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University of California Press
From Genesis to Genetics: The Case of Evolution and Creationism / Edition 1

From Genesis to Genetics: The Case of Evolution and Creationism / Edition 1

by John A. Moore
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The clash between evolution and creationism is one of the most hotly contested topics in education today. This book, written by one of America's most distinguished science educators, provides essential background information on this difficult and important controversy. Giving a sweeping and balanced historical look at both schools of thought, John A. Moore shows that faith can exist alongside science, that both are essential to human happiness and fulfillment, but that we must support the teaching of science and the scientific method in our nation's schools. This highly informative book will be an invaluable aid for parents, teachers, and lawmakers, as well as for anyone who wants a better understanding of this debate. From Genesis to Genetics shows us why we must free both science and religion to do the good work for which each is uniquely qualified.

Using accessible language, Moore describes in depth these two schools of thought. He begins with an analysis of the Genesis story, examines other ancient creation myths, and provides a nuanced discussion of the history of biblical interpretation. After looking at the tenets and historical context of creationism, he presents the history of evolutionary thought, explaining how it was developed, what it means, and why it is such a powerful theory. Moore goes on to discuss the relationship of nineteenth-century religion to Darwinism, examine the historic Scopes trial, and take us up to the current controversy over what to teach in schools. Most important, this book also explores options for avoiding confrontations over this issue in the future.

Thoughtfully and powerfully advocating that the teaching of science be kept separate from the teaching of religion, Moore asks us to recognize that a vigorous and effective scientific community is essential to our nation's health, to our leadership role in the world, and to the preservation of a healthy environment.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520240667
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 09/15/2003
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 239
Sales rank: 381,130
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

John A. Moore (1916-1992) was Professor of Biology at the University of California, Riverside. He is author of Science as a Way of Knowing: The Foundations of Modern Biology (1993), Biological Science: An Inquiry into Life (third edition, 1973), and Heredity and Development (second edition, 1972).

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University of California

Copyright © 2002 Regents of the University of California
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-520-24066-9

Chapter One

When Worlds Collide

In July 1996 a nearly complete human skeleton was found by two college students on the bank of the Columbia River near the town of Kennewick, Washington. Human remains so encountered are always of concern-"Who was it?" and "Who did it?"-so the students called the police. In an effort to answer those two questions the police turned the bones over to the local coroner. Burial grounds of Native Americans are sometimes encountered in that part of the Northwest, and the Native American Graves Protection and Reparation Act, passed in 1990, required that any such remains be returned for burial to the tribe to which they belonged. The bones appeared to be of great age, and so it was assumed that the skeleton must be one of a Native American, since settlers of European origin reached the West Coast only a few centuries ago. But closer study suggested otherwise.

To solve the puzzle, the bones were examined by an anthropologist, James Chatters, a specialist in skeletal remains of human beings. Such professionals can determine sex, size, age, cause of death, and racial type with considerable accuracy. Examination showed the skeleton to be that of a 50-year-old male of medium build, his teeth well worn and a stone arrowhead imbedded in his hip bone. Radiometric methods determined that the man died about nine thousand years ago-long before human beings of European origin first arrived in the New World, according to conventional historical accounts. Yet the skeleton had Caucasoid features. Chatters took the bones to another anthropologist for an opinion, without giving a hint of his analysis, and was told that the skeleton was of a Caucasian male. Even when Chatters revealed the age of the bones, the second anthropologist stuck to her original identification. A third anthropologist familiar with the skeletal features of modern tribes of Native Americans concluded that the skeleton could not be assigned to any one of them.

Finding the nearly nine-thousand-year-old skeleton of a Caucasoid male in any part of the New World is puzzling in the extreme. Traditionally, anthropologists have thought that the first human beings to inhabit the Western Hemisphere crossed from Siberia to Alaska about 15,000 years ago. Some now believe that the event occurred much earlier, but in any case these immigrants from Siberia were of the Mongolian racial type, as are Native Americans-not Caucasoids. Anthropologists know that a few nameless fishermen from Western Europe came to the eastern shores of the New World before Columbus's arrival in 1492, as did the Vikings, but Caucasians did not come in large numbers until early in the sixteenth century.

