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Does Belief in Evolution Matter?

When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Silurian system was deposited, they seem to me to become ennobled. -Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

In response to Gallup’s survey and Andrew Sullivan’s commentary, Kevin Drum argues that “belief in evolution has virtually no real-life impact on anything.”  Drum still agrees that the biography of life should still be taught in schools “because it’s true,” but he overlooks the importance of the subject.

Gallup alerts us that 46% of Americans believe that God magically caused man by instantaneous creation.  As evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky noticed, “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Therefore, we have around 46% of Americans that neither understand nor will directly or indirectly promote biology, the science that The Economist proclaims will be to this century “what physics was to the 20th.” Drum waves some of that concern away by asserting that “nobody wants to remove it from university biology departments.” Besides being totally wrong about that (here’s the “biology” department at the “University” that one of our major presidential candidates, ahem, just gave the Commencement Address at), who does Drum think will populate our research facilities? Kids don’t just go from outright rejection of science to fully analytical college students after a summer off. Even if they did, education could advance more easily if undergraduate college didn’t have to function as a remedial transition school. Knowledge is cumulative.

Besides light’s ability to illuminate, it also has the power to disinfect and transform. The question of mankind’s origin and his place in nature is uniquely both the cause and the consequence of fundamentalist religious faith. The radiance of Darwin’s idea corroded this keystone to anthropomorphic theistic superstition, the argument from design.

If belief in evolution didn’t have such grave consequences to traditional religious teleology and morality, it’d be a real mystery why creationists care so much about Drum’s unimportant topic. Rather than wondering if evolution has any “real-life impact on anything” it makes more sense to ask if there is any fundamental question that evolution doesn’t alter. The meaning of life, our ethical obligations to all creatures, our stewardship of the environment, our sex lives, our religions, our sciences, whether we have free will – these subjects all differ after contact with Darwinian knowledge.

Next time Kevin spends “an entire day arguing politics and economics and culture with a conservative” without mentioning evolution, he should ask himself what a natural account of life on earth does to arguments against stem-cell research, to objections to unnatural homosexuality, and to just deserts economic philosophy.

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