I‘M OFTEN ASKED what I do for a living. My answer, that I am a professor at the University of Kentucky, inevitably prompts a second question: “What do you teach?” Responding to such a question should be easy and invite polite conversation, but I usually brace for a negative reaction. At least half the time the person flinches with disapproval when I answer “evolution,” and often the conversation simply terminates once the “e-word” has been spoken. Occasionally, someone will retort: “But there is no evidence for evolution.” Or insist: “It’s just a theory, so why teach it?”
At this point I should walk away, but the educator in me can’t. I generally take the bait, explaining that evolution is an established fact and the foundation of all biology. If in a feisty mood, I’ll leave them with this caution: the fewer who understand evolution, the more who will die. Sometimes, when a person is still keen to prove me wrong, I’m more than happy to share with him an avalanche of evidence demonstrating I’m not.
Some colleagues ask why I bother, as if I’m the one who’s the provocateur. I remind them that evolution is the foundation of our science, and we simply can’t shy away from explaining it. We don’t avoid using the “g-word” when talking about gravitational theory, nor do we avoid the “c-word” when talking about cell theory. So why avoid talking about evolution, let alone defending it? After all, as a biologist, the mission of advancing evolution education is the most important aspect of my job.
TO TEACH EVOLUTION at the University of Kentucky is to teach at an institution steeped in the history of defending evolution education. The first effort to pass an anti-evolution law (led by William Jennings Bryan) happened in Kentucky in 1921. It proposed making the teaching of evolution illegal. The university’s president at that time, Frank McVey, saw this bill as a threat to academic freedom. Three faculty members—William Funkhouser, a zoologist; Arthur Miller, a geologist who taught evolution; and Glanville Terrell, a philosopher—joined McVey in the battle to prevent the bill from becoming law. They put their jobs on the line. Through their efforts, the anti-evolution bill was defeated by a forty-two to forty-one vote in the state legislature. Consequently, the movement turned its attention toward Tennessee.
John Thomas Scopes was a student at the University of Kentucky then and watched the efforts of his three favorite teachers and President McVey. The reason the “Scopes Monkey Trial” occurred several years later in Dayton, Tennessee—where Scopes was a substitute teacher and volunteered to be prosecuted—was in good part due to the influence of his mentors, particularly Funkhouser. As Scopes writes in his memoir, Center of the Storm: “Teachers rather than subject matter rekindled my interest in science. Dr. Funkhouser . . . was a man without airs [who] taught zoology so flawlessly that there was no need to cram for the final examination; at the end of the term there was a thorough, fundamental grasp of the subject in bold relief in the student’s mind, where Funkhouser had left it.”
I was originally reluctant to take my job at the university when offered it twenty years ago. It required teaching three sections of non-majors biology classes, with three hundred students per section, and as many as eighteen hundred students each year. I wasn’t particularly keen on lecturing to an auditorium of students whose interest in biology was questionable given that the class was a freshman requirement.
Then I heard an interview with the renowned evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson in which he addressed why, as a senior professor—and one of the most famous biologists in the world—he continued to teach non-majors biology at Harvard. Wilson explained that non-majors biology is the most important science class that one could teach. He felt many of the future leaders of this nation would take the class, and that this was the last chance to convey to them an appreciation for biology and science. Moved by Wilson’s words, and with the knowledge that William Funkhouser once held the job I was now contemplating, I accepted the position. The need to do well was unnerving, however, considering that if I failed as a teacher, a future Scopes might leave my class uninspired.
I realized early on that many instructors teach introductory biology classes incorrectly. Too often evolution is the last section to be taught, an autonomous unit at the end of the semester. I quickly came to the conclusion that, since evolution is the foundation upon which all biology rests, it should be taught at the beginning of a course, and as a recurring theme throughout the semester. As the renowned geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky said: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” In other words, how else can we explain why the DNA of chimps and humans is nearly 99 percent identical, and that the blood and muscle proteins of chimps and humans are nearly identical as well? Why are these same proteins slightly less similar to gorillas and orangutans, while much less similar to goldfish? Only evolution can shed light on these questions: we humans are great apes; we and the other great apes (gibbons, chimps, gorillas, bonobos, and orangutans) all evolved from a common ancestor.
Soon, every topic and lecture in my class was built on an evolutionary foundation and explained from an evolutionary perspective. My basic biology for non-majors became evolution for non-majors. It didn’t take long before I started to hear from a vocal minority of students who strongly objected: “I am very offended by your lectures on evolution! Those who believe in creation are not ignorant of science! You had no right to try and force evolution on us. Your job was to teach it as a theory and not as a fact that all smart people believe in!!” And: “Evolution is not a proven fact. It should not be taught as if it is. It cannot be observed in any quantitative form and, therefore, isn’t really science.”
We live in a nation where public acceptance of evolution is the second lowest of thirty-four developed countries, just ahead of Turkey. Roughly half of Americans reject some aspect of evolution, believe the earth is less than ten thousand years old, and that humans coexisted with dinosaurs. Where I live, many believe evolution to be synonymous with atheism, and there are those who strongly feel I am teaching heresy to thousands of students. A local pastor, whom I’ve never met, wrote an article in The University Christian complaining that, not only was I teaching evolution and ignoring creationism, I was teaching it as a non-Christian, alternative religion.
There are students who enroll in my courses and already accept evolution. Although not yet particularly knowledgeable on the subject, they are eager to learn more. Then there are the students whose minds are already sealed shut to the possibility that evolution exists, but need to take my class to fulfill a college requirement. And then there are the students who have no opinion one way or the other but are open-minded. These are the students I most hope to reach by presenting them with convincing and overwhelming evidence without offending or alienating them.
Some students take offense very easily. During one lecture, a student asked a question I’ve heard many times: “If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” My response was and is always the same: we didn’t evolve from monkeys. Humans and monkeys evolved from a common ancestor. One ancestral population evolved in one direction toward modern-day monkeys, while another evolved toward humans. The explanation clicked for most students, but not all, so I tried another. I asked the students to consider this: Catholics are the oldest Christian denomination, and so if Protestants evolved from Catholics, why are there still Catholics? Some students laughed, some found it a clarifying example, and others were clearly offended. Two days later, a student walked down to the lectern after class and informed me that I was wrong about Catholics. He said Baptists were the first Christians and that this is clearly explained in the Bible. His mother told him so. I asked where this was explained in the Bible. He glared at me and said, “John the Baptist, duh!” and then walked away.
To truly understand evolution, you must first understand science. Unfortunately, one of the most misused words today is also one of the most important to science: theory. Many incorrectly see theory as the opposite of fact. The National Academy of Sciences provides concise definitions of these critical words: A fact is a scientific explanation that has been tested and confirmed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing it; a theory is a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence generating testable and falsifiable predictions.
In science, something can be both theory and fact. We know the existence of pathogens is a fact; germ theory provides testable explanations concerning the nature of disease. We know the existence of cells is a fact, and that cell theory provides testable explanations of how cells function. Similarly, we know evolution is a fact, and that evolutionary theories explain biological patterns and mechanisms. The late Stephen Jay Gould said it best: “Evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts.”
Theory is the most powerful and important tool science has, but nonscientists have perverted and diluted the word to mean a hunch, notion, or idea. Thus, all too many people interpret the phrase “evolutionary theory” to mean “evolutionary hunch.”
Not surprisingly, I spend the first week of class differentiating theory from fact, as well as defining other critical terms. But I’m appalled by some of my colleagues who, despite being scientists, do not understand the meaning of theory. As I was preparing to teach a sophomore evolution class a few years ago, a biology colleague asked how I was going to approach teaching evolution. Specifically, he asked if I would be teaching evolution as a theory or a fact. “I will teach evolution as both theory and fact,” I said, trying hard to conceal my frustration. No matter. My colleague simply walked away, likely questioning my competence to teach the class.
