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Topic: GSA Evolution and Creationism Position Statement

GSA is scientific, not political or religious

From Letters, GSA Today, February 2002

As a paleontologist, I particularly appreciate the importance of evolution in our understanding of geology and biology and applaud the efforts of GSA to develop a statement on evolution ("Council Approves Two Position Statements," GSA Today, October 2001, p. 32). The statement covers several aspects well. The history of views on both the age of the earth and on evolution is an important but often overlooked aspect of understanding current views.

However, I believe that parts of the statement regarding religious aspects may be counterproductive. The purpose of GSA is scientific, not political or religious. As scientists, we object to the popular young-earth or antievolutionary scientific claims not because they are religious but because they are false. Most of us probably have opinions about the proper role of religious teaching in public schools, but geological research provides no insight into the question. Furthermore, antievolutionary views appeal primarily to those who would like to see a greater role for religious teaching in the schools. Saying "Creationist ideas have no place in these courses because they are based on religion rather than science" will not persuade them. Instead, they might quote that sentence as evidence that evolution is merely an atheistic plot.

Some wording in the GSA statement accepts a particular philosophical view on the relationship between science and religion, namely that they are separate "domains." In contrast, the traditional Christian view is that every aspect of life is sacred. In this view, science is not a separate domain but rather integrated with religion. This does not mean that a Christian geologist should suppress geological evidence that troubles his religious views. Rather, his task is to be a good geologist, working carefully, diligently, and honestly. Of course, any good geologist of other theological views will also work carefully, diligently, and honestly.

Whether science is seen as integrated with religion or as a separate domain, it is confined to dealing with physically testable propositions. Thus, some claims of "intelligent design" or "creation science" can, at least in theory, be examined scientifically. Claims that have been scientifically disproven do not belong in science classes. Other claims are not scientifically testable, but it should be emphasized that this makes them scientifically inaccessible rather than inherently invalid. It is also important to recognize similar errors on the part of those who accept evolution. The claims of Richard Dawkins in support of philosophical materialism are metaphysical, not scientific, just like the religious claims of young-earthers.

A few adjustments to terminology may help the GSA statement counter some popular young-earth claims. Using the term creationist to refer to all who believe in a creation event, especially those who accept an old earth, may help counter the popular claim that one must either be a young-earther or an atheist. Similarly, emphasizing the fact that young-earthers and antievolutionists come from a wide range of religious backgrounds will counter young-earthers' claims to be defending the Bible.

I hope that these comments can help build on the good start of the existing GSA statement.

— David Campbell
Lexington Park, Maryland


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