Why I Do Not Believe in Evolution
You have no doubt seen the “Darwin Fish” and recognized it as a fun parody of the ubiquitous “Christian Fish.” The second proclaims, “I believe in Christ and his gospel.” Does this imply that the former means, “I believe in Darwin and his Origin of Species?”
As a former professor of zoology and high school teacher of biology, I certainly use evolution as an explanation for the origin of life on earth and the development of humankind. I don’t believe it, but I use it. Do these two clauses seem to be in conflict with each other? In the world of science, they aren’t.
It is a simple truth that science, when employed beyond its surface features, does not produce believers of its practitioners. Do scientists really believe in atoms? Do they believe that the California fault system is a function of plate tectonics? Stated as plainly and simply as is possible, the answer is, “NO!”
Take the case of the atom. In the fifth century BCE, the Greek philosopher Democritus stated, on the basis of logic, that he believed that all matter could be subdivided into smaller and smaller parts until it reached some final indivisible part; this part he termed the atom. Democritus indeed had a philosophically based belief in atoms. Later, others started to demonstrate through measurements in chemical reactions some real physical substantiation for the existence of such structures. More and more information began accumulating, allowing science to explain one important part of the universe, the chemical behavior of matter.
Scientists’ explanation of accruing physical evidence has developed into what is known as the Theory of Atomic Structure. The theory is not a belief system, it is a tool. Its component propositions are not taken on faith, like religious tenets. Atomic theory is more analogous to a hammer than a religion. That is, atomic theory is a tool that is employed to do a task, such as explain how chemicals interact with each other. In my teaching lifetime, I have had to relearn the answer to “what is an atom like?” several times. As more evidence is gained, the conception of atomic structure improves and major changes are made to the theory. So it is with all scientific theories.
Idea One: Scientific theories are tools, not belief systems. It is incorrect (and misleading to others less well informed) to state something like “I believe in the Theory of Evolution.”
Idea Two: Science progresses by tossing out or modifying the old. One must be prepared to accept new tools (theories) the moment new evidence overwhelms the old.
Parts of the Theory of Evolution Through Natural Selection consist of broad statements that are so clearly documented in evidence that there is no disagreement within the scientific community as to their validity. More than 99% of all biologists agree with this portion of the theory, leading us to call these “scientific facts.”
There is no doubt that evolution occurs. The theoretical construct of how is currently ascribed to natural selection. There have been other theories to explain evolution. For example, in the 19th century Lamarck proposed evolution through use and disuse of organs called the Theory of Acquired Characteristics. At the moment there are no strong theories competing with natural selection, although there are alternate, competing versions of natural selection-for example, punctuated evolution versus steady stream evolution. (There is a political movement to foster a competing “theory of scientific creationism,” but this is a religious conception masquerading as science.) Therefore it is a verity that biologists of all sorts all over the world use the Theory of Evolution Through Natural Selection as a tool to explain the inter-relationships of life on Earth.
Idea Three: Evolution, or change of life through time, is a scientific fact.
Idea Four: The predominant theory of how evolution works is the Theory of Natural Selection.
Idea Five: The current Theory of Evolution through Natural Selection is a tool that will be discarded the moment science comes up with a better theory.
Back to that Darwin Fish on our cars. It is (or should be) a nifty symbol that there are people who prefer scientific explanations to religious ones. It may open up social opportunities to enlighten others on how scientific explanations differ from those that must be taken on faith.
ABC’s of Humanism
- Agnostic or Atheist, it doesn’t matter.
- Both can compete for the best way to be.
- Certainly beating out mindless religion,
- Daring to fathom that humankind is free.
- Even when granting that life can be difficult,
- Fear is superfluous, for we are sure
- God is a shadow of sheer superstition,
- Hell a concoction no human shall endure.
- Isn’t it telling that we can accept them:
- Jews, Muslim, Christians, whoever else,
- Keeping no record of petty transgressions
- Looking instead for broad parallels.
- Morals, some say, are likely our downfall.
