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In Mint: The Fight over Darwin - varnamvarnam
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In Mint: The Fight over Darwin

(This piece was published in the Sept 15th issue of Mint)

In 2009, while the world is celebrating Charles Darwin’s 200th birth anniversary, American scientists have a unique challenge: convince 60% of their fellow countrymen that God did not create man. It might seem odd that a country which has won the maximum number of Nobel prizes, sent man to the moon, and has the best universities in the world, takes the antediluvian creation myth in the book of Genesis literally.

A 2009 Gallup poll revealed that only 39% of Americans believed in evolution.  There were two reasons for this: education and religion. Among the high school educated, only 21% believed in evolution and 52% had no opinion; among those with a college degree, 29% did not believe and 30% had no opinion. For the religious, Darwin contradicts the word of God and those who attended church regularly were found to not believe in evolution.

To analyze the role of religion in this debate, Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life asked major religious groups in United States on what they thought about evolution. The study found that at the bottom of the chart were Jehovah’s Witnesses: only 8% of their members believed in evolution. Slightly better were Mormons (22%), Evangelical Protestants (24%), Historically Black Protestants (38%) and Muslims (45%). Among the Catholics and Protestants, more than 50% believed in evolution.

A major problem facing America is that religious groups which deny evolution are out to impose their views as science on everyone by modifying science text books. In 2004, 150 years after Darwin published his seminal work, the Cobb County Board of Education in Atlanta affixed a sticker on thousands of public school textbooks which stated that evolution is a theory, not a fact. In Dover, Pennysylvania, the school board decided to teach that an “intelligent agent” created various species.

The same Pew Research poll which found that only 8% of Jehovah’s Witnesses believed in evolution also found that 81% of Buddhists believed in evolution along with 80% of Hindus. Like the story of creation in the book of Genesis, Hindus too have creation myths, but in India,  where the most American-Hindus are from, these creation myths stay in religious books, not in school text books. Also there are no Hindu or Buddhist groups questioning a fact which has been debated, analysed and tested for 150 years.

While various American Christian groups are vehemently anti-evolution, it cannot be generalized that it is a common behavior of all Abrahamic religions, since the group which stands third in ranking, after Hindus and Buddhists, are Jews with 77% believing in evolution.

The Pew religious survey found  one thing in common between American Hindus, Buddhists and Jews: members of these religions lead the religious groups in terms of education and were most likely to have a post-graduate degree. This ties with the Gallup poll which found that 74% of Americans who had a post-graduate degree believed in evolution. This also explains the frenetic effort among religious groups to subvert the education system

There is one more difference. In India, the syllabus is decided by the government — both state and central — whereas in United States, local school boards have the authority to decide tests, texts and teaching materials. Thus depending on the religious beliefs of the school board members, insane ideas can be taught and science can be redefined.  To prevent this, parents have to file law suits or vote the school board out – both disruptive activities.

Courts in United States have found that teaching “intelligent design”, a euphemism for creationism, violates the constitution. The creationists now are fighting for academic rights, so that educators can teach “a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”Fortunately, this is a fight we don’t have in India.

Postscript
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  1. A British film about Charles Darwin cannot find a US distributor.
  2. Texas public schools are required to teach Bible this year. According to second most powerful member of the Texas House, evolution is an anti-religious Jewish plot.

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