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.

My Time to Waste