[Nine letters from SCMP’s Education Mailbag about creationism]
Is faith in God enough to challenge evolution?
The fierce debate over whether intelligent design has any place in school science lessons continues
EDUCATION MAILBAG SPECIAL
Feb 21, 2009
The promotion of creationism/intelligent design (CID) has no place in universities, other than in classes of theology or perhaps the history of ideas. To promote it as a theory that challenges evolution is mistaken for many reasons.
First, it offers no predictive power whatsoever. There is no way of testing it. It is therefore not a theory but a dogma. The flat Earth hypothesis is more robust scientifically as it can at least be tested. This point alone demolishes any legitimacy for CID in a science curriculum.
By contrast, evolution’s ability to generate predictions which have been affirmed again and again, and not once contradicted in innumerable tests, means it does not require the presence or absence of dogmatic faith, just the ability to weigh evidence.
Second, if everything is designed, why are we troubled with MRSA and other microbial resistance? Evolution is present everywhere in the modern world – the food we eat, the clothes on your back, the plants growing on your window sill, the microbes that assail us – all have been produced by manipulating the principles of evolution, intentionally or otherwise.
What, in contrast, illustrates CID? Nothing, again, beyond blind faith.
Third, CID is not objective about the posited creator. It has to be a particular creator that emerged from a small Middle Eastern tribal culture.
Why this particular supreme being? Indeed, why invoke a separate deus ex machina, fraught with problems that have been struggled with down the ages when a much cleaner explanation, if you must have one, exists in, for example, Shaivistic theology?
The author Terry Pratchett captures this nicely in his allegory of mankind’s gods as growing and shrinking in size as a function of the numbers of their believers.
The answer is, of course, that CID is a justification for the Abrahamic religions to continue proselytising.
Evolution cannot be allowed to be accepted, otherwise these three religions unravel conceptually, destroying their brand value.
This brand promotes individualism, from which emerged free-market capitalism and justifications for expropriating the planet for self-indulgence, to the point of threatening the biosphere that supports life.
For this reason it must be challenged. There are many other reasons to reject CID and insufficient space to extrapolate them.
By all means teach CID, but as the Abrahamic theology it is. It has no legitimacy within any rational science department.
RICHARD FIELDING, Professor of Psychology and Public Health, University of Hong Kong
Bureau is responding to imaginary demons
Proponents of creationism like to claim it as an alternative to Darwin’s theory of evolution.
But it is no such thing. In fact, there is no conflict at all between these two ideas, because they occupy different “magisteria” (to borrow the terminology of Stephen Jay Gould).
Darwinian evolution and science are a matter of evidence and deduction: verifiable postulates often labelled as “theories”.
Creationism (and its sibling “intelligent design”), like all faith-based stories is a matter of belief. Creationism is entirely untestable and unverifiable.
This is the whole point of religious faith – it is based on one’s ability to believe despite a lack of evidence.
Science, on the other hand, requires evidence. Hence, the assertion (for example) that “the Lord works in mysterious ways” can justify anything from George W. Bush to pestilence and plague but does not explain any of these things.
It is therefore disappointing to find the Education Bureau responding to imaginary demons, orchestrating a conflict between science and religion (“Scientists urge excluding God from biology”, Education Post, February 7) and mandating that alternative explanations to evolution could be discussed.
Of course, such ideas should be discussed but as part of a class on ethics or religion.
Moreover, I hope the principals of the two local schools were misquoted in saying that they either did not approve of evolution or that creationism offered a counterbalancing theory. Neither of these views is commensurate with a proper understanding of science.
MICHAEL SMALL, Mid-levels
How can scientists be sure there is no god?
The article “Scientists urge excluding God from biology” was quite enlightening. These four “eminent” scientists are certain there is no god?
I would love to hear how they were able to come to this conclusion? How were they able to ascertain this knowledge?
I hope they will share this amazing discovering with us who naively still believe in the God who created our world.
Professor Sun Kwok admits that “science is limited to what we can observe because scientific theories have to be tested by experiment or observation. So by definition it is limited”.
But in spite of the limitations he goes on to say intelligent design should not be discussed. Why not? Based on what? A whim? His beliefs? It is obvious that evolution was never nor can be tested or observed. It is simply a theory.
I wonder too, where are the transitional forms? Not in drawings but actual transitional forms? They do not exist, do they?
No one can prove God does not exist. Christians and those who believe there is no God both have a religion. One is based on a creator, the other on self. I know which one I would choose.
TERRY SCOTT, Sha Tin
Scientific thinking is a vital skill in the modern world
I am very worried by the lack of understanding of science shown by the Education Bureau.
I am referring to the phrase “pointing out the limitation of science to provide a complete answer” used by its spokeswoman when discussing bureau guidance on biology teaching in the new senior secondary curriculum.
The point is, the basis of the scientific method is critical thinking and continually asking new questions. Religions say they have the complete answer, science says this might be incomplete, check the evidence yourself.