ONCE I LAY DOWN the basics of science, I introduce the Darwinian theories of evolution. Charles Darwin was by no means the first or only to put forth evolution; others came before him including his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, who wrote about descent with modification. Later, while Charles was amassing evidence in England for natural selection, one of the most eloquent scientific theories ever, Alfred Russel Wallace was also developing the same theory during his travels in Indonesia. But it was Charles Darwin alone who advanced the theory of descent with modification, with his bold idea that all species belong to the same tree of life and thus share a common ancestor. He also gave us sexual selection theory, which explains how evolution is shaped by competition for mates as well as choice of mates. Too often only natural selection and descent with modification are emphasized in introductory biology classes. I also cover Darwin’s theories of gradualism (including the nuance of punctuated equilibrium); descent from a common ancestor; multiplication of species; and sexual selection. I emphasize that five of the theories explain the patterns of evolution, while natural and sexual selection are the mechanisms that drive evolution.
Once the two essential strands of the class have been presented—the basic tenets of science and evolutionary theory—it’s time to tie the two together and thread them through the rest of the semester. I choose examples that will catch the class’s attention, such as the plight of the ivory-billed woodpecker, also known as the Lord God Bird due to its magnificent appearance. The story of the bird’s decline from habitat loss and hunting, and the failed efforts to save it from extinction, is riveting and heartbreaking. It pulls students in as we discuss how evolution can explain why this North American bird is so similar to a group of large South American woodpeckers, as well as Old World “ivorybills.” Students have to generate hypotheses that explain this phenomenon, and determine what evidence is needed to support or refute their hypotheses. They use a fact-gathering approach, plus all the Darwinian theories, to explain how and why these similar groups of big woodpeckers, many with sturdy white bills, live on three continents. Both scientific approach and evolutionary theory are now intertwined—an approach that is, in my opinion, essential for the teaching of biology at all levels. It does not shy away from public resistance to evolution education but stares it directly in the eye. To this end, I include a section on human evolution, a topic that, somewhat surprisingly, is avoided by many who teach evolution.
Rarely do I have a Kentucky student who learned about human evolution in high school biology. Those who did usually attended high schools in large urban centers like Louisville or Lexington. Given how easily it can provoke parents, the teaching of human evolution is a rarity in high school, so much so in Kentucky that it startled me when I first arrived. I had naively assumed it was something all students learned. I was fortunate to have attended Omaha Central High School in Nebraska, where the science teachers were excellent, and inspiring as well. They never sidestepped controversial topics relevant to their science. One teacher in particular—Creighton Steiner, the equivalent of my Funkhouser, and whom I regret not thanking in time before his passing—taught biology, earth science, and anthropology. One semester of his anthropology class was devoted entirely to human evolution. Steiner’s fascination with evolution ignited my passion for the subject. He was the first person to tell me about the age-old clash between science and religion, and how evolution was now at the heart of the conflict. He helped me realize that defending science and evolution is an obligation.
Human evolution is the greatest of all stories. It explains how we came to be. To weave the story of our ancestors and their evolutionary contributions to our existence is an exciting part of the semester. Australopithecus, Homo habilis, Homo erectus—I want my students to know these amazing beings, as well as the many more that have been discovered since my school days. The story of our evolutionary history captivates many of my students, while infuriating some. During one lecture, a student stood up in the back row and shouted the length of the auditorium that Darwin denounced evolution on his deathbed—a myth intentionally spread by creationists. The student then made it known that everything I was teaching was a lie, and stomped out of the auditorium, slamming the door behind him. A few years later during the same lecture, another student also shouted out from the back row that I was lying. She said that no transitional fossil forms had ever been found—despite my having shared images of many transitional forms during the semester. Many of her fellow students were shocked by her combativeness, particularly when she stormed out, also slamming the door behind her. Most semesters, a significant number of students abruptly leave as soon as they realize the topic is human evolution.
My classes provide an abundance of examples of how evolutionary theory explains biological phenomena, with evolutionary medicine surfacing toward the end of the semester. I focus on four basic points: our evolutionary legacy influences present-day health problems; overuse of antibiotics is causing pathogens to evolve resistance; treating conditions (fever, coughing, sneezing, diarrhea, vomiting) as symptoms of an illness can harm our health, while treating these conditions as adaptations and leaving them to run their course (unless they’re acute) can benefit our health; and how the ecological phenomenon of “corridors” (not washing hands, openly sneezing and coughing, shaking hands, unprotected sex) causes pathogens to spread easily, permitting them to evolve greater virulence, while maintaining “barriers” (washing hands, covering your mouth when sneezing and coughing, not shaking hands, using condoms) causes pathogens to evolve lower virulence.
If mild fever evolved as an adaptation to “cook” pathogens, and coughing, sneezing, and diarrhea evolved to expel them, then it is unwise to use medications to suppress these adaptations. Similarly, if a virulent strain can kill a host and escape to another via a corridor, greater virulence evolves. If, however, a barrier prevents spread of this pathogen, the most virulent die along with their host, leaving only less virulent forms to survive.
Evolutionary medicine brings the significance of evolution home. Students realize that not understanding evolution can have severe consequences to their health. If everyone understood that pathogens evolve (not develop) resistance to antibiotics when used excessively and unnecessarily, we would have fewer problems with ineffective antibiotics and highly resistant pathogens.
To explain evolutionary legacy, I point out that our physiology evolved for a hunter-gatherer diet and is not adapted for the modern Western diet, which is one reason obesity, diabetes, and other health issues are a growing problem. I also point out that a significant percentage of my students experience lower back problems—a seemingly odd phenomenon for such a young crowd. The explanation is that the vertebrate spine evolved 500 million years ago as a horizontal support structure from which internal organs hung (essentially a suspension bridge to oppose the forces of gravity). But seven million years ago, our ancestors evolved into upright walking creatures with vertical spines. Our spines no longer offset the pull of gravity, leaving our internal organs to push on our lower extremities. With the horizontal support structure gone, we are left to deal with lower back pain, ruptured disks, hemorrhoids, hernias, and varicose veins.
AFTER A SEMESTER filled with evidence of evolution, capped off with a dose of evolutionary medicine, one might expect that every last student would understand it and accept it as fact. Sadly, this is not the case. There are those who remain convinced that evolution is a threat to their religious beliefs. Knowing this, I feel an obligation to give my “social resistance to evolution” lecture as the final topic.
This lecture lays down the history of the antiscience and anti-evolution movements, the arguments made by those opposing evolution, and why these arguments are wrong. I make it clear that one can accept evolution and maintain their religious beliefs. They are not mutually exclusive. Among the religious groups and organizations that support the teaching of evolution are the Episcopal Church, Lutheran World Federation, United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church, United Unitarian Universalists, Roman Catholic Church, and the American Jewish Congress. In fact, 77 percent of all American Christians belong to a denomination that supports the teaching of evolution, and several high-profile evangelical Christians are ardent defenders of it, including former President Jimmy Carter and Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institute of Health. Even Pope John Paul II acknowledged the existence of evolution in an article he published in The Quarterly Review of Biology, in which he argued that the body evolved, but the soul was created. Pope Francis has made it clear that he accepts evolution as well.
This lecture should put students at ease knowing that religion and science need not be at odds. Of all the lectures I give, this one provokes the most discussion after class. And yet it often results in students expressing concern that I might not be saved. I never say anything about my personal religious beliefs, yet it is assumed I am an atheist. One student told me she hoped I could find God soon. When I again pointed out that John Paul accepted evolution—and he certainly wasn’t an atheist—the student countered that Catholics aren’t Christians. Several simply let me know they will be praying for me and praying hard. One student explained that as a devout Catholic he had no choice but to reject evolution. He accused me of fabricating the pope’s statements. When I explained that he could go to the Vatican website for verification or call the Vatican to talk to a scientist, he insisted that there was no such information available from the Vatican. He then pointed his finger at me and said the only way he would believe me is if Pope John Paul II came to my class to confirm these quotes face-to-face. The student then stomped out, again slamming the auditorium door behind him.
