Friday, November 20, 2009

Kirk Cameron's crusade to crush evolution as silly as it sounds

Former TV teen idol Kirk Cameron has been on a crusade for years to discredit the theory of evolution. As a born-again Christian, Cameron's beliefs compel him to speak out against the theory of how specie gradually evolved through genetic mutations over millions of years, resulting in the diverse population of animals and plant life we see today.

In recent years, Cameron's mission has had several setbacks: several school boards and state departments of instruction have rejected the teaching of Creationism and/or "intelligent design" alongside evolution in schools across the nation. Intelligent design believes that, "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection."

However, intelligent design lacks one basic element: scientific backing. While evolution isn't perfect -- there are several "holes" in the theory, critics would contend -- it does utilize the scientific method and a preponderance of data to back up its claims. And while evolution can't provide a definite road map of how humans evolved from the first single-celled organism, we do understand, to some extent, how such a process might have worked through natural selection. Intelligent design, on the other hand, provides no proof for a Creator playing any role in the process whatsoever. It's a theory that is totally dependent on faith; and while it COULD be true, there's no way to tell for sure without proving the existence of said Creator.


Within the education system, a greater problem exists. Certainly, people are free to believe whatever they want, from Creationism to evolution, and everything in between (or even outside). But when it comes to scientific studies, what should we do? What should we teach? And should we teach theories that have no scientific backing to them?

The answer seems obvious to many: we should only teach theories that utilize the scientific method, and therefore should only teach evolution in science classes. It should not be taught as fact, but as the best understanding we have available to us of how we as a species came to be.

Students that disagree should be able to do so -- and if they wish to opt out of that part of science class, they should be allowed that option as well. As far as teaching religious beliefs goes, a curriculum that relies upon such beliefs doesn't belong in a science class -- it belongs in a philosophy or religious studies class, or outside of school altogether if those options aren't available.


Cameron's crusade has evolved as well: rather than try to fight the theory head-on, Cameron and his supporters are handing out Darwin's book, The Origin of Species, during the sesquicentennial of its first publishing date. There is a slight twist, however: their version of the book includes a fifty page introduction that aims to discredit Darwin's work. People can read both Darwin's Origins and the group's introduction and come to their own conclusions, argues Cameron.

The introduction, however, includes criticisms of Darwin's character, including accusations that Darwin despised women, promoted racism, and inspired some of Adolph Hitler's beliefs during his rise to power in Nazi Germany.

Associations like these do little for the debate: indeed, the same can be done of the Christian faith. Christians have for centuries treated women as second- (and sometimes third-) class citizens; Christians have had members within their ranks who have used the Bible to justify slavery and racism; and Hitler's speeches and beliefs were inspired in part by his Christian faith.

Does this mean that Christianity is evil? OF COURSE NOT! What it means is that SOME within the Christian movement have been misguided, as have some within the evolution movement. Focus needs to be paid to the subjects themselves (Christianity or evolution), and not the purveyors of those subjects. The misdeeds of those in the past who have promoted either Christianity or evolution don't necessarily reflect the dogma of either.

We have a pretty clear understanding that evolution is close to being fact, at least in scientific terms. It would be wrong of us, then, to teach in a classroom an idea like intelligent design that is unscientific in nature. Evolutionary science is based out of what the name implies -- science. Everything else is just belief.

A short disclaimer: I feel it imperative to explain my own beliefs on this subject. I believe that evolution was shaped by God's hands -- that is, I personally believe in intelligent design. What should be taught in schools, however, and what my personal beliefs are should not be similar. I recognize my beliefs as just that: beliefs. I have no authority to push them onto students in a classroom environment, nor to suggest that they are fact. As such, I am compelled to support the teaching of science in a science classroom and the teaching of my beliefs elsewhere.

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