Evolutionary biology and creationism should be taught in schools and colleges side by side. This would be the ultimate act of freedom of speech and the upholding of the right to critical thinking. One cannot be preferred over the other, for matters of principle. Early proponents of the heliocentric theory were pioneer heretics and they were going against their beliefs, faith and community standards. They did not choose to end religion or as famously attributed to Darwin, “kill God”, but chose to stand for something that goes beyond family, duty, community, belief, and faith – truth!
In the light of the conflicts in their minds about the overwhelming evidence supporting the heliocentric theory, evolution and other Renaissance issues, they solved the dilemmas with courage choosing to support and promote the truth, often with grave consequences. Today, 474 years after Copernicus first posthumously published his heliocentric theory and 135 years after Darwin’s death, creationism in school curricula is on the rise and the states are amending Constitutions to accommodate that, some going to the extent of banning the teaching of evolution in colleges and schools, like Turkey. With Pakistan passing the bill to teach the Quran compulsorily in schools, it seems the medieval ages have again descended on us.
Heretics flourish in states that either learned from their ignorant past (Galileo’s recantation of his theory by the Catholic Church, Italy) or have evolved to such an extent as to allow freedom of dissent (the careers of Hitchens, Dawkins, Sam Harris in the US). At the crux of it all, is the human mind, and the dignity accorded to it by secular rights (Universal Declaration of Human Rights) not divine rights. Yet, a truly critical human mind, with the sole aim of objectivity and truth will not desist from exploring myths, religion, divinity, holy texts and the lives of the Prophets. A truly critical mind does not feel threatened by what it discovers, always pushing itself ever closer to the inquiry or in short – “wherever the evidence may lead”.
In contrast, believers or faith-keepers, often feel threatened by anything that will challenge their perceptions or worldview. They often tend to practice cognitive dissonance vigorously in order to maintain their beliefs rather than encourage themselves to go “wherever the evidence may lead”. Maurice Bucaille (The Bible, Quran, and Science), Karen Armstrong (Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time), and Lesley Hazleton (The First Muslim) find more followers among Muslims, solely for having explored Islam, despite being non-Muslims, while, Ibn Warraq (The Origins of the Koran: Classic Essays on Islam’s Holy Book), Irshad Manji (Allah, Liberty and Love: The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom), and Wafa Sultan (A God Who Hates), all of Muslim Heritage who speak out of experience and back themselves with evidence are hounded for their views.
On the other hand, rarely do we find critical thinkers opposing the teaching of creationism. The keyword is “teach” – emphasizing the influence on children and implying that being of impressionable minds they are not capable of critical thinking. Evolutionary biology AND creationism should be available to everyone, regardless, so that a choice can be made when the children come of reasonable age. States have a vested agenda in keeping the masses uncritical citizens, as an aware citizen would rightfully question a government that he/she either voted for or found themselves ruled by, on its policies, depending on whether it is a democratic or theocratic country. Bloggers jailed, lashed, murdered, rationalists killed in broad daylight, mass trolling or shutting down the voices of those being critical of government policies is an increasing phenomenon and very much a part of the present millennium. Therefore, religion is a powerful tool wielded by democrats, theocrats alike to keep the masses leashed and diverted from corrupt practices.
In fact, the conflict need not be there at all. Science and religion need not be in a deadlock combat of the “warfare model” where only one side can win at the expense of the other. The only overlapping of principles that science and religion display is when religion attempts to use “divine revelation” to explain the natural world, for example, parting the Red Sea, flying monkeys and horses, stones floating on water, revival of the dead, splitting of the moon, etc. These attempts of religion to explain the natural world is what gives science the edge over it.
Yet both subsist on one thing – faith. It takes faith to believe a God can be reincarnated in many avatars, it takes faith to believe Jesus walked on water or that Moses heard God’s voice through a burning bush. It also takes faith to pick up a 1,600-year-old failing heliocentric theory and manage to convert it into a very successful one. Creationism may not be scientific but neither is evolutionary biology which only provides explanations to things which have occurred and cannot predict anything. There are those who reject explanations for the natural world in holy texts and instead adopt the ones for the supernatural, the afterlife, the immaterial soul, etc and find peace. It would be a gross violation to deny them their right to develop a worldview or metaphysical view and live their lives in peace. Vice versa, think of the potential of human minds lost when religious bigotry bans the availability of evolutionary biology and makes it taboo to discuss it, with good chances of fanatics stabbing an open enquirer.
Banning never works. With the advent of the Internet, school head teachers, state boards, district boards, education boards, educationists have lost the autocratic control on what should be read, studied, listened to. Banning creates a psychotic environment where the lynching of freethinkers like Mashal Khan in Mardan, Pakistan by a university mob and the daylight stabbing of Farook, an iron-scraper running an atheist group in Coimbatore, India on WhatsApp gives a license to insecure low-lives holding a grudge.
It is not just Islamic states where evolutionary biology is banned, Indian school curricula have token chapters on genetics, evolution, and astronomy in their textbooks with teachers often skipping them altogether. The bastion of free speech, the US, is not very far behind. A religious campaign to block the teaching of evolutionary biology is taking an inexorable grip on America. An alarming thing since the Scopes Trial in 1925 when a teacher was fined $100 for teaching Darwin, a decision reversed by the Courts but not before the anti-evolution laws were brought in place and continued till 1967.
So it really is the “warfare model” between science and religion. It doesn’t have to be. The astute, visionary, devout Catholic Galileo Galilei put it very succinctly:
“Since the Holy Ghost did not intend to teach us whether heaven moves or stands still, whether its shape is spherical or like a discus or extended plane, nor whether the Earth is located at its center or off to one side, then so much the less was it intended to settle for us any other conclusion of the same kind.
I would say here something that was heard from an ecclesiastic of the most eminent degree: ‘That the intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven and not how the heavens go.”