The thing about teaching is we are never sure we are making a difference. We never know how many students have been reached. What I have never come to grips with is that no matter how hard I try to be the best teacher I can, I will fail to connect with some students. Every time a student stomps out of my auditorium slamming the door on the way, I can’t help but question my abilities. Based on evaluations from the 24,000 students I’ve taught, 8 percent of my students simply detest me, but 90 percent love my class. That makes me one of the most hated and loved professors at the university.
I’m occasionally told my life would be easier if I backed off from my relentless efforts to advance evolution education. Maybe so. But to shy away from emphasizing evolutionary biology is to fail as a biology teacher. I continue to teach biology as I do, because biology makes sense only in the light of evolution.
And it’s a message that sometimes gets through. There’s one student I can remember in particular, who took my freshman seminar on evolutionary medicine. He was an ardent evangelical Christian who believed in the literal truth of biblical creation. The seminar was very hard on him, and he struggled with the information, questioning and doubting everything we read. Several years later, our paths crossed, and we stopped for what turned out to be a long, easy chat. Now a doctor, he explained to me that, at the time, he was so upset with my seminar that he attended a number of Creationists’ public lectures for evidence I was wrong. He said he found himself embarrassed by how badly these individuals perverted Christian teachings, as well as known facts, to make their argument. He wanted me to know that he came to understand he could be a Christian and accept evolution. Then he did something that resonates with any teacher: he thanked me for opening his eyes, turning his world upside down, and blurring the line between black and white. O
Hear a conversation with James J. Krupa about his experience teaching evolution.
Maybe it’s not Darwin who needs defending, but modern science-based evolutionary theory: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stuart-a-newman/developmental-plasticity-and-organismal-ingenuity-challenge-darwins-theory_b_6701678.html
Those students are so lucky to have such a teacher.
A brave and needed teacher
“During one lecture, a student asked a question I’ve heard many times: “If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” My response was and is always the same: we didn’t evolve from monkeys. Humans and monkeys evolved from a common ancestor. One ancestral population evolved in one direction toward modern-day monkeys, while another evolved toward humans. The explanation clicked for most students, ”
I understand the need for simplification, and I know that this is a very common response to the question by biology teachers, but I think this response is both incorrect and needlessly misleading – particularly in the use of “one ancestral population evolved in one direction toward modern-day monkeys, while another evolved toward humans”. First, the most recent common ancestor of monkeys and apes was certainly more monkey-like than human-like, so in that sense we DID evolve from monkeys (just not modern species). Moreover, this common response implies that humans (and presumably other apes) form the sister group to monkeys when they do NOT. Old-world monkeys are much more closely related to us and the other apes than they are to the New-world monkeys. Similarly, if the student asked, “if we evolved from apes, why are there still apes?”, this response would again be misleading and imply that humans are the sister group to all the other the apes, when that is obviously not true (chimps are more closely related to us than they are to gorillas, gorillas are more closely related to us and chimps than they are to orangs, etc.).
What if a student asked, “if our lineage goes all the way back to bacteria, why are there still bacteria”. Would it make sense to say “ONE population” evolved toward bacteria, and “the other” evolved toward humans? I think that would be terribly confusing.
In my experience, a much better response would be to have a simple primate phylogeny handy to dispel the underlying misconception – that evolution is some kind of ladder rather than a branching bush. Even intro college students can understand sister relationships, and a skillful explanation of a primate, or anthropoid, or other phylogeny can instantly show the false premise of the original question. You can EXPLICITLY use the tree to show different timings of common ancestry.
I’d recommend moving out of Kentucky but it seems you’re needed there more than anywhere else on the planet. Maybe even the galaxy.
Inspiring article; as a fellow prof of biology and scientist I loved it!
I wish I had such a wonderful and sensitive teacher long ago when I studied Biology. My teacher of Evolution made it so complicated and my teacher of Ecology always said, “Ecology is a boring subject”…It is through years of reading and trying to interact with students and green activists who always showed a keen interest in Life Sciences, that I found the beauty and wonder of Life and its infinite plan, its long long eternal journey and its enchanting destiny…
As a professor who cares about this topic and also believes that dialog is better than submission, I really enjoyed your article. But in my experience we give theist bullies a free ride when we take their off=the=shelf demands seriously, and let them dominate the conversational agenda, by giving ANY answer. Depending on the particular challenge (their “questions” are fake because they don’t want an answer), I might ask in reply “why do YOU force knowledge to fit your particular faith, AND need everyone do the same?” They surely won’t accept your challenge out loud, but this might lead some to self-awareness by pointing out their aggressiveness. At worst, it will stop them from doing that again and bragging to their cohorts, which I think is the standard goal of the exercise.
We are fortunate to have such as Professor Krupa in Kentucky. I was born in Kentucky, and am ashamed of some of the ignorance I still encounter.
While a biology major at Idaho State University in the early 1970s, I took “Organic Evolution,” taught by the senior tenured faculty member of the university. As described in this excellent article, it was a class that included both biology majors and others like business majors, who just needed a science class to fill a requirement for graduation. There was hostility from a number of students, mainly Mormons, to the idea that life had evolved over millions of years. For me, the class was the opening of a window of wonder that, over 40 years later, I still find enthralling, endlessly fascinating. The true story of evolution is so much more wonderful than any simplistic biblical explanation.
Many thanks for this article. A major problem is a huge gap within the worship life of our churches, week by week. Most people get their most of their theology from this worship; “you tell me what you sing, and then I’ll you what your theology is.” Yet nowhere does our worship touch on science. (“How great thou art” and “Great is thy faithfulness” talk about nature, but not science.)
So here is a song/hymn to attempt to bridge the gap. I hope it is solidly biblical, solidly trinitarian and decently scientific.
1. In chaos and nothingness, you of unnameable Name
spoke into the emptiness, fanning dark energy’s flame.
Your Spirit was hovering, racing and shaping the birth
of galaxy clusters, of sun and the moon and the earth.
2. Your voice pierced the darkness, your Word blazed your light on the world;
whole continents drifted while aeons and ages unfurled;
and coaxing the DNA helix to double and bind,
your Spirit breathed origin to every species and kind.
3. O Lord, where were we when you laid the foundations of earth?
When morning stars harmonised song, when the oceans burst forth?
When you played your dice, when you planned that through chance life evolved?
In mere mortal span, still your mysteries remain unresolved.
4. So where then is wisdom, and can understanding be found?
Yet heavens are voicing your glory: in Christ is their crown.
Invisible God, given visible image, you came,
breathed order and life: Jesus Christ, Name above every name.
Transcendent and immanent, God ever three, ever one:
we praise you and worship you, Father and Spirit and Son.
© David Lee, 2012
I knew the author when he was a graduate student at the University of Oklahoma. He has been an excellent pro-science advocate opposing creationist attempts in state legislatures to promote their unconstitutional bills to place religion into public school science courses. We wish he was still here in Oklahoma where we have more anti-science creationist bills than any other state, far more than in Kentucky . We have been successful in stopping these bills in OK for the last 15 years, including two bills this year, but in this reddest of states it gets more difficult each year. The success has been due to the mobilization of many messages to legislators to stop the bills in committee; if bills reach a floor vote, they will pass overwhelmingly . Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (http//www.oklescience) has been an ‘umbrella’ group in organizing opposition, but has been joined by many individuals and the Oklahoma Academy of Science, Oklahoma Science Teachers Association, separation social groups, some national science organizations, and others; this coalition has taken time to establish, but, so far, has worked well.
Thanks for all of your hard work, James! Perhaps all of Kentucky’s high school biology teachers should take your class and read books like Why Evolution Works (and Creationism Fails): http://rutgerspress.rutgers.edu/product/Why-Evolution-Works-and-Creationism-Fails,3713.aspx
I can so relate to this article! I entered my freshman bio class (as a student) with a firm belief that evolution was part of an atheist hoax. My professor (at a Catholic college) announced the first day that, by the end of the class, we would all believe in evolution. My reaction was “No way!”
Not only did I soon “believe in” evolution, but by the end of the class, I was enthralled by the idea, an idea which literally changed the course of my life.