- Never there’s been a more common mistake.
- Other than reason there isn’t an answer;
- Prayers, by contrast we usually forsake.
- Questions are welcome, no subject off limits.
- Reaching no verdict which scripture affirms.
- Sin is a judgment on our mere existence?
- This we deny in the strongest of terms.
- Use then your passion, your pleasure in living.
- Venture forth with us, join in our quest!
- Wanting to spread the great find of the Humanist…
- XX or XY, no chromosome’s best.
- Yes there are those who long to discover.
- Zero on in, we will tell them the truth!
Human Voice,, May 1995
Dr. C. Wallace Dalley
1923 – 1995
Humanists of Utah member Wallace Dalley died at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle from unexpected complications during cancer therapy. Wally was born and raised in Idaho, earning valedictorian honors in both high school and the University of Idaho. He received his Medical Doctorate from the University of Utah in 1947.
He worked as a psychiatrist at the VA Hospital in Salt Lake, as Director of the Northern Unit of the Utah State Hospital, and Clinical Director of the Weber County Comprehensive Mental Health Center in Ogden.
Wally was an active member of many organizations; his obituary in the Salt Lake Tribune listed Humanists of Utah among 10 affiliations he was associated with. He also listed us as one of the suggested recipients of donations in lieu of flowers at his death. Thank you, Wally, we miss you.
The family would greatly appreciate receiving any recollections, reminiscences or photos of Wally for a book of remembrances.
The tribulation that occurred at West High School’s graduation ceremony is a perfect example of why we need to separate church and state. Divisiveness and contention are the direct results when the two are mingled. To make deity the source of this contention is an insult to religion and human intelligence.
It would be well for the students (and faculty) at West High to have objective lessons on the meaning of the Bill of Rights so they could understand that freedom of religion does not mean using the machinery of the state to promote religious beliefs, nor does it mean to require students to sing and hear a steady diet of religious music (whatever brand it may be).
James Madison, author of our Constitution and phraser of the First Amendment, put it well when he said, “A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical religion, to social harmony and to political prosperity.”
Letter to the Editor
Published in The Salt Lake Tribune
June 16, 1995
We all reach a point sometimes when we’ve “had enough” of our existing state of affairs. We finally dislodge ourselves from passive acceptance-to action. We move from a static self-to a self that embraces a needed change.
This move away from passivity is prompted by an inner source of strength, usually gained in adolescence, but occurring at any age. Amazingly enough, the precise moment of change is vividly remembered and cherished.
Recently, we have seen the turning points of others reported in the news. One case is Janice Allred, the latest excommunicated member of the Mormon Church. She reached her “had enough” point when she bravely said to the media in a prepared speech, “I recognize the authority of church leaders to carry out their ecclesiastical duties. However I don’t accept their authority over my own spiritual feelings and judgment in making my personal decisions.” Allred’s statement and decision not to defer to their command to “keep silent” reflects a belief that her personal autonomy is more important than their authority over her.
Another woman in the news, Janet Alcantura, reported after enduring an abusive marriage for 20 years, “I had to separate my (Catholic) religion from what I knew was good for me.” Alcantura finally reached a point where she redefined the nature of authority by declaring herself as more important than her religion. She said she was still a spiritual person, but had evolved to a place where she couldn’t allow her church to rule over her own personal life anymore.
A young Jewish woman, 16-year old Rachel Bauchman from Salt Lake City’s West High School, filed a lawsuit this month alleging the choir director and school district were violating her civil rights by repeatedly “forcing me to sing Christian devotional music in class, which requires me to express Christian religious ideas.” When Rachel first complained about singing too many religious songs last year, her concerns were minimized and dismissed by the school (an unwise thing to do to a woman), so she decided to file a lawsuit because she felt her freedom of conscience was more important than the opinions and practices of the choir teacher, the school district, and the majority of the students.
It is interesting to note that all three women had emotionally moved from a state of passive acceptance to a position of action. Each had acquired a sense of personal self and autonomy, which gave them the confidence to challenge established ecclesiastical authority.