So who was the Caucasoid Kennewick Man who arrived thousands of years before the Vikings, Columbus, Cortez, and Pizarro? Needless to say, this is a most exciting and important question, not only for anthropologists and historians but for many nonprofessionals as well. There have even been some speculations that Caucasoid people may have been the original inhabitants of the New World. Thus, for scientists and others interested in such historical questions, further studies on Kennewick Man are overwhelmingly important.

For a while it looked as though these investigations would never take place. In an effort to comply with the federal Native American Graves Protection and Reparation Act, the Army Corps of Engineers assumed control of the bones, placed them in a vault, and refused to allow any further examination of them by scientists. The Umatilla tribe, who live near the site of discovery, asked to have the bones returned to them, in which case the skeleton would be secretly buried and never be available for study. A group of anthropologists went to court to stop the Corps from complying with the tribe's request. The anthropologists claimed that the Umatillas were not in that part of the Northwest when Kennewick Man lived; hence, he could not be one of their ancestors. And of course his Caucasoid skeletal features led to the same conclusion. Thus, the available scientific evidence is that Kennewick Man was not a Umatillan or any other Native American.

In response to that hypothesis, a leader of the tribe, Armand Minthorn, stated this position:

Our elders have taught us that once a body goes into the ground, it is meant to stay there until the end of time.... If this individual is truly over 9, 000 years old, that only substantiates our belief that he is Native American. From our oral histories, we know that our people have been part of this land since the beginning of time. We do not believe that our people migrated here from another continent, as the scientists do.... Scientists believe that because the individual's head measurements do not match ours, he is not Native American. Our elders have told us that Indian people did not always look the way we look today. Some scientists say that if this individual is not studied further, we, as Indians, will be destroying evidence of our history. We already know our history. It is passed on to us through our elders and through our religious practices. (Preston 1997, 74)

As of early 2001, the matter remains unsettled. Nevertheless the two perspectives-the anthropologists' and the Native Americans'-provide a classic example of two polar points of view that I will analyze throughout this book. One point of view rests on the questions and methods of science. The other rests on cultural beliefs that have been passed down from generation to generation. One side seeks a solution to a problem of intense interest to scientists and historians; the other side does not recognize that there is a problem that needs a solution.

This dispute over the future of Kennewick Man represents a clash between two immiscible patterns of thought. Another example (reported in the New York Times on August 29, 1997) comes from Afghanistan, where the Tailbone, a Muslim sect, have gained control of much of the nation and are enforcing conformity to the Sharia, sacred Islamic law. According to this code, thieves must be punished by having their hands and feet cut off; couples caught in adulterous acts must be stoned to death; and if women do not cover themselves from head to foot, the young Taliban enforcers deal them a severe flogging. The young zealots have even beaten women for wearing white socks or plastic sandals.

The head of the General Department for the Preservation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, Alhaj Maulavi Qalamuddin, explains the Taliban point of view: "Some women want to show their feet and ankles. They are immoral women. They want to give a hint to the opposite sex." This must be controlled to "prevent impure thoughts in men"; "if we consider sex to be as dangerous as a loaded Kalashnikov rifle, it is because it is the source of all immorality." The rules of the Sharia relating to women are harsh in other respects, by late-twentieth-century standards in the West. Women are prohibited from working or obtaining an education or even receiving medical treatment, and after puberty they are almost entirely secluded in their homes.

Such behavior toward women is not acceptable in most nations today, including most nations where Islam is the predominant religion. In this type of conflict modern values concerning human rights, gender equality, and civil liberties clash with religious doctrines that have been handed down for thousands of years. Such doctrines are accepted as "true" by the culture that inherits them and are highly resistant to change. In most instances, there is no way to adjudicate a conflict between these two systems of belief with evidence acceptable to each side.

Many-probably most-of the problems between nations, as well as the problems among the people of a single nation, stem from taking different points of view toward the same problem. Anthropologists using the methods and data of science propose one course of action for dealing with Kennewick Man, whereas the Native Americans relying on their received traditions propose another. Granted, only the scientists offer the possibility of reaching a decision about the identity of the remains based on confirmable data rather than on faith, but pursuing this course requires that both sides accept the validity of the anthropologists' assumptions, methods, and evidence; such acceptance by the Umatilla tribe seems unlikely. Consequently, in keeping with American jurisprudence, a federal judge will decide which point of view will prevail. By contrast, science has nothing useful to say when-as in the case of the Afghan women-the clash is between human rights and divine law. That conflict is between two different belief systems, each accepted as a matter of faith or principle, with one being far more restrictive on the lives of women than the other.


