By Douglas Anele
In The Guardian of March 25, 2010, two essays critical of the theory of evolution were published. The first one, written by â€œa teacher in Lagos,â€ Imelda Wallace, has the innocuous looking title â€œScience education and belief in evolution.â€Â
The second, entitled â€œMuch ado about evolution,â€ was contributed by Owolabi Olatunji, of the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. Wallace and Olatunji were responding to an article on the desirability of teaching the theory in schools written by Leo Igwe of the Centre for Inquiry and a board member of the Atheist Alliance International.
I have not read Igweâ€™s essay, and I donâ€™t need to, since my aim is not to defend Igwe against Wallace and Olatunji. At any rate,Â I believe Igwe is capable of defending himself. Instead, I want to expose and debunk the numerous fallacies, falsehoods and misunderstandings redolent in Wallaceâ€™s and Olatunjiâ€™s essays.
I will show that, contrary to the claims of these dogmatic creationists and their ilk, the theory of evolution is by far superior to creationism in terms of clarity, explanatory power and evidential supportÂ as the best scientific basis for understandingÂ the phenomenon of life as we know it in its diverse manifestations.
Moreover, I am convinced that creationism is an antiquated theory, a pathetic reminder of our ancestral intellectual and ethical immaturity which, regrettably, survives to this day. Before we deconstruct the two essays under review, a brief summary of creationism and theory of evolution will be a useful starting point.
One startling fact about creationism, if taken seriously, is its vacuousness and complete untestability â€“ creationism is a spectacularly hollow theory, or more precisely, legend. Creationists invariably cite the creation myth in the scriptures of their religions as the true account of the origin of the earth and of life in it.
Since I am more familiar with the biblical version of creationism and since Wallace and Olatunji are probably Christians, I will base my accountÂ of itÂ on the creation story in The Bible. The first chapter of Genesis describes how a supernatural being, God, suddenly started to decree or command things into existence, culminating in the moulding of the first man, Adam.
GenesisÂ actually contains twoÂ contrary storiesÂ of how God created the earth and living organisms. Chapter 1 portrays the deity as a master magician who brought things into existence by speech; chapter 2 claims that God created organisms, including Adam, from the ground. There is even a whiff ofÂ polytheism in the story.
For instance, Genesis 1:26 records that God said â€œLet us make man in our image, after our likeness… .â€ I will not pursue here the tantalising possibility that the Hebrew God, Yahweh, started out as a consortium of gods.
The key point to note in the biblical narrativeÂ is that the universe, including the earth and its contents, is the product of special acts of creation by God. What about the theory of evolution? What does it say?
The theory was proposed by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace in 1858, although the former consolidatedÂ itÂ by publishing On the Origin of Species a year later (1859). It explains the gradual process through which the extant diversity of plants and animals at any point in time on earth arose from the earliest and most primitive of organisms.
There is evidence which suggests that evolutionary processes have been occurring on earth for about 3.5 billion years. The fundamental pillarsÂ of evolutionary theory are: (1) heredity; organisms produce offsprings that resemble them very closely; (2) organisms undergo variations or mutations; (3) there is a mechanism, natural selection, which controls variations and hereditary materials through elimination.
Now that we have, albeit briefly, introduced creationism and the theory of evolution, let us now examine closely the claims of Wallace and Olatunji. Ab initio, Wallace made a futile confusing attempt to establish that Darwinâ€™sÂ theory of evolution is a supposition, a supposition being, in her own words,Â an â€œuncertain belief.â€
But assuming Wallace is right (although she is wrong, because the theory of evolution is not a supposition; it is a scientificÂ theory supportedÂ by solid evidence)Â why do creationists crave certainty with the intensity a hungry baby cravesÂ Â breast milk? Is subjective certainty a viable criterion of truth? Not at all, as every year one student of philosophy is well aware.
Yet, creationists cling dogmatically to the contents of â€œholy books,â€ even when what is written there have beenÂ falsifed by scientific research, in the mistaken convictionÂ that subjective feeling of certainty makes a belief true.
Wallace suggests that evolutionÂ can only be found in antiquated books, and adds, rather pompously: â€œWe should not allow someoneâ€™s belief in evolution to undermine the scientific knowledge we teach in schools!â€ I do not know Miss Wallaceâ€™s educational background or what subjects she teaches. Judged by the contents of her essay, however, sheÂ definitely cannot be a biology (or science) teacher, because she lacks theÂ critical attitude which is so essential and fruitful in the teaching and learning of science.
A knowledgeable, intellectually honest,Â science teacher will be extremely careful in supporting the antediluvian theory of creation in the classroom, and will neverÂ describe books on evolution as out of date.Â Indeed,Â Wallace is completely ignorant about the impressive corroboration ofÂ evolutionary theory by researches in embryology, developmental biology, molecular biology, genetics, geology, palaeontology, systematics and comparative biology, to mention just these out of several others.
The only authority she cited to support her cavalier dismissal of the theory wasÂ merely a Newsweek magazine published 30 years ago! This teacher cannot be serious.
To be continued