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Social and Economic Benefits of Evolution-Based Science

With many in the U.S. doubting the scientific theory of evolution, creationism is on the rise. In 2012, Bill Nye (the “Science Guy” of PBS fame) argued that people who deny evolution promote a worldview that is not only ignorant and inaccurate, but also harmful.  “We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future,” Nye wrote, “[and] we need engineers that can build stuff–solve problems.”  Eight days later, the Creation Museum posted a video response by its president, Ken Ham. As Dan O’Connell reports, Ham, portrayed science divided between observational scientists doing useful work and “historical scientists” (including evolutionary biologists) who recklessly claim to discover pre-biblical events. In February 2014, Nye and Ham met in person to debate the issue publicly.

Back in 2012, Ham had argued that if evolutionary principles were applied to technological challenges, such as designing an aircraft, “we would be in real trouble.” By contrast, O’Connell reports on “more than twenty high tech companies for whom Darwin’s central insight is a cornerstone.”

For example, one of the most commercially important applications of Darwin’s evolutionary principles is a technology known as SELEX, which has produced medicines, diagnostic products, and thousands of research tools since its invention in 1990. “What is SELEX?”, O’Connell writes. “It is nothing more than natural selection in a test tube.” For instance, scientists at NeXstar Pharmaceuticals used SELEX to invent an FDA-approved drug for treating the most common cause of blindness in people over fifty, macular degeneration.

By contrast, O’Connell asks, What economic value has resulted from creationism-based technologies? “When we look for technological applications of creationism itself, we come back empty-handed.”

Nye has been criticized for triggering a fund-raising bonanza for Ham and the Creation Museum.  However, as David MacMillan writes in the Huffington Post, in the February 2014 debate with Ham, “Nye’s demand for specific evidence did more than merely challenge creationism. It demonstrated that the foundational basis of Ken Ham’s ideas—that mainstream science is somehow closed off to the evidence through atheistic assumptions—is simply wrong.”

Sources:

Daniel O’Connell, “Put Your Money Where Darwin’s Mouth Is,” The Last Word on Nothing, March 10, 2014, http://www.lastwordonnothing.com/2014/03/10/guest-post-put-your-money-where-darwins-mouth-is/.

David MacMillan, “How Bill Nye Won the Creation Debate,” Huffington Post, February 12, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-macmillan/bill-nye-creation-debate_b_4775207.html.

Student Researcher: Katherine Coughlin (Burlington College)

Faculty Evaluator: Rob Williams (Burlington College)

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