Story of Evolution, Evolution of Stories Bryn Mawr College, Spring 2004 First Web Paper On Serendip

The Story of Evolution and America's Fear


In August of 1999, the teaching of evolution in schools was banned by the state of Kansas. Since last year in Texas, educators have debated over which textbooks to use in grade school science solely by the language of evolution each text contains. And today in Georgia, educators talk about replacing the word "evolution" with the phrase "biological changes over time." (1) Apparently, our apprehensions about teaching the theory of evolution are popping up all over the news. In hearing these debates, one usually thinks that it is only religious groups or fanatics trying to preserve their stories by eradicating the teaching of evolution. However, I think that culturally we have trouble accepting the theory of evolution because of other stories we tell ourselves. While religion does play a large role in our stories of creation, we have many ethics and ideals outside of faith that contrast with the theory of evolution. We may have trouble facing the facts of evolution because of what it says about the human race. Accepting the theory of evolution places us on the same level as all other species in terms of how we came into existence and how that existence will end. It means letting go of many misconceptions we hold about ourselves. For example, that humans are somehow superior or meant to wield control over the earth. It affirms that we have not been here for nearly as long as our world, and will be long gone before the world ends. Evolution, it seems to me, touches more closely on our fears about death and our place in the grand scheme of things than it does on our faith. The reason evolution comes into such great conflict with religion is because questions such as, "Where will we go after our lives here end?" are so important to us. Consequently, the fear surrounding the theory of evolution belongs not only to the religious and the fanatical, but also to anyone who has ever asked him or herself such questions. America was founded on the concepts of idealism and opportunism; we all are brought up to take advantage of our opportunities and succeed to the best of our abilities. The nature of evolution is to go against these ideals. Evolution occurs randomly, meaning the human race did not "earn" its place as sovereign of the earth. As Americans, we see ourselves working toward a society that is closer and closer to perfection. As individuals, we are taught to be the best we can be. The theory of evolution tells us that we are adapting to random changes. So in essence, we, as an idealistic society, are rejecting being educated about this existential system of how we came to be. Even aside from all religious affiliations, it is not too surprising that due to the stories we have always told about ourselves as a culture, the theory of evolution is, at the very least, a little scary. "Reason and evidence alone cannot assuage such fear. Many proponents of creationism and intelligent design play on that fear, painting their argument as a defense against godlessness. Denial of evolution in the face of overwhelming evidence is irrational. The fear of chaos, however, is understandable, especially in light of today's frighteningly uncertain world." (2) This might explain a little better our resistance to teaching evolution in schools. How can we raise our children to believe in this story while also assuring them that they have every opportunity to succeed as long as they try? I am not sure that the latter clause can be true when the former is posed. Under evolution, life is not fair, and this is just as difficult and frightening a thing to teach grade-schoolers as is the theory of evolution itself. Teaching evolution in schools is the only way to remedy our fears about our existence in this world. "True science shows no deference to any particular religious view. That is its place, and therein lies its value of objectivity, as an ever-important and integral methodological tool in our on-going struggle to question, comprehend, and live together in peace." (2) Whether we call evolution a "theory" or a "fact," we owe it to ourselves to learn the story as best as we can. In order to do this, we must not allow religion to be an excuse for letting our fear get in the way of education any longer. (1) The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a local newspaper. (2) The Threat of Evolution, (published in slightly edited form Feb. 22, 2003, Omaha World-Herald)

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