So what do evolutionary biologists study? Evolution is, in the minds of much of the public, ‘controversial”. In no small part, this is the doing of a large, vocal, well-funded anti-evolution movement. But responsibility also lies with the people who have taught evolution, who work in the field of evolution.
A lot of people see evolution as being pretty much the same as palaeontology. People dig up fossils and then come up with explanations for how these fossils are related. One person calls a certain fossil a human ancestor. Another says that is represents a distinct lineage. From the outside it just looks like a group of people with advanced degrees pontificating about a subject…specifically, the subject of origins. To look at it another way, it it seems rather a group of scholars discussing some esoteric element of theology.
If I’m correct, that might explain a good deal of how American (especially evangelicals) see evolution. To American Protestants, theology and christology tend to be a very personal endeavours. The Protestant Reformation led to the translation of the Bible into the tongues of the common people. Not only were they able to read the words for themselves, they were also encouraged to come to their own conclusions about it. Looking in from the outside, it’s easy to see evangelical and fundamentalist churches telling their members what they should believe about a number of important issues. But most churches also tell people that they should find their own meaning in scripture. If you aren’t willing to take your own pastor’s word on the meaning of everything in the Bible, why should you take the word of some ivory-tower intellectual who (a) almost certainly knows nothing of the life experience of people like you, (b) is just one voice among many, each of whom has a different view of what this fossil means, and (c) is probably an atheist with an agenda to undermine Christianity and morality.
Now, obviously, this approach is entirely incorrect. Science isn’t a collection of equally valid ideas – some ideas are demonstrably better than others, while others are demonstrably worse. The diversity of views that anti-evolutionists speak of, just doesn’t exist. More importantly, there is no hierarchy imposing orthodoxy.
But more people don’t understand this. And sometimes, I suspect, evolution defenders miss this point entirely. [More later]