The immiscible patterns of thought that concern us in this book are those of creationists and evolutionists. Christian fundamentalists accept without question that divine creation is the explanation for the diversity of life we see today-the many different species of plants, animals, fungi, and microorganisms that flourish around the globe. Their position is based on their reading of Genesis, with its familiar story of the creation week-six days during which God created all of nature. On the first day God created heaven and earth and light and darkness; on the second He made the firmament and divided the waters; on the third day He separated land from the seas and created the land plants; on the fourth day He created the sun, moon, and other celestial bodies; on the fifth day animals in the sea and birds in the air came into being; on the sixth day the land animals appeared, and God also created, in his own image, two human beings. Until recently the accepted date for creation, based on a tally of the generations ("begats") listed in the King James version of the Bible, was 4004 B.C. Creationists assume that all creatures living today are the same as when they were created. That is, there has been no evolution.

The scientific version of these events is quite different. Tentative estimates place the origin of the universe in the neighborhood of 15 billion years ago. The sun-a second-generation star-and its orbiting planets formed about 4.5 billion years ago from the interstellar debris created by the explosion of massive first-generation stars. The Earth started out in a molten state but cooled enough to form a solid crust by about 3.8 billion years ago. The first evidence of life dates to about 3.5 billion years ago and consists of very simple cells without a nucleus (prokaryotes), much like bacteria living today. The oldest known cells with nuclei (eukaryotes) date to about 2.7 billion years ago. The earliest multicelled organisms discovered so far date to about 1.7 billion years ago. Fossils of the first members of the animal kingdom date to about 650 million years ago. At the beginning of the Cambrian period, about 570 million years ago, animal life became abundant and highly diversified; the fossil record from this period is much better known than that of earlier times. From that point until today, there has been an incredible evolution of life (both plants and animals), with different species appearing, flourishing, and then becoming extinct or evolving into still other species.

The evolutionists' and the creationists' accounts for the origins and diversity of life could hardly be more incompatible. Strict creationists base their account on faith-a belief that Genesis was divinely inspired and provides the only true explanation for the origins of the universe, living creatures, and the many variations in organisms that we observe today and find in the fossil record. The creationists' pattern of thought begins with the answer and then seeks to explain the world in terms of that answer. Scientists work in the opposite direction. They study the universe and its earthly inhabitants and on the basis of observations and experiments propose a rational account for the past and the present. Scientists as a group, including those who adhere to religious beliefs, do not understand why any person familiar with the data would reject an explanation based on confirmable knowledge and accept instead a supernatural concept based on faith alone. Similarly, deeply committed fundamentalists wonder why anyone would reject the Word of God in favor of what a bunch of scientists has to say.

The long strands of human history have seen many conflicts between science and religion, and sadly, they have often turned violent and bloody. It is fascinating to consider how individuals come to hold such conflicting explanations for the same phenomena and why they hold them so tenaciously. We know that parents and society are remarkably efficient in transmitting patterns of thought and behavior to successive generations. This cultural inheritance sets up rules for behavior that help individuals get along within their group. It also provides each generation with an avenue for learning new things, and it creates order within the society. But beyond these practical advantages, a culture's unique belief systems may retain their enormous power from generation to generation in large part because they supply impressionable young people with answers to many questions they quite naturally ask, such as "Where did I come from?" "Who made me?" "Who will take care of me?" "Why do people die?" "What happens to me after I die?"

Such inquisitiveness seems to be part of our human inheritance. For hundreds of thousands of years, early human populations were illiterate and encapsulated in small tribes whose very survival was regularly endangered. Human beings lived a marginal existence like all other animals, dependent on the ability of the environment to sustain them and on their skills and knowledge of how to obtain food, water , and shelter. But within every society, some individuals must have exhibited a much stronger desire than their peers not just to survive from moment to moment but to understand themselves and the world around them. They asked questions and sought answers. According to anthropologists who have studied hunter-gatherer cultures, the explanations inquisitive tribe members come up with usually include both natural and supernatural elements. Natural things and processes are those that can be observed: wind, rain, birth, death, animals, plants, fire, night, day, and the seasons. But for each of these observable entities, a supernatural element of some kind usually figures in the explanation as well.


Excerpted from FROM GENESIS TO GENETICS by JOHN A. MOORE Copyright © 2002 by Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission.
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