Revolution #119, February 10, 2008
The Science of Evolution and The Myth of Creationism... Knowing What’s Real— and Why It Matters
The following open letter from Ardea Skybreak to readers of the Revolutionary Worker newspaper (now Revolution) was originally published in May 2002 to announce and introduce the forthcoming series from which the book The Science of Evolution and The Myth of Creationism…Knowing What’s Real—and Why It Matters is derived. The open letter is included in the book as an introduction.
In the next few months, I am planning to begin writing a series of articles for the paper reviewing the scientific evidence for the evolution of life on this planet, and contrasting this to the anti-science rant-ings of the religious fundamentalists who wage organized campaigns to try to discredit the science of evolution and prevent people from learning about it. The most extreme of these religious fundamentalists (also known as “Creationists”) insist that life never evolved at all, and that all the different life-forms we see on this planet today—all the plants and animals, including human beings—are completely unrelated to each other, share no common ancestors, and have remained unchanged from the way they supposedly appeared at the beginnings of the earth, launched by the hand of a supernatural Creator. The truth is that scientists have been uncovering plenty of evidence and proof to the contrary for more than a century and a half, and today the overwhelming majority of scientists all around the world have absolutely zero doubts about the basic facts of evolution. Evolution is actually considered to be one of the very best-established facts in all of science, and as much of a sure thing as the fact that the earth is not flat or that it goes around the sun. A great many of the advances of modern science have been accomplished on the basis of our understanding of evolution, and would not have been possible without it. Evolution is such a crucial core concept for the understanding of all of life that many scientists like to quote the famous geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky who once remarked: “Nothing in biology makes sense, except in the light of evolution.”
And yet, despite all the scientific consensus, the Creationists and their anti-scientific rants will simply not go away. The question is why? And in countries like the United States some of the nuttier proponents of creationism even sit in the halls of power, influence legislation, and are welcomed advisers of presidents. Again, why is that? These are questions we all need to engage.
I would argue that we all need to know at least the basic scientific facts about evolution and understand also how the religious fundamentalists who want to keep the people ignorant and confused about evolution are driven by a reactionary social and political agenda. And we need to learn to recognize what is fundamentally wrong and unscientific in the arguments of Creationists, no matter what form they surface in—and this includes the arguments of the new crop of Intelligent Design Creationists who acknowledge the fact that some evolutionary change has taken place, but continue to insist that much of the diversity and complexity of life could not have come into being without the involvement of some kind of “Intelligent Designer” at some point in the process.
It seems to me that the best and most visionary of revolutionaries are always thinking and wrangling about many different kinds of “big” social, cultural, philosophical and political questions, even right in the midst of the most intense struggles. It’s never a good idea for the focus of our thinking and actions to become so narrow that we fail to grapple with a variety of big questions—including in science and the arts—especially if we’re interested in figuring out how to fundamentally change the world.
I am hoping to spark some lively debate and discussion of these important questions among (and between) a wide variety of readers of this newspaper. We live in a society where professional scientists and non-professionals, those with formal education and those who have been offered little or no such education, are usually kept apart and rarely get to interact and learn from each other. We don’t have to accept these divisions. With its unusually diverse readership, this newspaper is in a position to play an important role in overcoming such divisions.
Grappling with the scientific evidence for evolution and the backwardness of religious fundamentalist creationism is very relevant:
If you are a prisoner in a penitentiary somewhere who is fighting not to be crushed by those conditions and to wrench out of all that madness some real understanding of the way things are (and the way they could be), and is determined to see through all the lies that have been told in order to jail the people’s minds.
If you are somewhere on the outside, bone-tired from just trying to get by, worrying about whether your kids are going to get brutalized or killed by the police, and sick and tired of being told that “things are the way they are because it’s god’s will and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
If you are a professional scientist or anyone else who may already “know all about evolution” but who would like to “connect” this question with a much broader and more diverse audience, and perhaps also engage the intellectual debate on what is the proper relationship of science and religion from a more radical political and ideological perspective.
