Darwin’s Birthday Renews Evolution Debate

By Pete Schaff

Feb. 12 marked the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, the man responsible for founding the belief in evolution. That is the belief that life on earth evolved by means of natural selection, a process through which plants and animals change over time by adapting to their environments.

Groups have sought to ban the teaching of evolution in schools since the early 1960s, when the U.S. Supreme Court imposed severe restrictions on state governments that opposed lessons in evolution. The results of these rulings said that school boards, legislatures and government bodies were banned from prohibiting the teaching of evolution.

Last month, a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press stated that 63 percent of Americans believe in creationism, the idea that that the creation accounts in the Old Testament of Genesis are true and akin to a scientific explanation for the creation of the earth and development of life. Creationism, as stated by the Pew Research Center, includes the idea that humans evolved over time under the guidance of a Supreme Being.

“Seriously…only in America,” said Robert LaMarche, junior biology major and evolutionist, upon hearing the survey’s results.

Charles Darwin grew up in a conservative era when repression of revolutionary Radicalism had displaced the 18th century Enlightenment. Darwin went to Edinburgh University in October 1825 to study medicine. He attended the official university lectures, but complained that most were stupid and boring, and found himself too sensitive to the sight of blood. He was disgusted by the dull and outdated anatomy lectures. His father was unhappy that his younger son would not become a physician.

Darwin’s father therefore enrolled him at Christ’s College, Cambridge in 1827 for a Bachelor of Arts degree as the qualification required before taking a specialized divinity course and becoming an Anglican parson. Charles had concerns about being able to declare his belief in all the dogmas of the Church of England. In his spare time, he studied divinity books. From there he started working in the zoological society and began to speculate about the possibility that “one species does change into another” to explain the geographical distribution of living species such as the bird rheas, native to South America. The bird, as theory dictates, split into two species, the greater rhea and the lower rhea, as one adapted to its environment.

Soon after, he released his work entitled On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. In the book, Darwin set out “one long argument” of detailed observations, inferences, and consideration of anticipated objections, despite popular opinion. His only allusion to human evolution was the understatement that “light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history.” His theory is simply stated in the introduction:

“As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive, and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.”

There was little immediate attention to the announcement of the theory but the book aroused international interest, spurning less controversy than had greeted the popular Vestiges of Creation; however, its first review claimed it made a creed of the “men from monkeys” idea from Vestiges. The Church of England’s response was mixed. Darwin’s old Cambridge tutors Sedgwick and Henslow dismissed the ideas, but liberal clergymen interpreted natural selection as an instrument of God’s design, with the cleric Charles Kingsley seeing it as “just as noble a conception of Deity”.

Thirty out of 50 students polled stated that they were solid evolutionists. Some like LaMarche went even as far as ridiculing creationism and its ideals.

Though close, evolutionists at Mercy outnumber creationists by a margin of only twenty percent, according to the poll. When asked why she believed in the creation story written in Genesis as opposed to evolution, history major Annette Jackson stated that it was “God pulling on her spirit to believe in him.”

In brief, the story of Genesis states that God created the earth in six days, including both “male and female” humans in His image, and gave them dominion over the living things He created, and commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply.”

God fashioned a man from the dust and blew life into his nostrils. God planted a garden (the Garden of Eden) and set the man there, “to work it and watch over it,” permitting him to eat of all the trees in the garden except the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Then God created the animals, attempting to find a help-mate for the man; but none of the animals were satisfactory, and so God caused the man to sleep and created a woman from his rib.

Then a serpent tempted the woman to eat from the Tree of Knowledge and she succumbed and gave the fruit to the man. Aware now of their nakedness, they made coverings of fig leaves, and hide from the sight of God. God, perceiving that they had broken His command, cursed them with hard labor and with pain in childbirth and banished them from His garden.

Following this is the story of Adam and Eve’s family after they leave the garden: they have three children, Cain, Abel and Seth, as well as other sons and daughters, and Adam’s lifespan is 930 years.

“God loves everyone, and this world is perfect. We are perfect. There is no way that this perfect creation could come from an ape,” stated Jackson, affirming her belief in the Bible and discrediting the theory of evolution.

Pure creationists, who make up 15 percent of creation students polled, hold the belief that the Genesis story is true and support their belief with extreme zeal and flavor.

Regardless of whether someone believes that God created man (or God created evolution) or that man descended from the apes (without a helping hand), humans exist, they breathe, and they carry on through the ages.

Kyle Coughlin, a music technology major, stated, “Just because there is evolution, it does not negate the theory of God,” but likewise, several others contend just because there is a God, it does not negate the theory of evolution.

Each side has its points and will most likely argue about who is right for the next millennium. In certain high schools, officials have often argued over which curriculum to teach, but luckily for college students, the debate between evolutionism and creationism is encouraged, regardless of which a student’s faith leans toward.