Viva la Evolution

April 5, 2007

I ended up getting into an argument with some of my students the other night, regarding the teaching of Evolution in public schools.  This, in retrospect, was probably not a good idea… as I am required by the university to drain my mind of any bias, opinion or independent thought five minutes before entering the room to assume my professorial duties.  Our culture’s crude atmosphere of political correctness is behind this… an ideal which, when deflated of its pomp and circumstance essentially says: "Why dont we dilute all thought to its most bland and useless point, shearing layer after layer of cogency and focus until its as translucent and ineffectual as a glue stick, as to ensure that everyone will be able to swallow it without complaint, safe in the knowledge that nothing will be accomplished by its exchange." 

The very act of denying my own perspectives cheapens my students’ experience.  Some of the best teachers I’ve ever had were men and women of strong conviction, and I took from them a great lesson – I learned how to be shrewd.  I can listen to a person I disagree with, and in doing so can rediscover the reasons behind my beliefs.  Sometimes, professors, or just regular people, will say something I hadn’t thought of… and I’ll be forced in that moment to reevaluate what I believe… altering my perspective on the world… or, in other words… I’ve had to LEARN.  Learn to trust my own voice as a thinking, rational creature… learn to carve my own philosophies out of the mountains of shit that I’ve been forced to read… rather than just aimlessly vomiting back quotes from those who came before me.  I’ve learned to be an opinionated, passionate and relentless person… driven to find my own truths, and not rest until satisfied.  You will never see me shrug.  You will never hear me say "whatever."  I have to know… that thirst for knowledge gnaws at me like a rat trapped in my skull.  And this frightens people.  People accuse me of being too opinionated.  "Well we sure know where you stand, don’t we, Andrew?" <hayuk-yuk-yuk>

Yeah… you do.  Asshole.  You know where I stand because I’m always considering the world around me.  I’ve got an imagination, and a desire to figure shit out.  Better than watching The Price is Right.

I’m sorry… I digressed. 

So we were discussing book banning, and censorship… and I asked my students if any of them could think of a subject that comes under a lot of fire.  After some prodding… I got them to evolution.  "I think," said the token conservative in the class, whose presence has actually been somewhat pleasing to me, as she’s the only one who really disagrees with what I’m saying half the time… mainly because the rest of them are asleep or bored… Semantics is a rough class… "that it’s wrong for public schools to teach Evolution like it’s fact… I mean… it’s just a theory."

I let shit slide all the time.  My students say some of the stupidest shit ever to tumble from a human’s mouth.  Most often, it’s a somewhat passable point, which buckles under the weight of a thousand "likes" and "umms"… and most often, I can swallow the bitter bile of their collective ignorance, and their 18-ness, and press on with the discussion, or parley it into a, "Well, we know where Robert stands on gay rights, does anyone want to respond to his, ‘I don’t want them near my kids, I don’t wanna have to wipe the gay off them when they get home from school,’ argument?"  But not this time.  No… evolution is one of those subjects, like free speech or equal rights which I just cant let slip.  It’s so clear to me… it’s so painfully evident that I feel that even (especially) as a teacher, my responsibility to illuminate trumps my responsibility to maintain a non biased atmosphere. 

"Just a theory?" I said, my the podium before me drenched in condescension.  "Evolution isn’t ‘just’ a theory.  It’s a scientific theory… which is different from just some nonsense a person wrote down on a cocktail napkin.  ‘Giant bunny rabbits from planet Garlic are descending onto the planet in sodacan shaped space ships to steal your brainwaves’ is a theory… but we wouldn’t compare that, which I just made up, with the Theory of Evolution.  Why?  Because there’s no actual evidence to back up the claim that I just made.  We understand a difference between my "Bunny Brainwave" theory and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution through Natural Selection.  We have a fossil record… we have empirical data collected over generations, we have 99% of the scientific community who concurs… we have logic.  LOGIC is on our side."  I was reeling at this point, gripping the sides of my podium with such force that my fingers  were drained of all blood.

"Well, I think that creationism should be taught alongside it… just to be fair… maybe I dont want my child to learn that perspective."

"Then send him to a parochial school," chimed in Kevin.

"Yeah, it’s not like you don’t have options," said Bridget.

"Well what’s wrong with teaching the two side-by-side?" she said, her voice faltering slightly.

