Controversies That Aren’t

This desire for controversy can be positive ““ it can allow the reporters and news organizations to provide multiple perspectives, and give air time to often overlooked voices. Unfortunately, this desire for controversy is usually nothing like that; instead, the only overlooked voices that get any air time are the ones that have been overlooked with good reason.

For instance, take the “evolution debate” in this country. There is no debate about evolution in the scientific community. Sure, scientists are still researching questions that relate to evolution, but that’s because, as the great evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote in 1973, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Evolution by natural selection is accepted by the scientific community, but boy-oh-boy do we still like figuring out exactly what it’s doing.

And yet, people are still publishing story after story asking if evolution makes sense, if creationism should be taught in school, if evolution should be taught in science classes. Sometimes, the stories are great, like when National Geographic posted that wonderful “NO” in response to the question, “Was Darwin Wrong?” But oftentimes, they dredge up a false controversy: it would be like asking the question, “Does the sun orbit the earth?” and expecting a passionate debate from all sides. Sometimes, the only answer is “no.”

But let me be clear here: the reason that debate around evolution doesn’t make sense now is the same reason that debate about geocentricism doesn’t make sense now; this controversy has already been addressed. I strongly believe that scientists and thinking people in general must question the information that they are presented. But I also strongly believe that at a certain point, the evidence for a particular fact outweighs the evidence against it. It would not be incorrect to question the theory of evolution in 1859, right after The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin was published or in the time leading up to the modern synthesis of evolutionary ideas in the 1930s. Evolution was given a good deal of scrutiny and time and when it comes to reporting on it, it’s time to move past “the controversy.”

5 replies on “Controversies That Aren’t”

As a biological anthropologist, THANK YOU. Sometimes random people I meet at a cafe or bar will ask me if my work is “controversial” because of the evolution aspect. I’ve never known exactly how to explain that in academia, there is simply no controversy re: evolution without making it sound like the question-asker is uneducated. They’re not; it’s just that the popular media presents evolution as controversial.

yes to all of this.

I am so tired of hearing people say “Well, it’s really important that you learn both sides of the story” as if somehow the “facts” that back up 6-day creationism are of equal weight to evolutionary theory, or hearing people wax incorrect about how “*they* are only allowed to say it’s a theory and not fact because there isn’t enough evidence”. blerg

Though I shouldn’t have, I engaged in a very similar bickering session on facebook yesterday, about racism. It was awful. You don’t get to define well-documented, scholastically grounded, fact-proven areas of human wisdom by your own personal preferences or experiences! Science, the world, and human social systems all don’t work that way!

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