Friday, March 25, 2011

Evolution Made Easy

I really missed a real teaching opportunity in my ninth-grade class two years ago.  It’s bothered me ever since.  The students were debating the Theory of Evolution, a controversial topic well worth discussing in any school.  The student responsible for speaking on behalf of evolution failed to show up that day, so I took the pro side.

While I was speaking, a boy in class, Cory, held up a sign that said “I believe in God.”  That was his way of rejecting the theory.

That’s where I went wrong.  Instead of using that sign to initiate a lesson, I reprimanded him.  I realized later how I should have handled it:  I should have asked him a couple of questions.

“Did God create man?”
Of course, he would have answered yes.

“Did God create man in His own image?”  Cory would have said yes again.  After all, that’s what the Bible reports.

“In that case, are you created in God’s image?”  

Again, Cory must answer yes.  He would have no choice.

Then, I should have asked Derrick, who is an African-American, and Kim, who is Asian-American, to stand.  Then, I should have asked Cory if they, too, were created in God’s image.  

Once again, he would have had no choice but to answer yes.

Then, finally, I could ask him a question he could not answer:  “Why don’t they look like you?”

In fact, no one could answer that question for thousands of years until the Theory of Evolution provided the correct one.  English naturalist Charles Darwin is credited with introducing the theory in 1859, but, actually, that’s not completely right.  More than 2,000 years ago, Greek philosophers suggested that man evolved.  So did Erasmus Darwin, Charles’ famed grandfather.  

What Darwin did was published a book that finally explained the process allowing evolution to take place.  He called it Natural Selection.  

Derrick has black skin because people with darker skin in Africa could endure the sun better and so survived longer to have offspring, who inherited that coloring.  Eventually, people with lighter skin died out.   Kim has a different shape to her eyes because a mutation added fat around her eyes, creating the oval design.  It reduced glare and subsequent eye damage, so people with that trait lived longer and had more offspring.  Eventually, all Asian people inherited that change.

At a distance, the process seems obvious.  Natural selection is why now-extinct humans once shrank in size to endure on a small Southeast Asia island and why sheep in northern climes are getting smaller now.  It is why snakes still have vestigial leg bones under their skin, as do whales.  Snakes once had legs; whales were once land animals.  However, a snake born without legs actually surpassed its legged relatives and passed on its genes.  The whales that returned to the ocean have survived; the land versions have not.

Scientists have subsequently learned that mutations play a role, too.  Sometimes, a mutation is so valuable that it allows the animal to easily out-reproduce its relatives.  The mutation is dominant and wins.  That’s all.

Predators affect evolution, too.  So does environment. Sometimes change is quick, through mutation.  Sometimes, it's slow.

Regardless of the method, all creatures evolve constantly.  If they find an ideal design that can’t be improved, such as a snake or crocodile, they remain the same.  If they fail to hit upon a design that allows them to thrive as the environment changes, they die out.  Extinctions are happening every day: some are natural.  Sadly, some are caused by humans.  What we are seeing around us then is not the final creation, but rather simply one moment in time on an endless reel of life.

That means humans evolve, too, which would have been clearly evident to Cory and everyone else in my classroom if I had handled the discussion properly.

There are a couple of reasons why people like Cory refuse to accept evolution.  One is the word “theory” that is attached to it.  In everyday life, that means a guess.  To scientists, however, it refers to something proven in laboratories and field studies.  A guess to them is a postulation.  Theories are always tested.  Anything in science always is.  The Theory of Evolution can never be proven 100 percent.  There are too many variables.  That’s true for the Theory of Relativity, too.   

However, to scientists, there’s no question of the accuracy of such theories.  They have proven out unerringly through the years.

The other reason why Cory rejects evolution is his belief in God.  To him, God created heaven and earth, and they cannot have changed.   There is also an answer to that.  If God created the world and mankind, why could he have created evolution as His tool to make sure everything functioned properly?

Cory then could hold up all the signs he wants while still opening his mind to scientifically proven truths.  Otherwise, it becomes a stop sign.  That’s the first step to extinction.
Bill Lazarus is been a long-time writer, educator and religious historian.  He started teaching when he was 13 year old and has been rarely out of a classroom since.  He hold an M.A. in communication from Kent State University and is a full-time instructor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.  You can write him via this website or via his webpage

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