I wrote my freshman English research paper on “Evolution, the Bible, and the Origin of Man,” demonstrating that evolution does not conflict with Catholic doctrine. I switched my major from El Ed to biology…a subject I hated in high school, where evolution was not mentioned, and where my strongest memory was the tedium of memorizing the orders of insects.
I felt like Helen Keller, when she finally grasped the symbolic nature of language! Suddenly, all the apparently disconnected information contained in the science of biology made sense!
Evolution must be the greatest unifying principal in the history of science thus far. It has the capacity to explain not only our physical natures, but our thoughts, actions, and emotions as well. Evolution, when properly understood, illuminates human psychology, sociology, family dynamics, and morality.
I loved teaching biology to freshmen non biology majors (also at a Catholic college). Like the author of this article, I felt this was my most important class. I realized that this might well be the last science class these students would ever take. However, unlike the author of the article, in the six years I taught the course, I never encountered a single student who objected to my teaching evolution. Catholics, fortunately for the science teachers who instruct them, are not fundamentalists who interpret the Bible literally.
Also like the author, I cannot walk away from any arguments that evolution is “just a theory” with no evidence. How can such blatant ignorance still exist among intelligent people? Ironically, evolution can even explain this intellectual stubbornness. We resist revolutionary paradigm changes with tenacity…because readily switching one’s worldview could prove maladaptive.
I once used an analogy to explain how the theory AND fact of evolution illuminated my own worldview. Suppose you are an alien watching a football game, and you have no idea what’s going on. The actions of the players make no sense…first running one way, then the other, tackling each other, throwing balls, etc. However, once someone explains the rules of the game to the alien, everything suddenly makes perfect sense!
Darwin was like the alien on his trip to the Galapagos. All of the data he observed as a naturalist suddenly fell into logical place once his revolutionary idea occurred to him!
Darwin suffered much social stigma for being a visionary ahead of his time. In fact, one hundred years later, I myself equated his name with arrogance and willful propagation of misinformation.
Now, Charles Darwin is my favorite intellectual hero. Imagine the courage it must have taken to advance his “dangerous idea” (as Daniel Dennett has termed it) at a time when no one was prepared to receive the fundamental truth about nature that he had uncovered.
It’s intriguing to think that the physical body springs from one source of life and the soul from another. And to think that they both develop in each species along different trajectories. But such thinking requires the thinker to accept a soul as a spiritual entity. Some would say this requires faith, but it seems to me the evidence, even though not physically measurable, is overwhelming. How else to explain the concepts of beauty, quality, inspiration, and creativity? Would a physical process have any use for these qualities?
The role that understanding and teaching evolutionary theories; terrestrial biologic on out to the cosmological evolution of solar systems and galaxies etc., is increasingly crucial for our species to transcend the barbarity of current economic and social science biases.
The misapplied emphasis of evolution theories “survival of the fittest” as the ruling ethos of neo-liberal economic constructs neglects to appreciate the over arching trend toward symbiotic eloquence that seeks to most efficiently utilize the energies amidst the sun/earth matrix. To legitimately claim to be “pro-life” should imply embracing all co-evolved, interdependent life and serve to more thoroughly scrutinize any actions (economic,political,social etc.) that would undermine the sanctity of these wholesome (holy !) life processes. Any culture that continues to prosper from this form of economic barbarity no longer can legitimately claim to be evolving ethically towards a more perfected union with all life and will suffer accordingly.
I was wondering if you’ve ever tried this line of discussion with people that can’t accept the concept of evolution…
— We all know that humans have created hundreds of different breeds of horses, dogs, chickens, etc.
— Humans did this by selectively breeding animals that had specific traits that humans want to promote (draft horses that are powerful and capable of pulling heavy loads, Thoroughbreds that can run at high speed for a mile, etc.).
— If people can accept that the “human selection” that created all these animal breeds is a fact, it seems that it would be difficult to explain why nature couldn’t produce the same result by weeding out animals that are less capable of finding food, less successful in finding mates, etc.
I wonder how many religious people who think evolution is inherently anti-religion are aware that Charles Darwin is buried in a prominent crypt in Westminster Abbey?
Theist may bully anyone who believes in Evolution but if we don’t put up a fight and argue then they get there laugh either way and we don’t get are point across. sometimes you have to swim through a current to get to a paradise, I hope that the years we have spent fighting the current will eventually get Evolution across to the populace.
I saw no negative reactions to “Defending Darwin.” Did Orion omit them, or was there no response from Theist? A believer in evolution, I always enjoy hearing both sides of the issue.
A wonderful article from an admirable teacher. Clearly you are pushing immature student worldviews plenty, so perhaps my quibble fails to recognize the context of your teaching and your diligent and sensitive work (if so, apologies in advance). Yet the “Nonoverlapping Magisteria” (“religion and science need not be at odds,” in your words) concept does not hold water. True, liberal denominations want all the cake that science offers them and have found ways to eat it too while hanging on to ancient, mistaken metaphysics and superstitions. Perhaps, regrettably—and in the United States in particular (I live in rural Ohio, not far from you and culturally not drastically different)— allowing uncomfortable students (and many adults!) that “easy way out” is wise for practical reasons. However, all things “supernatural” come under the purview of rational, peer-reviewed inquiry. By definition science explains as best it can all things that *are* while religion explains only those which aren’t. Some things may be outside of our human understanding, but that does not make any religious claims about them or vague “spiritual” entities, realms, or events valid—it just means falling back into the same old “just trust me; I had this one experience once…” mode: the same cheap and false basis for all those old claims to understand consciousness and human moral values outside of neuroscience. As soon as such phenomena can be explained by science, all the old-fashioned talk is discounted by those few religious people who still value thinking, and naturalistic explanations of the universe become (as they are for the rest of us) the real truth. Maybe undergrads aren’t ready for the truth—I know *I* sure wasn’t at that age. But eventually, if you keep throwing out bathwater, you’ll find there was no baby there to begin with.
No, William Gray, negative comments have not been omitted — we also enjoy both sides of debates and encourage deep and respectful dialogue between the readers of Orion features. Perhaps news of this essay has not gotten out far enough yet.
It is so disturbing to hear that one half of the country does not believe in all or part of evolution in spite of the incontrovertible evidence. This rejection of science as well as evolution is the reason why the US is acting in such a reckless manner in doing nothing to address global warming.
Thank you for all you are doing and for this inspiring article. Your students are most fortunate.
As one of Dr. Krupa’s former students, this article was like a brief review of my favorite class, with my favorite teacher while I was at UK. There are few better professors out there.
An insignificant number of scientifically-literate English speakers use the word “theory” the way scientists use it. The overwhelming majority use “theory” to mean “wild guess”. I’ve often thought the scientific community should throw in the towel and stop using the word at all – replace it with “fact” or “verity” or “certitude”, whatever. Every time you say “theory of evolution” you know you are going to have to give the same “well, scientists uses that term to mean blah blah blah” speech. Major time waster.
Does this linguistic confusion exist in other languages?
I would like to thank James Krupa for his excellent article “Defending Darwin.” I especially appreciated his clarity in delineating definitions of science, fact and theory, as well as his integrity of keeping evolution in the center of his classes from the very beginning. To end the semester with a discussion about the relation of science and religion seems to me a brilliant notion.
My own sense is that there is currently a great deal of fluidity among religious people including myself regarding how we think about religious traditions, language and spirituality. I remain mystified and amazed by life itself, while relishing the many advances in understanding of the inner structures of human life and the cosmos which the scientific community has made.
The Rev. John Baumgartner
United Church of Christ
I’ve been lucky to know Jim for a long time. He is a real gem and UK is really, really lucky to have him.
An excellent article from what appears to be a gifted educator. As a Canadian I was absolutely shocked during my first stint as a university instructor in America; I had no idea that the belief in Creationism was so prevalent, nor so ardently held, until I was exposed to the backlash from some students and members of the community.
