The Creation-Evolution Controversy: A Guide for Teachers
by Stewart E Brekke, MS in Ed, MA
Physics teacher (retired)
Chicago Public Schools
Because of the controversy over the teaching of evolution/intentional design, many science teachers should know where we stand on the subject. One state, Ohio, is now creating teaching guidelines for biology mandating that the "intentional design" be taught in the biology and science curricula. This short article explains exactly what we know and do not know about the origin of life on Earth.
Although evidence for evolution of life forms is strong, the origin of life by random chemical means is at most an hypothesis. Because of the uncertainty of both the evolutionary chemical view and the religious creation view there is only one other possibility. This possibility is the extra-terrestrial intentional design hypothesis (a reluctant choice at best) probably from some planet relatively close by the Earth in our Milky Way galaxy. Life forms from a planet in another galaxy coming to Earth are not probable because of the great distances the life forms must travel.
Because of the great complexity of even the smallest and simplest life form, only the hypothesis of the extraterrestrial origin of life on earth may account for the first living cell, the first horse, or the first humanoid. There is no question that a random mix of chemicals is impossible to engender the organelles, metabolic pathways, and the spark of life itself to create even the simplest cell, the foundation of all living things. Even the most competent and sophisticated biochemical research has not come anywhere near creating a true living thing at this time. Further, for a cell to live, all elements of the cell must be in place virtually at the same time and the random primordial soup theory of the origin of life simply will not suffice.
Certainly, religious creationism cannot account for the origin of life since religious creationism, as with all religious concepts, are based on faith, not certainty. While there is strong evidence for evolution in the majority of living things now in existence, a small percentage of plants and animals have not evolved very much such as the ginkgo tree and the armadillo and crocodile. The Oparin primordial soup theory of the origin of life on earth is still a theory and almost pure speculation often taken on faith by scientists as true, which it is not, actually falling into the "spontaneous generation" class of thought. As all high school biology students know, "Life must beget life." Neither a random mix of non-living chemicals, nor a jar of decaying meat will produce a living thing. Some kind of design must be in the mix of the origin of living things at least on Earth. What the nature of that design is, is not known and may never be known by humans at all.
However, even the theory of the extra terrestrial origin of life, by intelligent design or whatever, appears to have serious defects. Not one advanced civilization, or any civilization at all, has been detected in any other part of the universe. If life in fact was created on another planet in the galaxy or even in another part of space such as another galaxy, to get to earth or even to Mars eons ago, the civilization that created it must have been or still is very advanced. It is assumed that these advanced or even similar civilizations to our own, can be detected through their use of radio waves. Through the use of SETI the existence of these radio waves has been sought. Other forms of communication not presently known to us, or detectable to us at present, such as forms of laser communication, may be the civilization's means of communicating. Unfortunately, in spite of an extensive effort, no positive detection of extraterrestrial radio signals has been found.
Our galaxy, the Milky Way, appears to lack any supercivilizations which would be capable of creating and sending life to earth or anywhere else in the galaxy, despite the many searches of various sophistications out to as far as 40,000 light years. The failure of this endeavor to detect any extraterrestrial radio signals over many years of investigation has begun to worry many scientists. The lack of evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence makes any attempt to ascribe the origin of life on earth especially difficult to support. It may be that life on earth may be the only place life exists in the entire universe.
In view of this sobering situation that we may indeed be the only planet in the entire universe with advanced civilizations and/or life forms, we should take stock of our unique situation. We must make an extensive and determined effort to save from extinction all species of life now on the planet. We must start to deal with each other more respectfully and humanely making certain that all creatures great and small can live and reproduce. They must continue to exist and flourish, for all of us - from human to the smallest bacteria - may be the seed that may populate the rest of the habitable universe.
Related Books and Article:
Ian Crawford, "Where Are They?", The Scientific American, v.283 no.1 (July, 2000), p.38-40.
James Otto and Albert Towle, Modern Biology: Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, New York (1985).
Michael Strickberger, Evolution (2nd ed), Jones and Bartlett, Boston (1990).