Newton’s laws were a famous theory but one that has been proved wrong by Einstein. Newton’s work is still rightly taught in science classes. However, creationism and “intelligent design” are not scientific theories and their place in the science classroom should be limited as to why they are not scientific theories.
It is important not to confuse what we want to believe with what the evidence shows us. Wong Shiu-hung, principal of Kwai Chung Methodist College said: “Our religious belief does not approve of evolution.”
His religious belief may also not approve of sex before marriage, so would he therefore advocate teaching of a “scientific” theory that sex before marriage is impossible, to be believed despite the existence of single-parent families? Scientific thinking is a vital skill in the modern world. The Education Bureau needs to learn this skill itself.
ALLAN DYER, Wong Chuk
If man evolved from apes, why do we still have apes?
It was interesting reading about the continuing debate between creationists and evolutionists, which poses some interesting questions and observations.
As far as creation theory is concerned, it would appear self-evident that it happened. Everything is here in perfect order and balance.
Also, according to science, it has been so for billions of years. However, science has failed to adequately explain how it arrives at that figure.
What makes it even more interesting is the fact that the one (and I might add the only one) who claims responsibility for this creation has come and spoken about it. He called himself God. Science itself has not created anything without using what God put here in the first place as a base. Medical science has not been able to cure sickness or disease, heal crippled limbs, make the blind see or the deaf hear without using medicines, drugs or operations.
Yet God did it, as many bore witness who experienced or saw what we call miracles even if we do not know how it was done yet.
Evolution is a different kettle of fish. One big question remains unanswered. If man evolved from apes, why do we still have apes?
Perhaps science should be less concerned with how, when and where creation came about and more concerned with why God created this earth and all that there is upon it, and perhaps listen to the counsel he gave to those he spoke to.
Unfortunately it seems to be the disposition of many academics, who acquire only a minute fraction of the creator’s intelligence, to become arrogant, and think that what they know is all there is to know.
STEVEN STRINGER, Queensland, Australia
We should teach students to ask the right questions
From the dean of science at HKU to the man in the street, I have yet to hear a compelling reason not to teach creationism next to evolution.
The point of education is less about giving students the “right answers” than teaching them to ask the “right questions”.
The response of Professor Kwok reinforces my sneaking suspicion that many Hong Kong educational establishments completely miss this most important aspect of education.
Schools and universities should challenge students’ thinking constantly, break set ways of perceiving things and stimulate young people’s curiosity about everything.
Instead, we spoon-feed them with whatever version of knowledge we subscribe to and our educational leaders feel threatened by alternative and different ways of looking at phenomena.
The product is many men and women in the street who trot out the same banal and simplistic reasoning for taking challenge and choice out of education and defining “science” and “fact” as one, completely missing the fact that much of science is still an imputation of meaning on a set of observed data which can change over time.
KWEN IP, Sai Kung
Science needs religion to be meaningful
It is so sad to read the comments claiming that education should not allow teaching our kids that there is a God.
Science is the source of God’s creation. We have a world like a big ship that has been rotating for a million years perfectly and protected amazingly. It is not coincidence or luck that all creatures and phenomena work in harmony and great co-operation, from sun and sunlight to the oxygen factory of trees on the Earth.
Or just consider our castle-like bodies, with all parts co-operating in perfect harmony from the lungs, heart and blood to the tongue, stomach and liver, which are all controlled by brain.
The whole universe is a book of science required to be read with the guidance of its source, religion, to be meaningful.
Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
RICHARD AZIZ BUTT, Tsim Sha Tsui
Biased headline was inflammatory
I object strongly to the biased framework of your evolution versus creationism issue in Hong Kong schools, as expressed in the headline of your article “Scientists urge excluding God from biology”. While the article itself was unbiased, the headline was inflammatory in the sense that it allows no debate (how could anyone want to exclude God?) Different standards apply to neutrality as to scientific fact.
No reputable paper would treat the issue of smoking as worthy of “debate” for the very good reason that there is a scientific consensus that smoking kills. Likewise, there exists a scientific consensus that there’s no usable alternative to evolution. Without evolution, biology is merely pre-scientific taxidermy.
Furthermore, it is an insult to Teilhard de Chardin and other highly religious men who accepted both the existence of God and evolution to so question their integrity, even implicitly. It is also an insult to the intelligence of Hong Kong’s students to prohibit them, in effect, from trying to reconcile the existence of God, if they choose to believe, with science. Einstein was able to do this.
EDWARD G. NILGES, Lamma Island
Alternative explanations are merely pseudoscience
It is worrying that Hong Kong’s Education Bureau has ambiguous guidelines that support teaching alternative explanations to evolution in biology classes. Alternative explanations like creationism and intelligent design in biology, as with alchemy in chemistry and numerology in maths and physics, are pseudoscience and are therefore superfluous to science.
WILL LAI, Western