Not a Matter of Choice

A few days ago a school teacher told me that she tells her stu­dents that the state requires her to teach evo­lu­tion but it was up to them to decide if they believed it or cre­ation­ism. I am sure she is not the only teacher to make such a statement.

The prob­lem here is a mis­un­der­stand­ing of what is the goal of science.

Sci­ence seeks an under­stand­ing of the phys­i­cal uni­verse we live in. It seeks to explain how a giv­en event comes to pass. It seeks an abil­i­ty to be able to pre­dict what will hap­pen giv­en a par­tic­u­lar set of circumstances.

Evo­lu­tion is the under­ly­ing frame­work for biol­o­gy. If one stud­ies biol­o­gy, one is study­ing evo­lu­tion. Evo­lu­tion as a con­cept explains biol­o­gy. It explains how a giv­en bio­log­i­cal event comes to pass. It is capa­ble of pre­dict­ing future bio­log­i­cal events (even if the future event is an as yet undis­cov­ered past event).

Is our present under­stand­ing of evo­lu­tion com­plete? No, there are still unan­swered ques­tions. Are there details in our present under­stand­ing that will turn out to be wrong? Yes, in all like­ly­hood. But the over­all frame­work of evo­lu­tion is quite sol­id at this point. It is extreme­ly unlike­ly that it will some­day be shown to not apply.

When one stud­ies evo­lu­tion one gains an under­stand­ing of how the world works.

When one stud­ies cre­ation­ism, one gains an under­stand­ing of how God works (or an under­stand­ing of how some long ago (or present day) “prophet” thinks God works.) There is no pre­dic­tive pow­er when one invokes the will of God. Noth­ing about the phys­i­cal uni­verse is explained when one invokes the will of God.

The choice the teacher gives the stu­dents is wrong. There is no choice between believ­ing in evo­lu­tion or cre­ation­ism. Evo­lu­tion is the way the phys­i­cal bio­log­i­cal world works. But this does NOT mean that cre­ation­ism can­not be true.

If God cre­at­ed the world, she cre­at­ed a world in which evo­lu­tion is the frame­work biol­o­gy oper­ates on. The evi­dence of past evo­lu­tion is in our phys­i­cal uni­verse. If God cre­at­ed the uni­verse recent­ly, then God put that evi­dence there.

Cre­ation­ism is not sci­ence, it is reli­gion. It does not explain the phys­i­cal uni­verse we live in, it explains some­thing about God.

No “choice” needs to be made.

Would it not be nice if our teach­ers under­stood that?

A Little Knowledge…

John Durant is a meat eater.  The New York Times has an arti­cle on his return to a cave­man diet. My under­stand­ing is that the New York Times will soon require mon­ey to access con­tent, so I will quote:

The one thing that Mr. Durant wor­ries might spook a female guest is his most recent pur­chase: a three-foot-tall refrig­er­at­ed meat lock­er that sits in a cor­ner of his liv­ing room. That is where he keeps his organ meat and deer ribs.

Mr. Durant, 26,…is part of a small New York sub­cul­ture whose mem­bers seek good health through a selec­tive return to the habits of their Pale­olith­ic ancestors.

Or as he and some of his friends describe them­selves, they are cavemen.

The cave­man lifestyle, in Mr. Durant’s inter­pre­ta­tion, involves eat­ing large quan­ti­ties of meat and then fast­ing between meals to approx­i­mate the lean times that his dis­tant ances­tors faced between hunts. Veg­eta­bles and fruit are fine, but he avoids foods like bread that were unavail­able before the inven­tion of agri­cul­ture. Mr. Durant believes the human body evolved for a hunter-gath­er­er lifestyle, and his goal is to wean him­self off what he sees as many mil­len­ni­ums of bad habits.

These urban cave­men also choose exer­cise rou­tines focused on sprint­ing and jump­ing, to repli­cate how a pre­his­toric per­son might have fled from a mastodon.

This diet is based on our cave dwelling ances­try. Fair enough. But it ignores evo­lu­tion. One of the first things I notice here is that a giv­en organ­ism is suc­cess­ful if his or her genes are passed on. Among cave­men, this would require a lifes­pan of thir­ty years maybe? Also it is my under­stand­ing that there is a pret­ty good body of evi­dence that red meat is real­ly not good for us (but I’ve not researched this, so don’t take my word for it).

As soon as I saw the arti­cle I remem­bered read­ing some­thing about evo­lu­tion and human’s diet. It was at John Hawk’s Weblog; a post enti­tled You are what your ances­tors ate, part 1. In this post, Pro­fes­sor Hawk briefly dis­cuss­es “report­ing on an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary con­fer­ence on recent human diet evo­lu­tion”. He quotes from an arti­cle in Sci­ence*. I give you the same quote:

The agri­cul­tur­al rev­o­lu­tion favored peo­ple lucky enough to have gene vari­ants that helped them digest milk, alco­hol, and starch. Those muta­tions there­fore spread among farm­ers. But oth­er pop­u­la­tions remained more car­niv­o­rous, such as the Saa­mi of frigid north­ern Nor­way, whose ances­tors herd­ed rein­deer. Among Saa­mi ances­tors, genes to digest meat and fat effi­cient­ly were appar­ent­ly favored. One gene vari­ant, for exam­ple, makes liv­ing Saa­mi less like­ly to get uric acid kid­ney stones — com­mon in peo­ple who eat high-pro­tein diets — than are peo­ple whose ances­tors were veg­e­tar­i­an Hin­dus and lack this gene vari­ant, says geneti­cist Mark Thomas of Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don (UCL).

In oth­er words, there has been more than enough time for humans to adapt to an agrar­i­an civilization.

I guess it’s pos­si­ble that Mr. Durant is descend­ed from the Saa­mi of north­ern Norway.

Final­ly, cred­it where cred­it is due, I found the New York Times arti­cle from the dis­cus­sion about it at Alt­house.

* The arti­cle is by Ann Gib­bons. It is unavail­able with­out paying.