By Chris Powers – Special Projects Editor
Evolution is unfortunately a sticking point in many schools in the United States. This controversy recently came to Grand Rapids Community College when the college hosted a Board of Trustees candidate forum on Oct. 21. Board of Trustees candidate James Harvey was asked about academic freedom within subject matter by Frank Connor of GRCC’s Psychology Department. Connor brought up evolution as a topic that, while some students may have religious beliefs to the contrary, still should be taught as scientific fact.
“It can’t simply be an open debate…that’s not how college works,” Connor said in his remarks to Harvey.
This seemed to rile the 84-year-old conservative. He invoked the elitism argument by insisting that by not teaching intelligent design, the belief that certain aspects of the universe and of living things could not have been the product of unguided natural selection, colleges are placing them in the elite position of the sole gatekeepers of knowledge.
Harvey insisted that “intelligent design has as much standing in the scientific field” as evolution. This statement is unequivocally false. According to Brian Alters, an expert in the evolution-creationism controversy, “99.9 percent of scientists accept evolution.”
The problem with Harvey’s argument is that it seems to be confused by evolution being labeled a theory. In science, a theory refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature supported by a vast body of evidence. This is in sharp contrast to the more common usage of a theory as merely a hunch or a hypothesis.
Unlike evolutionary theory, there isn’t a big debate over whether the Earth orbits the sun, also known as heliocentric theory. It is so uncontroversial that in 1992 the Catholic Church officially apologized for the way they treated proponents of the heliocentric theory in the 1600s.
Even though the debate about evolution as fact rages on here in America, there is little debate in the institution that took nearly 400 years to apologize to Galileo. This support of evolution has recently made headlines when Pope Francis came out in favor of the theory.
“God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life,” Francis said at the dedication of a bronze bust of his predecessor Benedict XVI in front of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Oct 27. “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”
Actually, the pope’s support renewed the Roman Catholic Church’s point of view that has been officially held since 1950 when Pope Pius XII wrote an encyclical asserting that there was no conflict between evolution and Catholic faith. Pope John Paul II reaffirmed this in 1996 when he recognized evolution as more than a hypothesis.
Harvey and others who disregard the science of evolution are positioning themselves on the wrong side of history, much like the Catholic Church did with heliocentric theory.