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Your story on the "debate" over evolution ["Shaking the Family Tree" by Jesse Fox Mayshark, Vol. 8, No. 19] was very nicely done, but it really could only have been written about Tennessee. Prior to moving here three years ago, I had lived in several places in the United States and Europe, and I had never heard that there was any such debate. In fact, I had never before heard evolution referred to as a "theory" until I arrived in Knoxville, any more than people would refer to gravity as a theory.
Since then, I have learned to be careful around Tennesseans, whoI have found out from my students at UThave been taught in their public schools that "nobody really believes in evolution." All sorts of bizarre myths exist around here, such as the absurd story that Darwin recanted everything on his deathbed and had a last-minute conversion to Christianity. (Darwin actually studied for the ministry as a young man, and his transition from Christian to Agnostic to Atheist was a very long, slow one, involving his entire adult life.)
It seems to me that science and religious faith can indeed coexist. Religion does generally have to step aside to accommodate new scientific findings, as it did upon the discovery that the earth was round, that the planets travel around the sun, and now upon the overwhelming evidence that shows that the earth (and a number of advanced civilizations) existed prior to the events described in Genesis. A religious faith that is based upon personal spirituality and a one-on-one connection with the divine could certainly be flexible enough to withstand any scientific findings that might alter our comprehension of geology or anthropology. I would encourage the good people of Tennessee to consider that spiritual faith and respect for science can live quite comfortably under the same roof.
Sam A. Mustafa
The last comment in Jesse Fox Mayshark's "Shaking the Family Tree" illustrates why rational men and women cannot argue with creationists. The comment, by Kurt Wise of Bryan College, proposed that Biblical creation was the truth and that his role as a teacher was "not to prove [the Creation]it doesn't need any proof. Because it's true." I certainly would not presume to upset anyone's notion of how the universe was created, and I only possess the most fundamental understanding of evolution, which I credit as the best explanation of how life develops in the same way I credit gravity as the best explanation for why my arse is closer to the ground than it was 10 years ago. The important thing is that I studied both ideas with an open mind and a willingness to challenge traditional beliefs which fell short of reason.
However, some of us who claim to abhor ignorance and embrace the light of reason also like the vague idea of God, which inevitably leads to conflict. It may be true that one cannot be a real scientist and a believer in God, but it is equally true that the vast majority of us are simply curious about life and about our purpose in it, and so faith fills in "the gaps" science may never explain. And yet that faith is so subjective: How can science teachers like Wise credibly suggest that their interpretations must be correct without being capable of proving them? I always assumed that proof and science had some kind of relationship.
In the end, the "truth" is that faith and reason are incompatible. They certainly may coexist, but only when the proponents of faith acknowledge that their private beliefs, while deserving of respect and appreciation, are just not appropriate for scientific analysis or legislative enforcement. And we can back that up with Constitutional proof.