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Evolution: Slouching toward the truth

When Charles Darwin published his famous book about evolution, On the Origins of Species, in 1859, he created a religious firestorm that continues to rage. From the pulpit, preachers across the globe decried the idea that man had not been created in the image of God (or by God at all) but had instead evolved from lesser species over billions of years to our current form.

The evidence used to support Darwin’s theory has only surmounted in the more than 150 years since its publication. And yet, despite the enormous amount of supporting evidence and broad consensus among the scientific community, large portions of the population continue to dismiss it as heathen drivel.

In this country in particular, the debate is possibly at its most contentious. For decades, creationists have ignored or eschewed whatever evidence might contradict their entrenched beliefs. In 1961, Henry Morris and John Whitcomb published one of the first major works of creationist literature, The Genesis Flood, which argued among other things that humans and dinosaurs coexisted at the same time. Religious groups have waged war in public schools to prevent the teaching of evolution in biology classes or, after court cases ruled against them, to ensure religious doctrine is taught congruently with evolution. Creationist museums have been erected that depict humans saddling the backs of dinosaurs, which went extinct about 65 million years before the first modern humans emerged out of Africa 200,000 years ago.

And an entire political party has molded itself around the elevation of religious zealotry. Indeed, during the 2008 Republican presidential primary three of the 10 men seeking the nomination stated they did not believe in evolution. And afterward, those who said they did backpedaled, stating they instead believed in intelligent design, which holds that evolution occurred under the guide of God’s hand.

Perhaps most disturbing of all, on the eve of Darwin’s 200th birthday in 2009, only 39 percent of Americans — that’s about four out of every 10 — stated they believed in evolution, according to a Gallup poll. In this country perhaps more than any other, religious dogma has obscured and overshadowed the truth behind human existence.

And so it was of little surprise that a lecture last week by world-renowned evolutionary biologist, controversial atheist intellectual and best-selling author Richard Dawkins saw a remarkable turnout. Hosted by the UMD Society for Inquiry, the 1,000 tickets for the event sold out almost instantly, and students and others packed into the Grand Ballroom in Stamp Student Union to hear Dawkins speak April 6.

Dawkins spoke on the remarkable evidence behind evolution and the necessity that it be taught at an early stage. But he also spoke more broadly to the need to move away from scripture to explain the unknown and instead embrace what is certifiable fact.

Since Galileo’s 17th century persecution by the Catholic Church for rightfully arguing the sun did not revolve around the Earth, religion and science have been in a near constant struggle. And for too long our nature to compromise — to agree to disagree — has led to a sickening conciliatory nature between religious mysticism and scientific fact. But on the subject of truth there can be no compromise.

Toward the end of Dawkins’ lecture, a question was asked about the staggering number who refuse to believe in the facts of evolution. What a waste, Dawkins said. What a waste that such a beautiful and astounding story as the origin and evolution of man is tarnished by the idea some higher power played a guiding role. Our uniquely human story is already before us in more grandeur and scale than could have ever been imagined. And we need no holy book to make it any more magical than it already is.

Justin Snow is a senior history major. He can be reached at snow at umdbk dot com.

Originally published in The Diamondback.

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