It sounds like the University of Kentucky community is very fortunate to have such dedicated instructor as Professor Krupa; one who seeks to inform and educate his charges, to leave them with an understanding of Evolutionary Theory. Hopefully instructors with more like Prof. Krupa the false conflict between ‘Religion’ and ‘Science’ can also be put to rest too.
Evolution is false!!!
Santa Clause told me so.
It’s scary to think that people like some of Professor Krups’s door-slammers not only get degrees but are allowed to vote for “the most powerful man in the world”, the president of the US
Whatever the objections, the Earth is over a billion years old. Much life, extinct today, existed B4 humans ever came around.
“I remind them that evolution is the foundation of our science, and we simply can’t shy away from explaining it.”, you say.
Your obviously are preaching to the choir on this site. Let’s be honest! The issue of our time is not “is it science”, but rather to what extent scientist now largely live in a surreal “metaphysical” world of their own making, far removed from reality. A surreal world founded on “philosophical” naturalism and SCIENTISM rather than verifiable empirical science : In the misguided and unproven “blind faith” assumption that naturalism is “true”, and the misguided delusion that all reality can, and will, be fully explained by natural causes and cause alone. When , in fact, the supposed evolutionary continuum has no present observational or experimental basis. No one in all of human history has ever seen any form of life change into a life form of a different kind. In fact the most repeated experiment and observation in the world is that the evolutionary continuum cannot happen. Because every breeder and horticulturist who has ever lived “knows” that there are reproductive and cross breeding limit, beyond which lifeforms cannot reproduce. This i8s true of hybrids and sub species. As Darwin and every pigeon breeder knows, if you attempt to breed pigeons beyond natural reproduction boundaries you get deformed or dead pigeons. .No surprise here, as there exists no verifiable empirical or experimental scientific answer for any of the essential stages of the evolutionary continuum. These is no “verifiable” scientific answer for the origin of life, the DNA double helix, consciousness, complementary sexual reproduction systems, biological symmetry, language, music, moral sense, religious instinct. Nor is there a “verifiable”scientific answer for the origin of the breathtaking complexity of genetic coding and systems. In short, bacteria in, bacteria out; dog in, dog out; finch in, finch out – e3nd of story. Meaning, the entire historical evolutionary hypothesis is founded on subjective assumptions, inferences, contrived “explanations” foundered on a stack of other contrived explanations, self fulfilling predictions, endless tautologies, godless presuppositions, and the blind faith belief that all these “vastly improbable” undirected cosmic and biological events hapened, even though there is no testable or empirically verifiable scientific answer. And no possible way to empirically verify that historical events in the distant past happened one way, and not another way, or even whether the evolutionary continuum happened at all. As the scientific method has no role in verifying unobserved historical events in the distant pasty. Natural selection has no overall “perspective” and no “predictive power”, and thus wouldn’t have the foggiest notion as to where anything, and everything, was evolving to, or even why. Making it impossible to integrate with all other biological lifeforms to provide a fully coordinated living environment. For example, how would natural selection “know” light waves existed in order to evolve eyes and a complex system to pick light up, or ever know that sound waves existed in order to evolve ears to pick sound up, or know that smell and taste existed to evolve complex biological systems to detect smell and taste, or that oxygen existed to evolve lungs to pick oxygen up. Shall I go on! Maybe, this is why the Nobel Committee does not regard evolutionary “historical theories” as Prize-worthy” science. So evolution can hardly be the “foundation of our science”. There is another reason why evolution is not real science. As it is the only theory where the “effect” is not only far greater than the cause, but actually “opposite” to the “cause”: life comes from non-life; consciousnesses from non-consciousness; intelligence from no intelligence; reason from non-reason; morality from amorality; and the evolution of an inherit religious instinct that has on relevance. And all these “vastly improbable” events for which there is no verifiable scientific answer supposedly happened happened without a “miracle worker, Which all theists would have to concede is “really miraculous”. Indeed, there are words to describe “vastly improbable” event for which these is no known empirical scientific answer. Ironically, all this also turns out to be a definition for “magic” and “miracles”. Namely “vastly improbable” events for which there exists no scientific answer. Thus everyone operates on unverifiable “metaphysical” beliefs, and the need for miracles. The only difference is that atheists and scientists into naturalism and scientism haven’t realized it yet. Cheers!
Perhaps the last lecture of your semester should be first.
Thank you so much Dr. Krupa. I was raised a Southern Baptist lucky enough to have a father who was a PhD. in Marine Biology. Someone who had already navigated the personal dichotomies discussed in the article. I know too well these door slammers, and am not surprised. The closing of minds happens early in our religious centers. Keep up the good work you are doing.
I attended Centre College in Danville, Kentucky (40 miles south of Lexington) nearly 60 years ago. It was a segregated, denominational school, and the survey course in Biology (for non science majors) was taught by Professor Letcher. The first day, he made a statement more or less like this: “This is a course in the science of Biology, and I will teach evolution as it is presently accepted. I know that some of you have been raised to accept a literal reading of the bible. That is fine, but it is outside the realm of science or the scope of the course.”
There were no comments, then or during the semester.
As a high school biology teacher I have the privilege of knowing Jim Krupa. We have shared many conversations about teaching evolution at both the high school and college level. During one of those conversations Jim shared the stories included in his article about aggressive, attacking responses from students. After that conversation, I always had conversations with my biology and AP biology students about the proper way to discuss opposing viewpoints And that criticizing evolution and/or sharing their beliefs on an APBiology FRQ about evolution was unacceptable. It’s very important to me that my students feel safe and accepted in my classroom. So I allow students to express their beliefs during class discussions about evolutionary examples, age of the Earth, The Big Bang Theory, etc. I never mentioned Jim’s name but I shared his stories. I truly hope that my students learned from my example – that my Christian beliefs do not conflict with evolution. There is undeniable evidence for both in my life. Jim Krupa is an incredible person and professor.
Great article and I admire Professor Krupa’s dedication. One minor quibble – Catholics are not the “oldest Christian denomination”. Catholics as we know them today are the result of the schism of 1054, when the Eastern and Western Roman churches went their separate ways, so Greek Orthodox have just as much of a claim to be “original” as Catholics, but arguably the Armenian Christian church is the oldest continuous demonination (at 301 AD). Although there were so many schisms and branches in early Christianity it is hard to point to identify an “oldest.” It is too bad American Evangelicals don’t study the early history of Christianity, it would be hard to remain a fundamentalist when you see how contingent on historical accident so many modern Christian doctrines actually are.
The world was created in 6 days – and it took God 13.5 billion years to do it. Anyone who doesn’t understand that religion tries to understand the why, and science tries to found out how – doesn’t understand religion or science. They are complementary. And anyone who understands the nature of words and how they are used by people and the Bible, knows that time and its expressions ( esp. the word “day”) is topic and subject dependent.
I think you should make this your first lecture, not your last;
“AFTER A SEMESTER filled with evidence of evolution, capped off with a dose of evolutionary medicine, one might expect that every last student would understand it and accept it as fact. Sadly, this is not the case. There are those who remain convinced that evolution is a threat to their religious beliefs. Knowing this, I feel an obligation to give my “social resistance to evolution” lecture as the final topic.”
From what is understood regarding how the human mind functions when confronted with an opposing opinion, that lecture might help make a few of your students more open-minded to your point of view.
Thanks to you for your clarity and your dedication!
Years ago while on a flight back from Europe and reading Maynard Smith’ Penguin book “Evolution” my seatmate, an American lady of a certain age, delivered what I’m sure she considered the perfect, fact-based refutation.
I had just told her I was convinced evolution had happened.
i have taught biology for 24 years. The real question that I have for the creationist is this. If we decide to teach students the creationist theory as how we came to be, then whose version of the creationist theory do we teach. There are thousands of different creationist theories on this planet. If we choose to teach one over another, isn’t that racism? Are we not saying that one culture’s beliefs is more valid than anothers?