What are the conditions and forces that prompted these women to claim the power of their own minds? What can we as humanists learn from their strength to help others become freer thinkers?
The book, Women’s Ways of Knowing (1986, Belenky, et al) offers some answers to these questions. Interviews were conducted with a variety of 135 women who were asked profound questions like: What is truth? What is authority? To whom do I listen? What counts for me as evidence? How do I know what I know? After analyzing the answers, the authors described the best social conditions they felt will promote the development of self, voice and mind in both females and males. I paraphrase their conclusions:
- People need to feel connected to a group where they are cared for, and can express themselves openly and freely without fear.
- People need to hear a diversity of ideas and opinions.
- People need to know they are inherently capable of intelligent thought and voice; the earlier they know it, the better.
- People need to be regularly assured that they are trusted to learn and know things through a variety of ways.
- People need opportunities for experiential learning at the same time they are taught theoretical knowledge. This is a switch from learning theory first, then applying it later.
- People need to participate in formulating their own agendas for learning and living. They need to feel responsible for themselves and their future.
The above conditions require that there be an active support system where nurturing, non-authoritarian families and communities help each other trust in their own senses, while giving them opportunities to learn and discover what works and what doesn’t. The conditions also require that people be respected as valuable members of a community. There need to be safety nets to help people through tough times.
If we understand the ways we best develop ourselves, our voices, and our minds, then we can design programs and build facilities that will help develop competent, capable, compassionate, free thinking individuals who will be oriented towards the great philosophy of humanism.
Ethical Implications of Genetic Engineering
Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report
Societies have always been tempted to apply their knowledge of heredity to eugenics, the genetic improvement of the human species. In Nazi Germany, eugenic theories aimed at purifying the national pedigree were dramatically put in motion. In 1934, 56,000 citizens characterized as “genetically unfit” were sterilized by the German government. Among them were victims of various mental diseases and persons identified–on the basis of sexual orientation, for example–as “social deviants.” Millions of healthy Jews, gypsies and other ethnic and religious minorities were systematically murdered. Even in the United States, 20,000 people, categorized as feebleminded, alcoholic, epileptic, sexually deviant and mentally ill, had been forcibly sterilized by January 1935.
David Suzuki and Peter Knudtson, in Genetics: The Clash Between the New Genetics and Human Values, say, “as we approach undreamed-of powers to manipulate the very blueprint of life, we must remember the lessons from the history of science and technology. With all of the best intentions, we still encounter unexpected costs in engineering life.” Results are in many cases a mixed bag with unexpected undesirable costs accompanying beneficial results. For example, geneticists have discovered that sickle cell anemia arises from error in a single gene and is transmitted from parent to offspring as a recessive characteristic. However, this gene also increases people’s chances of surviving malaria.
Ronald Dworkin of Oxford University, author of Life’s Dominion: An Argument About Abortion, Euthanasia and Individual Freedom, opines that parents may be tempted to use abortion as a technique for choosing the kind of children they wish to have. If a mother is told that her fetus is carrying a gene that will doom it to an early death from cancer it is understandable if she decides to have an abortion; but what of parents who want children of a particular sex? or blond children? And what about producing children in order to harvest their organs for transplants, something we have already seen in one case? What about women producing babies for sale?
People around the world seem to value the sanctity of life intrinsically. Dworkin suggests that this value is true. He disagrees with the postmodernist belief that morality is subjective and relativistic, that the individual conscience is the legislative tribunal that creates right and wrong. “On the contrary, exercising individual conscience wouldn’t even be an issue if everyone had his own truth. What would it matter how one acted in the world? Conscience is measured against truth; it is not its own truth.”
Once the battle was religious collectivism vs. the individual, then political collectivism vs. the individual. Now we are entering a time when the biggest social and political issues are again religious. “It seems we left behind our concern with the religious imagination when we entered modernity, only to find it again on the other side of that issue.”