Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Why the Public is Fearful of Evolution

Editorandpublisher.com is reporting a new Gallup Poll study stating that a whopping 54% of Americans believe God created human beings wholesale, as we are in present form.

What, exactly, is it that so many people find offensive regarding the wonder, majesty, and mystery of evolution? I believe it has less to do with the idea of evolution itself and more to do with the minority of religious fundamentalists espousing a fear of science. These preachers framed the debate long ago by referring to early life as "pond scum". It was, and continues to be, an emotional appeal based on semantics rather than either faith or science. Who wants to believe that they, a mighty human being, were ever related to algae or bacteria? Additionally, they continued to push the "Adam and Eve as factual history" line, which is impossible to support except by referring back to the story itself, which makes no claim to be history, and some conversational connection later on by something Jesus said, though that link between Jesus' comment and the historicity of Adam and Eve is tenuous at best.

Evolution is an incredible phenomenon supported by mountains of evidence, observation, and research. Yet people call for proof and then ignore the supplied material. There is an infinitely smaller amount of evidence for support of Creationism (or ID/Intelligent Design), and yet people will cling to it out of fear and lack of knowledge. Evolution says, "Here is a tremendous amount of information pointing towards evolution being the biological means in which we are what we are today". Creationism (ID) says, "There are some gaps in the theory of evolution and we think the authors of the book of Genesis had a good theory, so it must be that we are here by the creation of God". The trouble is that Creationism/ID continually falls back to being a "God of the gaps" theory where, if an event were to be unexplained, it must be that God did it. And yet the evidence for evolution continues to pour in, while the scant scientific support for Creationism continues to shift as it's picked apart.

I believe Creationism gets a larger podium than it deserves for several reasons. Firstly, it's what people want to hear. Human beings want to hear that we are special, that there is no way we could be related to other animals, much less algae and bacteria. For some, it's probably gross or unsettling, for some it's a matter of vain pride, and for some it would mean a fundamental shift in our actions towards either animals or other human beings. For example, it may mean that we should either rethink or use of beef or ponder why we're not hunting people in overpopulated areas. If we're all related biologically, why not treat all biological organisms the same? Except this falls apart for a very simple reason: we decide what type of world we will be accepting of and then act accordingly. Currently, I fear that (even with billions of people of varying faiths that should believe otherwise) the type of world we accept has fallen increasingly out of line with what each of the world's major belief systems says is acceptable. Secondly, Creationism is being touted by religious fundamentalist leaders who have large audiences and by high US government leaders who say it should be taught in schools. This allows the message to be repeated over and over and over again. An erroneous message, repeated often enough, by enough people in positions of authority, will eventually be clung to by many, if not most, people. There are many examples of such, the most famous of which I will refrain from mentioning for fear of invoking some form of Godwin's Law. I believe the majority of people who profess a belief in Creationism do so not out of an well-informed decision, but out of either an instilled fear of hell/God's wrath as if belief in evolution were somehow contrary to belief in God or out of a lack of knowledge on the support behind both Creationism and evolution. Many people I have spoken to who identify themselves as Creatonists/ID-ers say that evolution, "seems far-fetched" or, "is to scientific to understand", though this is merely personal anecdote. Thirdly, I believe that the scientific community has estranged itself from the general public in the same way that organized Christianity has estranged itself from the general public. Polls repeatedly show the vast majority of Americans claim to attend church while only a minority actually do so on a regular basis and that while a majority of people believe in God, a majority of people also have a distrust of "organized religion". In the same way, people generally benefit from science and scientific advancement every moment of their lives, and yet there appears to be a healthy dose of skepticism towards science, scientists, and scientific study. General comments include things such as, "Scientists are arrogant or out of touch" or "scientists don't speak in a way I can easily understand". Either of these may be true, and yet neither of these actually negates what it is the scientific community is trying to convey. Unfortunately, most listeners will turn away and make decisions based on information obtained outside of scientific study and credible peer review.

As a person who identifies himself as a Christian, and as a person who finds evolution the most compelling and credible explanation for our biological reason for existence,I feel trapped between two worlds: one community which rejects my beliefs which are based on reason, study, experience, and discussion, and another community which does exactly the same.

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