Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Revising Natural History

If you go the Museum of Earth History in Eureka Springs - Arkansas, you will walk through exhibits depicting Eden and learn that all life on Earth was created about 10,000 years ago. Dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time, but they perished because of hunting and habitat loss.

The museum's "exhibit fact sheet" lists the details of their dinosaur exhibit. They claim that the bones of Edmontosaurus Annectens, found near Edmonton, Alberta have a 'Biblical History Dating' of : 10,000 years BCE (Before Christian Era) and a 'Natural History Dating' of the Cretaceous period (which was 65 million years ago, give or take a few million years).

A recent press release of the museum claims that “There is no place in the U.S. where the Biblical view of Earth history is presented in this manner.”

There is no mention of evolution or any commonly accepted scientific facts to balance the "creationistic" views presented. Creationism holds that the Earth is just a few thousand years old and the biblical account of Genesis is fact.

The museum is riding a wave of creationist influence in America. A poll by CBS News in November 2004 revealed that 55% of those that responded believe that 'God created humans in present form' and 37 percent want evolutionism replaced outright in the curriculum at their childrens' school. The poll also reveals that: "support for evolution is more heavily concentrated among those with more education and among those who attend religious services rarely or not at all."

U.S. President George Bush has also spoken on the subject: 'The jury is still out on evolution.' It seems that it will only be a matter of time before some court decides that creationism and evolution should be taught at schools with equal parity.

Why do so many many oppose teaching evolution ? It includes the explanation of humanity's origins and therefore some people view the acceptance of evolution as a rejection of the Biblical teachings of a special creation of humans.

Evolution is a change in the traits of living organisms over generations, including the emergence of new species. Theories of evolution have themselves evolved, driven by the sharing of facts and thoughts. The idea of evolution has existed since ancient times (concepts appeared in some early Greek writings) but the modern theory wasn't established until the 18th and 19th centuries, when scientists began to question whether the literal interpretation of our creation in the Bible could be reconciled with reality.

Darwin presented his theories of natural selection involving survival of the fittest because of variations in their physical abilities that were passed onto siblings. In his publication of "Origin of Species", he was able to convince biologists through many examples - but people also rejected Darwin's theory that humans and great apes shared the same ancestor.

Mutation and DNA
Darwin did not know the source of variations, but observed that it seemed to be by chance. Mutation in genes is now accepted by most biologists as a fundamental concept in evolutionary theory, as opposed to the slight, cumulative changes theorized by Darwin.

So, the science of genetics (originating at the beginning of the 20th century) and recent revelations in our lifetime of how heredity works via DNA has more exactly explained the mechanisms of the theory of evolution.

Roman Catholic Theology
In an October 22, 1996, address to the Pontifical Academy of Science, Pope John Paul II updated the Roman Catholic Church's position on evolution (my emphasis added) :
"In his encyclical Humani Generis, my predecessor Pius XII has already affirmed that there is no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of the faith regarding man and his vocation… Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than an hypothesis. In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines."
Free Thought
Why does the museum in Arkansas claim the earth is less than 10,000 years old and that dinosaurs and humans lived together ? Evolution theory rests on the fact that a large amount of time is required so changes could take place so slowly that it could not be observed among living creatures. I guess the easiest way to discount the theory is to consistently state that the millions of years in our Earth's timeline did not occur.

A museum is definded as a building, place, or institution devoted to the acquisition, conservation, study, exhibition, and educational interpretation of objects having scientific, historical, or artistic value. I don't see how the exhibits built to support Creationism in Arkansas fits into that definition. But the museum is unlikely to be seen as a major threat to mainstream science, as it's in the heart of an area where 'Christian attractions' are a mainstay of the local economy.

Religion, science and free thought ?
I guess you could say I don't see religion and free thought co-existing in my life, especially when you consider the choice I made when I turned 13. When asked by my parents, I decided that I no longer needed/wanted to attent weekly catechism meetings, the daily preachings at a Catholic School and Sunday morning convocation. But I do believe that the Bible should be read and left up to our own interpretations. I also enjoy reading about (and discussing) science, new technology and seeking out How Stuff Works.

If we only listen to one person's opinion or one side of the discussion, we'll never get any farther in our own 'evolution' will we ?

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