Thursday, May 1, 2014

Evolution Collides with Politics

Several Texas Republican political candidates for lieutenant governor recently got together for what was claimed to be a debate and came to the same conclusion: creationism should be taught in schools.

Incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was generous: “I believe in creationism, but I understand it alone cannot be taught. And I am fine with teaching creationism, intelligent design, evolution.” He was echoed by Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson who said that “creationism, intelligent design, evolution should be taught in school.”

Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples wouldn’t concede anything: “Creationism can be taught in our schools. It is something most Texans believe in.”  State Sen. Dan Patrick added, “When it comes to creationism, not only should it be taught, it should be triumphed, it should be heralded.”  

Some debate.

Their comments have been repeated around the country.   Most Americans don’t “believe” in evolution.  Most of them simply can’t shake the stranglehold imposed by religious conservatives that has stifled logic and analytical thought.  Lacking any ability to comprehend scientific research, they
Judge Jones III
want creationism or, as it is now labeled, intelligent design, taught as equal to evolution despite the 2005 ruling by Federal District Judge John E. Jones III that intelligent design "is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.''

By the way, Jones is a Republican and a churchgoer appointed to the Federal bench in 2002 by George W. Bush.

I would love to actually confront any of those Texas candidates.  I’ve already had that experience in a college classroom.  The students were debating the Theory of Evolution.  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 young man in class, James, held up a sign that said “I believe in God.”  That was his way of rejecting the theory.

That’s when I asked him the same questions I would ask those four mental midgets in Texas.
“Did God create man?”

Of course, James answered yes.

“Did God create man in His own image?”  James said yes again.  After all, that’s what the Bible reports.
Michelangelo's view of God creating man

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

Again, he replied with a confident yes.  He had no choice.

Then, I pointed to an African-American and an Asian in the same class, and asked James if they, too, were created in God’s image.

Once again, James answered yes.

Then, finally, I asked him a question he could answer:  “Why don’t they look like you?”  James sputtered.

“They must have changed from the original design,” I assured him.  “That’s called evolution.”

James’ inability to answer is not a shock.  No one could explain the obvious differences between humans for thousands of years until the Theory of Evolution provided the solution.  English naturalist Charles Darwin is credited with introducing the Theory in 1859, but, actually, that’s not completely right.  More than 2,500 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.

People with darker skin can endure the sun better and so survived longer to have offspring, who
Genetic differences
inherited that coloring.  Eventually, in African, anyone with light-colored skin died out.   Asians have a different shape to their eyes because a mutation added fat, 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 Flores, a small Indonesian 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 after Darwin have subsequently learned that mutations play an evolutionary 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.  So does crossbreeding.  Most of us have genes contributed by extinct relatives like Neanderthal and Denisovan.  Maybe the Asian eye shape came from them.  

Sometimes change is quick, through mutation.  Sometimes, it's slow.  The only thing that matters is if the change helps the creature survive and have offspring that carry on the new trait.  It doesn’t have to be an improvement, just enhancement.

As a result, all creatures evolve constantly.  If they find an ideal design that can’t be improved, such as a snake or crocodile, the changes are small and not necessarily visible.  If they evolve a design that does not allow them to thrive as the environment changes, they die out.  Extinctions are happening every day: some are natural.  Sadly, some are caused by humans.  An estimated 99 percent of living creatures on this planet are now extinct.  What we are seeing around us now is not the final creation, but rather simply one moment in time on an endless reel of life.

Evolution of man shown through fossils
That means humans evolve, too, which became clearly evident to James and might actually dawn on the four Texan politicians.

James rejected evolution because he’s convinced that God created everything one day and nothing has changed since.  That’s what the Texans think, too.  Of course, it never occurs to any of them that if God can create life, He can also create evolution as His tool to make sure everything functioned properly.  Besides, all the fossil evidence demonstrates that creationists are completely wrong.  

They also point to the word “theory” is attached to evolution.  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, there’s no question of the accuracy of such theories.  They have proven out unerringly through the years.

There are a couple of good things that will come out of any debate over evolution.  James will grow up.  He might actually learn something about the real world.   And three of the four Texas debaters won’t win the primary and will be out of office.  

At the same time, they represent millions of Americans who lack basic scientific knowledge and are willing to elect troglodytes who would destroy American education and freedom of religion in the name of faith.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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