Darwin’s Day 

If Americans got a day of rest on Feb. 12, maybe we’d give evolution more credit.

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It’s well known that Americans work more hours and get less vacation time than any other comparable industrial nation. We’re lucky to get 10 days of vacation time per year, while the Europeans luxuriate in an average 35 vacation days, not to mention fewer hours in the work week.



It’s also well known that Americans hold Darwin’s theory of evolution in dubious esteem. In a 2000 poll conducted by the People for the American Way, nearly 30 percent of those polled believe creationism should be taught in science and biology classes alongside evolution, while 16 percent believed that public schools should teach creationism and creationism only. Add those two figures, and we learn that nearly half the nation believes creationism carries enough truck to be taught as science! Only in America.



Europeans don’t even waste their time with this debate because they’ve long been comfortable with Darwin and they’ve got more important things to do'like plan their next monthlong vacation.



This Monday, Feb. 12, wasn’t an especially bad day for me. Like you, I worked. But I also worked Saturday, which usually makes it a little harder for me to start another week. Our editorial staff held its customary 2 p.m. meeting, after which everyone soldiered forth to finish this year’s SLAMMy’s issue. Everything went fine, but it would have been nice all the same to have the day off. And why not? This Monday marked the 198th birthday of Charles Darwin, godfather of that perennial bugaboo called evolution, a word that strikes fear into American hearts even today, in 2006.



Everyone loves Einstein, probably because we cast our minds and imaginations outward into space when thinking of his scientific work. Recalling that Christians used to burn women at the stake for suspicion of witchcraft, we shake our heads. Ditto for the Roman Catholic Church’s 1633 trial of Galileo, where he was sentenced to life imprisonment and induced to “abjure, curse and detest” his heliocentric theory that the sun is the center of the solar system. Meanwhile, Darwin still gets the shaft. Never mind evidence that he was a creationist of sorts when it came to the question of life’s origin. Never mind the mounds of evidence in front of us that the scientific theory of evolution makes perfect sense. Ukrainian geneticist Theodosius Dobzhanksy put it bluntly when he said, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution.”



So why give ourselves a day of rest, and the first'no, make that only'holiday in honor of a famous scientific figure?



There are many ways people might answer “no” to that question. Darwin, with his fuzzy beard and boxy-looking forehead, didn’t do anything most people normally associate with greatness. He didn’t win any military victories. He didn’t found a nation or political movement. He didn’t help win a single NBA championship. And he never became a pornographic centerfold who married a billionaire, modeled designer jeans and then died young after a short stint promoting diet pills. No, Darwin only uncovered the forces behind the evolution of life. And ho-hum to that!



Thankfully, the work of the intelligent design crowd has taken more than a few lickings of late. They lost their bid two years ago in Dover, Penn., to introduce intelligent design into science classes. Kansas parents concerned about their children’s education voted against state Board of Education members who favored “science standards” challenging evolution, and this week, that same Board of Education gathered enough steam to repeal rules challenging evolution that ousted board members favored as little as two years ago.



These parents knew intelligent design wasn’t science, because it presented no evidence in favor of its conclusions. All intelligent design could claim in its favor was gaps in current scientific knowledge. Otherwise, it implied that human life was either created by space aliens or some nonphysical entity we usually call God. This is not a scientific theory because there’s no way to test it. And, since there is no way to test this hypothesis, the introduction of intelligent design into science classrooms effectively marked the end of science.



Thank God'no disrespect intended, but it becomes more tempting every time intelligent designers open their mouths'there are still a few people willing to stick up for the old Darwin. We’re not talking about the vast majority of biologists, biochemists, anthropologists and other assorted scientists who’ve long since become comfortable with Origin of Species on the bookshelf, not to mention the bizarre notion that alternative proposals to science must be based on observable, empirical, measurable evidence subject to the laws of reasoning. We’re talking about the wonderful Arkansas judge, who in 1982, striking down creationist teachings in public schools as a violation of the Establishment Clause, quipped that creation scientists, “cannot properly describe the methodology used as scientific if they start with a conclusion and refuse to change it regardless of the evidence developed during the course of the investigation.”



To my mind, that’s another way of saying that the assumptions of intelligent design are the same as its conclusions. That’s religion in a nutshell.



The right wing hasn’t stopped trying. In her latest book Godless, Ann Coulter blames Darwin and evolution for eugenics, Nazis and euthanasia. She neglects the fact that Darwin never advocated eugenics measures, and racism existed hundreds of years before he ever sat down to write page 1 of Origin. The sore losers in Kansas are doing the same, blaming evolution for the 1930s Tuskagee experiment that left 400 black men untreated for syphilis.



That Darwin is so abused only proves that his life’s work should be more frequently and thoroughly taught and explained. A day off in Darwin’s honor would be nice, too.

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