Bill Nye (aka the Science Guy) has a short video where he stresses how counterproductive resistance to evolution is in raising a scientifically literate population. It’s a nice little bit that fairly succinctly summarizes the central problem with evolution denial: you can believe whatever you want, but the world doesn’t make any sense when evolution, and the concepts that underlie it, are discarded. And teaching children that evolution is “just a theory”, or otherwise controversial, or even worse, that evolution has been discredited, undermines the very type of reasoning that science education is supposed to cultivate. Science is all about formulating a hypothesis based on observation, and then testing that hypothesis by experiment and/or further observation. Oh, but wait, wait, forget about all of that when it comes to evolution!!!
The only assumption made by science is that predictable natural processes are at work in the world around us. And of course this assumption is held without question by all of us every day of our lives. No one posits that God lights the fuse to set of the vinegar/baking soda volcano at the science fair. No one suggests that God pushes electrons from anode to cathode in an electric device (although I did once hear someone say that positively charged protons are held together in nuclei not by the nuclear force, but by God…). Religious texts say nothing about chemistry or atomic physics, so the acceptance that these processes move on by the forces of nature doesn’t threaten anyone. Why do religious texts say nothing about everyday chemistry or physics? Because they don’t speak to our own human nature. But we as a species have always pondered where we came from, and how we are different from the other animals on earth, and so it is no surprise that the Genesis writers commented on this as well. I understand that the notion of a very long and undirected natural process eventually leading to us is threatening, even to those not inclined to take scripture literally. But to truly think rationally requires, when we are faced with two conflicting viewpoints, or cognitive dissonance, that we evaluate the evidence and select the option that is best supported, even if that option upsets our instilled beliefs. It might be cold comfort to think that we share a common ancestor with a chimp, but the merit of the truth is not based on how it makes us feel. In science, you go where the evidence goes, and if we teach our students to suspend that process when the answer might upset them, we are not teaching science at all.