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Darwin at 200


BOB ABERNETHY
, anchor: Next Thursday, February 12, is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, and there will be many celebrations of his achievements. It’s also the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, and this year is the 150th anniversary of his transforming book “On the Origin of Species.” We have a special report today on Darwin’s theory of evolution. That insight is almost universally accepted by scientists. But it directly contradicts the Bible’s creation story, and so it remains under attack by many people of faith. Indeed, Americans are almost evenly divided between those who accept Darwin’s theory and those who do not. Why is evolution still such a controversial idea? Fred de Sam Lazaro reports.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In the 1830s Darwin collected data on the vast variety of living things while he was a naturalist with the British navy on a five-year trip around the world. He later theorized that the earth was very old — that all life had evolved from simple organisms to the most complex. It followed that all humankind had evolved from a single ape-like ancestor. Kenneth Miller is a professor at Brown University.

Professor Kenneth Miller

Professor KENNETH MILLER (Division of Biology and Medicine, Brown University): Evolution is a great idea, but it’s also a dangerous idea. It’s an idea that threatens people’s understanding of the way things are, and for a century and a half people who are bothered by that idea have never stopped hoping that Darwin might turn out to be spectacularly, colossally, totally and completely wrong.

DE SAM LAZARO: Francis Collins is an evangelical Christian who led the Human Genome Project to decipher the genetic code.

Dr. FRANCIS COLLINS (Geneticist): There is no greater flashpoint right now in the tensions between science and faith than evolution. Ever since Darwin’s “Origin of the Species” was published that tension has been flaring, and it seems, in my view, to be getting almost worse even after all of these years.

DE SAM LAZARO: Over many years of debate, people who accepted without question the Bible’s account of God’s creation, those sometimes called creationists, said Darwin’s theory was heresy. Loren Haarsma teaches physics at Calvin College in Michigan and is the author of a new book called “Origins.”

Professor LOREN HAARSMA (Physics and Astronomy Department, Calvin College): Many people are raised to believe a certain interpretation of Genesis, which is mostly literal, not completely literal, but implies a young Earth, and most people when they hear the Genesis story of God creating everything, they picture God miraculously creating everything.

DE SAM LAZARO: For come Christians, evolution came to be a synonym for atheism.

Prof. HAARSMA: There are Christians who agree that evolution equals atheism, and since they believe in God, since they’re convinced that God is real from their experiences of reading the Bible and worship, prayer, if God is true they conclude evolution must be false. So that idea that you have to choose between evolution or God is, I think, the main source of the problem — the main reason why this issue keeps coming up over and over again.

Professor Matthew Hamilton

DE SAM LAZARO: Some scientists also say part of the problem is misunderstanding about the meaning of the word “theory.” Matthew Hamilton teaches at Georgetown University.

Professor MATTHEW HAMILTON (Georgetown University): That word theory is used very differently in common parlance.  e might say something like, “Well, in theory I’m supposed to leave work early today,” and that would be a way of saying, “Well, I hope or I approximately think that this might be true.” But in science a theory is not a guess.

DE SAM LAZARO: For scientists, a theory is a testable explanation of how things work, based on observations and measurements. They say Darwin’s overall theory is the best explanation for the facts, although there do remain some unexplained gaps in the evidence.

Prof. HAARSMA: There are certain Christians who point to those areas and say, “Ah, here’s scientific evidence against evolution.” Scientists are worried about including too much emphasis on the gaps and the unknowns as a way of getting students to simply throw the whole theory out and say, “Ah, well, now I have a reason not to believe it.”

It’s easy to see how evolution can produce variation, how it can produce adaptation to environments. But can it really make more complex life forms? That’s an ongoing area of research. That’s one of those places where we have a gap in our knowledge. We have hints, we have ideas, we have hypotheses. We don’t have a lot of proofs.

The other big unknown, of course, is how did the first life start, and that’s the biggest question of all. Scientists are very far from a robust scientific explanation for how the first living cell came about, and so opponents of evolution point to that and say maybe that’s a place where there was a miracle.

Professor Loren Haarsma

DE SAM LAZARO: Evolution critics use what they see as flaws in the evidence in their continuing but losing campaign to have creationism taught in the schools alongside evolution.
More than 20 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that creationism could not be taught in science classes, that it was more religion than science, that teaching it in public schools would cross the line of separation between church and state. So creationists turned to other arguments.

(From video): There is, in fact, no entity in the known universe that stores and processes more information more efficiently than the DNA molecule.

DE SAM LAZARO: One of them was that some forms of life are so complex that they must have been designed by an intelligent designer. That was at the heart of testimony in Dover, Pennsylvania.

RICHARD THOMPSON (President and Chief Counsel, Thomas More Law Center, Ann Arbor, MI):  We are going to argue that intelligent design is science, it’s not religion.

