In November 2015, On the Origin of Species, the masterpiece by Charles Darwin, was voted the most influential academic book in history. The biology bombshell edged out works by notable authors such as William Shakespeare and Stephen Hawking, just to name a few. Darwin’s famous book stirred up controversy from the moment it was published due to its implications for religion and the origin of human beings.
Despite the controversy, the theory of evolution by natural selection has been validated time and time again and is the bedrock of modern biology and medicine. The question I would like to pose is this: Why this fundamental principle of science is so problematic to so many, and why the vociferous and almost rabid opposition? From its initial proposition by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace in the mid 19th century, this ground-breaking scientific theory has elicited the most venomous opposition, unlike any other scientific theory in human history. But why?
For almost 2000 years Christianity has held sway in many parts of the world, and the story of Adam and Eve has been touted as the explanation for the origins of humanity. What biological evolution has essentially done is to make a mockery of the creation myth, therefore inciting the wrath of those who deem this story to be inerrant and true.
The challenges soon appeared. All of a sudden, one scientific theory amongst many became the focus of so much vitriol, and the first of many legal challenges, began with The Scopes Trial in 1925 and culminated in Kitzmiller V.Dover in 2005. What is interesting about these cases is the gradual changes in the way those I affectionately refer to as “The Santa Claus Brigade” have chosen to present their objections.
They shifted the goal post from an outright rejection of evolution to an argument for teaching creationism as an opposing theory. Their latest strategy pushes the claim that evolution is actually true but was initiated by their sky genie. This is indicative of the ground religion has to give in the face of overwhelming evidence. They continue to find newer and more imaginative ways to obstruct inquiry in order to continue teaching fables as truth.
The Dover school board backed by “The Discovery Institute”, a religious think tank, attempted to sneak creationism into a science classroom while disguising it as the theory of “Intelligent Design”. It was shot down in flames in 2005 with a cross section of expert witnesses called upon by the plaintiffs. A re-enactment of the trial by PBS can be seen below.
Needless to say, the presiding judge was scathing in his ruling against intelligent design. He ruled that it is creationism and is not science. He also ruled that members of the Dover school board lied under oath to hide their religious motivations. This pivotal case revealed the lengths some would go to in order to obstruct any science that threatens their religious world view.
In the meantime, the evidence for biological evolution keeps piling up. Through the discovery of DNA and Genetics we now know about our kinship with all life on earth. We now know we are more closely related genetically to chimpanzees and bonobos so much so that we retain a fusion of 2 ancestral primate chromosomes located on human chromosome number 2.
We now know that we once shared our planet with other branches of the homo genus. We interbred with them and the remnants of these dalliances reside in our genome. We have discovered that our ancestors mated with Neanderthals and left their imprint in some modern humans. We know another archaic hominin known as Denisovans left their genetic fingerprint in Australian Aborigines, East Asians and Melanesians. An EPAS1 gene inherited by Tibetans from Denisovans that confers an advantage for living at High Altitudes has been identified, as well as genetic variants for keratin filaments passed down to at least 80% of Eurasians by Neanderthals. Also, fossils continue to be discovered in Africa. The Iwo Eleru skull discovered in Ondo state in Nigeria in 1965 displays a mosaic of modern and archaic anatomical features, suggesting that the emergence of modern humans is more complex than we ever imagined.
The story of modern humans reveals a complex tapestry of numerous hominin species mingling with each other, but for reasons unknown we are the only ones left. It is now generally accepted that modern humans arose in Africa. However, being an African myself, I find that an uncomfortable majority of Africans foam at the mouth at the very suggestion of what should be a profound discovery. I find the notion that we are all so closely knit incredibly humbling and almost poetic in its simplicity.
Yet, perhaps, this is the problem with evolution. It is counter intuitive and shatters the illusion of comfort we have woven around ourselves. Nevertheless, I believe this is a reason to celebrate the part we all play in this fascinating tapestry of life. Others have not been so lucky.
This article is a guest post authored by the UK born Nigerian singer/songwriter Tavian Oladapo, and is reprinted here with permission. You can find him at his website, curiosityfeedsthecat or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.