted in facts, account of science. Just as we teachers happily teach the theory of gravity, they should also teach the theory of evolution. In science, a theory is a well supported, accepted, and evidence-backed explanation for phenomena in nature. I think that its sad that while America claims to have separation of church and state, many public schools pick and choose which scientific theories are part of the curriculum dependent on their compatibility with religion. If schools start treating Darwin’s theory of evolution as a non-debatable subject, politics might too.

    • thomgc says:

      Bringing up evolution from the perspective of how its taught in US public schools isn’t really a controversy over a scientific theory rather a controversy over what a parent wants their children to be taught. This would not be a problem in a technocratic society, however since the US is a liberal democracy with a large emphasis on popular sovereignty there becomes an issue of public services provided to a community; most public schools are paid for by county taxes and as such people (mostly parents) want a say in their children’s education considering said education is paid for directly by their tax dollars. When parents have direct input on what their children are taught they will naturally not want to have teaching affect their political or social beliefs, ie. indoctrination via education. Since something like evolution contradicts some peoples’ entire view of the universe as a whole it creates a lot of problems because its a massive philosophical conflict between the scientific community and several communities. Though academia have an obligation to teach their subjects in a neutral manner, parents also have a right as to what kind of education their children receive, and when their children cannot receive the sort of education they are comfortable with they resort to politics. Its not so much a matter of the legitimacy of evolution, the matter is wether or not people want that sort of education for their children as it contradicts their entire worldview with what they see as one that is incompatible with their religion.

      • sm1414 says:

        I would agree with the post above. As citizens of a liberal democracy, we all must confront opposing view points and respect those views. Creationism and intelligent design have little if any scientific backing, but people have the right to believe whatever they wish to believe. The point related to schools is very well-taken considering the fact that parents do have a great impact on the education of their children. Even if the school district decides that evolution should be taught in its schools, parents can undermine that teaching by telling their children that the textbooks are wrong and that the teacher has an agenda and can’t be trusted. I think that as time progresses, more people will begin to believe in evolution and accept it as a scientific fact, just as the views of the American people on many social issues have evolved over the last few decades.

  3. GreenDC says:

    The original poster brought up the unfortunate flaw of evolution, which lies in its designation as a theory. The scientific community accepts these testable and objective bodies of work as fact, but those who are outside of the field or unfamiliar with this terminology are sometimes unconsciously ignorant, interpreting theories to be tentative ideas. When presented in a classroom alongside creationism or intelligent design for the purpose of “fair play”, it unfairly presents evolution as something one can choose to believe in. As a scientific theory, evolution’s existence is based upon its evidence. However, if one is religious, belief is necessary since one is choosing to believe in something that cannot be proven. From a political perspective, as many of you have discussed, due to the government’s financial role, it is understandable that both views could be taught; however, creationism doesn’t belong in a biology classroom and therefore should not be presented as an alternative science.

  4. freddie1994 says:

    First off, I agree with the original post. From personal experience, I seem to find that part of the reason that creationsim/intelligent design incorrectly remains a popular theory, is that some, not all, of the more religious people, that support creationsim, are too intolerant of other ideas. I mean this in the sense that these people stop paying attention as soon as a person mentions something that isn’t creationism, and will just continuously say that the Bible is word for word true. These people tend to not read the overwhelming evidence for evolution, and then try and explain why they think evolution is wrong, which would be the more scientific waqy of arguing for creationsim. Aren’t these people trying to convince us that creationism/intelligent design is a valid scientific theory? If so, then they need to argue scientifically and not religiously. On the other hand I have found (still from personal experience) that most people that support evolution argue scientifically. That is to say they will go through, or at least try to understand, the evidence that creationsim puts forward, and then point out how it is incorrect, however there are also a few evolutionists (usually those who don’t understand the theory as well as they could) who will say that evolution is true, but not try and explain why. Is it just me thinking all of this or should the group of people that support creationism/intelligent design at least try and support a scientific theory in a scientific manner?

  5. secondcitytocapitalcity says:

    I just wanted to clarify a couple of points in regard to the comments. First I think a major point that Coyne is trying to make is that there is a difference between accepting scientific facts and having your own beliefs. Coyne states, and I agree with him, that evolution does not need to be directly opposing religion. I think that it is possible to adapt beliefs to follow a certain path. More importantly, I think that we should try to be as true to beliefs and the truth as possible because I do not think that they need to be at odds in terms of evolution. The important thing is for the public not to confuse what is facts and what are there beliefs. I think that evolution does not need to disrupt anyone’s fundamental beliefs, and even if it does, the appropriate response is not to dismiss it as false without a valid claim.

