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Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Other Views

Evolution and creationism and the environment

Commentary by DICK DORWORTH

Polls are a bit like statistics in that the hard numbers of their conclusions are seldom as hard or delineated as they might seem at first, easy glance. The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this column, but they are available to anyone who chooses to investigate them. Still, polls and statistics do indicate something. That is, while they are neither definitive nor sacrosanct, they are not without value.

A series of recent polls seem to indicate that somewhere between 28 percent and 47 percent of Americans think that the theory of evolution is a better approach to an understanding of life on earth than a belief in creationism. If the polls are close to correct, this means that somewhere between more than half to more than two-thirds of Americans do not believe in evolution. To those of us who view creationism as something akin to a professed or real belief in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, virgin birth, the Easter Bunny, infallibility and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, this is astonishing.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised. Other polls show that 52 percent of American teenagers believe in astrology. Among biology teachers, 34 percent think psychic powers can be used to read peoples' thoughts, 29 percent believe we can communicate with the dead, and 22 percent believe in ghosts. Biology teachers who use psychic powers to read minds, who communicate with the dead and who believe in ghosts are as astonishing as Creationists. One cannot but help but wonder what sort of evolutionary biology they teach to their young charges.

Creationism comes in more than one flavor, but the plain, biblical essence maintains that the universe, including all life and humanity, was created by God in six days sometime around 6,000 years ago. The theory of evolution maintains that the universe and everything within it, including humanity, is a bit older, mysterious and complex than that.

To say the least.

That a majority of Americans hold creationist beliefs about the universe, the earth and human life (and death) has both obvious and subtle religious, educational, cultural, social, political, military and personal consequences. It also has incalculable and mostly unacknowledged environmental costs. As Van Potter said in reference to world survival, "To future generations, ignorance, superstition and illiteracy are the greatest barriers to a hopeful future for our descendants."

If a majority of the people do not believe in and are, therefore, ignorant of evolution, then it follows they do not believe in and are ignorant of the tenets of biology. It is a biological environment in which we live. All of us live in this environment. Creationists, evolutionists, environmentalists, religious fundamentalists, Republicans, Democrats, scientists and evangelists all live (and die) in the same environment. A person who is convinced that the environment was created in a few days less than 10,000 years ago for the convenience and use of human beings is going to view things like ecology, biology and the connections between different living species differently than one for whom evolution is an on-going biological process (experiment?) in which we are all, inescapably, involved.

To say the least.

That somewhere between more than half to more than two-thirds of Americans do not believe in evolution helps explain why environmental issues are so far down the list of American voters’ concerns. To those of us who view the environment of earth as the very foundation of all life, including human life, such cavalier apathy is insane, in the same realm of human consciousness as burning witches at the stake, but, excepting the burned witches themselves, having far more serious consequences.

Be that as it is, according to the polls, the environmental movement needs to shift its focus. Using science to convince voters that the environment and the evolution of all life are in danger of being irreparably damaged by man’s technology, stupidity and greed is not sufficient. The environmental movement operates on the assumption that evolution is accepted by most Americans. At the risk of being branded witches, environmentalists need to meet the nonsense that is creationism head on and expose it as the irrational, brain-dead, fear-based, dogmatic religious superstition that it is.

The environment and human thought will benefit and show heritable changes over many generations by such a focus.

To say the least.


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