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The theory of evolution and its creationist enemies

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 “a teacher in Lagos,” Imelda Wallace, has the innocuous looking title “Science education and belief in evolution.” 

The second, entitled “Much ado about evolution,” 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 Igwe’s essay, and I don’t need to, since my aim is not to defend Igwe against Wallace and Olatunji. At any rate,  I believe Igwe is capable of defending himself. Instead, I want to expose and debunk the numerous fallacies, falsehoods and misunderstandings redolent in Wallace’s and Olatunji’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 support  as the best scientific basis for understanding  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 – 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 account  of it  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.

Genesis  actually contains two  contrary stories  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 of  polytheism in the story.

For instance, Genesis 1:26 records that God said “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness… .” 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 narrative  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 consolidated  it  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 pillars  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 Darwin’s  theory of evolution is a supposition, a supposition being, in her own words,  an “uncertain belief.”

But assuming Wallace is right (although she is wrong, because the theory of evolution is not a supposition; it is a scientific  theory supported  by solid evidence)  why do creationists crave certainty with the intensity a hungry baby craves   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 “holy books,” even when what is written there have been  falsifed by scientific research, in the mistaken conviction  that subjective feeling of certainty makes a belief true.

Wallace suggests that evolution  can only be found in antiquated books, and adds, rather pompously: “We should not allow someone’s belief in evolution to undermine the scientific knowledge we teach in schools!” I do not know Miss Wallace’s educational background or what subjects she teaches. Judged by the contents of her essay, however, she  definitely cannot be a biology (or science) teacher, because she lacks the  critical attitude which is so essential and fruitful in the teaching and learning of science.

A knowledgeable, intellectually honest,  science teacher will be extremely careful in supporting the antediluvian theory of creation in the classroom, and will never  describe books on evolution as out of date.  Indeed,  Wallace is completely ignorant about the impressive corroboration of  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 was  merely a Newsweek magazine published 30 years ago! This teacher cannot be serious.
To be continued


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