Evolution And Creationism In The Educational System
Education is the process of providing all facets of knowledge to students as a means of stimulating mental growth. As such, it should not be an educator’s job to tell students what to think, rather, to encourage them to think and develop their own theories based on all of the presented information. An example of a controversial subject with more than one possible theory of explanation is the origins of humans and the universe, of which the two most accepted explanations are creationism and evolution. Although one of these explanations could be potentially less wrong than the other, as seen through many ongoing debates among science educators, religious leaders, parents, and school and government officials, both are still the most prevalent explanations for the story, and as such, should be taught in schools today. And although I personally believe that the theory and observations explaining evolution are less wrong than those presented in favor of creationism, both should still be taught, as those who believe in creationism have their own evidence and belief in their version of the origin of human beings and life. Thus, both evolution and creationism should and must be taught in the curriculum, provided that both the evidence supporting and disproving both theories are equally presented and left for the individual interpretations of the students. In addition, all schools, regardless of their religious affiliations or their public or private nature should teach both topics in the classrooms, as both explanations should be presented and left for the students to interpret and understand.
In his book “What Evolution Is”, Ernst Mayr describes the modern thinking of human beings as being profoundly affected by evolutionary thinking, despite the fact that many still follow the creationist view. As Mayr states, “I do not expect to convert this kind of reader [ creationist] but I want to show him or her how powerful the evidence is that induces the evolutionary biologists to disagree with the account presented in Genesis.” According to Mayr, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence supporting evolution, such as: the fossil record, branching evolution and common descent (homologous and analogous structures), the study of embryology, vestigial structures, and the study of biogeography and molecular evidence, among others. The aforementioned evidence is largely accredited to Charles Darwin, author of “On the Origin of Species,” which lays the foundations for the study of evolution today. Darwin’s theory of common descent proposes that all groups of organisms have derived from an ancestral group, postulating that the progression of the simplest prokaryotic cells to more complex eukaryotes and more multicellular organisms is due to the phenomenon of evolution.
On the other hand, creationists, including Christians, believe in the literal truth of the creation stories that are found in the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Scriptures, (3). If creationists don’t refer to the book of Genesis, then the most popular alternative is to say they believe in “intelligent design” from a force that is commonly accepted to be God, for man was created in the image of God, and all of life itself was created by God (2). Some specific beliefs that fall under creationism are things like determinism, for “whatever human actions or decisions seem to indicate the operation of a free will, or a freedom of choice, can be shown, on closer inspection and analysis, to be based on unconscious determinism,” (4). In other words, under creationism, things like free-will, determinism and essentialism do not exist. Nevertheless, as stated above, all of creationism is merely based on the book of Genesis, which clearly does not surpass the overwhelming evidence supporting evolution.
To refute the aforementioned ideas of creationism, Darwin developed new theories and concepts, such as population thinking, natural selection, chance, and the history in relation to time. Darwin replaced essentialism with population thinking, explaining that species are composed of variable populations and individuals or organisms within each population are also variable in their nature. Overall, populations change gradually through constant variations. Darwin was also able to refute the idea of determinism by explaining how the universe is ever evolving, over time. Furthermore, his theory of Natural Selection revolutionized evolution by explaining that the available resources on earth are limited, creating competition, from which those individuals who are best equipped to adapt to their environments will survive and pass on their genes to their offspring. Leading on this theory, evidence from the study of genes has also shown and explained the variation among human beings, as recombination has evolutionary importance for sexual reproduction.
Overall, educating students on the tenets behind these two theories is significant for it forces them to think critically about subject matter to formulate their own hypotheses and beliefs. While I believe the story of creationism should still be taught, it has more or less stayed the same since its origins and does not have enough supporting evidence. The theory of evolution, however, has itself evolved since its origins with Darwin, causing it to constantly generate new questions, theories and observations in addition to its already well established set of evidence. Nevertheless, the aforementioned theories are still the most popular and accepted in today’s culture, and so therefore, they must be taught in the educational system. Furthermore, perhaps the only distinction that needs to be made is the time allotted to the study of each topic; because evolution has more evidence and subject-matter to cover than creationism, it should be more strongly emphasized in schools. While many other possible theories may exist, not all can be taught in schools, most importantly for the sake of time, and also because they may lack the practical applications that we see with evolution and creationist views in life today. For example, we use evolutionary theories and thinking in our everyday life, like with the study of antibiotic resistance by pathogens, pesticide resistance in crops, controlling disease vectors, human epidemics, producing new crops with evolutionary genetics, and much more. Evolutionary studies have also enriched the sciences in areas of developmental biology, the study of the human mind and consciousness, behavioral studies and so on. Therefore, the study of evolution is a crucial and integral part of adolescent education. Creationism has also been essential to life today, as it has given many individuals some values and foundations upon which they live their lives, a sense of spirituality, and an overall sense of richness of humanity. It is a means of uniting people together under one cause and belief, and strengthens the sense of identity and culture in individuals.
Unfortunately, however, the aforementioned conflicts are calling for more evaluation of the separation of church and state, a long-standing issue of historical politics. By making this a political issue, we may lose sight of the wonderful level of human curiosity (and the many possibilities of varying explanations for life’s phenomenon) and may fall prey to indoctrinating our students on certain concepts alone, especially at such a young age. If only certain principles were taught, so as to make students integrated into particular cultures and society, we would lose the flavor and creativity that comes with having a diversity of viewpoints and beliefs. Also, why exhaust ourselves in engaging in this cultural war pitting the conventional sciences against the evangelical faiths? The ramifications of the dispute on education are remarkable and can be foreseen as causing many conflicts in the future. Perhaps the future generations will develop a universal system of education, having reached a middle-ground in order to deal with such differences among educational systems. Teaching students to be aware of all possible theories, time-effectively, will not only make them more educated, sophisticated and intellectual, but will help them make their own decisions and stimulate their own personal mental growth as well-rounded citizens. Therefore, all schools should teach these same core theories of evolution and creativity so that all students have the same basic knowledge on the principle issues of interest among our nation, and as the US becomes a larger melting pot, these types of questions involving faith and religion will undoubtedly be broached in the near future.
1 – Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. Basic Books, NY: 2001.
2 - http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2004-11-28-schools-evolution_x.htm
3 - http://www.religioustolerance.org/ev_school.htm
4 - http://www.creationism.org/csshs/v03n1p05.htm