Evolution And Science Education: Religion Needs To Butt Out

Since Darwin published his theory of evolution in his book On the Origin of the Species in 1859, his theory, and its implications, have been the source of much contention in the United States. Today, more than 150 years later, parents are still fighting against the inclusion of his theory of evolution as part of public school curriculum on the basis of religious belief. As more evidence to support Darwin's theory of evolution is found, this long-standing battle between science and religion is becoming more damaging to the education of all American children and more threatening to future of our country.

Scientific American published a summary of the new findings supporting the theory of evolution originally published in Science on April 22, 2016. The new support for evolution is the result of a study of finches in the Galapagos Islands — the same finches studied by Darwin himself — during a drought that began in 2003. The researchers studied the finches in 2004 and 2005, examining the genetics of the surviving finch population.

Prior to the drought, a larger species of finch had made its way to the islands. As food became more difficult to obtain, most of the medium-sized finches were unable to compete with the larger newcomers. However, after the drought, researchers discovered some medium-sized finches had survived, and they had smaller beaks. If the question is "Why did the drought cause a genetic shift in the population of a species?" The answer is "evolution." However, an even more important question is "How many children will learn about the outcome of this research?"

With today's STEM education mania, the fight over evolution's inclusion in science education in incomprehensible, as is the refusal of some parents to allow their children to learn about the Big Bang Theory and other scientific theories. This concern for the education of today's children is shared by most of the country's leading academics, including University of Virginia emeritus professor of life sciences Dr. Paul R. Gross. He explained his view of the subject in an article he wrote for The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an organization dedicated to advancing excellence in education.

"The common anti-evolution claims are no more than talking points, less cogent even than the talking points of politics. The primary scientific literature has disposed of them all, as any serious reader can discover. Their real purpose is simply to cast doubt on evolution as a shaper of life forms. But there is no reasonable doubt that Earth is four billion years old and that life's diversity emerged over eons in steps, usually small, driven by such (evolutionary) mechanisms as genetic change and natural selection."
Dr. Gross does not only place the blame on the shoulders of religion, but also on the shoulders of politicians.
"By themselves, however, religious anti-evolutionists would wield scant power over state decisions. Real power comes by politicizing the arguments and switching them from scripture to more stylish notions: 'scientific alternatives,' 'critical thinking,' or — most commonly — 'strengths and weaknesses of [Darwin's] theory.' When these are pressed by politicians dissing 'Darwinism,' a downgrading of science is underway."
Regardless of who is to blame, it is the children who suffer. Science education in the United States, or the lack of science education, is putting American children significantly behind their peers in more than 20 other countries, according to international science assessment data published by Pew Research Center in 2015. If this lag in science education is allowed to continue, the resulting lack of understanding of basic science among American students will have repercussions for all aspects of society.In a world in which new scientific discoveries are made daily, how is it possible for religious beliefs that originated more than 2,000 years ago to still dictate curriculum? How can people believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old? How can the population continue to refuse to believe scientific findings like evolution? Well, denial is something Christian leaders have been perfecting for hundreds of years.

In the 1st century, Pliny the Elder wrote about the shape of the earth in his encyclopedia Natural History.

"That the form of the world is round, in the figure of a perfect globe, its name in the first place, and the consent of all men agreeing to call it in Latin orbis, as also many natural reasons, evidently show."
Pliny clearly stated that all men agreed, at that time, that the world was indeed round. However, some believe that leaders of the Christian church continued to support the flat earth theory for centuries, and Saint Augustine of Hippo, who died in the 5th century, is at the head of this argument. According to some, he shared the belief that the earth was round, but, according to his most famous researcher, Leo Ferrari, Saint Augustine "was firmly convinced that the earth was flat."

Whenever any society lets religion get in the way of scientific progress and science education, the society suffers. In Europe, the end of Classical Antiquity, spurred by the spread of Christianity, led to the Dark Ages, a time of superstition marked by a lack of scientific progress, little cultural advancement and limited education. Today, the expansion of religious fundamentalism, the spread of creationism and the disbelief in evolution are leading to a modern dark age in the United States, and it is affecting the education of all American children.

The theory of evolution, the Big Bang Theory and the science that supports those and other theories need to be a part of every American child's education. A child without a solid education in science is missing out on more than just knowledge and an understanding of the natural world — that child is missing out on learning to form his or her own opinions, learning to interpret information and think creatively, and learning to see the world as the amazing, adaptive place it truly is.

If Americans continue to refuse to examine the possibilities of science, to consider the evidence that supports evolution and to support the need for science education, they will only give further credence to theory of evolution. The rest of the world will continue to evolve scientifically, and we will be by ourselves in a religion-governed dark age — a society headed toward extinction.

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