Debating the Origin of Things (1)
Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PRCS in Walker MI.
Recently, we looked at an editorial by Richard Fienberg, Editor in Chief of Sky and Telescope magazine. The article was titled, “Evolution: We Can’t Sit Idly By.” In his article, Fienberg expressed concern about what might happen to science education in our nation’s public schools if religious fundamentalists had their way. Fienberg’s article elicited quite a response from his readers. Sky and Telescope printed a representative sample of these letters in its August 2005 issue.
The following are excerpts from reader responses.
● As an amateur stargazer, I cannot look at this beautiful universe as an accident. The change of seasons, the Sun being neither too far away nor too close to sustain life, our own conscience—all scream to me of an intelligent designer. It is ridiculous to believe that chance can cause anything, scientifically, rationally, or theologically.
● Evolution serves to remove God from the picture, allowing us to escape the dilemma of having to answer to a higher being. Thus, humanists and secularists, no matter how foolish they look, uphold it.
● On Christmas Eve 1968, humanity saw Earth for the first time as a small blue-and-white ball against the vastness of space. On that day, the three Apollo 8 astronauts read the first few verses from Genesis. Science and religion coexisted on that day with nothing but applause from both the scientific community and the general population. Sadly, that level of tolerance is gone, replaced by an intolerance that wants to wipe the presence of faith from the public circle ... we should enjoy the wonders of the universe together. We can figure out who should get the credit for it as individuals.
● Fienberg notes that good science education reaching more people would improve the situation. To build on his point, let’s advocate not just for the protection of science education but also for the notion that an educated person is someone able and inclined to wrestle with intellectual, moral, and social issues.
● I find it peculiar that Fienberg’s article made not one, or two, but three references to Christian fundamentalists who suggest that Earth is 6,000 years old. As a Christian who attended parochial school and church for most of my 44 years, I can honestly say that I have never heard a pastor or a teacher of any denomination suggest that Earth is anywhere near that young.
● Who will defend NASA and the other pure science programs after the creationists have poisoned public opinion by denigrating science and scientists?
● For those of us who believe that somewhere between any two views is probably where the truth lies, this complex universe of ours didn’t happen by accident. If there are two major theories about the way everything began, why can’t we honestly present both?
(I should tell you that this last quotation came from a minister.)
Other readers then felt a need to comment upon the letters to the editor. Further reader responses appeared in Sky & Telescope’s October 2005 issue. They were discouraged to see letters upholding the intelligent design viewpoint.
● It’s preposterous to consider “creation science” or “intelligent design science” as anything more than oxymoronic terms. People who believe these ideas reach their conclusions first and then twist the data to support their fundamentalist dogmas.
● I found some of the published responses to Fienberg’s well-judged editorial disappointing and surprising. It comes as something of a shock that amateur astronomers can be so uninformed about the nature of science; the basics of biology, evolution, and astrophysics; and the evidence that underpins this knowledge. The responses clearly demonstrate the necessity for a more scientifically based education system—not only to enable people to appreciate how amazing the universe is but also to counter the dangers presented by faith-based curricula that demand the acceptance of statements without requiring evidence.
● As a Christian, professional scientist, and science educator, I’m appalled by some of the arguments presented in the August letters. They show a profound misunderstanding of what science is. The age of the Earth and the solar system as a whole is about 4.5 billion years old, obtained by various independent dating methods, and this is unassailable.
A court case and school board election in Dover, Pennsylvania, have sparked debate over intelligent design and evolution in the public school classroom. The Grand Rapids Press printed an article by Richard Ostling on 27 August, 2005, concerning these events.
Quizzed on the topic, President Bush recently told reporters: “You’re asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas and the answer is ‘Yes.’”
The president’s remark prompted sharp criticism from intelligent design opponents. Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean said ... Bush is “anti-science” and “there’s no factual evidence for intelligent design.”
A federal district court ruled there was no place in the public school curriculum for intelligent design because it was merely a re-labeling of creationism. Thus, the separation between church and state was violated. In the November school board election in Dover, Pennsylvania, all candidates supporting intelligent design lost. to be continued ..