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Tax incentives for an evolution museum?

December 26, 2010 

Now that Kentucky is the laughingstock of the nation for allowing $38 million in tax incentives to fund a Noah's Ark Park, I am requesting that I get the same consideration for an Evolution and Natural History Museum.

The museum will strive to correct the misunderstanding of evolution by people who get their opinions from Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection is based on easily verifiable facts. Organisms reproduce too many offspring for all to survive.

Organisms compete for food and other resources that are in limited supply. Due to genetic differences produced by mutation, some organisms will be better equipped to survive and will contribute more genetic material to the next generation.

For example, of the millions of acorns an oak tree produces in its lifetime, on average, only a few make it to full maturity.

But the premier example of evolution through natural selection is MRSA, or methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus. Doctors over-prescribed antibiotic drugs, and any bacteria that possessed mutations that granted them protection against the drugs had an advantage over those that did not.

With a short generation time, the resistant bacteria soon became the dominant type. The solution? Try another antibiotic and soon the bacteria were immune to that one, too.

Hospitals are nothing more than hothouses for producing these super germs, and we are now faced with bacteria that can only be treated with extremely expensive and specific drugs.

We are locked in an evolutionary arms race against the germ world, and it is only a matter of time until the germs become immune to these new drugs.

No serious scientist questions evolution. The eminent scientist Theodore Dobzhansky noted, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."

As new evidence has accumulated, the theory, like Newton's theory of gravitation, has been refined to incorporate new facts.

Darwin's original idea of gradualism, i.e., small changes over huge expanses of time, now includes Stephen Jay Gould's idea of punctuated equilibrium, or periods of enormous shifts in adaptation.

A good way to see this is to compare the evolutionary process to poker hands where mutation represents improved hands. Two pair beats an ace high, but hands like a royal flush are game changers, just as some mutations are so beneficial they have enormous and immediate impact on populations.

But the general public does not understand a central truth about evolution: It is not goal-directed and has no teleological purpose. Organisms evolve because of the pressures placed on them by their environment, not because "they want to."

Because there is no ulterior motive to evolution, it is free of moral judgments. It is neither good nor bad; it is simply the way the world operates.

Oddly, realizing this aspect of evolution makes our understanding of God easier to grasp. Consider the following questions an observer might ask about the events around Noah's ark.

■ What happened to the water from the flood? Simple calculations show that the amount of water to cover the Earth to the top of Everest would require over a billion cubic miles of excess water.

■ Which of the animals on the ark harbored the tapeworms or other parasites like the nematode worm that eats its host's eyeballs? Why would God create such things?

■ Why do whales and large python snakes have vestigial hind legs?

■ Why are human babies occasionally born with tails that are just extensions of the coccyx bone at the end of the spine?

■ Why are some humans born with mental or physical birth defects?

■ According to scientific estimates, more than 99 percent of all species that have ever lived have gone extinct. Does that mean God changed his mind or, worse, does he make mistakes? After all, according to Genesis, he called his creations good so why destroy them?

■ Were dinosaurs on the ark? If not, why not? If so, why did God kill them all off later?

I can continue this list, but I doubt anyone can answer these questions rationally. There is no need to even try to answer them if we simply accept that evolutionary theory can explain them without imputing any good or bad motives to a deity.

As a Christian, I think God is less concerned with my understanding of the story of Noah than the way I live my life. I can do nothing to change either my past or that of the world.

Whether the Biblical story of Noah is an account of actual events or an allegory to teach us about God is less important than how I use my life and talents today to make the world a better place.

That is the task to which we are all called, not building a biblical theme park for financial gain. As the Scripture says, "The love of money is the root of all evil."

So, I have to ask: What are the real motives of these developers?

Roger Guffey is a retired teacher in Lexington.

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