Professor, I am so glad that you are there. It takes incredible patience to teach young people who have been sheltered and who are taught to not have open minds. Generation after generation, people have tried to teach their children what they should believe. That doesn’t work so well. Parents can demonstrate our values and answer questions as best we can. But if nobody ever questioned what we believed when evidence shows otherwise, then no discoveries would be made – we would still believe the earth was flat. Thinking scientifically can be applied to many areas of our lives. I believe that the student who stormed out of the classroom will never totally believe in evolution like she did before that day. You planted a seed of doubt. Thank you for your teaching efforts.
I thoroughly enjoyed Professor Krupa’s article. It is the testimony of a dedicated scholar who understands that we must insure that the realm of human knowledge, in all of its differences, majesty and wonder, must be made accessible to ordinary human beings. Through his references, Professor Krupa motivates me, a historian by training, to return to a close study of Evolution, an area of knowledge in which I need further refinement.
Thanks to Professor Krupa for this gem of exposition and to the magazine for publishing it and making it accessible online.
Thanks, Dr. Krupa- I enjoyed the article.
I think you’re spending too much effort presenting evidence and citing Christian sources (Jimmy Carter? Seriously? Most of the evolution-deniers think that guy’s a communist anyways…) to drive home the idea that evolution is a fact.
This is not necessary.
I think all that needs to be done is to convince students that evolution is a theory that attempts to explain far more than creationism ever will. If you want to know why a rhinoceros has a horn or why tuna migrate such long distances, the only explanation creationists can give you is speculation for whose scriptural support is tenuous at best. Evolution, on the other hand, is a self-consistent framework that has the potential to answer those questions as well as a wealth of other natural phenomena.
Even if you are of the caste that argues evolution is “just” a theory, it follows that creationism is actually a much worse theory- even before you start bringing up observational evidence.
Great article. Thank you.
One minor issue I would like to point out, “coughing, sneezing” might not have “evolved to expel”, but rather evolved as clever means for the pathogen to spread itself.
Keep up the good work!
Ask for a show of hands: who believes in Santa Claus; who used to believe in Santa Claus; and then how many were angry when they learned the truth. What were they angry about?
They are in your class to learn the truth about Santa Claus. Tell them to expect to be angry, and for exactly the same reasons.
An inspiring article. Much respect to you, sir, for doing what’s right not what’s easy.
Thank you for your passion and dedication sir. On the bright side- Your job could be so much easier but the Republican Presidential Primaries wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining…
If evolution were indeed true, I think by now you would have learned that you should remove the auditorium door.
Not a single word in there about Lamarck. Or have you never heard of such modern theories of adaptive mutation that stemmed from those like Lamarck and even Samuel Butler before that. And as of today, James A Shapiro, at Univ. of Chicago, etc., etc.
Good on you James. Fight the good fight against ignorance. It is unfortunate that such a fight needs to be fought in the first place, but dedicated educators like yourself will change things.
We can’t go back, of course, but I think a response to the “Baptists were first” turn-and-stump-out student would have been something like, “Okay, then. Why are there still Baptists?”
I am so inspired by what you do! Please keep doing it. In my mind, you and your peers are doing your part to save the next generation: introducing them to scientific truths and enabling them to understand the basics of ourselves and the world. I wish I lived nearby so I could attend your classes (maybe I could be by the auditorium door to open and close it gently for those who wish to stomp out.)
Having lived a number of advanced Western countries, including the coasts of the United States, I read this article carefully all the way. Only to try to and understand this group of anti-evolutionists. In Germany one would be regarded as beyond stupid to hold this position. In effect here it is unimaginable.
I have deep admiration for this author, having taught evolution in the context of a history course.
and yet, I find elements of his approach problematic. in particular, he structures his course on the assumption that a semester should be enough to change people’s world view. I think that is likely to be counter-productive.
For many born-again people, fervent belief provides answers to problems they confront daily. it’s an approach to the world that they have relied on with success. Therefore, their attachment to the totality of their beliefs is reinforced quite often. In comparison, an instructor only has bits and pieces of s semester. No one is likely to change many fundamental beliefs in that period.
Do I think he should change his content? Not fundamentally. In a biology course “teaching the problem” of the dispute over evolution does not work because, from the scientific perspective, there is no problem to teach.
But I do think he should consider changing his stated goal. Instead of demanding acceptance of the truth of the scientific approach, try for something smaller, which is to ask students to understand how others have reached different conclusions. Keep the content the same but leave their beliefs to themselves.
I think this would be better for three reasons.
1. It provides a fundamental respect to the students, that their beliefs are their own. I think that approach would not lessen their openness. If anything if might increase it.
2. It does not ask them to change; it asks them to understand others. I have known fundamentalists who are quite interested in how others think, if only to better convert them. It’s not the front door to the mind, but sometimes an open window will work better.
3. Don’t assume that your course is the end of their education. The ideas they reject today, may come back to enlighten them tomorrow.
” During one lecture, a student asked a question I’ve heard many times: “If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” My response was and is always the same: we didn’t evolve from monkeys. Humans and monkeys evolved from a common ancestor. One ancestral population evolved in one direction toward modern-day monkeys, while another evolved toward humans.”
I truly don’t see how this answer, if it is the sum total of your answer, actually clarifies to the students. If anything, it seems almost obfuscatory and evasive. I hope you tell them that whatever the common ancestor was, it would have looked quite similar to at least one of the modern species of monkeys. So the question will still leaving them unconvinced, I think. A better way, to me, would simply be to turn the question around and ask them why there are so many birds, lizards, etc.? In other words, ‘if crows evolved from birds, why are there still OTHER birds?” Wouldn’t that be a better way to get them to stop and consider rather than go back to their pastors who will inform them that their professor’s answer was merely a dodge?
Thanks for your great article, Dr. Krupa! I was lucky enough to take your class during my tenure at UK, and I’m so much the better for it. Your lessons stuck with me, especially someone raised Roman Catholic who went to a small parochial school in KY. I was taught evolution then, and your lessons and attitude shaped my view of biology. My career in biology started with the seeds that you planted, and I may not have ended up as a natural resource biologist without your hard work. It is appreciated more than you know!
I’ve always felt that the significant thing missing from the fossil record was modern species. How do creationists explain that?
It has been an open secret since the 1960s that Darwin’s theory of Evolution is in need of serious revision. Even Darwin recognized ‘pangenesis’ in his writings and never distanced himself from the idea that genes don’t act, they are activated (Evelyn Fox Keller, 2000, 2002, 2010). How are they activated — through epigenesis. No, the epigenetics developed by C.H. Waddington. Genes are the keys but the program, the music is developed along necessary pathways. Genotypes interact with Phenotypes — it is the phenotypes that develop into adults.
The environment plays a principle but not a solitary role in helping to shape the destiny of the phenotype — growing up to be an adult. Further, Lamarck — how developed the first theory of evolution (1806) noted that phenotypes acquire characteristics that inform and condition genotypes in the future. Today, these ‘acquired characteristics’ are known as ‘genetic assimilation’ a term coined by Waddington.
Your article says nothing about the rise of evolutionary developmental biology. Scott Gibson (2009) has advanced developmental physiology through experiments that show that instead of 19th century political, economic and social thinkers — evolution is not a form of ‘capitalism’ writ small. It is not a ‘war of all-against all’, in fact the opposite is the norm. Symbiogenesis — organisms voluntarily cooperate with one another. Donna Haraway calls it “reciprocal induction.”
The question is why this version of evolution been ignored, vilified, and dismissed? It is not based on scientific evidence but on human metaphors.
Nature has been and will continue to be a teacher, and a willing partner if we get off our work benches and meet nature face to face. But the individualistic, obsessive reductionism of molecular scientists won’t allow it.
Evolution really occurs at 4 levels — genetic, epigenetic, behavioral and symbolic. We refuse to embrace our destiny — we are not just products of evolution but agents as well. And our goal is not to ‘sustain’ a relationship with nature but to see nature flourish. Stuart Kauffman says — “what must human nature become?” Aldo Leopold — “Man’s responsibility is to rebuild nature, without plan or patents.
