Embracing the Evidence for Evolution is not Always Easy

This week's Science magazine includes a profile of Canadian paleontologist Stephen Godfrey. What makes his story unusual is that he was raised as a fundamentalist Christian to believe in the creationist dogma of a 6,000 year-old earth. The article highlights why it can be very difficult to make such a transition since it also makes one an outsider. Not only may the young person lose their place in their religious community, but they may find find themselves reluctant to share their past with their new scientist colleagues who generally tend to assume that all creationists are intellectually inferior.

This article interested me on two levels. For one thing, I think it makes some points that need to be acknowledged if mainstream scientists hope to win over potential young scientists from the admittedly growing influence of the creationists. On a more personal level, it reminded me of my own personal journey when back in my early 20's (in the late 1970's) I left Jehovah's Witnesses largely because I realized that they had totally misrepresented the scientific evidence about evolution. I reached this conclusion after studying the evidence myself. While I felt a sense of intellectual liberation, I also felt the pain of losing my religious community. I think it is important to realize that since humans are social by nature we have to realize that these ties are extremely powerful and can be a formidable obstacle to getting people to examine their beliefs.

EVOLUTION: Crossing the Divide by Jennifer Couzin. Science 22 February 2008: Vol. 319. no. 5866, pp. 1034 - 1036