Matt Gemmell

TOLL is available now!

An action-thriller novel — book 2 in the KESTREL series.

★★★★★ — Amazon

Oh God You Devil

personal 2 min read

Saw an interesting post on Erik’s blog regarding a Texas biology professor who refuses to write letters of recommendation for students who don’t believe in the Darwinian theory of evolution. This sort of thing has, of course, been coming for quite a while. I think the outcome will inevitably be that the prof gets a sharp slap on the wrist and told not to do it again, but putting that aside for the moment, I have a few thoughts on the subject.

Firstly, I’m not a religious man by any measure. Last time I went to church was probably about fifteen years ago. I don’t believe in the Christian Creation story, though of course it’s not strictly Christian - the story is a much older one, which Christianity claimed as its own, inserting its own characters into a much older framework which had been used by many other religious belief-systems before Christianity even existed.

Science, such as it is, and religion are naturally at loggerheads regarding the origin of the universe, and of life on this planet. I can understand the professor’s problem, but I have to say that I think his actions, whilst understandable, are mistaken. I don’t accept that a person’s religious beliefs adversely affect their capacity to be a doctor, or biochemist, or any other scientific post. Presumably if a student has reached a sufficient level of achievement as to be seeking a letter of recommendation from a university professor, they’re not going to forego the crash-cart and drop to their knees in prayer in the middle of the operating theatre. It’s too easy to go for the simplistic argument that their beliefs will somehow make them less effective; they’ve been trained just the same, and I very much doubt they’d try any less hard to resuscitate or defibrilate or whatever the situation might require. The fact that they’re pursued their chosen field of education to university level is sufficient testament to that fact. It’s also worth pointing out that, prior to the current generation (or two), religious belief was almost universal, even in western culture. In past centuries, atheism was essentially a crime. It didn’t stop any of the giants of medicine or science from achieving the breakthroughs that are the foundation of modern scientific understanding.

Referring to Erik’s post specifically for a moment, I’m unsure as to which theory of evolution he means when he asserts that it’s all but a fact, and is “a reality”. Admitting no special knowledge in the field, it’s my understanding that the most current theories dismiss the Darwinian theory of evolution (that being the slow, gradual change and/or improvement of species, governed by the principle of “survival of the fittest”), since the planetary fossil record shows almost no evidence of the billions of intermediate evolutionary forms which Darwin’s theory requires. Instead, current deduction is that evolution tends to happen X-Men-style; in sudden “instantaneous” (geologically speaking) bursts of change. If Erik refers to this modified theory of evolution, or to the basic idea of biological change and improvement over time, then I can concur with his viewpoint that, according to modern science’s accepted principles and tenets, the available evidence indeed points overwhelmingly towards evolution being a fairly accurate picture of what has actually occurred on this planet.

In closing, and perhaps as a counterpoint, I’ll just remind everyone of the continuing greatest folly of science: the strongly-held belief that all things can be explained in terms of current knowledge. Again and again we laugh at the grandiose predictions and proclamations of our ancestors - a flat Earth?! How quaint! - but we’re no different today.

Thanks to Erik for, as always, making me put down the GameCube controller and really think about something.