Scientists as controversial as Charles Darwin are few and far between. It seems strange that the same person can be so readily placed upon a pedestal and dismissed as incredible at the same time. This disparity of opinion and prevalence of Darwin in academic lives led me to think about what impact he has had on my life and how he may have been a part, or not, in the lives of others.
I grew up blissfully unaware of the controversy between evolution and creation. So much so that I was actually taught both from a very young age. In my Catholic Montessori Elementary school, I would jump from lessons about Adam and Eve living in Eden to tracing the evolution of marine flora from some of the earliest instances of life on Earth. To me, these ideas weren’t mutually exclusive. I wasn’t raised Christian, but understood that some found this story in Eden to be an absolute truth, and my young mind wasn’t opinionated enough to accept nor reject this truth. I listened to the story and was able to gain what I imagined were the lessons it was trying to teach. I figured if I accepted these lessons, I could hold this story in a certain light of validity whilst still considering that a human may have come from somewhere other than from the hands of a great creator or the rib of a single man. I was also raised a curious child, and watching different plants and animals pop in and out of existence as I traced a 100ft long laminated timeline of the Earth’s life down the hallway in front of my 4th grade classroom was exceptionally enthralling– there were always quarrels about who got to trace the dinosaurs in the Mesozoic Era.
When I entered Middle and High School, Darwin showed up more directly as we learned about genes and DNA, and how sometimes DNA had little slip ups–mutations–that led to variation within a species and eventually, with enough of that variation and through assorted natural pressures and a long enough period of time, evolution.
But what about students who grew up in schools where the words ‘Darwin’ and ‘natural selection’ are kept under lock and key? And what difference does it really make? Why does it matter if the average person knows or doesn’t know how species are formed? Them knowing about it makes absolutely no difference to evolution itself… that’s the thing about science. It doesn’t care whether or not you think it’s true: it’ll happen anyways.
As I neared the end of my high school experience, the stories of schools that only taught creationist stories surfaced on my attention. At first, these made my angry. I felt directly attacked by their advocacy of ignorance, and, honestly, I never really let that aversion to creationism go until now. While I don’t personally agree with choosing to not understand the forces that operate the world that we live in, those forces will not change based on knowledge of them. It also does not determine the worthiness of another person to know or not know the life and times of a Victorian scientist and the thoughts that he had. I do think that once should be aware and make a choice on the matter of what they learn and believe, so I do think that places that teach creation should make their students aware that other schools of thoughts exist. Or, ideally, that students learn about each school of thought in a way similar to how I did…because why not both? Both ideas have value and worth, and do not have to be mutually exclusive.