NCSU Student Puts Ignorance On Display

NCSU Student Puts Ignorance On Display February 11, 2012

I’ve never really understood why people insist on taking bold positions on issues that they clearly do not understand. There are lots of issues I know almost nothing about, but as a result of that ignorance I do not spout off about them or take bold positions about them. Which is why I always find it highly absurd when someone speaks out about evolution, especially publicly, when it’s absolutely clear that they know nothing about it. This article in the North Carolina State University newspaper by Madison Murphy is a textbook example. To wit:

The theory of evolution can be explained simply: Complex creatures evolved from simplistic creatures over time. All creatures come from a common ancestor. Over time, mutations in genetic codes were maintained as they aided in survival. This process of mutation is called natural selection. Eventually, these mutations build up until a complex creature is the result.

That second to last sentence shows just how ignorant Murphy is on the subject. We don’t call the “process of mutation” natural selection; natural selection acts upon genetic diversity, which is caused by mutation and other sources of variation.

There are opposing theories to evolution, however, and they are also some of the most controversial theories to ever be discussed in science, politics, religion and education. These opposing theories are creationism and intelligent design. Some people lump these two together, but they are slightly different.

The theory of intelligent design states that the creation of a complex being could not have happened randomly or by chance. There had to have been a higher power that created this complexity. However, according to intelligent design, this “designer” could have been anyone.

The theory of creationism, on the other hand, states the designer was God. The extremes of creationism vary as well. Some people believe in what is strictly stated in the Bible in Genesis without any room for other possibilities. Others, such as Catholics, believe evolution could have occurred the way Darwin describes, but by the power of God. This belief also says evolution cannot account for the creation of the human soul.

This is all nonsense. Neither intelligent design nor creationism are theories at all, they are religious beliefs. Murphy makes this mistake because, as she quickly reveals, she doesn’t have the slightest clue what the word theory means in science:

My professor started talking about the Theory of Evolution as if it was a fact. This is a problem. Evolution is not a fact, it’s a theory.

Defined, a theory is “an unproven assumption.” Let’s treat it as such. I have no problem learning about evolution if it’s presented as what it is: unproven.

Absolutely false. She appears to have pulled this false definition out of thin air; it isn’t even the dictionary definition of the word, much less one that puts it in a scientific context. In science, a theory is not an unproven “assumption” (whatever that could possibly mean here; in science, a theory is well-tested explanation for a range of data. Evolution is actually a large collection of theories — that is, explanations — for an incredibly vast set of data. Some of those theories are still relatively untested, but the general theory of common descent has been established as true beyond all reasonable doubt. There simply is no other coherent explanation for the data in about a dozen fields of science.

This particular professor went on to state that those who don’t believe in evolution are wrong. He said that there are so many facts proving it’s truth that one would have to be ignorant not to believe it. I found this to be deeply offensive. I am not ignorant simply because I choose to believe one theory over another.

I’m sure you were offended at being called ignorant, but your offense doesn’t challenge that conclusion at all. In fact, you have proven with this article that you are, in fact, ignorant of this subject.

If professors or teachers at any grade level are going to teach evolution, they should make sure their students are aware that it is a theory and not a fact.

No, what they should make sure of is that students know what theory and fact mean in science. You clearly don’t.

Not only do professors need to be wary of what they’re teaching, but students must also be cautious. Students, never take anything a professor says at face value. I encourage you to research things for yourself and make an informed opinion.

I suggest you take that advice yourself. And here’s a hint: reading the Bible or a bunch of creationist tracts is not “research.”

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