Sunday, October 27, 2002

Thoughts on a beach

Are we children of God or cousins of seaweed?


It all comes down to a bunch of kelp.

The answers to the debate between creation and evolution can be found in a tangled pile of soggy sea plants, snarled like Medusa's hair, wet and watery brown like weak tea, sprouting little gourd-shaped bladders that pop like bubble wrap when you step on them in the sand.

Usually, I just avoid the stuff like a pile of ocean yard clippings. But last weekend while I was walking the beach in San Diego, I noticed something new: Each pile of kelp contained a large rock. I looked closer and discovered that the rock was attached to the kelp by tiny roots like skeletal fingers, hanging on for dear life.

Eureka. That's how it anchors itself to the sea bottom, while the little bladders hold it vertical to catch rays of the diluted sun as it filters deep into the dark blue Pacific.

What incredible engineering in a lowly piece of sea trash.

In high school and college, I was taught that Mr. Kelp is my distant kin. We both evolved from the same "primordial ooze." Through trial and error, we finally hit on the right combination that opened the padlocked locker of life.

But I'm not a gullible student anymore, and I find that pretty hard to believe. It's like trying to believe that a jigsaw puzzle of Times Square was assembled perfectly by dropping it off the Empire State Building a few million times.

Lower life forms

And here's something they didn't tell us in school: Evolution is just a theory. It cannot be tested and repeated. The fossil record that should support it does not exist. And the people who have deep doubts about being related to kelp, night crawlers and Howard Stern are not all religious fundamentalists. Some are respected scientists.

The late Nobel Prize winner Dr. George Wald, professor of microbiology at Harvard: "That leads us to only one other conclusion: that of supernatural creation. But we cannot accept that on philosophical grounds; therefore we choose to believe the impossible: that life arose spontaneously by chance."

Dr. Stephen J. Gould, Harvard professor of biology and geology: "One hundred and twenty years of fossil research (after Darwin), it has become abundantly clear that the fossil record will not confirm this part of Darwin's predictions. A species does not arise gradually by the gradual transformation of its ancestors."

That kind of talk was not allowed in public schools. Students had to be taught one theory only, the one postulated by Charles Darwin.

If students wanted to learn that Darwin himself said that life was "originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one," they had to hear it from their parents. Or in church, like I did.

Let the light shine in

But education about the origin of life is finally evolving. The Ohio Board of Education voted on Oct. 15 to crack the door a sliver, and let the light of challenge shine down into classrooms.

New standards being adopted by Ohio would allow teachers and school districts "to include criticism of Darwinian theory as well as discussion of alternatives," according to the group that fought for the national breakthrough, Science Excellence for All Ohioans.

They call it "teaching the controversy." And there's plenty of controversy to teach.

The evolution-only purists sound like the Scopes Monkey Trial in reverse. This time, it's the education establishment that has its mind stapled shut.

Ohio made the right call.

I believe even a tangled pile of kelp is an amazing creation of God - but it's not my cousin.

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