Religion 101

As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, the theory of evolution is far from “a theory in crisis,” and is in fact fully accepted by the overwhelming majority of scientists worldwide. Within the U.S. alone (where belief in creationism is widespread among the public), polls indicate that about 95% of scientists generally, and over 99% of scientists actually working in relevant fields such as life sciences and earth sciences, accept the reality of evolution and the validity of evolutionary theory.

By contrast, polls also indicate that some 46% of the general U.S. population believes in “young earth creationism” (the claim that God created the universe, the earth, and human beings only about 10,000 years ago or less). But that’s the total American populace, most of whom are layfolk with little to no scientific background, training, or relevant expertise. And in any case, scientific truths are not determined by popular vote; the popularity or appeal of an idea, especially among non-experts and non-specialists, has no bearing upon its accuracy or validity. Much of the lay public accept creationism and reject evolution not on the basis of inadequate evidence or flaws in the theory, but on religious grounds (a literal reading of the Genesis six-day creation story clashes with the scientific evidence indicating that cosmic and human origins unfolded over billions of years) or on the basis of personal incredulity (“I just can’t see how evolution could have created all of this”).

Restricting our view to those who are much more intimately informed about such matters, only about 5% of U.S. scientists of whatever sort (in any and all fields, including engineers) are creationists. And if we further restrict our view to only those scientists who specialize in the most relevant fields of science (biology, geology, etc.), and who are therefore the most eminently qualified to expertly assess the data, less than 0.15% of them favor creationism over evolution.

In other words, among those who actually fully understand all of the scientific evidence for evolution, there simply is no doubt or controversy: evolution is an established fact. And evolutionary theory explains all of the detailed nuts and bolts, and accounts for all of the comprehensive hows and whys, of the processes by which evolution works. We are thus left with a situation wherein those who most vociferously reject or deny the reality of evolution are those who are actually least qualified and competent to pass judgment upon the merits of evolutionary theory.

But again, science is not a popularity contest; scientific theories are not accepted or rejected on the basis of how many scientists happen to agree or disagree with them. Scientific theories stand or fall (or are continuously modified, expanded, made more precise and detailed, or are otherwise improved upon) on the basis of evidence. And evolution is one of the most robust and best supported theories in contemporary science. Creationists sometime disparagingly refer to evolution as “Darwinism” (as if it were some sort of religion itself), but evolutionary science has come a long way since Darwin first formulated his initial theory. The evidence for evolution by no means depends upon Darwin’s early observations alone. Mountains of data and myriad lines of evidence from multiple disciplines — anatomy and physiology, paleontology, genetics, molecular biology, geology, physics, astronomy and cosmology — all seamlessly converge in support of evolution, and nothing yet has meaningfully challenged it. There simply is no alternative scientific theory in legitimate, evidence-based competition with evolution.

“Creation scientists” frequently attempt to present what they take to be valid empirical data in support of creationism (or at least data which seem to them to contradict or undermine evolutionary theory); however, all such attempts thus far have been found by the scientific community to be without merit.

(To be continued, and concluded, in Part Five.)