DE SAM LAZARO: But a federal judge ruled that Intelligent Design is not science and so should not be taught in science classes. This year the battle shifted to Texas, where creationists want the state board of education to continue its longstanding requirement that students examine the “strengths and weaknesses” of all scientific theories including evolution.

STEPHEN C. MEYER (Director and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture Discovery Institute, speaking before Board of Education): Teaching students about the strength and weaknesses of theories will engage their interest and turn a dry recitation of facts and propositions into an educational adventure.

Professor RONALD WETHERINGTON (Anthropology Department, Southern Methodist University, speaking before Board of Education): And I challenge anybody to show me or anyone else specific, identified details on the weaknesses of evolution. Nobody has.

DE SAM LAZARO: Despite the extremes of argument, many people of faith who are also scientists insist that evolution and religious belief need not conflict. For instance, they say God can work through evolution.

Dr. Francis Collins

Prof. HAARSMA: I think Christians are very — even Christians who oppose the theory of evolution — are comfortable saying God works through natural, scientifically understandable processes. If the majority of Christians could come to the place where they say, “I might or might not believe in evolution, but it’s OK for Christians to believe in evolution,” that would take some of the weight off. On the other side, it would be very helpful if science educators could find better ways to discuss how different religious views might view evolution.

Dr. COLLINS: If God, who is outside space and time, chose to create a universe and populate it with creatures in his image with whom he could have fellowship, who are we to say that the process that we as scientists have uncovered — the Big Bang, the formation of stars and planets and the mechanism of evolution to create life and ultimately human life — is not the way we would have done it? I find that enormously satisfying. Nothing that I know as a scientist is in contradiction to that. Nothing that I know as a believer is in contradiction to that.

DE SAM LAZARO: Meanwhile, the debate continues, creationists versus evolutionists. Next month, the Texas board of education will decide whether the state’s new science curriculum should continue to require discussion in science classes of the strengths and weaknesses of Darwin’s idea. The vote is expected to be close.

For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro.

  • Sarah Bellem

    Christianity is now suffering from what was once its biggest success, that is was written down. The scrolls of the Bible could be carried from
    town to town and the same message could be read in Cairo as was in Jerusalem. The fact that is was written gave the message great, almost magical power, over people who were largely illiterate.

    Was was once the greatest strength of Christianity is now its greatest threat. Had Christianity retained its oral tradition the stories of Genesis and the flood of Noah would certainly been updated to be more compatible with the changes in an ever modernizing society. Ideas like slavery and the role women should play in society would also likely have changed.

    As science helps explain more and more about the natural world and the moral climate of society changes I can’t see that the Bible can do anything but become more of an anachronism

  • Eugene

    It is indeed shocking that after 150 years that some humans would still support the theory of evolution.
    The science of DNA has clearly disprove the theory of evolution.Of all the fossils that have been found there is absolutely no evidence of any transitory species.
    We must be eternally grateful that we are not product of chance. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.

  • H. (Bart) Vincelette

    A couple of years ago, Bill Nye ( of Bill Nye, the Science Guy), was giving a talk on science and the universe to a public gathering in Waco,Texas.He made reference to the biblical story of God giving light for night and day, meaning the sun and moon.He then explained that the moon itself doesn’t actually emit light , but reflects sunlight. Some people got up and with children in tow; stormed out , shouting “We believe in God!” This is inevitanly the mindset of people who deny evolution; seeing it conflicting with the belief in creation by a deity. Science tells us what happened ; not why.

  • Joan L. Roccasalvo

    Do your producers know about the symposium to be held in Rome next month on Darwin? It will be sponsored by the (Catholic) Pontifical Council for Culture. Noted scientists from around the world have been invited to speak there on evolution.

  • David White

    Greetings all,

    Science and faith might coexist beautifully were it not for political/religious extremism.

    The creationism/ID lobby seeks to establish their sectarian interpretation of faith over physical evidence by promoting as science an astonishing religious error which actually contradicts the Bible!.

    This teaching claims that evolution by natural processes, including what both creationists and ID’ers continually label “blind chance” (random occurrence), could only be “accidental”, and therefore godless. In this they agree with the atheist position.
    Why this current marriage of convenience, agreeing with atheism against the Bible, in order to promote a religious agenda? Might it be because this heretical tactic permits them to deny the possibility of guided evolution through chance?

    This startling and contradictory machination is carefully explained here:

    Intelligent Design Rules Out God’s Sovereignty Over Chance

    http://open.salon.com/content.php?cid=34289

    “What proponents of so-called intelligent design have cynically omitted in their polemic is that according to Biblical tradition, chance has always been considered God’s choice as well.”

  • Marie Devine

    The Bible says that because people refused to believe in Him, He gave them over to strong delusion that they would believe a lie.

