Nonetheless, I am still not able to overcome the sickness in the throat, chest and belly I experience when I read of certain compatriots’ continued resistance to evolutionary theory and the teaching thereof to young people. It is symbolic, I suppose, of a much deeper ideological evil that I sense from time to time in America, all the more disheartening because it comes from the middle class, as a rule, and not the wealthy and powerful, whom I have never trusted an inch. If people can’t accept the mountains of evidence that support Mr. Darwin’s theory of descent with modification from a common ancestor through the mechanism of natural selection, I despair that they will ever be able to think through larger issues—nonscientific ones—that trigger even stronger emotional responses. We Are Doomed.
The “scientific” arguments of creationists (in which group I include the re-branded Intelligent Design™ people) are without merit. From “it’s just a theory” to “microevolution is OK but not macroevolution [speciation],” these people require a level of proof and clarity unknown to any other field of scientific endeavor. No, the speciation event has not knowingly been observed in the field or in a lab. Nor has gravity, but creationists to not seem to take issue with the latter body of knowledge and processes generally accepted as true until disproven (i.e. theory). We see the effects of gravity; we see the effects of evolution. There is, frankly, more evidence to support Darwin than there is to support the existence of a magical, invisible force that keeps us from flying off the planet. Where, I wonder, are the creationists who argue the reason we stay on the ground is because choirs of angels are pushing on our heads?
In fact, gravity is a serious problem for physicists. Stand up. Lift your arm. You’ve just overcome the gravitational force on your body. If the remaining three forces identified by physicists were anywhere near as puny—the strong and weak nuclear forces and electromagnetic force—everything would periodically fly to bits and then (hopefully) snap back together. The energy required to split an atom (i.e. overcome both the strong and weak nuclear forces) is phenomenal, as is the energy generated by doing so. That is how nuclear power works.
Physicists build enormous cyclotrons, miles long, to accelerate particles at ridiculous speeds and bang them into one another or run them through teeny filters and separate them. To date, no particles, waves, or other thingummies have been observed, such that physicists can point to them and say, “gravity.”
Contrasted with the amount of evidence that exists to support evolutionary theory, gravitational theory seems like a dream. And yet, there is no hue and cry from creationists about teaching magic to kids in schools. Newton was wrong (about gravity; calculus still seems to be going strong). He is still taught in physics classes everywhere. Gravity. That’s the real scientific conspiracy.
Fossils are where they are supposed to be. No fossils are where they are not supposed to be (i.e. no trilobite fossils found in the same strata as, say, Archaeopteryx fossils). The same set of virtually identical genes control development in organisms as diverse as the fruit fly and the human. They result in the fly’s segmented body and humans’ spine, ribs, arms and legs (segments). Widespread misuse of antibiotics has resulted in the selection of a population of antibiotic resistant tuberculosis and streptococcus bacteria (might these be new species? Perhaps). Carrying the recessive gene for sickle-cell anemia provides a selective benefit to people living in malarial Africa, as the malaria parasite preferentially feeds on sickle-shaped red blood cells. Therefore, this gene persists at relatively high levels in that population, despite the sickness it causes before the carrier reaches reproductive maturity. See? Darwin’s theory tells scientists where to look and when they look, they find what his theory would predict. To date, evolutionary theory is batting a thousand.
Not so much gravity. Einstein’s gravitational theories break down at the atomic and subatomic level. Quantum theory fails to explain the actions of large bodies, like planets. Theoretical physicists have come up with string theory to unify the two. No strings have ever been observed; it’s all math and philosophy. Physics is in serious trouble. More cyclotrons are required. Silence from the creationists.
I don’t know if a god or gods exist. Darwin didn’t know. It’s not something that can be known, in the way science knows things. Just as I do not look to evolutionary theory to tell me whether it is morally OK to cheat on my imaginary boyfriends, I do not look to faith-based methods of knowing to tell me how the physical world operates, has operated and will operate. Each arguably has a place, along with other ways of knowing. But people need to think about which to use when and whether to combine them, if ever. And that, I suppose, is why I despair of ever laying this ridiculous “controversy” to rest.
It’s funny; of the Darwins, Charles’s grandfather Erasmus was the true radical. He was more a philosopher, really, than a scientist (although he was an enthusiastic one). He rejected the established Church, charged religious belief with all or much that was wrong in his world, believed that reason, science and education would liberate humanity from its wars and hatreds, and that all would proceed merrily down the path of thoughtful discovery. Why wouldn’t humans want to be free?
I wonder what he would make of all this.