Science & Research

Darwin Day embraced by skeptics and believers alike

By
Staff Writer
Friday, February 17, 2012

 

On a day most people remember for the birth of Abraham Lincoln, a smaller group celebrated the birth of Charles Darwin, author of the seminal 1859 work “On the Origin of Species.”

To commemorate Darwin Day, the  Brown Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists showed “Creation,” a film detailing Darwin’s struggles to write his famous book on evolution. 

Professor of Biology Kenneth Miller ’70 P’02 has been involved in this debate for decades, ever since he first debated Henry Morris — the foremost creationist at the time — on Brown’s campus in 1981. Miller said he accepts evolution and thinks there is overwhelming evidence in support of the theory. But he acknowledged that  people often reject evolution because they think it challenges their religious beliefs — though as a practicing Catholic, Miller said he believes “faith and reason are both gifts from God.”

“If we are to accept reason, we should accept science,” Miller said.

In a recent blog post for the Huffington Post, Miller wrote of his dismay over the “slandering of science” in the current presidential debates. Miller pointed to Jon Huntsman’s quick exit from the race after publicly stating he supported science and also cited Rick Perry’s speech in which he said scientists were primarily driven by greed for money to fund personal research projects.

Miller has seen his fair share of criticism as well. As an author of a textbook widely used in high schools throughout the country, he said that warning labels were attached to his textbook in a school district in Georgia because of its chapter on evolution.

“Our textbook has been widely criticized, and I take that as a badge of pride,” he said. To improve public opinion, he suggested getting better instructive material into schools and advocated political involvement by scientists.

“We as a scientific community ought to be more involved in public outreach,” he said.

Miller said he believes acceptance of evolution is “very, very high” among Brown students but added that he occasionally encounters students with questions about how evolution pertains to their faith. But he said if students understand the evidence, his job “is not to compel belief.” Instead, it is “to promote understanding,” he said. “And that usually makes students relax.”

Henry Bodah, associate University chaplain for the Roman Catholic community, said most faiths today agree that there is no incompatibility between faith and science. Some Christians, especially fundamentalists, take the Bible to be the literal word of God and have “decided that the only way to be loyal to the idea of God’s word is to say that it has to be literally true, and so therefore, science must be wrong.”

Students have differing opinions on the age-old debate.

“I think science and religion go hand-in-hand, and you don’t need to debate one with the other,” said Rebecca Mendelsohn ’14.

Evolution could have been a tool God used to create mankind, she said, adding “I think the world is too perfect to have been created by an accidental collision of atoms.”

Others, such as Billy Shinevar ’15, think evolution is “definitely true.” He said a lot of people who do not believe in evolution do not really understand the theory and oversimplify it. 

“I know a lot of people who take (the Bible) more symbolically,” he said, “and they’re still fine with evolution.”