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John Glenn, Please Don’t Let the Media Tarnish Your Reputation

Evolution News

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Out of all the content in reporter Julie Carr Smyth’s interview with John Glenn, the Associated Press selected this for the headline, now echoing around the country: “John Glenn: Evolution should be taught in schools.” Since many readers never make it past the headline, this is the message they got from the AP: An American hero wants to keep Darwin in science class, with the implied background that nefarious creationists and other science deniers, the favorite bogeymen of the popular media’s imagination, must be plotting to push Darwin out.

For goodness sake.

Let’s be clear: John Glenn is a great American. He should be remembered for his historic orbital flight on Friendship 7, 1962, that electrified the world and made America proud. He should be remembered for his combat missions in Korea. He should be remembered for his service in the U.S. Senate. Even now at 93, along with his wife of 95, he is “ramping up the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at Ohio State University,” hoping the non-partisan think tank is “going to be what we hope will be the best college of studies of government and policy of any place in the country.” Confidence and leadership are still evident in those squinting eyes.

So what did he actually say about teaching evolution? All that Ms. Smyth records is this:

John Glenn, who declared as a 77-year-old in a news conference from space that “to look out at this kind of creation out here and not believe in God is to me impossible,” says facts about scientific discovery should be taught in schools — and that includes evolution.

The astronaut, now 93 with fading eyesight and hearing, told The Associated Press in a recent interview that he sees no contradiction between believing in God and believing in evolution.

“I don’t see that I’m any less religious by the fact that I can appreciate the fact that science just records that we change with evolution and time, and that’s a fact,” said Glenn, a Presbyterian. “It doesn’t mean it’s less wondrous and it doesn’t mean that there can’t be some power greater than any of us that has been behind and is behind whatever is going on.

It would not be appropriate to challenge an American hero on such an occasion, much less an honored senior citizen. If someone else had said this at a younger age, though, one wishes that a well-informed reporter had been present to ask some follow-up questions and bring greater clarity to the issues:

Sir, are you talking about Darwinian evolution, or just “change”? Change over time is uncontroversial, but if you mean Darwinian evolution as an explanation of how complex life forms arise, that’s defined as unguided, purposeless, blind change. Evolutionary theory is restricted to material processes, with no intelligence “behind” it. Do you not see a contradiction between that and belief that “some power greater than any of us… is behind whatever is going on”?

Leading evolution advocates might tolerate deism, but are you aware that they refuse to countenance any form of theistic understanding, on the part of adults (never mind students), that includes a guiding hand behind it?

You spoke about “some greater power” in your statement. Is that an intelligent power, or is it a material force like gravity? Do you believe that intelligence has power?

Is evolution (in the Darwinian sense) really a “fact of scientific discovery”? Or, instead, is it a paradigm through which a great many scientists interpret facts and thereby preserve, without their necessarily even realizing it, an ideology of materialism that frequently gets confused with what “science says”? If the former, why are leading evolutionists so opposed to considering “facts of scientific discovery” that cast doubt on conventional evolutionary thinking, such as the Cambrian explosion, molecular machines, and the fine-tuning of the universe?

Sir, in the context of science education, advocates of academic freedom support the teaching of evolution, too. Not merely teaching it as it’s done now, but augmenting and improving instruction as it pertains to evolution. Teaching it objectively, including both evidence that supports traditional Darwinian theory and evidence that goes against it. Would you be in favor of this approach, considering that Darwin himself advocated “fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question”?

Are you aware that today’s leading Darwinian evolutionists refuse to tolerate such a judicious weighing of evidence and counterevidence, by scientists, even going so far as to punish and intimidate researchers who raise doubts about Darwinism?

Would you be willing to challenge science censors like those at the National Center for Science Education, by making a statement endorsing Charles Darwin’s own balanced approach, given that a majority of Americans are in favor of it?

It’s sad to see confusion about Darwinian evolution persisting in the media year after year. What matters is the evidence, not an argument from authority or the opinion of an aging hero that misguided reporters can latch onto and proclaim in bold headlines.

Mr. Glenn, out of our respect for all you have done for America, there is still time to wipe off this bit of tarnish from your reputation, allowing your words to shine with clarity.

Image by NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.