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California Academy of Sciences (1994)
Evolutionary biology, like every other natural science, is a powerful expression of human curiosity and intellect. With techniques for reconstructing the history of life on Earth, Homo sapiens has become uniquely capable of knowing about its own past as well as that of other organisms on this planet. Discoveries in phylogenetics, paleontology, genetics, and developmental and molecular biology give us the capacity to test our theories and to develop new ones, using a vast store of empirical data and increasingly sophisticated methods. Continued opportunity to perform such tests has resulted in further support for descent with modification, justifying the fundamental role that evolution plays in our understanding of humanity's place in nature. It provides a rational basis for dealing with such problems as preserving the quality of our environment, and enhancing the quality of our lives.
Now, more than ever, is a time when intellectual standards need to be upheld. For example, it is crucial that we clearly distinguish between such legitimate natural sciences as astronomy and such pseudosciences as astrology. There is a fundamental difference between testing hypotheses so as to reject some in favor of alternatives, and rationalization in terms of a dogmatic belief system.
The natural sciences have a long history of weeding out notions inherited from pre-scientific culture, often in the face of determined resistance. Repeatedly, old arguments, long since refuted, have been refurbished and presented to new audiences that are ill-equipped to evaluate them. Lately, creationist pseudoscience has been attempting to insinuate itself into the curriculum under the rubric of "intelligent design." Prior to the fundamental contribution of Darwin in 1859, there seemed to be no way to explain the remarkable adaptations of organisms except in terms of a miracle. With the discovery and recognition of natural selection, this argument was shown to depend upon a pre-Darwinian failure of the human imagination to find testable, scientific explanations for the origin and diversity of life. The appropriate place in the science curriculum for the notion that organisms have been designed is the same as that for the notion that the earth is located at the center of the universe.
Science and religion are concerned with different aspects of human life and are evaluated according to fundamentally different criteria. Failing to make this distinction gives the false impression that we are limited to two alternatives when faced with an apparent contradiction.
Insofar as belief in special creation is a part of many religions, it needs to be understood in the context of the comparative and historical study of culture. Religion has played and continues to play an important role in human life, and our citizens need to be well informed about it. In recognizing the rich cultural diversity of beliefs and practices both past and present, schools should teach about all religions, provided that this is done in a fair and objective manner, without proselytizing. All this can be accomplished without compromising the central role that scientific principles must take in the teaching of evolutionary biology.
Voices for Evolution
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