I had a conversation at work the other day with Finger Lakes Community College professor, Leni Ortenzi. He was preparing for a lecture that he is doing at Geneseeo College and was discussing the question of whether the scientific method actually leads to what many in our society believe regarding the origin of life. Professor Ortenzi proposed that using the scientific method properly, the conclusions do not point to evolution but rather adaption within a species. He says that research into genetics has revealed that while it is possible for a species to change to meet outside conditions forced upon it, it equally cannot spawn into an entirely different species; a reptile cannot become mammal.
He articulated to me that the belief that species can become other species is not true science and that those who do believe it use the explanation of vast stretches of time to make up for the deficiency. However, genetics says that everything is on a slow spiral downward, not upward. The professor also said that the idea of natural change was so entrenched that anyone who challenged it was disregarded as supporting ‘intelligent design’; the concept that some forces in nature are so vastly complex that it is impossible for them to be random creations except by ‘unknown forces’.
The war between natural selection and supernatural creation has been going on since the 1925 Scopes vs. the State of Tennessee case, where the state upheld a legal precedent for barring the theory of evolution from school classes. Though this was later overturned, and evolution has since taken the center stage as one of the driving forces of the universe, there are still many impassioned debates and hostilities between the two sides.
I have heard these debates before and have attended classes and seminars preaching both sides. I use the word ‘preaching’ because the proponents who defend and offend each other behave in such a manner that it more resembles the religious arguments of old rather than intelligent debate based on facts and evidence. After years of such exposure, I came to this conclusion: why are people, who say there is ample ‘evidence’ to support their claims, so devoted to their claims in the face of challenges?
Everyone has large investments in whatever it is they choose to believe. Many of us construct our worldviews and actions according to our beliefs. When Professor Ortenzi said that it should be scientifically obvious that evolution was not true science, based on the scientific method, I pointed out that the scientific method is ultimately nothing but a tool, and like any tool, its purpose depends on the user’s intentions.
People have biases that they are brought up in, that they cling to, and that bias often distorts how the ‘evidence’ is interpreted. It’s the classic story of the three blind men and the elephant; when each man touched a different part of the animal, they all thought it was something different, based on their limited perspectives.
However it is not just bias that is at play in these debates. If someone has devoted THAT much time and investment to their ideal, and their whole identity and world is built around it, then there is also the factor of, ‘what is at stake if I am wrong?’ ‘What does this false practice say about my life up until this point?’ Many people have preferred death to dealing with these forbidden questions.
It is part of the human experience to have different aspects of our lives crossover into each other; it cannot be avoided. Even science falls prey to this, whether religion is mentioned or not. It is the human experience to want to have faith in something, something that answers-or can eventually answer- all the questions that we have about our world and existence. The conflict between evolution and creationism- or intelligent design if you prefer, is not one of faith versus science, fact versus myth. It is a battle between worldviews that both sides have divested too much of themselves into to truly see the world in any other way but their own way, and any evidence brought into it will most likely be skewed or rejected, to those personal ends.