Miracles don't disprove science - expert

2012-03-28 11:20
Cape Town - Miracles are of an alternative realm and cannot be used to disprove science, a palaeontologist said.

"When you're talking about miracles, that's well and fine. You're totally out of the scientific rational viewpoint. But don't use your miracles to try and disprove science," Dr Jurie van den Heever, a palaeontologist at Stellenbosch University told News24.

Van den Heever is an author and science educator who has spent time instructing South African teachers on how to teach evolution in life science lessons.

It has emerged that some teachers do not teach the required curriculum, but Van den Heever said the government's policy to teach evolution was correct.

"Our government has now come and said 'We acknowledge the fact that evolution is the foundation of biology and much of other science and consequently, if we want to teach true knowledge, we must teach evolution at school'."

Alternative ideas

In the US, fundamentalist groups have questioned the teaching of evolution, saying that it is only a theory. Alternative ideas such as intelligent design and other creationist viewpoints have been proposed for science lessons.

The idea has gained popularity in SA and the education department's Caps (Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement) document for life science specifies "different cultural and religious expalanations for the origin and development of life on Earth" (sic).

Some have slammed the position of science teachers who do not teach evolution correctly in lessons, saying that it stunted the development of students.

"People are resilient and they're capable of change and sometimes people who come from a very fundamentalist background can still at some point see the light and... be saved. But I think it's really terrible when a teacher has that position over a child," psychohistorian Auke Slotegraaf told News24.

Van den Heever went further, and said that if one was opposed to evolution, it meant that one was racist.

"All humans belong to the same species and it can be proven genetically; anatomically. And if you belong to the same species, the biological species concept tells you if you can interbreed and produce viable offspring you belong to the same species and you cannot discriminate people the way that they did in the apartheid regime.

"If you are using those kinds of arguments to say that evolution is wrong, you are automatically in that whole morass of racism and apartheid," he added.


He urged people not to interpret the Bible literally, saying that miracles went beyond the scientific method.

"This is the creationist view: In the sense of these fundamental people who think that the Bible can be interpreted literally. Even theologians tell you it can't."

Science had the ability to demonstrate evidence for theories that made it reliable and testable, Van den Heever said.

He cited the example of the ear bones that evolved from the reptilian jaw and commonly found in Karoo fossils.

"We have in South Africa the best scientific evidence for macro evolution in the world. We've got this array of mammal-like reptile fossils in the Karoo and these fossils are abundant and they've been studied for hundreds of years.

"They show how one major group of animals - the reptiles - slowly changed into another major group of animals - the mammals, Mammalia. These fossils show gradual changes over time - changing from a reptile-like animal to a mammal-like animal."

In the mammalian middle ear, the incus, stapes, malleus, and tympanic membrane have been shown to correspond to the quadrate, prearticular, articular, and angular structures in the reptile jaw.

Van den Heever said that evolution was a reality and that people who disputed it were deluded.

"If you want to live in la-la land and think of miracles, that's fine - no problem - but you cannot disprove science by miracles."

- Follow Duncan on Twitter
Read more on:    education  |  science  |  religion

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