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Evolution Debate is about Honesty

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Message James Haught

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Public schools in my state suffered a Bible Belt attack on evolution. In my newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail, I supported teaching of natural selection, the scientific bedrock of biology. A visiting "creation scientist" from California came to town and repeatedly challenged me to debate. A talk radio host blistered me on the air because I wouldn't come on his show and quarrel with the creationist professor. But I felt it would be silly for me to argue about his supernatural beliefs.

After all, I wouldn't debate a Unification Church member's claim that Jesus appeared to Master Moon and told him to convert all people as "Moonies." And I wouldn't dispute a Mormon's belief that Jesus visited prehistoric America. Etc., etc.

Let them all believe whatever they want. It's pointless to go on radio shows and wrangle over mystical claims.

However, such claims mustn't be imposed on captive children in government-owned schools. That's prohibited by the separation of church and state, a core principle in the First Amendment in America's Bill of Rights.

America's time-tested freedom of religion means that every group may worship however it wishes in its own private church, but it cannot use the power of government to push its beliefs on others.

Therefore, it was gratifying that our local school board overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to let creationist teachers denounce evolution in class. Educated families owe thanks to four brave board members who withstood heavy pressure from fundamentalists.

To me, the whole issue hinges on honesty. Let me explain:

Science, from a Latin word meaning knowledge, is simply a search for trustworthy facts. It's human intelligence at work. The process is honest, because every researcher's claim is challenged by other researchers. They test and retest by many methods, until a new idea fails or holds firm. (A researcher who falsifies data is a loathsome criminal in the eyes of fellow scientists.)

While some individual scientists are pig-headed, an entire field cannot be. Science goes where the evidence leads. Science is honest enough to admit mistakes. When new evidence shatters a previous assertion, the old belief is dropped or modified.

No such setbacks have hit the theory of evolution. After 140 years of research, virtually the entire scientific world now agrees that evolution is a fundamental aspect of nature. Complex animals and plants arose from earlier, simpler ones, over hundreds of millions of years. The fossil record shows it. Geological strata show it. Radioactive dating shows it. The incredible diversity of species, with variations in different locales, shows it. The uncanny similarity of organs, bones, fluids and nerves in many animals shows it.

Evolution was proved when skimpy Indian maize was improved into today's nutritious corn. It was proved when drug-resistant bacteria grew from survivors of antibiotic treatment (survival of the fittest). It was proved when England's white moths were gobbled from soot-covered trees by birds, while less-visible black variations survived. It was proved by the clear fossil record that today's horse grew from a tiny precursor.

College biology books are filled with many more examples. All this is why evolution should be taught in public school classes along with astronomy, physics, chemistry and other established sciences.

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Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia's largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail. He can be reached by phone at 304-348-5199 or e-mail at Email address.)James A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia's (more...)

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