    • mattchigas says:

      I agree, and as a Christian, I think the most Christian thing to do is let truth and fairness prevail. In personal experience being from Massachusetts, our teachers only taught evolution. They would preface any discussion with something to the effect of: “this is what we are required to teach, I am not saying this is my opinion, this is just scientific fact and what science knows so far, please do not make this political.” That would set the tone and the mood. We learn plenty of other things in school that we find useless or disagree with, but those rarely become such highly politicized issues. This is just an issue that happens to align with the agendas of secularists and religious fanatics, they use it to their advantage. It should be completely separate, the Massachusetts disclaimer is the best way. Teach the science in science class, but don’t ignore the controversy. Being a practicing Greek Orthodox Christian, I believe that God is behind evolution. He is the creator of Heaven and Earth, and to say He couldn’t be behind evolution limits His creative rights. I think many of the Old Testament Bible stories are allegorical, like Adam and Eve. I jokingly like to say I believe in the “Fish Called Adam” theory. Why this has to be an issue of politics is beyond me, and I wish folks would look back at history and realize that the separation of church and state verbiage does not exist in any official founding documents, and in the communications that it does exist in, its intended purpose is to protect the church from the state, not the other way around.

  6. ojc31084 says:

    Like many of the above blog posts, I believe that science and religion should be completely separated, especially when it comes to public education. I understand that “fair play” is very important to the American society, but I don’t think that religious tolerance is equal to preaching the religious concept of creationism alongside the scientifically proven theory of evolution. We are doing a disservice to the children of the American public school system if we teach them religious beliefs that can’t be proven in place of scientific fact. Additionally, in a country that focuses on the separation of church and state, it’s really unfortunate that some public schools are forced to “cater to the religious groups” since their funding depends on them. I don’t think that enforcing that evolution be the only concept taught in school forces the children to choose evolution over creationism. I believe that instead it shows them what the scientific community accepts and it allows them to make their own decisions as to what their personal beliefs are.

    • Sl1017 says:

      While I do agree that science and religion should be kept separate, children should be given the opportunity to be exposed to both sides of evolution. “Fair play” is crucial in our society and is what, I believe, sets us apart. Being given both sides to a political debate is just as important as giving both sides to a story as important as the coming about of man kind.
      “I don’t think that enforcing that evolution be the only concept taught in school forces the children to choose evolution over creationism” – ojc31084
      In response, it doesn’t force the children to choose evolution over creationism but rather gives one side to the opinion. Not mentioning the “other side” at all leaves no room for choice or the opportunity to learn more about it if so interested. In my opinion, creationism should be at the least mentioned in all school regardless of it being a public, private or religious institute.

  7. nicolina1215 says:

    I understand that having a core belief shaken can be a roadblock in the acceptance of new information. Both common people and political people have to deal with this on a daily basis. Now that the media is so expansive, people receive numerous pieces of information and often times they contradict one another. People get mixed signals based on what the press releases and it was no different in the 1920s. It’s hard to reconcile your values with something that people felt they could justify possibly being wrong. Something that people often neglected to do, and still neglect to do, is research outside of what the media throws at people to stir them. If people had done more research they would have found out that Charles Darwin himself was a fairly religious man. Even after he published On the Origin of Species he remained a religious man. He was easily able to reconcile the idea that certain parts of the bible were not as clear-cut and literal as they may have been taken. While he may have admitted to having conscientious doubt, that didn’t turn him into an automatic atheist. People today need to be reminded that having conscientious doubt is not a sin and often ends in guilt and even more inner conflict if they don’t take the time to pursue their questions. I know from experience that religions don’t always embrace the idea of accepting and acting on only parts of the religion/religious beliefs (i.e. “cafeteria catholics”), but in this day and age with so many changing societal priorities and liberties as well as scientific, most people have adjusted. If people can’t adapt, as Darwin himself would believe, they will be left behind. And why should those who can’t keep up with the changing roles of society be able to dictate what our future leaders of this society should be learning?

  8. jps591 says:

    I tend to agree with the common themes in the comments about. In addition, I struggle to grasp why there is such a double standard in society in regards to religion. If one was to make a scientific claim (for example, that the universe began after the Big Bang) then society would demand extensive evidence, tests, research, and reports in order to affirm this claim. On the contrary, when an ancient book claims that a legally dead person was brought back to life or a prophet was carried between two cities by a flying donkey, a large portion of the population accept it as fact without reasonable doubt. Until scientific theories and religious theories are subject to the same standards and scrutiny, they should not be taught hand in hand or as alternatives. It’s not about fairness, it’s about reason and practicality. Evolution has stood up to the test, creationism has not. Teaching creationism is detrimental to society and should not be taken serious until proponents make a serious case for it.

    • phillykid888 says:

      Like many of the above posts mentioned, I find it ironic that evolution is a controversy only in the political sphere, not the scientific. The theory of evolution is almost a purely scientific matter in that it explains how the world works and it can be tested; the basic theory itself has nothing to do with politics or religion. It is ironic, therefore, that the very people who so vehemently question and deny it are some of the least qualified to do so. The people who accept it as fact–scientists–are some of the most knowledgable about the natural world and the various scientific theories that explain it. The most visible people who deny the theory, specifically politicians, generally don’t come from a science background and therefore have no business denying a theory that has been tested, studied, and accepted by experts. It is irresponsible for politicians who know so little about science to make major policy decisions based on their person prejudices.

