ELKHART — Debates about evolution and creationism were ignited on social media following a story about a Concord High School biology teacher who apparently showed a creationism video series in class.
Andrew Schnabel, professor of biological sciences at IU South Bend, and Gary Rheinheimer, a Goshen man who founded a local creation science ministry, weighed in on the debate and explained their respective fields.
What is evolution?
Schnabel is department chair for biological sciences at IUSB with a Ph.D from the University of Kansas. He regularly teaches both first-semester and advanced biology courses that cover evolution.
According to Schnabel, evolution is not a belief -- it’s a scientific fact.
“It is a fact that populations change genetically over time. It is a fact that the first organisms were single-celled prokaryotes and that the full diversity of life on earth evolved from those humble origins.”
In a nutshell, Schnabel described evolution as "change between generations in the genetic composition of populations."
“It explains both the unity and diversity of life in that it explains how the first cells, once they arose about 3.6 to 3.7 billion years ago, have given rise to the full diversity of organisms that lived in the past and that are alive today.”
He said evolution is studied in exactly the same way that all other areas of science are studied – that includes hypotheses, data collecting and field experiments.
“All forms of scientific evidence that you could think of are used to study evolution, and evidence comes not just from purely biological studies, but also from methods traditionally used for physics, chemistry, computer science and mathematics,” he said.
Evidence supporting evolution is mountainous and increasing by leaps and bounds daily, Schnabel said.
“And, of course, we can turn to the wonderful fossil record that continues to provide surprises about how organisms evolved and lived in the past,” he said.”
As for the age of the earth, Schnabel said there’s no debate.
“It’s a known fact that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Scientists rejected the idea of a young earth more than 200 years ago, and the evidence has been clear for over 50 years that the true age of the earth is about 4.5 billion years.”
One recurrent argument in the creationism vs. evolution debate is that evolution is “just a theory.”
Schnabel said he agrees with the definition of scientific theory given in the letter sent from the Freedom From Religious Foundation to the Concord Community Schools superintendent.
That definition, quoted from The American Association for the Advancement of Science, explains that scientific theories like evolution are well-substantiated explanations of some aspect of the natural world, based on facts that have been confirmed repeatedly through observation and experiment.
“Such fact-supported theories are not ‘guesses’ but reliable accounts of the real world,” it states.
The definition also says the theory of biological evolution is as factual an explanation of the universe as the atomic theory of matter or the germ theory of disease.
What is creationism?
Rheinheimer founded It’s Out of This World Science, a ministry that teaches creation science primarily to church and youth organizations. He has an associate’s degree in medical laboratory technology and says he’s worked in the science field for 27 years.
“Creationism is a belief that the universe and all that is in it – the stars, the planets, people and animals and all things that exist – are created by God,” he explained.
Rheinheimer described himself as a young-earth creationist, meaning he believes the earth was created around 6,000 years ago, and that the worldwide flood described in the Christian Bible’s book of Genesis is what caused most of today’s fossils.
Kent Hovind, the speaker in the videos that were apparently shown in Ryan Culp’s biology class, is also a young earth creationist.
But within creationism, there are several schools of thought.
“There are creationists who believe the earth was created billions of years ago and that God created man through the process of evolution,” he said.
Other views are that God used evolution over the course of time, or that, as species of animals died off, God created more advanced species in their place.
Rheinheimer said the difference between creationism and evolution lies in the interpretation of data.
“If you take something like a dinosaur fossil, nobody was there when they were formed. Nobody saw them being formed, nobody was sitting there writing all the details as it happened,” he said. “If we take it from the creation viewpoint and evolution viewpoint, they’re both looking back in the past.”
In the classroom
A large part of the creationism vs. evolution debate is what should be taught in science classrooms.
“Creationism is religion, not science, and therefore it should not be presented as a plausible explanation for anything in a science classroom,” Schnabel said.
In his classes at IU South Bend, he mentions creationist ideas as part of history – something scientists used to believe before Darwin’s theory of evolution.
“We now know that those creationist stories are just myths, and so we don't use them as plausible explanations for scientific processes such as evolution,” he said.
While some creationists believe evolution should at least be taught alongside creationism, Rheinheimer believes both have no place in a science class.
“I think it’s more of a philosophical understanding. I believe both creationism and evolution are religious views in and of themselves and you can’t really go out and test things that happened in the past.”