|By Dr. Eugenie Scott|
Dr. Eugenie Scott is the Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education. Last November she presented talks sponsored by Oregonians for Rationality at Oregon State University and the University of Oregon. The following article covers material included in these talks. This article first appeared in the July/August 1999 issue of the Reports of the National Center for Science Education and is reprinted here with permission.
The National Center for Science Education is an educational nonprofit serving teachers, parent, and citizens who are concerned about keeping evolutionary biology in the public school curriculum. It provides science resource materials, textbook reviews and updates on creationist activities. NCSE can be reached at P.O. Box 9477, Berkeley, CA 94709. They can be found on the Web at www.natcenscied.org.
Video tapes of Dr. Scott's talk are available for loan through the O4R video library. You may check out a copy of the tape by contacting Josh Reese by mail, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (503) 364-6676.
Many - if not most - Americans think of the creation and evolution controversy as a dichotomy with "creationists" on one side, and "evolutionists" on the other. This assumption all too often leads to the unfortunate conclusion that because creationists are believers in God, evolutionists must be atheists. The true situation is much more complicated. I encourage people to reject the creation/evolution dichotomy and recognize the creation/evolution continuum. It is clear that creationism comes in many forms. So, when a student tells a teacher, "I'm a creationist," the teacher needs to ask, "What kind?"
* This article is now on the NCSE webpage.
* I cannot add the illustration. I drew it in PageMaker. The title of the illustration has a spelling error (in case you decide to scan it in).
The creation/evolution continuum Page 3 presents a continuum with creationism at one end and evolution at the other. The strictest creationists are the Flat Earthers.
Both flat-Earth and geocentrist views reflect the perception of the Earth held by the ancient Hebrews - that the Earth is a flat disk floating on water and the heavens are held up by a dome (or firmament ) with the sun, moon and stars attached to it (Cartmill, 1998). The waters above the firmament, flowing in through the windows of heaven, were the source of the 40 days and nights of rain of Noah's Flood.
The next group of creationists on the continuum are less strictly literal in their interpretation of the Bible, but they still hold to Special Creationism.
Henry Morris defined anti-evolutionism in its modern form. In 1961 he and John C. Whitcomb published their book The Genesis Flood, a seminal work that claimed to provide the scientific rationale for Young-Earth Creationism (Whitcomb and Morris, 1961). As the title suggests, the authors accept Genesis literally, including not only the special, separate creation of humans and all other species, but also the historicity of Noah's Flood. The Genesis Flood was the first significant 20th century effort to present a scientific rationale for Special Creationism. "Creation Science" was fleshed out in subsequent books and pamphlets by Morris and those inspired by him.
The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) remains the flagship creationist institution to which all other YEC organizations look. Most literature promoting "creation science" originates with the ICR, and promotes YEC. The National Center for Science Education provides information refuting the scientific claims of "creation science." Criticisms of "creation science" from a pedagogical standpoint can be obtained from the National Association of Biology Teachers and the National Science Teachers Association. The US Supreme Court has declared the teaching of creation science to be an illegal advancement of sectarian religion (Edwards v Aguillard). More information on YEC can be found in Scott (1997), Scott (1994), and Scott and Cole (1985).
Theologically, the most critical element of Special Creationism is God's personal involvement in Creation; precise details of how God created are considered secondary. The present may indeed be different from the past, but OECs see God as an active causal agent of the observed changes.
• Day-Age Creationism. Another attempt to accommodate science to a literal, or mostly literal, reading of the Bible, is the Day-Age theory, which was more popular than Gap Creationism in the 19th century and the earlier part of this one (Young, 1982). This model accommodates science and religion by rendering each of the six days of creation as long periods of time - even thousands or millions of years - instead of merely 24 hours long. Many literalists have found comfort in what they think is a rough parallel between organic evolution and Genesis, in which plants appear before animals, and human beings appear last.
PCs generally believe that God created "kinds" of animals sequentially; the fossil record is thus an accurate representation of history because different animals and plants appeared at different times rather than having been created all at once. PCs reject the inference that earlier forms are genetically related to later ones; "kinds" are separate creations: Descent with modification does not occur. The definition of "kinds" is inconsistent, but usually refers to a higher taxonomic level than species.
Most PCs accept that God created creatures containing at least as much genetic variation as a Family (such as Felidae, Canidae, etc.) and then considerable "evolution within a kind" occurred. A created cat kind thus would have possessed sufficient genetic variability to differentiate into lions, tigers, leopards, pumas, bobcats, and house cats through the normal microevolutionary processes of mutation and recombination, natural selection, genetic drift, and speciation. The "basic body plans" of major phyla which appear in the Cambrian "explosion" are seen by most OECs as evidence of Special Creation. In PC, God is seen as acting through natural law (for example, microevolutionary processes) but also as an active creator.
The vertebrate eye was Paley's classic example of design in nature, well known to educated people of the 19th century. In IDC, one is less likely to find references to the vertebrate eye and more likely to find DNA structure or cellular complexity held up as "too complex to have evolved by chance." The high school biology supplemental textbook, Of Pandas and People (Davis and Kenyon, 1989), weaves information theory into an exposition of the "linguistics" of the DNA code in an attempt to prove that DNA is too complex to explain by means of natural causes.
