The Evolving Nature of Belief
14, 2009 - David McConkey
So said a bumper sticker on a car in front of me on Rosser Avenue recently.
Many – if not most – people agree. And that should concern not just scientists, but all citizens.
The year 2009 marks 150 years since Charles Darwin’s 1859 book On the Origin of Species. But even though they have had a century and a half, scientists have failed to convince much of the public to believe in evolution.
In the U.S., a CBS poll found 53 per cent of Americans believe that a biblical God created human beings in their present form.
In Canada, an Angus Reid poll found 41 per cent either believe that God created humans in their present form or are not sure.
Those questioning evolution include members of our elites. Earlier this year, federal Science and Technology Minister Gary Goodyear refused to answer a reporter’s question about whether he believed in evolution.
“I’m not going to answer that question,” Goodyear said. “I am a Christian, and I don’t think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate.”
Business leaders also think that evolution is controversial.
Last year, a travelling exhibit about Charles Darwin was shown at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum. As happened in the U.S., the museum could not secure any corporate sponsorship. A business boycott (this was before the recession) of a museum exhibit is highly unusual.
Because evolution is widely disbelieved, we should teach about the evolution / creation controversy as part of school science classes.
After all, what is the point of teaching that evolution is accepted science without dealing with the problem that a majority of North Americans do not believe in it?
By learning about the evolution debate, we can better understand continuing controversies in science as well as the interaction between science and religion.
To us laypeople, science can appear as a set of established, irrefutable facts. But science is actually full of arguments and uncertainties.
And clashes of opposing scientific theories are not just impartial exchanges of information. Science is propelled by the personalities of the scientists themselves.
Look at evolution.
Both supporters and critics of evolution refer to it as “Darwinian.”
Both sides acknowledge that evolution is not just an idea at the crossroads of science and religion. Evolution is also tied up with the life of Charles Darwin, who was born 200 years ago in 1809.
British biologist and evolution defender Richard Dawkins has been dubbed “Darwin’s Rottweiler.” (This moniker is a historical nod to Thomas Huxley, “Darwin’s Bulldog,” who famously debated Bishop Wilberforce in 1860.)
The most recent book by Richard Dawkins is The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. A proud atheist, Dawkins describes his global purpose as “a battle against religion.”
Dawkins argues that Darwin made “the greatest discovery any human has ever made.” Furthermore, “he was a great family man, a very nice man.”
Evolution critics are just as opposed to the person and influence of Charles Darwin. Their ire was raised again with the release of “Creation,” a new film about Darwin.
Commenting on the film, influential Christian movie review website Movieguide.org calls Charles Darwin “a racist, a bigot, and an 1800s naturalist whose legacy is mass murder.”
More and more public policy questions revolve around how we view the science – and the scientists – of different perspectives.
Many issues (such as the war on drugs, climate change, or stem cell research) are at the intersection of science, politics and often religion as well.
Traditional right-wing / left-wing distinctions among political parties are becoming less relevant. Instead, scientific and religious differences among political parties are becoming more important.
Conservatives, especially, want to counter prevailing science. They want to “crack down on crime,” for example, regardless of the findings of “scientific studies.”
During last year’s federal election, a number of scientists criticized the Conservative government on a wide range of policies.
“I strongly oppose the distortion of scientific evidence as has been the policy of the current federal government,” one scientist said, “and we can no longer stand idle while ideology trumps scientific proof.”
Citizens: look around.
Science, religion and politics are all connected, controversial and in constant evolution.
Letters to the editor in response to this column
Follow-up Column: Evolution Debate Important
The Greatest Show on Earth
Book Looks at Islamic World
Rights and Religions
Role of Religion in War and Peace
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Some Reviewed Books:
The War on Drugs:
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The Atheist Muslim:
A Journey from Religion to Reason
Stranger Than We Can Imagine:
An Alternative History of the 20th Century
Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now
Islam and the Future of Tolerance:
The Greatest Show on Earth:
The Evidence for Evolution