The Science of Evolution and the Mythology of Creation
(Sent to the Towanda Daily Review on April 19, 2001; printed on May 1.)
In her Review column (April 12), "The Case for Creationism", Jill Darling wrote in support of one of the creation myths, the Judaeo-Christian version. There are many other creation myths which make claims about the origins of the universe and life on earth. Africans, Ainu, Apache, Assyria, Australian, Aztec, Babylonia, Celtic, Chelan, Chinese, and Choctaw have their own creation myths. Comanche, Digueno, Egyptian, and Greek also had creation myths as have the Hindu, Hopi, Hungarian, India, Inuit, Iroquois, Japanese, Maya, Micmac, Norse, Romanian, Salish, Scandinavian, Shillluk, Sikh, Tahitian, Vodun, and Yokut.
In their time, each of these myths was useful to people of antiquity. By now most people have let their myths become part of their culture's ancient history in favor of more reliable explanations and information about the world developed through science. As a result, few people still believe that demons cause illnesses, that angry gods cause storms, that comets foretell catastrophic events, that the sun orbits the earth, and that the earth is only 6,000 years old.
There is a big difference between how objective truth is determined by those subscribing to a creation myth like Darling's, and scientists who use the scientific method. Members of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) are required to adhere to a statement of belief that begins, " . . . the Bible is the written word of God, and because we believe it to be inspired thruout, all of its assertions are historically and scientifically true in all of the original autographs. To the student of nature, this means that the account of origins in Genesis is a factual presentation of simple historical truths."
In contrast, the scientific method requires: 1) observation; 2) explanation of the observation--a working assumption or hypothesis--such that it can be disproved or falsified; 3) predictions based on the hypothesis; 4) experimentation and further observation to test the hypothesis; and 5) modification of the hypothesis as necessary to explain the results of additional experiments and observations.
A testable hypothesis is framed or worded in such a way that it can be disproved. For example, "Hell exists somewhere," cannot be falsified because one would have to look everywhere for hell, and "everywhere" covers one hell of a lot of space. A proper hypothesis would be, "Hell doesn't exist." This can be falsified by finding just one hell -- anywhere. In a previous column, Darling claimed to have found hell in the drill hole of an oil well in Russia. However, she later retracted the claim when she found her evidence was wrong.
After a hypothesis has been repeatedly tested and has not been disproved, it begins to gain the status of a theory. Any theory is understood to be tentatively true as long as it agrees with all observations and experiments. A single experiment or observation may render a scientific theory invalid, regardless of the prestige of its originator, or of the theory's longevity.
For example, Darwin's hypothesis about the origin of the species has been tested and retested. We now know that evolution happens at the genetic level of life. Darwin was not even aware of Mendel's research on peas which resulted eventually into the science of genetics. Today there is broad agreement about the essential facts of evolution. As a result, these now form the body science called the theory of evolution. Briefly, it says 1) all life on Earth evolved, and 2) life descended from a single common ancestor, a pre-bacteria life form perhaps.
But there remain hypotheses about the details of how evolution happens. For example, do plants and animals evolve in a smooth transition over time in responses to environmental changes or mutations in our genes, or has evolution happened in fits and starts over the eons. These alternative hypotheses are being tested with new findings everyday.
Those who still believe in the creation myth of the Bible try to discount the validity of evolutionary theory in three ways. First, they misunderstand the concept of a scientific theory and claim that because it is not an indisputable fact it must be wrong. Second, they misrepresent the facts. Third, they are continually trying to make facts fit their myths rather than forming understandings based on the facts of observation.
Darling noted that children laugh when presented with picture books about evolution, "because it's nothing they have observed in nature." These same children can't see that the earth is round and orbits around the sun. They can't see light bend as it passes by the sun. And they also can't see viruses.
Darling wrote that "geologists studied a 500 foot layer of the Grand Canyon and found evidence suggesting the canyon's layers could have accumulated in a short time." An ICR geologist, Art Chadwick, headed the survey. In direct disagreement with Chadwick are the results of the 1992 ICR sponsored "Grand Canyon Dating Project," headed by Steven Austin, chairman of the ICR Geology Department. His findings dated lava flows near the top of the canyon at 1.3 billion years. However, when compared with data that showed the age of lower strata to be 200 million years younger, Austin concluded that the dating technique was flawed, and hence all such datings using similar methods are incorrect. However, in 1988, documents show that Austin knew that this discrepancy could be forced by improper sampling, yet it was never mentioned in the 1992 report.
Darling wrote of an upright whale fossil positioned over several geological strata, indicating that the strata would have had have to have been deposited quickly (Genesis flood) for the fossil to survive. First reported by Russel in 1976, the whale story has grown to legend among creationists who prefer not to lessen its impact with facts. According to the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History, who excavated the whale, the fossil was at a 45-degree angle and parallel to the layer of containing strata that was uplifted by tectonic action that formed the Transverse Ranges.
Darling wrote about Lucy, "heralded as a missing link" as "nothing more than a variety of pygmy chimpanzee". Richard Leakey, in 1994, wrote that Lucy "undoubtedly was a biped" and not a chimp.
Darling wrote that the "Nebraska Man" tooth was claimed by scientists to be the "genuine missing link," but was finally shown to be a tooth from a pig. According to Foley, "Few, if any, other scientists claimed it was a human ancestor. It is an exaggeration to claim that Nebraska Man was widely accepted as human, or even as an ape, by scientists."
Darling quoted Dr. Colin Patterson, an evolutionist and paleontologist of the British Museum of Natural History, "Can you tell me anything about evolution, any one thing, that is true?" He made this statement in 1981. Darling failed to add that in 1994, he clarified it with, "It would be truer to say, 'I know that evolution explains hierarchy'".
Darling proposed that the creation myth be included with the theory of evolution in high school science curricula, or that evolution be removed. I propose that the Judaeo-Christian creation myth be taught in a Mythology and Legends class along with the dozens of other creation myths. Science curricula should include evolution, critical thinking, and the scientific method. To accumulate knowledge, we must be able to discern fact from fiction, and differentiate reality from fantasy.
The Judaeo-Christian creation myth is one of many fantastic stories that early civilizations used in an attempt to explain the universe. Most have been relegated as allegory. A few people choose to remain in the dark ages even though the rest of civilization marches forth into the new millennium.
John L. Ferri