I need to understand how the numbers add up. Dr. Krupa asserts that about half of Americans reject some aspect of evolution but 77% of American Christians belong to denominations which support teaching evolution. 3/4 of the 4/5 of Americans who are Christians comes out to about 60% of Americans, meaning that 50 % of nonChristians (half of the 20 % of nonChristian Americans) would have to similarly reject evolution. This would imply that it is not a Chistian thing….. a greater percentage of nonChristians (50%) than of Christians (23%) rejects evolution?
Dr. Krupa states the facts that every human being should know. Do you not wonder where you came from? I mean really, where you CAME from. Not who “created” you. DNA doesn’t lie. The problem is that people aren’t educated. One would rather believe that we were created from dirt and are incest rather than that we evolved. That’s a bit ridiculous if you ask me. Evolution explains and gives evidence to backup its claims, religion gives nothing except “god said so”. When we separate state from church, and focus on bettering the world, then maybe we can progress forward. Until then, we will be stuck in the past, basing all of our laws and opinions on a book. Does one not wonder why whales have hip bones which serve no purpose, or why we have goosebumps just like our ancestors, blind cave fish, flightless birds, wisdom teeth, ear muscles, a TAIL. Take a minute to look at the embryos of humans and animals, circle the differences you see. And yet, one can hold the skulls of the humans before us, of our ancestors and say that we didn’t evolve, we were created from Adam and Eve, with no evidence whatsoever. If one would take the time and be open-minded for a change, they would see that evolution is real, it has happened and is happening as we speak. Then again, if you could reason with religious people there would be no religious people. Instead, our minds are already closed, our lives already planned out as well as the afterlife. I think evolution is rejected because if one were to actually believe in evolution, it would contradict everything that the bible says we are, then you’re left with nothing in the afterlife. I think thats where the fear is. You know, if you think about it, every once in a while even God has to wonder where HE came from.
“I would rather have questions that can’t be answered then answers that can’t be questioned.” Richard Feynman
I feel compelled to extend very personal thanks to you. I am one of those detestable creatures that many of your anit-evolution students often decry (that is, an agnostic Yankee female), and my acceptance of science — facts, their theoretical components, and the prerogative to change following the discovery of new data — is unwavering. I appreciate the work you do in the fields of both evolution and education, and hope you will continue on your path.
It is important to me that you are shown gratitude for your earnest efforts, and if some of your own students choose not to thank you, then let me stand for them. Fighting for balance in this complicated world is a difficult task, and following in the footsteps of many great thinkers, educators, scientists, activists, and inventors is even more so.
You certainly don’t need to hear any of this, because you wouldn’t have written this piece if you did. But perhaps it will have been good to feel bolstered by support, even the anonymous internet kind.
@Deanna Chung – the numbers don’t add up because so many American Christians are completely unaware (or intentionally dismissive) of their denomination’s teaching on creation. The Roman Catholic student exemplified in the post is a very common example (across all the denominations listed). Many embrace a literal reading of Genesis on the local level, regardless of their church’s teaching that it is allegorical.
As a Kentuckian who long ago received his Undergraduate and Master’s degrees in Microbiology at UK, spending many arduous days (and nights) in book and lab work at the Funkhouser Building, I only wish that I had had a teacher as open-minded and articulate as Dr. Krupa. I had to learn evolution by directly reading Darwin, augmented by formal fruit fly and microbial genetics courses. It was only later that, as a Medical School Professor, I realized diseases do evolve as a result of outside environmental pressures (antibiotics, treatments, chemicals, nutrition etc.) embedded in the biological matrix we call the human being. This concept is elucidated by Dr. Krupa in his discussion on evolutionary medicine. It is a concept that many physicians do not understand and certainly do not use in daily practice. But, the world is changing and, hopefully, outdated attitudes and prejudices will evolve into a true understanding of the importance of evolution in our prosperity and survival.
Of course biology evolves. Evidence of it is all around us. And it can be directly demonstrated in the laboratory.
Fact is Fact and Truth is Truth…Evolution is both.
I took 2 classes taught by Dr. Krupa while at UK and one of them happened to be this introduction to biology class. While I don’t recall any overtly dramatic confrontations, I do remember his human evolution lectures and the buzz they created. He’s a fantastic teacher and he really impacted the way I look at the world around me. It’s been well over a decade since I took any of his classes, but they’ve stuck with me and I can still remember many of his lectures. I hope he continues to educate, inspire and challenge young minds for many years to come.
As a believer in evolution, I still have to point out that you can’t really discuss the large numbers of people who reject it without talking about the larger cultural context, in which a civilization that seems in many ways to be morally unraveling pushes otherwise reasonable people to unreasonable points of view out of sheer desperation and confusion over what could possibly have gone wrong. In a country founded in part on religious rhetoric if not always sincere belief, it’s unsurprising that people would default to religious fundamentals to fix the problem, especially when they see that much of our decline has paralleled a hollowing out of religious belief AND ethics driven in part by glib but intellectually and often morally empty relativism. In this context rejection of evolution is really just part of a bigger picture, people searching for some kind of certainty in the face of an amoral relativistic nihilism they don’t understand and don’t see any other way to fight than to revert to religious truths they can’t prove but which at least don’t shift and mold themselves to each day’s politically correct point of view. Beyond that, this article suffers from a terribly self-satisfied and self-congratulatory air, and is at least a great example of preaching to the choir. Pretty much everybody here already believes that politically and religiously conservative people are stupid (except me); so why the long exposition of a case you’re all completely on board with already? Just sheer smug enjoyment? Hope it was satisfactory.
The concept of students that evolution is a progressive hierarchical process wherein humanity is the top of the pyramid should be negated since the development of various form of life depends upon the various energy sources available and not on any particular life form. Life evolves to utilize these energy sources and when these sources disappear that life form subsequently also vanishes. As unique as humanity may currently be, their lack of comprehension as a species as to the current vulnerability of the planet to the abuse of the basic necessities for life seems to be progressing towards mass extinction of most species including the human. This is a prime example of evolution and it is not a happy one.
As a professional, I think your lack of terminological precision is inexcusable. You cannot conflate “evolution” with Darwinian notions of speciation through the mechanism of natural selection. Self evidently, forms change over time, and the fossil record as a whole becomes steadily more complex. But nowhere do the countless gradualistic steps which Darwin posits as essential, and which he well knew were missing in his own time, appear. What we see are fully born species, which vary within their kind, but nowhere do we see a preponderance of experiments, leading slowly to a new species. We are missing ALL the missing links, and honest evolutionists admit it.
Although I otherwise have no common cause with the Creationists, I think there is enormous value in retaining naive and out-of-step views. Quite often, they contain important germs of truth.
At some point, if biology is going to continue to do anything interesting, it will need to reintegrate biological field theories. The exhaustively, meticulously researched and documented work of Robert Becker has been nearly completely ignored by mainstream “science”, people like you, DESPITE him doing all the things scientists do.
And yet, practical products have appeared on the shelves based on his ideas, products which work, like Electrocranial Stimulation devices, and the Marc Pro.
You cannot credibly claim to value truth and science and ignore paradigmatic work like this which calls into question entirely the exclusively biomolecular bases of your assumed mechanisms of action.
“Evolutionists” are not scientists. They are record keepers. They document what happened, but they are not able to shed much light on how. A new science awaits those with the courage to pursue it.
Hey, Doc Krupa
You shouldn’t be missing the TH Morgan connection to UKY. It would make a great teaching moment.
We, of course, owe much to Darwin but we should not forget that there were evolutionists going back well beyond Darwin, to the ancient Greeks. The philosophy of Epicurus (341-270 BCE) is based on evolutionary theory. This was expounded in vivid detail by Lucretius, the Roman poet and philosopher of the first century, in his epic poem de Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things).
Perhaps the following book might provide further information for outlining points that reinforce there is no conflict between evolution and Christianity.
“Thank God For Evolution”
By Michael Dowd ©2007
Penguin Publishing Group, 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
ISBN – 10: 0452295343
ISBN – 13: 9780452295346
Few issues have revealed deeper divisions in our society than the debate between creationism and evolution, between religion and science. Yet from the fray, Reverend Michael Dowd has emerged as a reconciler, finding faith strengthened by the power of reason.
