The theory of evolution has been in the news quite a bit lately. This past week marked the passing of evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr who has been described as one of the most influential scientists of the 20th century. Mayr is most noted for his 1942 book – Systematics and the Origin of Species, where he outlined his theory of allopatric speciation. This view, which was actually rejected by Darwin, held that speciation could only take place if populations were geographically separated. It was Mayr that introduced the currently accepted definition of a species as a population of interbreeding organisms. It is only through spatial separation that evolution would lead to enough alterations that would prevent interbreeding.
I don’t think the general public realizes how important evolution is to modern biology and medicine. The reason why experiments on bacteria, yeast, worms, flies, and mice have any impact on human physiology is that we share a large portion of the same genetic material. For example, 50% of the genome of the tiny nematode worm C. elegans can be found in humans. Evolution gives us a framework for understanding why this is so and where to look next.
November’s issue of National Geographic has an illuminating article on Darwin. A sobering statistic is that in polls taken in 1982, 1993, 1997, and 1999, the creationist stance – that God alone and not evolution produced humans – had never drawn less than 44 percent of the US population. Only 37 percent of Americans were satisfied with allowing room for both God and Darwin (a view that is compatible with Roman Catholic dogma).
I think we have a public relations problem here. Perhaps, instead of battling directly with the creationist movement, we need to point out how useful the concept of evolution can be. We can show them how biologists use ideas from natural selection to develop the therapies that could save their lives. Maybe I’m treading on dangerous ground but maybe we should argue that evolution may not be in contradiction with the bible. Evolution is about dynamics and not necessarily initial conditions. Who knows, the world could have been set in motion 4000 years ago with the entire cosmological, fossil and historical record in place for us to discover. Creationists cannot argue that we do manipulate domestic animal breeds and that antibiotic resistance is a real thing implying that evolution is currently taking place. Surely, a beneficent God would have given us the means to help ourselves. Organizing life around evolution would be one of God’s gifts.