IS CREATIONISM SCIENCE?….Shazam! If you want to generate traffic and email, just blog about either (a) France or (b) evolution. Today’s subject is evolution.

Here’s the nickel version of the story so far: Michael Dini, a biology professor at Texas Tech, says that he won’t give students recommendations for “further education in the biomedical sciences” unless they can “truthfully affirm” a scientific explanation of how humans originated. Since many fundamentalist Christians don’t believe in evolution, he’s being accused of religious bigotry.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth: creationists have gone out of their way ? most recently using the sophistry of “Intelligent Design” ? to insist that creationism is a scientific theory, not a religious belief. The problem is that there is simply no credible scientific evidence for this, and it’s perfectly reasonable for a professional biologist to point this out. In Dini’s case, what we have is a scientist asking a science student to provide a scientific explanation of human origins, and evolution via natural selection is the answer he’s looking for.

To make the distinction clearer, let’s try a thought experiment (it’s a “thought” experiment because we’re trying to read Dini’s mind). Here is Dini’s question and three possible answers to it:

How do you think the human species originated?

Answer #1: Humans evolved from apes….blah blah blah [insert adequate explanation of evolution here]. Verdict: Thumbs up.

Answer #2: Humans evolved from apes….blah blah blah [insert adequate explanation of evolution here]….but I also believe that the key mutations that created the species H. sapiens were guided by God. Verdict: Thumbs up.

Answer #3: Humans were created in a spontaneous act by an intelligent designer and are separate from the rest of the animal kingdom. They are not members of Class Mammalia. Verdict: Thumbs down.

A “scientific” answer to Dini’s question does not rule out religious faith (including a belief in occasional divine intervention), but it does rule out creationism as a defensible model within the scientific tradition and it does require you to understand that Darwinian evolution is overwhelmingly the best known explanation for human origins. It is perfectly reasonable for a scientist providing a professional recommendation to be unwilling to vouch for someone who doesn’t understand this.

And a note of caution: anyone who believes that high school biology textbooks should teach evolution, not creationism, should oppose Dini’s position with trepidation. If Dini is required to recommend students who defend creationism as a reasonable scientific theory, then what possible argument is there for not including it in our textbooks as well? (It is worth noting that Dini’s primary research interest is in the “pedagogy of biology.”)

POSTSCRIPT: I think this story really hits you in the face with one of the biggest problems fundamentalist Christians have: they have decided to argue that creationism is a scientific theory, and in doing so they have implicitly accepted the ground rules of the scientific community. This is a disaster for them, since there is simply no way that they can win this battle using the other side’s rules.

POSTSCRIPT II: Lots of people have been blogging about this. For other opinions pro and con try the following sites: