Free Minds

“Dogmatism and sectarianism must go, for Almighty God had made the mind free,” said Thomas Jefferson more than 200 years ago (See Edwin S. Gaustad’s book on Thomas Jefferson). For decades, dogmatists have tried to convince us that its okey to teach evolution, as long as it is questioned, and as long as the “theory” of creationism was included along side evolution in the school curriculum.

The problem with this is that evolution was not the result of dogmatism, rather, it was the result of scientific investigation. However, there is some evidence that evolution might be taught using dogmatic teaching methods, but that is the subject of another discussion topic.

Creation theory might have a place in school, but not as a viable alternative to the concept of evolution. Creation theory (or any other idea such as intelligent design) on the other hand is not the result of scientific investigation, but rather myth or religious ideology. There are many stories of creation drawn from various cultures around the world. These do not constitute scientific thinking.

The theory of evolution as we know it today was the result of very careful field observations, collecting of specimens, measurement, cataloging, and analysis. For example, Alfred Russell Wallace, who was a contempory of Charles Darwin, and first to recognize the idea and mechanism of evolution, was a prodigious collector.

He sent to London 125,660 specimens of plants, animals, insects, and birds of the islands of the East Indies. He spent 8 years in the East Indies, and from that location came to an understanding of evolution, wrote it down in a paper and sent it off to Charles Darwin for his critique! Only after his very careful investigation of the organisms living in the islands of the East Indies, and over a long time, it “suddently flashed upon me [Wallace] the idea of the survival of the fitttest—that individuals removed by these checks must be, on the whole, inferior to those that survived.”

Wallace went on to formulate his idea, and send it onto Darwin. Teaching students about evolution is the perview and responsibility of science educators. Trying to equate the Biblical story of creation with evolutionary theory not only denegrates science, but religion as well. Science and religion can and should co-exist.

For more information on Wallace, you might want to look at Simon Winchester’s book, Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded.

About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University.