By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life and Health Sciences
Long Beach City College (firstname.lastname@example.org)
For three decades I taught evolutionary biology to college students. Occasionally a student would approach me with religious concerns regarding evolution, God and morality:
“My pastor says that teaching students about evolution is teaching them the atheist agenda that there is no God — that teaching evolution can only lead to moral relativism and chaos — that teaching evolution has been a major reason for the spread of homosexuality, atheism, immoral sex, abortions and drug abuse — that if you teach people that they came from monkeys, they’ll act like monkeys. Is any of this true, Professor Rulon?”
Below are some of my responses, accumulated over the years:
1. Evolution is taught in science classes not because it’s part of some “atheist agenda”, but because it’s one of the most important and wide-reaching scientific discoveries in the history of civilization. Almost all scientists in the U.S. and throughout the world accept our 4 billion year biological evolution because the evidence is so strong. To teach biology without evolution would be like trying to teach English without grammar.
2. Tens of millions of Christians and many Christian faiths in the U.S. have accepted our long evolutionary history as God’s way of creating.
3. “Homosexuality, atheism, immoral sex, abortions and drug abuse” obviously existed long before our biological evolution was discovered, much less taught to students. Besides, homosexuality is not spreading. Nor are the sexual activities of gays seen as evil in compassionate, scientifically informed societies. Today, many Christians in the U.S. Congress support gay rights. In addition, being a non-theist today is no longer the abomination it once was. In fact, close to one billion people globally now see the demise of antiquated religious superstitions as a good thing. Remember, most of us were raised atheists when it comes to someone else’s religion. Jews don’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Christians don’t accept the Hindu gods, or Allah. Protestants don’t recognize the pope as the leader of the Christian faith.
Also, whether or not masturbation, oral sex, non-marital sex, co-habitation, using birth control and having an abortion are immoral is truly in the eye of the beholder. These “eyes” have become increasingly liberal as humanistic ethical systems have begun to replace “Hell and Damnation”.
Furthermore, abortions have declined in those countries that promote in-depth sex education, easily available contraception and emergency contraceptive pills — the same countries that teach evolution in the public schools. Many Christian members of Congress support abortion choice, as do numerous public health and medical associations, plus dozens of religious organizations.
4. Some people will undoubtedly behave in immoral ways on learning that we evolved, just as some did on learning that the Earth was not the center of the universe. Others, freed from anti-rational dogmas, will live more enriched lives. Most will continue to muddle through.
5. Evolutionary biologists, have an impressive history and reputation for telling the truth in their areas of expertise. In stark contrast, creation “scientists” have no such reputation. By purposely misquoting scientific experts, dredging up long discredited hypotheses and telling selective half-truths, these biblical literalists have displayed a moral integrity as tattered as their scientific credibility.
6. Secular humanists are being blamed for all that’s currently wrong in America. Yet, they make up less than 15% of our population, whereas 85% of those elected to Congress (the halls of power) claim to be Christian. Furthermore, Texas, a very Christian state with “Abstinence Only” sex education programs, has one of the highest rates of unwanted teenage pregnancy in the country. Also, the divorce rate in many parts of the Bible belt is roughly 50% above our national average.
7. There is no causal connection between teaching about evolution and immorality. People who accept evolution come from a rich variety of political, economic and religious backgrounds. The large majority are not junkies, communists, or atheists. In W. Europe, the acceptance of evolution is much more widespread than in the U.S., yet W. Europe remains quite civilized. In fact, Sweden (where evolution is widely taught and where only 20% believe in a personal god) has one-sixth the teen pregnancy rate as we do. Its citizens also give ten times as much money per capita to help the world’s poor as do Americans. On the other hand, American prisons are filled with criminals who claim to believe in God, but who know very little about evolution.
8. The idea that one must believe in the biblical god to be moral in the first place and that this god provides the sole foundation for morality is false. The world is full of skeptics, agnostics and atheists who live good and decent lives. So do billions of people who belong to other religions. So do gays, lesbians, and women who’ve had an abortion, as do teachers of evolution. They have as strong a sense of right and wrong as do Christians.