Ms. Elizabeth Vaughn’s [“Darwin stuck in 19th century” Friday, Nov. 12] piece is yet another instance of an attempt to inject religion into science. It relies heavily on advocates of so-called Intelligent Design, a religiously derived viewpoint which proposes that living things are simply too complex to be the products of evolution and must, therefore, be the result of an outside intelligence. The exact nature of this intelligence is purposely kept vague, but clearly is a thinly veiled reference to some form of Supreme Being. Intelligent Design is simply another name for Creationism (see the article by Kathy Boccella in the Nov. 21 issue of The Philadelphia Inquirer for a current example of the Creationist crusade). Intelligent Design has virtually no support among reputable biological scientists, but rather is driven by forces outside of science. It is in the latter area that we must examine the origin of the proposition that Darwinism is obsolete.
Anthropologists have observed in a number of cultures around the world a pattern of response to the kind of cultural and economic insecurity Americans are now experiencing. When people feel that their view of themselves and their position in the world is being fundamentally threatened, a frequent reaction is to withdraw from the challenge of facing the world as it really is, and instead to look back to “the good old days.”
This often involves rejecting ways of thinking that could possibly undermine the culture’s own traditional worldview in favor of what is perceived as a return to fundamental values and behaviors, in the hope that if only people will once again follow the “old ways,” things will go back to the former “golden age.”
In my opinion, the growth of religious fundamentalism in this country is another example of the pattern described above. People are afraid that the comfortable, insular world in which they grew up is coming apart. So, many seek to cling ever more strongly to those beliefs which they feel give meaning to their lives and place them in control of their futures. Things that are seen as contrary to those beliefs are viewed as dangerous, indeed inherently evil, and must be eliminated in order to ensure that the good beliefs prevail.
Many people, and probably most religious fundamentalists in our society, see the theory of evolution, which opens for inquiry the position of human beings in the universe, as being opposed to their view of life as a divinely inspired and unchanging creation. No amount of rational debate or review of evidence will change this essential dichotomy. Our understanding of “the facts” exists only within our own worldview. For those whose perspective is rooted in immutable truths, the bits and pieces of fossils or patterns of variation observable in organisms will have a completely different significance for people who see the world as the result of ongoing evolution.
Evolution and Creationism are not equivalent theories. The former is based in science, the latter in belief. Once belief is allowed to dictate what is acceptable in science, we are hurled back to the time when the Church persecuted Galileo for proposing that the earth revolves around the sun. Would Ms. Vaughn accept that the “Evolution Story of Creation” be given equal time in churches? I think not. Nor should it be.
The separation of belief and science, however imperfect at times, has served our society well. Attempts to breach that barrier, along with the parallel one between church and state, if successful, will have severely negative consequences. It’s a slippery slope, one onto which the Creationists want to give us a shove.
-Philip A. Perazio, Graduate Student
Department of Anthropology