    The Bible says we are made in God’s image; God is not a bit of slime that we evolved away from The Bible says that God created all living things including animals, vegetation and people with a seed to reproduce after its own kind. The scientific evidence and pure observation show it to be true that once something begins to grow, it grows according to a pattern (DNA) for that creature or that parent seed. The Bible says God created animals, fish, birds, and people fully formed with a seed to reproduce. According to your presentation today, evolution does not know how, where or why the first (being) of our beginnings came about. It would also follow, they would not know how two of the same things found each other and determined to mate. It does not say what parts were added that show a chain of what it would become. If the things cannot come to the second, third and fourth stages of development before dying, how did they find the mates to continue beyond that?

    Most scientist are now generally in agreement that evolution has no base in reality. See: Reasons To Believe, Astrophysasist, Hugh Ross gives scientific details how evolution is impossible.

  • Robert Baumgardner

    Marie Devine is spectacularly wrong about “most scientists”. Go to the website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, an organization that represents tens of thousands of working scientists, and look at their statement in full support of evolution.
    Here it is: http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2006/pdf/0219boardstatement.pdf

  • John

    The biotech company I work for recently purchased the Creation and Earth History Museum in Santee, CA from ICR, which moved its headquarters to Dallas, TX. It truly amazes me that there are still so many people out there who believe the earth is literally 6,000 years and that evolution is an “evil-based” ideology. As I scathingly expressed my disapproval of the museum’s teachings to both the company president and the CFO, I don’t think I will be working there much longer. My friends and relatives think I’m absolutely insane in confronting the executives, especially in this economy, but I have to put my foot down at some point- I simply cannot live with that much cognitive dissonance nor watch helplessly as thousands of people are manipulated into believing such b.s.

  • Dawn Wessel

    There is no conflict between the Bible and Darwin.

    Evolution says that life came from the ‘primordial soup (mud)’ and the Bible says something similar:

    “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground.” (Gen. 2:7)
    Dust (as powdered or gray; hence clay, earth, mud:-ashes, earth, ground, mortar, powder, rubbish) ‘of the ground (soil – from its gen. redness).

    1. When used in association with the feminine noun אדמה adamah = ground/dirt, the masculine noun עפר ‘apar means: dry earth/dirt, dust, dry loose earth/dirt. The operative word in the definition of עפר ‘apar is “dry”. The Strong’s Heb./Chaldee Dictionary of the Old Testament shows the verb root for the masculine noun עפר ‘apar to be עפר meaning: to be gray or pulverized, but nowhere does the BDB, Strong’s, or Gesenius Heb./Chaldee Lexicon show the Hebrew masculine noun עפר ‘apar as being associated with “red” or as being synonymous with “mud” or “clay” of the אדמה adamah = ground/dirt.

    Mr. Darwin said that human beings came from the primates, and the Bible, again, leads in the same direction:

    (Genesis) Adam/man (Hebrew-synonyms) = ‘ruddy (red)’, rosy, the flush of blood

    “…man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7b):
    soul (Hebrew & Greek) = breathing creature/the animal sentiment principal only

    1. ha’adam=“the human archetype” was initially created as a נפשׁ
    חיה “breathing brute animal” in Genesis 2:7, with little or no difference
    between it and the brute animal נפשׁ חיה “breathing brute animals”
    created in Genesis 2:19.11

    - does not suggest a ‘human’ being but rather a ‘ruddy (brute animal)’ creature (as coming from the ‘red’ earth – dust/dry ground)

    “Prior to being put into the garden, ruddy did not have ‘spiritual’ ability, he only gained that after he entered the garden; ‘…and the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man (ruddy) whom he had made.” (parentheses mine, Gen. 2:8 & 15)

    So then, Adam/man was not initially a ‘human’ being as many believe but rather a ‘ruddy creature of earth’, an animal (must have been a chimpanzee because somewhere along the line we gained 97% chimp DNA).

    It was the gaining of this other element that enabled one primate to change from animal to human, and unless he had gained it, could not have changed – thus the reason we don’t see other primates in various stages of change.

    Religious tendencies are observed strictly in the human species. If human beings are in part ‘soul (animal)’ then why aren’t such tendencies evident in primates? Could it be because we have something the other animals don’t have?

    soul = mortal
    spirit = immortal

    animal = soul
    human being = soul + spirit (aura, metaphysical, God’s image, sixth sense, etc.)

