Since the publication of Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species,” the idea that species have evolved, rather than having been created by a divine being, has been controversial.
Darwin’s own findings led to the scientist’s alienation from his Christian faith. “The old argument of design in nature, ... which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered,” Darwin wrote in his autobiography. “There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course the wind blows.”
Perhaps because of this, or because of perceived contradictions between Darwin’s theories and the teachings of the Bible, Darwin became regarded by many as an enemy to Christianity. William Jennings Bryan famously declared Darwinism to be a “menace” and argued in the 1920s that it should not be taught in schools.
Nearly 100 years later, the question raised by Bryant and others is still being debated. The latest round in the debate was kicked off by scientist and television personality Bill Nye, who recently created an online video decrying the practice of teaching creationism in schools.
In the video, he tells adults they can dismiss evolution, “but don’t make your kids do it. Because we need them.” Posted by Big Think, an online knowledge forum, the clip has 4.6 million views on YouTube.
This debate is too often framed as a choice: You can choose faith in God, or belief in evolution.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Darwin notwithstanding, there are plenty of people who have found no conflict between the teachings of the Bible and the teachings of modern science. A divine creator can coexist with the concept that living creatures are capable of evolving over time and becoming something different.
What defies logic is to think that our scientific understanding of the world should be shackled by religious belief.
Creationists enjoy poking holes in what they call the “theory” of evolution. They point out gaps in the fossil record or hoaxes such as the Piltdown man as evidence that evolution is a flawed system.
But science does not demand perfection. Science is an unending quest for knowledge. What we teach our children today in school should represent the best of our contemporary knowledge, with the awareness that it is all subject to change as additional research reveals new truths.
The day may come when the modern theory of evolution is replaced with a different understanding of how life came to be on Earth. But that day has not yet come. In the meantime, public schools should remain a place where the dominant scientific ideas of the day are presented. Let’s leave religious beliefs out of it.