What’s in an introduction?

If Hollywood is to be believed, scientists are all dermatologically-challenged recluses, who speak their incomprehensible language in nasally tones, with the odd snorting laugh thrown in for good measure. Jim Hare of the biological sciences department couldn’t be further from that construct.

While personable and easygoing, Hare is very serious about some things, one being the need to educate people on the mechanisms of evolution. “There is this naïve belief that humans are at the pinnacle of evolution.” Hare believes that this attitude is one of the contributing factors to our apathy regarding our impact on the environment, and that by placing ourselves ahead of all other things on this planet — either through misguided divine right, or evolutionary superiority — we are becoming ignorant exploiters.

“Even people in the know see us, erroneously, as occupying some higher state. Which is nonsense. Everything is highly evolved in its own right.”

One group Hare singles out as being dangerous in their belief of evolutionary superiority are creationists. He feels that their misguided belief in a young and unchangeable world, which was built especially for human beings, is little more than a “way of coping with a reality that they can’t accept.” The reality Hare is referring to is one that suggests our actions have significantly damaged this planet, possibly irreversibly. An idea supported by many well-respected scientists.
“I’m sorry; the world is not resilient,” says Hare. “Just look at the waves of extinction and global climate change. This is not open to debate; it is a scientific fact.”

This week marks 150 years since Charles Darwin published his book, On the Origin of Species, a manuscript that built on generations of speculation about the biological diversity on our planet to provide a solid theory of evolution, one that is still valid today. If you’re wondering what this has to do with creationism, global climate change and Jim Hare, it’s because a group of creationists are planning on marking this anniversary by distributing free copies of Darwin’s opus.

Members of the Living Waters evangelical ministry, based out of California, are distributing the book. The hitch? The book comes complete with a new 54-page introduction, which attempts to call Darwin’s theories into doubt through baseless arguments and personal attacks, while trying to make the case that intelligent design and creationism are theories that deserve equal consideration next to evolution, an idea that Hare thoroughly rejects.

“I wouldn’t give creationism the appellation of a theory,” says Hare. “Theories are based on evidence and have been subjected to criticism over and over. Creationism isn’t a theory — it’s a notion based on faith.”

Advocates of creationism have attempted in recent years to gain prominence in the eyes of the public by presenting their ideas as scientifically supported facts, even going as far as to offer to debate prominent scientists, such as Richard Dawkins, on the merits of creationism as a scientific theory. Dawkins refused the offer.

In a post on his website, Richar-ddawkins.net, entitled “why I won’t debate creationists,” Dawkins explains why a creationist would be willing to stand toe to toe with a respected scientist.
“The point is not [ . . . ] whether or not you would ‘win’ the debate; winning is not what the creationists aspire to.” Dawkins goes on in the article to explain that the debate is merely a way for the creationists to gain publicity and to seed doubt in the minds of the general public, who might think that a prominent scientist willing to spend their time debating creationism lends merit to the creationist argument.

The reasoning behind Dawkins anti-debating policy, which he admits was inspired by advice from his friend, Stephen Jay Gould, might sound overly cautious at first, but a survey of the Living Waters ministry website reveals several articles and videos outlining similar debates. There is no mention of who won or lost, just that the debate happened, lending credence to Dawkins and Gould’s position — that these people are looking for credibility, not necessarily victory.

When asked about his feelings on whether it is productive to engage creationists directly, Hare agreed that it probably wasn’t, and went further, saying that adopting a “confrontation approach only serves to polarize people further [ . . . since] the whole creationist debate is taken [in] faith.”
However Hare was also adamant that there really is no threat to the theory of evolution from these creationists, since “evolution is a fact,” regardless of what gets written in a version of On the Origin of Species.

“[Darwin’s book is] a crowning achievement of someone putting the pieces together,” says Hare. “Darwin is a model of the scientific method at work, in terms of amassing evidence [and] pointing out where there are deficiencies in the theory.” By pointing out where the theory of evolution — or “descent with modification” as Darwin phrased it — didn’t quite work, such as with the non-reproducing castes of some insects, he was not only providing others with avenues for productive research, but admitting to his own uncertainty, something Hare feels all good scientists should do.
“It is very difficult to separate the charlatans from those that have a true understanding [of science,] but [any good scientists] will provide evidence that not only supports an argument but also demonstrates the gaps and inconsistencies.”

The “gaps and inconsistencies” have been part of the focus of anti-evolution groups over the years, functioning as rallying points against Darwin’s theories, but Hare is confident that if you take the time to read On the Origin of Species, you will have no choice but to conclude that it is indeed an “incredibly well laid out [book] that musters an incredible amount of evidence in support of evolution,” regardless of what introduction you put before it.