  • scifinbible

    Is rather obvious that nobody really cares what they are talking about. At least we should have the decency Dr Colins shows. We don’t know yet about our true origin. Origin of sepecies was but a speculation which modern science proved wrong. Most scientists don’t care to look up what DNA conservative replication really means not to mention to read carefully the definition of mutation. So many are forced to “believe” in a theory that was proven wrong by science.
    Let’s not forget the Bible is but a result of few ancient books put together in 324AD by religious leaders who tried , just as they do today to control humanity.
    Trying to find common ground between religion and science is like trying to marry two doctrines that do not care to search for truth. Ancients, long before Moses knew about genetics. Mendel was rejected by “modern science” for 60 years even though his laws of segregation were proven correct for every characther he studied. Morgan the one who did study the fruit flies characters came to the conclusion that “segregation is the punch of death to evolution theory” due to the fact that most “mutations” are lethal and any hybrid will return to WT. Science never tells students about these aspects , because it could ruin its “doctrine” and millions of dollars in grants. Religion and science will defend their doctrines for money and power. God help us.

  • Gene Cavanaugh

    The real problem is the same problem that Einstein had; as Niels Bohr said to him “Don’t tell God what to do!”. That is true for all religious fanatics and some scientists; find out what God DID, don’t tell God what to DO!

  • Elizabeth

    If creationism is classed as a religion and therefore cannot be taught in public schools, then evolution is a religion too. It shoulgn’t be taught in schools ether.Evolution is no more a science than creationism is.
    Also, some evolutionist believe that there could ahve been a intelegent designer, why can’t that intelegent designer be God?

  • Rev. Steven Hagerman

    I have for many years enjoyed the study of natural history including the development of life on earth over the centuries. It deepens my appreciation of God as creator working though a
    variety of mechanisms that we still do not understand completely. I believe evolution is best studied from an interdisciplinary perspective that can differentiate those aspects of the theory which have significant grounding in
    the biological sciences and philosophical leaps
    (Richard Dawkins)which have no scientific basis
    and are in fact a part of a discussion of religion in our socieity. There are important matters at stake and I understand the intensity of the concerns. It is of interest to me that
    a broad range of religous communities and the scientific community are finding a powerful ethical common ground in countering the threat to all life on our planet by environmental abuse. An insight of both evolution and religous traditions tells us of a profound unity and relatedness of life
    on earth and beyond. Perhaps a stronger focus on on eco-responsibility (creation care) will lead us to a more productive and creative place in this discussion.

  • Pamela

    It seems to me that it is only people of some christian flavor of doctrine that have a problem with evolution. I have not experienced any Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc protest against Darwin and his theories. For this reason, I predict that objective scientists of other doctrines will move ahead in scientific discovery and leave the “christians” in the dust from which they were created. Scientists must be objective. While many scientists adhere to a religion, the good ones learn to treat science with their minds and religion with their hearts. This does not mean that science is incapable of being ethical, nor does it mean that religion is always ethical. I am convinced that it will take many years of evolution for us humans to move away from petty arguments about “my god is bigger than your god” and “my science is better than your science”. Truly, focusing on our mutual survival is critical. We must learn how take better care of all creatures and ourselves if we are to survive to continue the argument.

  • Erlito Ebia

    I don’t see any contradiction between religion and science on evolution. Darwin says that all beings start from a monocell, but he did not say that human beings come from apes. These two propositions have different meanings. Thus, where does this monocell come from? From another monocell? I don’t think so. Thus, a supreme Being cause this monocell to exist.It’s up to you to think what or who it is.

  • Michael

    It never fails to amaze me how many people need that old metaphysical crutch know as religion, and how many allow their point of view to be warped by its dogma. The evidence in favor of evolutionary processes is overwhelming, but there is virtually no evidence for God, fairies, the great sky dragon or any other such metaphisical cock and bull. Please quit allowing yourself to believe in these useless fairy tales. The earth is round, it revolves around the sun, and just as surely humanity and every other life form on the planet evolved from other species.

  • john jay

    I am a retired teacher,science degree,1952,U.of MI
    My son, Dr David Jay,is co-founder of the science of Cardiac Molecular Genetis. Would you be interested in our view of evolution based on Berkeleyan idealism rather than on materialist reductionism? We believe that this Weltanschaung is not only plausible; it is the only way that creation can be explained,and the only way of uniting science with all religions.

  • Baz

    Actually Darwin did realize we evolved from ape like creatures, ever hear of his book “The Descent of Man”. The ignorance spoken in these comments are horrible.

  • John

    Too many assumptions by to many people with too many ideologies in this debate. Too bad!

    What a shame-

  • cmaglaughlin

    Irreducible complexity, the fact that simple cells ARE NOT simple, blows the theory of evolution out of it’s slimy origins. Sir Aldous Huxley, the anointed president of Darwin’s fan club, when asked, why would a scientist, if presented indisputable facts that evolution was a hoax, remain in denial, he replied, “because we’d have to change our sex habits.” In other words, they would have to answer to their creator for their sexual depravity. That’s why evolutionary scientists hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. Don’t confuse them with the facts. Their minds are already made up.