In the PC tradition, IDC allows for a fair amount of microevolution, but supporters deny that mutation and natural selection are adequate to explain the evolution of one kind from another, such as chordates from echinoderms, or humans from apes. Major body plans and the origin of life are phenomena supposedly "too complex" to be explained naturally, thus IDC demands a direct role for the "intelligent designer" - God. There have been calls for IDC to be taught with evolution, much as equal time for creation science and evolution was promoted before the Supreme Court disallowed the advocating of creationism in 1989.
IDCs vary considerably in their attitude towards evolution. Most IDC activists are not scientists, but philosophers or historians. The few biologists among them actually accept a fair amount of evolution. In 1996, Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe published the most scholarly and scientific IDC book to date, Darwin's Black Box (Behe, 1996), which offers little comfort to typical antievolutionists. Behe accepts that natural selection produces most of the complex structural adaptations of plants and animals, and even accepts that modern living things descended with modification from common ancestors. In a debate with Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller during the summer of 1995, Behe agreed with Miller's point that common pseudogenes between apes and chimps is strong support for their having shared a common ancestor (Miller, 1996).
Still, Behe asserts that some biological phenomena can't be explained through natural processes. He claims that at the level of cell biochemistry there are "irreducibly complex" processes and structures, such as the blood clotting cascade and the rotor motor of a microorganism's flagellum. Such structures cannot be broken down into individually-functioning component parts, says Behe, and therefore cannot be explained through the incremental activity of natural selection. Therefore they could not have evolved gradually, and because they could not have evolved gradually, they must have been specially created. Behe argues, as did Paley, that complexity is proof that there must be an intelligent designer, but his examples of complexity are biochemical rather than anatomical.
Because Behe is a research scientist with a track record of legitimate publications (although not in evolutionary biology), his book has been reviewed by scientists. (Coyne, 1996; Miller, 1996; reviews may be found at a web site: http:www.world-of-dawkins.com/box/behe.htm). The response of the scientific community has been decidedly tepid. Reviewers were quick to point out flaws in Behe's reasoning and factual and conceptual understanding, especially concerning the cumulative nature of natural selection.
The Creation/Evolution Continuum, like most continua, has few sharp boundaries. There is a sharp division between YEC and OEC, but less clear-cut separation between the various OEC persuasions. Even though OECs accept most of modern physics, chemistry and geology, they are not very dissimilar to YECs in their rejection of descent with modification.
Antievolutionists such as Phillip Johnson criticize evolution and science in general as being philosophically materialistic (Johnson, 1995). This is a logical error. It is very likely the case that all philosophical materialists are also methodological materialists. The converse is not necessarily true: that all methodological materialists are also philosophical materialists. It may be the case, but this would have to be determined empirically, it does not follow logically. In fact, such a claim is empirically falsified, as there are many scientists who use methodological materialism in their work, but who are theists and, therefore, not philosophical materialists. In addition to many living scientists, Gregor Mendel is a classic case of a scientist who was a methodological but not a philosophical materialist.
The continuum in the classroom
Teachers of both high school and college have told me that many students come into a class with the attitude that evolution is somehow unacceptable for a religious person. Such students are reluctant to learn about evolution. One way to assuage their concerns is to use the "creation/evolution continuum" to illustrate the wide range of opinion within Christianity towards evolution. This often helps religious students understand that there are many options available to them as people of faith. Most students will recognize themselves somewhere on the continuum, whether believers or nonbelievers; it makes for an engaging lecture.
It is perfectly legal for teachers to describe religious views in a classroom; it is only unconstitutional for teachers to advocate religious ideas in the classroom. I have also presented the "creation/evolution continuum" in public lectures to general audiences, and they have also found it of interest. Many people are unaware that there is far more variation among creationists as to how things came to be than there is among evolutionists!
Bible-Science Association. 1985. Bible-Science Association Conference Schedule. August 14-15, Cleveland, OH: Bible-Science Association.
Behe, M. 1996. Darwin's Black Box. New York: Free Press.
Cartmill, M. 1998. Oppressed by evolution. Discover March.
Coyne, J.A. 1996. God in the details. Nature 383:227-228.
Davis, P. and D.H. Kenyon. 1989. Of Pandas and People. Dallas, TX: Haughton.
Eiseley L. 1961. Darwin's Century. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc.
John Paul II P. 1996. Magisterium is concerned with question of evolution, for it involves conception of man. L'Osservatore Romano October 30; 3, 7.
Johnson, P. 1995. Reason in the Balance. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity.
Kaufman, S.A. 1993. The Origin of Order. New York: Oxford University Press.
Miller, K.R. 1996. Darwin's black box: the biochemical challenge to evolution [book review]. Creation/Evolution 16(2):36-40.
Paley, W. 1803. Natural Theology: Or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature. London: Faulder.
Robinson, G.L. 1913. Leaders of Israel. New York: Association Press.
Schadewald, R.J. 1980. Earth orbits? Moon landings? A fraud! Says this prophet. Science Digest July p58-63.
Schadewald, R.J. 1991. Introduction. In: De Ford, C.S., editor. A Reparation. Washington: Ye Galleon p 62.
Scott, E.C. and H.P. Cole. 1985. The elusive scientific basis of creation "science". Quarterly Review of Biology 60(1):21-30.
Scott, E.C. 1994. The struggle for the schools. Natural History July 10, 12-13.
Scott, E.C. 1997. Antievolution and creationism in the United States. Annual Reviews of Anthropology 26:263-289.
Whitcomb, J.C. and H.R. Morris. 1961. The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed.
Young, D.A. 1982. Christianity and the Age of the Earth. Grand Rapids (MI): Zondervan.
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