Another reason why evolution is controversial is that so few of us have read Darwin. Unfortunately, that applies to many in academia, including professional biologists, as well as to the general public. When someone declares to me that he or she does not believe that we came from monkeys, I know immediately that the person either has never read Darwin or has forgotten what Darwin wrote. My response? — “I couldn’t agree more with you!” Darwin never claimed that human beings evolved from monkeys. He cited many lines of overwhelming evidence that we and other primates, including monkeys, share a common ancestor far back in our lineage.
I cannot resist sharing an anecdote of Darwin’s from his second book, The Descent of Man, in which he unleashes reams of evidence, including behavior, which he withheld in Origin. The anecdote describes wild baboons that were captured by luring them with beer . . . by which they [baboons] were made drunk. . . On the following morning they were very cross and dismal; they held their aching heads with both hands, and wore a most pitiable expression: When beer or wine was offered them, they turned away with disgust, but relished the juice of lemons. I leave it to you to name that all-too-familiar outcome.
Then we hear the tired excuse that evolution is “just a theory.” We can almost see the shrug. In other words, most non-scientists use “theory” and “guess” interchangeably. When scientists use the word “theory,” they refer to a concept supported by the sheer mass of the available empirical evidence for it. Powerful as they are, we must remember that scientific theories survive only in the firm, fertile soil of empirical evidence.
The evidence for evolution is so overwhelming that the concept is accepted not only among most scientists but also by scholars in every academic discipline and by many literate persons. To be sure, scientists disagree among themselves about some of the details of evolution, but they do not jettison the concept. The adherents of creationism/intelligent design, including the scientists among them, do not pursue rigorous scientific experimentation in their “discipline.” For obvious reasons they cannot.
Several of their scientists have a record of empirical scientific research, most of which appears to have been done before they embraced creationism/intelligent design. Their aim is to refute conclusions based on sound empirical evidence from studies on evolution. Their modus operandi is to debate, debate, debate, rather than getting their hands dirty in the laboratory or in field work. Their debates are largely arguments against bits and pieces “cherry-picked” from sound empirical evidence, that is, out of context. They often appear to misunderstand or to ignore empirical evidence they consider “inconvenient.” How they abuse the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the fossil record, and biochemical taxonomy borders on the criminal. No reputable scientist would condone the intellectual dishonesty involved. Their approaches clearly are outside the boundaries of science.
Our federal courts have consistently ruled for teaching evolution in public schools and against creationism/intelligent design. A report in the journal Science (4) showed that creationism/intelligent design is still alive and well, not only in the minds of the majority of Americans, but also in a significant number of biology teachers.
Of the 926 high school biology teachers surveyed, only 28 per cent follow the guidelines of the National Research Council for teaching evolution; about 13 per cent explicitly advocate creationism. The remaining teachers (approximately 60%) dodge teaching evolution; one reason cited for this was to avoid controversy. The authors commented that “the cautious 60 per cent fail to explain the nature of scientific inquiry, undermine the authority of established experts, and legitimize creationist arguments . . . They may play a far more important role in hindering scientific literacy in the United States than the smaller number of explicit creationists.”
What is particularly appalling about the teachers in the largest group is the fact that they abnegated their professional responsibility. Since many states mandate that secondary school teachers must earn a degree in the discipline they plan to teach, those biologists who fail to teach evolution have betrayed their students, their school, their degree(s), and themselves.