By the book • 5 April 2008 • The SnowBlog

By the book

As you probably know, hardline Christians have been developing their own brand of science. In America, there are now theme parks and museums where you can see tableaus depicting the days when all dinosaurs were vegetarians and lived happily alongside humanity, even pulling ploughs for early farmers. A creationist preacher is currently bringing this message to Britain. To say that it's difficult for me to understand how anyone can swallow this is to put it midly. I've worked in a lab where fifty times a day we made calculations or performed experiments which could only work if evolution functioned almost exactly the way it says in textbooks. Not only can you see in the fossil record how creatures altered and adapted over time, but with the state of molecular genetics being what it is, you can pretty much watch evolution happen. You can compare the DNA of different, related critters and see how their genes gradually diverged from their common ancestor. You can track bacteria and viruses evolving in real time. And intellectually one can understand why natural selection works the way it does. And it's not three guys in a room somewhere working on this. Tens of thousands of researchers spend their days digging into every aspect of how DNA alters over the generations: how, why and with what results. Adaptation through Natural Selection (i.e. the 'Theory of Evolution') is as complete a theory as humans have about anything. And it seems to me that the only way to not believe in it, is to be ignorant of what it says and the mountain of evidence that supports it. It would be akin to repairing engines for a living but not 'believing' in internal combustion. But I was chatting to a friend the other day who runs a genetics department, and I asked him whether he thought it was possible for someone to work in genetics and yet somehow not to be persuaded by its arguments and he said 'yes'. He had known someone whose doctoral thesis involved charting the way a particular DNA sequence had changed over time by analysing the differences between the version humans have and the versions our nearest ape relatives have. This person worked out how this one sequence of DNA had diverged in different species over the last few million years, and yet outside of work they still claimed to believe that the Earth was only a few thousand years old and that God had created all species as they now are rather than permitting them to arise and alter and go extinct over time. I just hope that Britain's culture of insolent skepticism will help us here and we won't soon find ourselves arguing over whether Creation Science should be taught in our schools or whether our biology textbooks should include front-cover disclaimers stating that their conclusions are disputed. If people are going to believe in a creator, can we at least agree that she went to a vast amount of effort to build a universe that runs on science and it's disrespectful to turn our backs on it or interfere with other people's attempts to understand its wonderful complexity?


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