Creationism or Environmentalism?

The Triumph of Evolution and the Failure of Creationism by Niles Eldredge is our subject book for this issue. This $24.95 hard cover book was published by W. H. Freeman in 2000. The Triumph is smallish at 223 pages. Eldredge is a Paleontologist and Curator in the Department of Invertebrate Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History.

The eye catching dust jacket has "and the Failure of Creationism" printed backwards in a different color. It's possible that we could read into this a little dig at Creationism, i.e., 'backwards.' If this was the motive for the cover design, then it was the first of many digs at Creationism throughout the book.

Eldredge laments having to write yet another book on the Evolution/Creationism controversy and rightly so. This is an issue resolved almost 150 years ago and more recently in the U.S. courts - yet the war continues. He explains the why's behind this issue and why the opponents of evolution just won't go away. Eldredge knows as well as most of us that there are millions of people on this earth who will defend to the death an indefensible viewpoint in the face of overwhelming proof (for more on this subject see Voodoo Science by Robert Park, especially the chapter entitled "The Belief Gene").

The first chapter, In the Beginning - Religion, Science...and Politics, provides an interesting look into why we are in this mess today by covering the history of the relationship of religion and science. Politics enters this picture because, as Eldredge points out, the entire issue boils down to politics and who has the power. This is a very worthwhile chapter that will clear up many misconceptions and enlighten the reader.

Eldredge provides us with another valuable chapter in which he explains the workings of science and how to distinguish it from religion. I am certain that you have all heard that scientists establish theories which are then "tested" by other scientists. If no test disproves the theory then it is accepted and stands until such time that it can be shown to be faulty. As explained in The Triumph, a theory makes predictions of what should be true if the theory is correct. The Creationist argument goes something like this: "prediction" implies an event that will happen in the future and, since Paleontological proofs of evolution concern events happening in the past, no "predictions" can be made that are testable concerning evolution. The counter to this argument is simply that the predictions of evolutionary theory can still be tested today through exploration and discovery of fossil evidence as well as through the current work of geneticists and evolutionary biologists.

The Triumph of Evolution and the Failure of Creationism has two chapters presenting and then refuting specific Creationist attacks on evolution. The tragedy of these attacks is their impact on interrelated sciences such as genetics, physics and chemistry. Fortunately, most of the Creationist attacks are based upon their own poor understanding of the various fields and laws of science. Amongst these are the dating methods of ancient sediments, the Noachian flood story, uniformitarianism as a geological principle, the chemical origin of life, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and the list goes on.

Reprinted as Appendix I, is a brief article that Eldredge wrote for the journal Science in 1982. This contains his opinions and observations of the 1982 trial of McLean vs. Arkansas Board of Education. Creationism was being presented as "Scientific Creationism" and the state board had decided to require an equal treatment of Creationism as science if evolution was taught in public schools. The federal courts held that Creation Science was religion and prohibited from presentation in public schools.

Appendix III presents brief summations of seven landmark court decisions concerning Creationism in public schools.

Of local note, Carlton Brett of U.C. was quoted in the main text of The Triumph as well as being listed in the bibliography for a work for Speciation in the Fossil Record.

Eldredge has what appears to be three main points to make in The Triumph of Evolution and the Failure of Creationism, 1) Creationism has been disproved by at least 200 years of evidence and failed attempts to scientifically discredit evolution; 2) elimination of evolution from secondary school classrooms removes a critical building block for biological sciences and undermines the level of science education in our country; and 3) world religions should focus on teaching the moral values of life and on the crumbling ecology of our planet. In my mind, one of these three does not really fit. Can you guess which one? I say the last one concerning ecological issues. I have read other works by Eldredge in which he expounds upon worldwide ecological problems so this is apparently a favorite subject. By tying this in with his proposed role for world religions, Eldredge has made a weak link to the rest of The Triumph of Evolution and the Failure of Creationism. This isn't a serious flaw and shouldn't discourage anyone from reading this book. For more by Eldredge on environmental issues and links to Paleontological findings see his book, The Miner's Canary reviewed here in May of 1995.

Eldredge's contribution to the main topic of evolution and Creationism is good as far as it goes. The objective here is to help educate an uninformed and undereducated (in the sciences) public about the facts of this issue. My opinion of a more useful work on this subject for the public is one that goes into more detail in describing the scientific examples that refute Creationism while still at a "popular" level. Eldridge does not give the reader enough ammunition to use at local school board meetings - the battleground of the present and the future. He does, however, provide a useful reference to The National Center for Science Education. This organization helps defend the teaching of evolution in the public schools. Information regarding the NCSE is reprinted below.

The National Center for Science Education
P.O. Box 9477
Berkeley, CA 947009-0477

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