First They Came for the Evolutionary Biologists

I’ve written it before, and I probably will again: I’m not a biologist. Evolution isn’t my area, and though I’m still a big dinosaur dork, any sufficiently well-read 10-year-old could kick my astrodon. It kind of puts me at a disadvantage when I’m writing about the big culture war over teaching evolution, since I don’t have many strong arguments right at my fingertips. Generally speaking, it’s enough—I’ve read a lot about evolutionary biology, including The Origin of Species, and I hope I understand science in general sufficiently well to refute the biggest errors.

Someone recently asked if I could teach at a nearby fundamentalist college. (The entire story is too long to repeat, so never mind why this even came up!) Basically, she wanted to know why I couldn’t, since I “don’t teach evolution”. Well, the short answer is that I may not teach evolution, but I do teach and research cosmology. Anyone who has a problem with evolution is eventually going to realize they have a problem with what I do as well. After all, it doesn’t take much browsing before you turn up the bumper sticker that says something like “I believe in the Big Bang—God spoke, and BANG, it happened.”

From the point of view of astronomy or cosmology, the evidence for an ancient cosmos is even more obvious than for Earth itself. After all, 10,000 light years isn’t very far—just 1/10 of the way across the Milky Way galaxy, our galactic home. (As a reminder: a light year is the distance light travels in one year, so if we’re viewing an object 10,000 light years away, it emitted that light 10,000 years ago.) To get to the nearest other galaxies pushes distances into millions of light years—Andromeda Galaxy (M31) is about 2.5 million light years away, and the Hercules galaxy cluster is about 250 million light years away. Even that isn’t far compared to the most distant galaxies discovered, which are more than 10 billion light years away.

I have another post brewing about the specific conflict between cosmologists and Creationists, but suffice it to say that we cosmologists are in the same camp as evolutionary biologists. If proper biology is not taught in schools, how long will it be before proper astronomy falls as well? How long before much of physics is called into question? (Specifically nuclear physics, which predicts decay rates for radioactive elements, and relativity, which helps us understand the scale of the universe.) It doesn’t take a paranoid person to see how strongly the teaching of evolution continues to be attacked by school boards and state legislatures across the country, and to realize how much those attacks are actually attacks on science education in general. You can’t pick and choose what science is acceptable, so we scientists all stand together—or we will fall together.

3 responses to “First They Came for the Evolutionary Biologists”

  1. […] same arrogance. The thing is, I don’t want to avoid writing about evolution. As I said in my previous post, those of us who care about science education have to stand up for all science education, and […]

  2. They won’t attack economy education though, because making money from nothing is their biggest conjuring-trick in the best tradition of their Saviour, the Great Juggler.

  3. […] One evening, a woman came in with three young kids to watch the show on black holes, my personal favorite of our programs. During the segment on supermassive black holes (the black holes at the centers of galaxies, whose masses are millions or billions of times the mass of our Sun) the program described the most widely-accepted theory for the origin of these objects: that their progenitors formed early in the universe, a billion years or so after the Big Bang. It’s pretty standard stuff: if you talk about astronomy, you can’t really avoid mentioning the vast age and distances involved in our large universe. […]

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