"The problem is that the Theory of Evolution and the Myth of Creation are not even remotely compatible," I said, kissing my staff position goodbye.  Poetic license begins here: "What makes Evolution a Theory is the mounds of evidence which support it.  It’s the logic… the way it all snaps together in perfect, rational synchronicity (I used this word to impress and befuddle them).  What makes more sense?  That an orderless system carves out a path through the random mutation of genes – which we can see, and chart through genetic testing mind you – resulting in a protracted arc of adaptation through advantage, the surviving genes being those which best adapt to a specific niche in an ecosystem, thus allowing the carriers of this gene to breed more prodigiously than those without it… carving out a new species – i.e. long-necked giraffes as opposed to short-necked ones.  Or is it, instead, a talking snake in a tree who beguiles two naked teenagers into eating evil fruit resulting in their expulsion from a giant garden built specifically for them, forced into a real world of pain and hurt and labor and strife, where they went on to interbreed with their children, wading around in their shallow gene-pool like children in a sand box, and eventually, after only 4000 years (because that’s how old Creationists think the world’s been around) create the 6 billion people who live on the planet today.  Overlooking, of course, the fact that the specialized breeding of dogs by the American Kennel Club – the selective, eugenically minded process by which old, fat Waspy ladies interbreed cousins and brothers and sisters to promote the best poodle tail, or the best papillion ear has already… ALREADY… led to a laundry-list of genetic maladies which greatly endanger the survivability of their species – hip dysplasia, collapsing tracheas, deformed underbites, etc etc. 

Could it be that human beings evolved from lower-primates out of some need, given that 98% of our DNA is identical… IDENTICAL… to that of the Ape.

Or is it, instead, that God built a universe in 6 days, and then put a single man on one of the billions of billions of planets.  He created Adam out of dust… he created his skeletal structure, and his neural pathways, his vasculature, and his gastro-intestinal tract… his brain, which includes 3 clearly identifiable, evolutionary stages of complexity – R-complex, Limbic system and Neocortex – all of which satisfy behavior and needs of increasing complexity the farther out you go in the brain, he created his appendix, which is not a required organ, and he created an eye, which has a blind-spot… and then to top it all off… he gave Adam nipples.  After a few minutes of boredom… Adam asked for a girlfriend, and so God took out one of Adam’s ribs and out of it, though up until this point had used dust for his creations (which I guess is more reasonable than his creation ex nihilo trick in the first few acts of existence)… and he did his little shaman dance over the rib and <pop> gave Adam some pussy.  She, of course, had nipples too… but they were of some actual use to her… and Adam too, when you think about it.  Nice call on the nips God.  I’m quite the connoisseur.

We don’t get babies out of dust and ribs.  Babies come from the union from sperm and eggs.  If man was created in the image of God… then how do creationists reconcile this problem?  Women don’t drape condoms over spareribs before they sit down to eat them.  A mother who drops their 3 year old son into a sandbox to play doesnt return to find that he’s recently become acquainted with his new baby brother.  Human reproduction is an exact replica of how animals in nature do it… the guy struts and preens for a while, badgering the girl until finally she submits… they rut for 15 seconds, and then he runs off and never calls her again. 

You cant put evolution and creationism next to one another in the same lesson plan, because one is based on logic and observable fact… and the other is superstitious nonsense.  One is an elegant explanation for how life finds a way… the other is a Disney movie without the music.   To teach creationism alongside Evolution is to give it a sense of validity that it does not deserve, it makes it look like it’s worth more than it is… like putting George W. Bush’s face on Mount Rushmore.  It’s not science.  It’s not a reasonable response to the problem.  It’s unfounded and illogical and downright stupid.  Therefore it has no place in a science class.

"Well… I just don’t think science teachers should be preaching Evolution like it’s truth," she said finally… retreating from the argument behind freshly constructed battlements of petulance.

And then I saw the problem.  I get it now.  How could so many people be so wrong about what evolution is?  Why didn’t I see it before? 

Creationists think that Evolution is an explanation for how life got started.

It isn’t.

It’s an explanation for how life works.  How it operates.  How it makes a place for itself.  Evolution isn’t an ontological argument.  It doesn’t try to answer unanswerable questions… it’s not an answer to anything… its just an observation of how things seem to be working.  To compare Creationism to Evolution is to compare baking to chewing… the two may both have something to do with food… but they deal with two completely different stages of it.

I hope and wish that creationists can overcome this hurdle… I long for the day when they can realize the implicate beauty of the natural system of the world.  The staggering ballet of existence, the endless cycle of which we are all a part.  Right now, billions of light years away, a star is dying… detonating itself into a brilliant supernova, one final flash to end its glimmer… and from that explosion rains a shower of cosmic radiation, rays of energy which traverse the grand nothing of space, and by chance descend through the atmosphere of an insignificant little blue-green marble, twirling around in the dark.  That ray cuts through the air, through the skin, through the muscle and the fluid and down into the nucleus of a single cell… and that’s where the real magic of life happens… because that one shard of that broken star may knock the letters around in a creature’s genetic code… and out of blind chance create the mutation which one day might allow a creature to stand on two feet, and arch its curved spine up at the stars, and wonder in its endlessly complex brain about what its place is in the universe.  We are the echos of a silent destruction, too far off to see.  We are the gears of an endless cycle of endings and beginnings – death and birth.  We’re the tiny creatures on the back of a living world, which dances around a star of its own… which one day will swell and burst… and rain the chance for life throughout the cosmos.   Our pulverized world, reduced to cinders and ash, might one day supply the materials for a new world… and all of us… our atoms, the stuff of our life, might one day live again as a flower on an alien world, or a strand of hair which falls across the forehead of a strange girl.  It’s all a big nothing… and what a beautiful nothing it is.

And people say that evolution is bleak.


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