With evidence from contemporary astrophysics, geology, biology, anthropology, and evolutionary psychology, Thank God for Evolution lays out a compelling argument for how religion and science can be mutually enriching forces in our lives.
Praised by Nobel laureates in the scientific community and religious leaders alike, Thank God for Evolution will expand the horizon of what is possible for self, for relationships, and for our world.
Thank you for this informative article. I would be greatly interested to hear what you think of Dr. Hugh Ross, a Christian astrophysicist. You can see his website at http://www.rtb.org. (Reasons to Believe)
If evolution is the “foundation of biology”, am I to understand there was no meaningful study of biology before the theory of evolution was developed and advanced?
I teach Communication Studies at Chapman University in Orange, CA., and your discussion of what it means to be a teacher, successes and failures, is so true, so human, so generous. There are some students who “open their eyes.” There are some who keep them closed because what you want them to see is disturbing. You essay was inspiring, to say the least.
First, congratulations on an excellent article, and on being clearly an excellent teacher.
I was very happy to see you raise the issue of theory, as the term is used in science. I have found that the role of theory in science is misunderstood not just by those not educated in science but also by those with a background in the sciences, and even some bona fide scientists. I was educated as an engineer, not a scientist, but I was fortunate enough to learn about the ideas of rationalism, empiricism, and skepticism as a student, and have remained mindful of the value of each in understanding the nature of science. We hypothesize and theorize about everything, so it is the empirical dimension of science that most distinguishes it from other fields. But the need to differentiate science from religion seems to have resulted in many people, including many scientists, not appreciating that the theories of science are every bit as much science as the experiments and data. I would argue that, in a sense, theory is more important because science is about understanding, and theories are how we understand (or, perhaps, how we codify and communicate our understanding). Experimental data merely serves the (albeit critical) function of rejecting or supporting theories, but it is the theories themselves that constitute science.
As an English Professor and Instructor, I have often encountered strange behavior coming from religious conservative students. I feel that I was harassed out of my tenured position and eventually out of the teaching profession by these conservative groups. In my last teaching position as a part time Instructor, I noticed that many conservative religious students had a habit of sneezing in my class when I said something they did not like. I was raised as a Presbyterian and I naturally say “Bless You” to someone who sneezes. However, I soon realized that if I did not say “Bless you” these perhaps Baptist students took offense and I began to get poor scores on my teaching evaluations. I stopped saying “Bless You” deliberately because I don’t think this sort of religious game test should exist on a university campus. I also realized that my private phone calls were being monitored and my bedroom and bathroom in my home, despite the Universities non discrimination policy. Several students made a point of repeating information from my private phone calls and home to show me they were in charge of my surveillance. Of course these actions are illegal, but they seemed to be accepted as routine by the faculty and staff at this conservative Texas university. I also noticed that many conservative students would walk out of my classes when we were studying something they disliked, such as William Blake’s Poetry questioning conservative religion. In one class period, seven student left for bathroom breaks in one class period. As best I can tell, this army of religious students represent the Baptist Church primarily though many other conservative groups may be involved as well. If this behavior is widespread, I hope that more college teachers will speak out. However due to the adjunct teaching practice in most American colleges, I fear that many abused Instructors will keep silent for fear of their jobs. Such surveillance teaches religious students contempt for their professors and contempt for Democracy. Using students as an army to spy on and threaten their professors, destroys Democracy as it did in Nazi Germany. I fear for this country and its constitutions when higher education is poisoned by religious armies.
“At least half the time the person flinches with disapproval when I answer “evolution,” and often the conversation simply terminates once the “e-word” has been spoken. “
I wonder if it would be wise to point out that antibiotic resistant bacteria have evolved within living memory.
Evolution has never explained DNA.
Incredible story. Stunning that this level of resistance exists.I trained as a zoologist in Sydney, Australia. We never had ANY evolutionary dissent, although it was a major.
I’m sure there are incorrigibly dogmatic creationists. But my experience has been that most people who claim to reject evolution really only reject it as an explanation for mankind and, in particular, the self-awareness and consciousness of mankind that seems to distinguish us from other animals. I have found that if I make a clear distinction between evolution as adaptation that can be demonstrated in your own garden and evolution as a metaphysical explanation for consciousness (or soul, as some prefer), virtually every creationist I’ve ever met is fine with accepting the former. (Unless they’re merely humouring me, which is possible.)
I realize this only solves part of the problem, but I do think it’s an important distinction. To deny evolution in the first sense is to deny something that is easily demonstrated and relatively uncontroversial. At the very least you know you’re facing a person with whom further conversation on the subject is pointless. To deny the second is to deny something that, while supported by an impressive body of evidence, is nevertheless a proposition that can’t really be falsified, leaving at least some philosophical wiggle room. Being willing to concede that in exchange for concession on the first, narrower meaning of evolution is an olive branch that, for me, has often helped reduce tension around the subject. (Apologies for the biblical reference.)
By now, evolutionary theories have far outstripped Darwin. We have a pretty good description of the mechanism (DNA) that drives evolution and now employ reliable probabilistic techniques to infer information on its flow from what we can see. Never have I heard of anyone objecting to the fact that this information is considered so reliable that it is much used in our legal system. I’ve heard no one try to discredit the genetics or the mathematics that easily underpin the theory of evolution. Just add water and these things alone pretty much settle the question, don’t they?
It seems that almost everyone believes, with a wink, in evolution. Another of your readers pointed this out in connection with dog breeding and the like. This is not the problem, is it? It is possible also that the fact of evolution does not even challenge even the most fundamentalist of religions. The problem is not that of evolution, but of *origins*. How did this all start and where did we come from? Who knows? Who knows? Who knows?
When I was young, it was popular to talk of a primordial soup and electrical storms on Earth and the like as the starting point. Now since Hubble, we have determined that the scope of the Universe provides for much more exotic possibilites and cosmic imagination, it has become popular to speculate that we arrived here as microbes from a distant galaxy. Who knows? Who will ever know? Because of the ever present Second Law of Thermodynamics, the conclusions we draw are fatally obscured by the ill posedness of the problem of looking in to the past. Entropy wins, we loose as that information is forever lost.
On that score the scientists have not been much more honest than the fundamentalists. Isn’t the real answer about origins, “We can only speculate, and then on the basis of scant information.”? In an interview a journalist who was more sophisticated than most asked the rabid anti-creative design theorist, Richard Dawkins, to explain the apparent manifest violation of the Second Law indicated by the exquisite organization of the human body and its processes. “Self organization.” was Dawkin’s glib answer. The journalist failed to follow up with a request for explanation of how something that is not intelligent can self-organize. There again is a hitch, we are not careful to say what we might mean by intelligence, design, or creativity. We are not careful to say what we might mean by creative design. The fundamendalist believers might not withstand any careful examination of the specifics of their belief. On honest examination, fundamentalists might actually agree with the honest evolutionists. Who knows?
Surely the view that some old, white-bearded fellow sat, five thousand years ago, in his solitary hut manufacturing men and women in his spare time is just plain silly; but to promulgate the appealing idea that we can recover enough of the lost information about the evolution of the organization of ourselves is just plain dishonest. This problem is mucho ill posed. The speculation is interesting and appealing, but will never be the last word. Scientist’s evangelize their own religions, for their own reasons, the same as the fundamentalists. The fundamentalists don’t know. The scientists don’t know. Neither side is honest to separate speculation from fact. Goodness, neither side is careful even to say really what they mean. Good scientists know that some questions are just bad questions. Is this one of those? Who knows?.
Brilliant article. One request. Please can you change the word ‘acute’ to ‘severe’ (context below) – acute means sudden onset, not severe. Thanks. pAUL
treating conditions (fever, coughing, sneezing, diarrhea, vomiting) as symptoms of an illness can harm our health, while treating these conditions as adaptations and leaving them to run their course (unless they’re acute) can benefit our health;
A wonderful and inspiring essay. Thanks!