George Claassen

'Evolution is, I'm afraid, a fact'

2005-05-20 08:58

"Evolution as a process that has always gone on in the history of the earth can be doubted only by those who are ignorant of the evidence or are resistant to evidence, owing to emotional blocks or to plain bigotry."

These words by the evolutionary scientist Theodosius Dobzhansky will make all the activist doubters uncomfortable who are trying to defend their belief in some kind of god promising them an everlasting life by discrediting evolution.

Or those who have been targeting scientists and science writers with abusive language merely because they confront their ignorance with the uneasy fact of evolutionary science.

What is astonishing is the way in which these ignorant doubters cling to all the hackneyed arguments propagated by their spiritual leaders, using unscientific material produced by creationists and Intelligent Design theorists.

They distort the facts about evolution and clearly believe if you repeat something long and loud enough, it will become the truth.

Unfortunately science has eroded and destroyed most of the "truths" of their holy books.

One of their favourite lies against evolution is that the father of the theory, Charles Darwin, recanted on his deathbed and withdrew all he said about the origins of life.

Or that the Cambrian "explosion" - the period between 570 and 510 million years ago when many new species developed on Earth - proves that the hand of some kind of Intelligent Designer was responsible for this sudden creation and that these species had not developed from other predecessor orders of life.

No matter how many times scientists have brought their attention to a vast valley of evidentiary examples of predecessors of these species living before the Cambrian period.

Closed mindedness

The fallacies anti-evolutionists believe in and which they use in their arguments against the theory of evolution, shows not only ignorance, but also a stubborn refusal to open their minds to modern science and its findings.

They are nothing more than ostriches covering their heads under a bed of sand, wishing and hoping that this attitude will make evolution and its dire consequences on their belief systems disappear.

Well, it won't. No matter how many times they tell the friends sharing their comfort-zone that evolution is only a theory, not a fact. The leading American paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould buried this misleading argument safely:

"Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data," Gould wrote in his essay, "Evolution as fact and theory".

"Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them.

Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from apelike ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other, yet to be discovered."

Those who still doubt evolution, all portray the same characteristic: they don't read about science, but rather only creationist material and their holy books.

Before they shoot down evolutionary science again, shouldn't they first lift the Iron Curtain of gullibility preventing their minds from accepting scientific facts for what they really are?

  • George Claassen writes about science for Die Burger and teaches science journalism at the postgraduate Department of Journalism at the University of Stellenbosch. He is the author of a book on science, Geloof, Bygeloof en Ander Wensdenkery - Hoe Vrees en Vals Hoop Mense Mislei (to appear shortly at Protea Boekhuis).

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