If you’re just joining us, this past Friday I published True or False: Dinosaurs Lived with People. In response to that post a creationist sent me a letter, which in part read:
I believe in Creation. I did the research 10+ years ago, when I was in my teens, and after several months of looking seriously at both sides, I came down onto the side of Creation. …I am not going to justify Creationism to you. I don’t have to. Quoting facts and figures at you won’t change your mind any more than quoting facts and figures at me will change my mind. It’s a belief, neither one of us will be able to adequately prove to the other that we are right.
She also wrote of her disappointment in me for disrespecting her belief in creationism. On Sunday (and with her permission, of course) I published her entire letter in A creationist fights back.
In one of the many superb comments to that post, reader Carolyn Horne Amrhein wrote this sparkling gem:
My problem with the letter writer is her attitude that people owe her belief in a “theory” of creation (theory here is used as an unsubstantiated guess that meshes with a religious text) the same respect owed to the theory of evolution (theory in this case means “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of knowledge that has been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.”).
She’s free to believe whatever she wants; but her beliefs don’t necessarily deserve respect or freedom from mockery. In the context of discussing the mechanics of the physical world around us, some “beliefs” have more merit than others. They just do, and if that’s offensive to creationists then sorry, but you deserve that discomfort for attempting to use religion (which is about things metaphysical and inherently unknowable) to explain the physical world of empirical evidence and observable phenomena.
I also take issue with the idea that a teenager’s “research”—just reading things from both sides—earns her beliefs any credibility. Just because you read some articles that use academic language to justify a pre-existing set of beliefs does not mean that those writings have any value whatsoever in discussing the literal, physical truth of the matter. The scientific method requires that we begin from a place of open-mindedness and follow the facts where they lead, rather than starting from a point of religious “knowledge” and cherrypicking / misinterpreting / misrepresenting empirical evidence to fit that preexisting notion.
With that said, believe what you want. Teach your kids what you want (no matter how sad that makes me for your kids). But don’t enter a discussion of the physical world around us with ancient poetry and expect us to give it the same respect we give fossils and carbon dating. It’s really not that hard. Science helps us understand what we can touch and taste and see. Religion helps us understand the ineffable—how should we treat each other, what is love, what is beauty, what is truth. Reducing spiritual texts to literal science/history books is a disservice to both science and religion.
A couple of the other many highlights from the comments to that post include this Category-A brain-bomb, submitted by reader Tami Scroggins (but not, as she wrote to tell me, original to her; attributed online to “Dr. J.”, it’s a synopsis of science well-documented and respected by people in the field):
Chromosome 2 proves that we do in fact share a common ancestor with the Great Apes. All of the Great Apes have 48 chromosomes (24 pairs), we have 46 chromosomes (23 pairs). Where did that pair go? We believed that a chromosome had gotten fused, but we weren’t sure. If there was no fused chromosome, then evolution had a huge problem. Then we found Chromosome 2. Chromosomes have a telomere on each end and a centromere in the middle. Each chromosome has two telomeres and one centromere. So if a chromosome had been fused, it would have three telomeres (one on each end and one in the middle) and two centromeres (one should be inactive). Guess what…we found it. Chromosome 2 has three telomeres and two centromeres (unlike any other chromosome). Somewhere along the line, we broke off and took our own evolutionary route, although we still belong in the family of Great Apes.
On a side note, Endogenous Retroviruses (ERVs) exist in DNA. They are essentially viruses that are “good,” and they exchange information. If they land on a body cell of an organism, their information is forever lost. However if they land on a sperm or an egg, their information will be passed to that organism’s offspring. Chimpanzees and humans have over 60 ERVs in the exact same places in our genome. The chances of even one ERV landing in the same spot in our genomes (if we weren’t related) is .00000000016% (since our genome is about 3 billion base pairs long). Think of the likelihood that over 60 ERVs would land in the exact same spots.
And this home-run, from reader Mae:
As a Christian and a scientist, I just don’t believe religious theories on the origins of the species belong in a science classroom. If you want to teach that in a religious education course in the same school, fine by me. But don’t clutter science up with religious beliefs please. Also, there are a lot of different religious stories throughout America. None of them belong in the science classroom.
Science isn’t a religion, it’s a way to think about solving practical problems around us (check out the scientific method: it applies to life problems all around us). Science transcends religion. It’s a language I can speak to my Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Atheist, Agnostic, Catholic, Protestant, etc. colleagues at conferences. We meet together as we work in the labs and at conferences and we come from a variety of religions and cultures and we all talk science with each other! We talk about the latest development in Mass Spec, how to most efficiently create biochemical selective coatings for micro-electrodes, and column packing in HPLC. We don’t run around comparing our religious beliefs pertaining to the origin of light. We simply compare our research, what we love about it, and how to improve it.
So. There we have it. Evolutionists for the win. (But remember, creationists: just because people evolved from apes doesn’t mean God didn’t want people to evolve from apes. And who’s to say that He’s done with us yet, eh? Who knows what we might evolve into next? Stay tuned! Except … you know, you can’t, since you’ll be dead. Maybe! But you know what? Let’s not right now open up that can of corpse munchers.)