  9. mykkros says:

    The purpose of any education is to inform students of the latest and most up to date knowledge in their field of study. The schools and other centers of learning in the medieval world taught their students the theory that the universe revolved around the Earth; it was simply the most up to date knowledge known to the scientific world at the time. Similarly, the educators today have the same task of providing the most up to date in scientific knowledge to students. The idea of making biology classes today teach the latest scientific theories, such as evolution, alongside the completely unscientific ideologies such as creationism, will be simply detrimental to the education of students. Why? The idea of providing scientific theory alongside theories about the world that are completely unscientific is something that does not belong in the classroom. Do medical schools today still discuss the various methods of leaching a sick patient alongside when they teach students how to give patients an IV? No, of course not. Because leaching has been proven an archaic and unhelpful way of fighting disease, it’s has but all been taken away from medical books and only the most up to date in medical knowledge is provided to the world’s future doctors. The same goes for science classrooms. If parents are so worried about what their children are learning in school, they can teach their personal views at home. Simply put, if teachers had to teach each and every possible theory to what is taught in class, there simply would not be enough class time. The science classroom should only be for science; everything else can be taught in their own respective place and time.

  10. findwhatwind says:

    I would like to bring up the idea that while I personally believe politics and evolution theory should be kept separate in public policy, I think based on the rhetoric of the introduction that Coyne’s audience is in fact not the undecided or misguided public which does not accept evolution, but rather those who do. The language used is not entirely neutral, to the extent that at points I believed the language could possibly offend those readers who might be skeptical of the theory of evolution, as it immediately suggests that anyone who doesn’t wholeheartedly believe and have the tools to understand evolution is less intelligent. While the introduction came across as condescending to those who don’t completely understand evolution, who seem to be Coyne’s decoy “intended audience”, this adds to the feeling of superiority of those who do believe the theory of evolution, the type of audience who would pick up a book entitled “Why Evolution Is True” to begin with. .

  11. djrosato says:

    I find it incredibly upsetting whenever non-scientists argue with scientists over scientists. Politicians and the religious have no place dictating what’s taught in public schools. Science courses should be taught based on the most recent and widely accepted theories and facts. Coyne demonstrates all throughout the intro and first chapter how blatantly unfounded intelligent design is in relation to evolution. Although I’m not qualified to speak about other religions, Catholics believe that all but Genesis, the book in which creationists take their science from, is literally true. That being said, the extended metaphors of the creation stories tend to confuse some of the more devout sects of Christianity. Despite this teaching, Christians are still one of the most skeptical when it comes to evolution, and that bleeds into the public education system. Because of that, the education system suffers. America shouldn’t have to face controversy when it comes to our children’s collective education. As Bill Nye once said “…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.”

    • shoutoutjfk says:

      In terms of beliefs regarding evolution, I genuinely agree that it is true. However, you seem to be approaching it in a very hard-headed way. You may argue that being stubborn is the only way to ensure that evolution continues to be taught around the country. And although your beliefs may be whatever you choose, I find that diplomacy with regards to any conflict is the best way to mediate a situation. In this case, stating outright that evolution is true will definitely offend some proponents of creationism and intelligent design. This is likely to dissuade proponents further from trusting the educational system which, as Bill Nye put it, hurts the next generation more than the current one. Going back to the original post, I feel that in order to truly make a change, we really do need to make this into a political issue. Approach it diplomatically and in essence, lose faith in making anyone who doesn’t believe in education changing their mind. Just teach it in schools to younger people in a diplomatic way which won’t offend their parents. I truly believe that this way is the best way to make a change – to work within the system.

  12. johnd0pe says:

    The way to combat popular ignorance regarding evolution is not to be anti-religion or combative to anyone’s personal beliefs, but rather to insist upon wider-spread education on the issue. The reason the issue has become such a matter of debate is because it’s become both politically and socially adversarial. Instead of continuing to feed the notion that evolution and religion must be pitted against each other, they should be treated as separate entities that needn’t negate each other’s validity. In order to eradicate the perceived mutual exclusivity of these two entities, a vast majority of the American population must be educated on the fundamentals of the theory of evolution, even if only to the extent of a section within a high school biology class. I contend that nearly anyone should be at least partially accepting of the theory if properly educated on the basis of its biological mechanism. As soon as the general public *understands* evolution, they will begin to bridge the rift that presently exists between either side of the issue. Perhaps generations past weren’t afforded the opportunity to learn this vital information, but if all students from here on are taught evolution, the tension and adversarialism will eventually resolve themselves.

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