Term Paper: Theory of Evolution

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¶ … Evolution

The concept of evolution embodies the belief that existing animals and plants developed through a process of gradual and continuous change from previously existing forms (Evolution pp). Also known as descent with modification, this theory constitutes organic evolution, while inorganic evolution is concerned with the development of the physical universe from unorganized matter (Evolution pp). As opposed to the belief in the special creation of each individual species as an immutable form, organic evolution conceives of life as having had its beginnings in a simple primordial protoplasmic mass (most likely originating in the sea) from which through the eras of time, arose all subsequent living forms (Evolution pp). Evolutionary concepts date back to early Greek writings and can be found in the works of Thales, Empedocles, Anaximander, and Aristotle (Evolution pp). However, due to the influence of the Church, "no evolutionary theories developed during some fifteen centuries of the Christian era to challenge the belief in special creation and the literal interpretation of the first part of Genesis" (Evolution pp). Yet, during this time, large volumes of date was accumulated that would be utilized by later theorists (Evolution pp).

By the first half of the nineteenth century, special creation of each species was still the prevalent belief even among scientists (Evolution pp). Although the evidence in favor of evolution had already been uncovered it still needed to be assembled and the evidence interpreted and formulated into a scientifically credible theory (Evolution pp). In 1859 Charles Robert Darwin set forth the concepts that have come to be known as Darwinism in Origin of Species (Evolution pp). In the years that have followed, many have accepted Darwin's theory, while many have denied its validity (Evolution pp). Numerous religious creeds opposed the theory because it was incompatible with their basic tenets and it became a target for attack by both church and educational authorities who interpreted evolution as meaning humans descended from monkeys rather than from an ancient and extinct ancestor (Evolution pp).

Many states, particularly Southern states, passed laws banning the teaching of evolution and in 1925, a high-school biology teacher in Dayton, Tennessee who lectured on evolution was charged with violating the law (Dutch pp). John Scopes believed that the Tennessee law was unconstitutional and violated the First Amendment (Dutch pp). The trial drew national attention, and Scopes was found guilty and fined $100, although on appeal it was thrown out on a technicality (Dutch pp). The Supreme Court eventually considered the Constitutionality of the Tennessee law and threw it out (Dutch pp).

The theory of evolution has become firmly entrenched as a scientific principle and in most creeds it has been reconciled with religious teachings (Evolution pp). However, many Christian fundamentalists do not accept the theory and have campaigned to have biblical creationism taught in the schools as an alternative theory (Evolution pp). They argue that since evolution is only a theory, then it should not be taught as a fact and that alternative views are equally valid (Dutch pp). Many fundamentalists have attacked the credibility of geologic dating methods, and in many cases have telescoped the geologic time scale to fit into the framework of Noah's Deluge, as well as attacking the fossil evidence for evolution, particularly the intermediate forms in the fossil record (Dutch pp).

Creationists distinguish between microevolution and macroevolution, arguing that observed changed in species does not prove that new species can evolve (Dutch pp). Although creationists generally avoid mentioning the Bible in their scientific writings, they usually reject well-established scientific views and substitute ideas that serve only to validate the literal interpretation of Genesis (Dutch pp). Scientific creationism is considered a pseudoscience, however, a number of states passed laws requiring that creationism be taught in school as an alternative to evolution, yet a Federal court in 1982 considered an Arkansas law to be a pretext for teaching religious views and declared it unconstitutional, (Dutch pp). Although defeated in the courts, creationism continues to thrive at the grass-roots level and opponents of evolution focus their efforts at influencing school curricula at the local level and have had such a national impact the many textbook publishers, for fear of losing sales, water down the evolution content of their texts, "reinforcing the misconception that evolution is little more than an opinion held by some scientists" (Dutch pp).

Although ancient, the Argument from Design was brought to its nineteenth century form by William Paley (Dutch pp). The Argument from Design "holds that the complexity and order in the Universe argues for an intelligent designer, God, just as, in Paley's words, 'a watch implies a watchmaker'" (Dutch pp).

The fit between organisms and their environment had been noted long before Darwin, and in fact was actually cited as evidence in support of the Argument from Design; the fit between, say, a hummingbird's bill and the shape of the flowers it feeds on, or the coexistence of organisms that require one another for survival, was viewed as clear evidence of an overall plan in nature

Dutch pp).

Evidence that evolution ahs occurred still rests largely on the same grounds that Darwin emphasized: comparative anatomy, embryology, geographical distribution, and paleontology (Evolution pp). However, recently, evidence has come from biochemistry and molecular biology that reveals fundamental similarities and relations in metabolism and hereditary mechanisms among disparate types of organisms (Evolution pp). In general, both at the visible level and at the biochemical, one can detect the kinds of gradations of relatedness among organisms expected from evolution (Evolution pp).

In 2004, many state legislators introduced measures that would require disclaimers to be placed in textbooks, or require that intelligent design/creationism be taught along side evolution, or require that science teachers 'teach the controversy' (in pp). When a federal judge ruled that Cobb County's textbook disclaimers were unconstitutional, a member of the Georgia House of Representatives introduced legislation that would require "Whenever any theory of the origin of human beings or other living things is included in a course of study,' evidence against evolution would also be included" (in pp). The Mississippi State Senate introduced legislation that would require classic creationism be taught in schools where evolution is taught (in pp). The South Carolina Senate will reconsider legislation designed to provide anti-evolutionists control over how textbooks dealing with evolution are approved and adopted by school districts (in pp). Wisconsin spent most of 2004 discussing ways to introduce intelligent design/creationism into the science curriculum and in December 2004, the board adopted a resolution stating,

Students are expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strength and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information. Students shall be able to explain the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory. This policy does not call for the teaching of creationism or intelligent design" (in pp).

And in Dover, Pennsylvania, when the school board approved the teaching of intelligent design/creationism, local parents and national organizations filed a lawsuit against the school district (in pp). The school district then prepared a four-paragraph disclaimer statement that high school biology teachers were to read to their classes prior to beginning a unit on evolution (in pp).

On May 7, 2005, in Topeka, Kansas, members of the state Board of Education held hearings over the science curriculum in Kansas to consider changes that would give more weight to creationist ideas (Johnson pp).

Advocates of intelligent design and critics of evolution gathered for the third day of hearings (Johnson pp). However, mainstream science organizations declined invitations to participate, claiming that the hearings were an effort "to attack and undermine science" in the view of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes the journal Science (Johnson pp). A Topeka lawyer representing what he called mainstream science, dismissed the event as a "kangaroo court" (Johnson… [END OF PREVIEW]

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