Mar 062007
 
Authors: Ryan Speaker

Last week, Trevor Sides’ “All the evolutionists go to church” appeared in the Collegian. I had hoped to read more about the presentation given two weeks ago by Dr. Russell Humphreys, but instead read a weak argument (“evolution is religion”) based on several misinterpretations of quotes from highly respected scientists.

I must confess two things. First, I love facts. When facts are missing, truth becomes opinion, and while I respect opinion, I do not respect opinion masquerading as truth.

Second, I am not a scientist. However, I have spent a lot of time studying evolution, and the relationship between modern Christian fundamentalism and science. I have read, watched, and listened to a wide variety of sources – average citizens, scientists, philosophers, and the religious – and I believe I have a relatively good understanding of the topics at hand.

So we begin…

Mr. Sides asserted, “Scientists from both camps – evolution and creationism – have been trading fact-laden punches since the Scopes ‘Monkey’ Trial in 1925.” He failed to give any of the “fact-laden punches.” He should have given some examples to prove this point, rather than assuming a dubious claim would be accepted as fact.

In looking for facts to support the claim, Sides should have considered the appearance of creationist evidence published in standard peer-reviewed scientific journals. It rarely appears because creationism does not hold up under scientific scrutiny; it is impossible to test for a creator, and if it cannot be tested, it cannot be proved or disproved.

Also, creationists do not often bother trying to win over the scientific community. They know it is a non-starter, and instead go for the average citizens, you and I, who might not understand science as fully as we ought to.

Michael Ruse and Stephen Jay Gould were quoted in Mr. Sides’ column, espousing evolution as “religion.” Knowingly or otherwise, Sides quoted two very respected scientists who believe (believed, in Gould’s case) very firmly in evolution. However, Ruse and Gould both thought scientists should try to find common ground between religion and science, and should appeal to the same crowd creationists seek.

In a 2006 Playboy article, Ruse wrote, “[W]e who love science must realize that the enemy of our enemies is our friend. Too often evolutionists spend time insulting would-be allies.”

Perhaps Ruse does believe evolution is a religion; Sides and I would both be remiss in claiming we know by quoting two or three sentences. However, with Ruse’s record as a scientist, and knowing previous appeals to scientists and the religious, it does not seem unfair to suggest he proposed evolution as religion not because he believed it was, but rather to put evolution in terms the crowd sought by creationists would better understand.

Sides: “According to Dawkins, ‘Even if there were no actual evidence in favor of the Darwinian theory… we should still be justified in preferring it over all rival theories.’ What kind of “science” is that? Evolution, then, is not merely a religion, but, according to Dawkins, a religion based, if needed, on blind faith that matter is all that has ever existed.”

Sides took this quote from a highly respected evolutionary scientist – Dawkins is the Charles Simonyi chair for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford – and disgustingly misrepresented it.

The full quote, from Dawkins’ “The Blind Watchmaker”: “My argument will be that Darwinism is the only known theory that is in principle capable of explaining certain aspects of life. If I am right it means that, even if there were no actual evidence in favor of Darwinian theory (there is, of course) we should still be justified in preferring it over all rival theories.”

Dawkins saying evolution should be preferred is the thesis statement of the chapter; he does not simply say it should be preferred and leave it at that. Sides also cut out “(there is, of course),” referring to the evidence which supports Dawkins’ thesis. It makes one of Sides’ points for his argument moot, and damages credibility by dissecting a quote contrary to his argument so it fits his argument.

I would encourage Mr. Sides to do some actual research on the topics he discusses, rather than using Wikiquote to find scientists who appear to agree with his point of view. Sides needs to apologize for his misrepresentations, whether they were intentional or not.

Ryan Speaker is a senior history major. His column appears every Wednesday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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