If you are a progressive-minded person who may hold some religious beliefs but also wishes to be scientifically informed, can’t stand fanatical fundamentalist zealotry, and wants to further explore the question of the relationship between the science of evolution and religious faith.
If you are one of the newspaper’s international readers who knows that what is at present a particularly American form of creationist craziness can easily spill its borders, and who recognizes as well that bringing genuine scientific understanding to the hundreds of millions of peasants and other oppressed around the world can help to throw off the burdens of centuries.
If you are anyone else who simply wants to know the truth about the way things are in nature and society.
And if you are a political activist striving to bring a better world into being, it is important to draw the connections between the outrages and abuses of today—including the promotion of religious fundamentalism and creationist attacks on science—and the underlying workings of the system we live under. We need to help people to see the connections between, for instance, the Christian fundamentalist attack on the right to abortion and everything that happens to women under Islamic religious fundamentalists like the Taliban; connections between why some people and whole countries are so rich, while hundreds of millions throughout the world are literally starving and billions barely survive in wretched conditions; connections between the ceaseless rush for corporate profits and both the brutal draining of human labor and the critical despoliation of the planet; connections between a system of global exploitation and the openended wars being launched by the U.S. government; connections between this system’s historical and present-day foundations in slavery and national oppression and the blatant aggression with which it sweeps the world to this day.
The use of religion to launch broadsides against science in this period in the United States is part and parcel of an overall reactionary agenda designed to shore up and strengthen American imperialism, and this connection too needs to be further explored and popularized among the people. The battle to defend the science of evolution against the attacks of Creationists has been raging for some time in the United States. It is not going away, and it has big implications: not just for science and for religion, but also for the broader political and ideological arenas. In other words, this stuff matters.
In future issues of the paper this series on evolution will try to address such things as: What is evolution, and how do we know for sure it really happened (and is continuing to take place)? What is false about the creationist arguments against evolution, and why are their methods completely bogus? Why is this battle going on today? How can all the wonderful diversity and complexity of life on this planet have come to be without the hand of an “Intelligent Designer”?
It will be difficult to do justice to such a multi-faceted and far-reaching subject in just a relatively few installments in the pages of this newspaper. But I hope to do enough here to at least convey some basic facts for which there is overwhelming scientific evidence, do a little exposure on what the Creationists are trying to pull, and get the ball rolling for some broader mass wrangling on these and related questions.
If people would like to send in comments, or if you have specific questions you’d like answered, I would welcome this and I will try to integrate this into the series. I’d also like to invite others with some scientific background (both professional working scientists as well as students and non-professionals) to assist in whatever ways they can to improve on this project and to find ways to get the facts of evolution (and of what the creationist crusade against evolution is all about) out to an even broader audience than has so far been possible—including to those who might not be in a position to learn any of this through the schools or on the schoolboard and courtroom battlegrounds where most of the evolution vs. creationism battle has so far taken place.
This series will try to speak both to people who have no background in science and to people who already know “the basics” but want to get into some of the more advanced scientific questions. But please don’t hesitate to get into this series even if you’ve “never been into science” or never had a chance to learn anything about evolution. No prior experience necessary! Science really isn’t so mysterious (though some people want to make it seem that way so they can lord it over other people), and in any case we’ll work on breaking it down as we go (and those who know more should help out those who may know less so we can all move forward).
And, as a matter of fact, those of you who have no scientific training and perhaps little formal education in general could play a particularly important role in this: by struggling to become knowledgeable about evolution and what the religious fundamentalists are up to when they seek to deny the people this well-established scientific knowledge, you could do a great deal to help spread a scientific outlook among the people. Many of you have been exposed to a lot of religion and have deep roots and close family and other personal ties within communities where a literal belief in religious scriptures continues to be deeply entrenched and greatly encouraged by the people who run society—whereas, among the masses of people, a scientific understanding of things is generally not promoted or encouraged by those same powers, for reasons that are not too difficult to figure out. You are in a very good position to help bring some light into this situation. Get the word out!
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