From the perspective of science, evolution is a fact, in the same way that gravity is a fact. It can be observed through the fossil record, and the scientific community has no doubts that life on Earth has evolved over time. This again matches gravity, as scientists can readily observe that objects with mass do not float away from the earth and into space unless acted upon by an outside force.
The “theory” part of evolution has to do with the exact explanation of how and why organisms evolve over time. Nobody knows for certain the precise combination of factors that result in evolution over time. This again precisely matches gravity, where nobody really knows exactly and precisely how and why gravity works.
So, scientifically speaking, both gravity and evolution are described by “theories”, which are logical frameworks describing the behaviors, while also presenting possible or probable explanations for the phenomenon. However, the fact that the exact mechanisms behind gravity and evolution are unknown does not mean that they do not exist.
Also, science in no way excludes the possibility that evolution is guided by an unseen force or intelligence, any more so than it excludes the possibility that gravity is caused by individual angels assigned to hold every single person, animal, and grain of sand against the earth. However, while science does not exclude these possible explanations, it is not the realm of science to search for spiritual or supernatural explanations for phenomena. It is the realm of science to search for natural explanations to describe the world around us.
From my perspective, the following are true:
Evolution = Science
Creationism = Faith
Intelligent Design = Philosophy (or faith disguised as philosophy masquerading as science)
And here are some definitions used in the further discussion below:
Scientific Method: principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.
Science: knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through the scientific method.
Faith: (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion (3) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof.
Philosophy: a search for a general understanding of values and reality by chiefly speculative rather than observational means.
There should be no debate about any of the above being taught in the appropriate venue. However, Creationism and Intelligent Design have as much place in a Science class as Evolution does in a Religion class. They don’t have anything to do with each other.
However, there is a constant hue and cry, mostly by conservative Christians, to either suppress the teaching of evolution in science class, or to include creationism and/or intelligent design in the same venue. One presumes that this is because many Christians reject evolution outright and so do not want it taught to their children. I fully understand the desire not to have one’s children indoctrinated with teachings that do not agree with one’s personal viewpoints, however it happens all the time, to everyone.
For example, I might think that all animal life is sacred. And yet in my child’s biology class, frogs are anesthetized and dissected for the study of life functions. It falls to me to explain to my child that although these procedures and teachings are condoned by the school and taught by their (authoritarian) teacher, they do not represent ultimate truths, philosophies, or behaviors that are condoned, accepted, or embraced in our family.
I might believe that our fates are controlled by the month of our birth and the position of the planets and stars.
I might not believe that the Holocaust happened.
I might believe that man never walked on the moon and that the whole thing was staged.
I might not believe that Oswald acted alone.
I might believe that the sun and stars revolve around the Earth.
I might not believe in the randomness of quantum physics.
I might believe in the Zionist Occupation Government.
I might not believe in capital punishment.
I might believe in gun control.
I might not believe that fractions will some day be important to me.
I might believe that we are “One nation under…Buddha…or under Elvis…or under Allah…or under L. Ron Hubbard…or under Yahweh…or under Vishnu…or under Zeus…or under Bikram…or under Jim Jones…or under Dogbert…or under David Koresh…or under Charles Manson…or under Beelzebub…”
Some of the above list will seem crazy to some of you, and some of it will make sense to some of you, and only some of it represents things that I actually believe. Nonetheless, every single child that goes through public school in America today will be taught about the above lists, and they will almost always be taught only one viewpoint.
So, what is a parent to do? Well, a parent should do what all parents do about such things, which is reinforce the beliefs and tenets of their family to their child, and to show through example that the teachings of the family are a good and strong set of beliefs.
Either that, or work to show that what is being taught in the public schools is somehow invalid or so controversial that it should not be taught. And, unfortunately, this can’t be done with evolution because evolution is sound science. Rock solid, in fact. Sure, there are knowledge gaps and conflicting viewpoints and controversial facets to evolution within the scientific community, just as there are with ANY OTHER AREA OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH. However, this doesn’t invalidate evolution just as it does not invalidate any other science, as long as the brutal filter of the scientific method is applied, which it is.
For example, astronomers recently discovered what they say is most likely to become the 10th planet of our solar system, nicknamed Xena. And the new planet also has a moon. Xena is larger than Pluto, and since Pluto is designated as a planet then it is assumed that this new planet will be, too. However, there are some who call for a reevaluation of what constitutes a “planet”, and that Pluto shouldn’t be designated as one because it is so small and should more accurately be referred to as a planetoid or even a large asteroid.
So, “scientists” can’t even agree on how many planets are in our solar system, and can’t even agree on what a planet is? This must mean that we must reject the sciences of astronomy and cosmology. Right?
Wrong. What this means is that as humanity gathers new facts and applies the scientific method to those facts we end up expanding and refining the realms of scientific knowledge. See these pages for a more thorough explanation of the scientific method:
So, lacking any valid reason for banning the teaching of evolution, some are now calling for the introduction of faith (creationism) and/or pure philosophy (intelligent design) into Science class. However, doing this would be a grave injustice to science, faith, and philosophy, because all would be diluted and diminished by this course of action. Faith and philosophy have no place in science class. Science class is for science. And evolution is good, solid science. Now, if a parent chooses to they can certainly sit down and talk with their child and explain how evolution does not match their beliefs, just as another parent can tell their child that just because their school makes them say the words “under god” that does not necessarily match their beliefs, either.
Now, I offer no argument against the validity of creationism or intelligent design, because none can be offered. Both are, at heart, matters of faith, and one cannot prove or disprove faith, one either has it or does not. One can also acquire faith as part of ones quest for understanding. I freely and humbly admit that I, as a puny inhabitant of a puny planet in a puny galaxy in a vast and unknowable universe, have absolutely no knowledge about the ultimate truths of reality. It is entirely possible that everything was created by an omnipotent being over seven days. It is also possible that the incredible beauty and diversity of the natural world was crafted by a guiding hand of unknown origin.
However, the pondering of these possibilities, while deeply valid, are not scientific pursuits, and so have no place in science class. I also find it noteworthy and compelling that while the teachings of the science of medicine state that the dead cannot return to life after three days, no one is calling for the banning of medical science classes, or for the teaching of alternate theories. Those who believe in the Resurrection of Christ accept it as a matter of faith and a miracle of God and do not quibble with the fact that it violates scientific knowledge.
Why is that? And why is medical science different from evolution? I could hypothesize that it is because medical science provides a very real, measurable, provable benefit to the lives of believers, and so they hypocritically choose not the challenge the science of medical theories out of selfishness, even though it is in absolute conflict with one of the core events of their belief system. But that would be an unprovable hypothesis, and my saying it, and even that fact that I might deeply believe it, would not make it true.
Update 11/8/2005 – The Kansas Board of Education voted to make it a standard that evolution be treated skeptically in their public school science classes. The Board also voted to rewrite the definition of “science” so that it is “no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena.” I weep for our future, and hope that many brave colleges and universities opt not to recognize the diplomas generated by such a primitive, backwards, superstitious tribe of charlatans.
Update 11/9/2005 – Reaffirming my faith in America, voters in Dover, PA yesterday ousted eight school board members who had previously backed the reading of a statement in Science classes stating that evolution was “not a fact” and had “inexplicable gaps”. Huzzah, voters of Dover, PA, well done!