For if we ever begin to suppress our search to understand nature, to quench our own intellectual excitement in a misguided effort to present a united front where it does not and should not exist, then we are truly lost.
–Stephen Jay Gould
If you’re a regular at this website, you’ve heard me complain about scientific organizations that sell evolution by insisting that it’s perfectly consistent with religion. Evolution, they say, threatens many peoples’ religious views — not just the literalism of Genesis, but also the morality that supposedly emanates from scripture. Professional societies like the National Academy of Sciences — the most elite organization of American scientists — have concluded that to make evolution palatable to Americans, you must show that it is not only consistent with religion, but also no threat to it. (And so much the better if, as theologians like John Haught assert, evolution actually deepens our faith.) Given that many members of such organizations are atheists, their stance of accommodationism appears to be a pragmatic one.
Here I argue that the accommodationist position of the National Academy of Sciences, and especially that of the National Center for Science Education, is a self-defeating tactic, compromising the very science they aspire to defend. By seeking union with religious people, and emphasizing that there is no genuine conflict between faith and science, they are making accommodationism not just a tactical position, but a philosophical one. By ignoring the significant dissent in the scientific community about whether religion and science can be reconciled, they imply a unanimity that does not exist. Finally, by consorting with scientists and philosophers who incorporate supernaturalism into their view of evolution, they erode the naturalism that underpins modern evolutionary theory.
Let’s begin with a typical accommodationist statement—this one from the National Academy of Sciences:
Acceptance of the evidence for evolution can be compatible with religious faith. Today, many religious denominations accept that biological evolution has produced the diversity of living things over billions of years of Earth’s history. Many have issued statements observing that evolution and the tenets of their faiths are compatible. Scientists and theologians have written eloquently about their awe and wonder at the history of the universe and of life on this planet, explaining that they see no conflict between their faith in God and the evidence for evolution. Religious denominations that do not accept the occurrence of evolution tend to be those that believe in strictly literal interpretations of religious texts.
This at least recognizes some conflict between evolution and fundamentalist faiths, but downplays it. The National Academy website also includes three statements by religious scientists, Kenneth Miller, Father George Coyne of the Vatican, and Francis Collins, averring no conflict between the Gouldian magisteria.
There are no statements by anyone who sees faith and science as in conflict. This is not because those people don’t exist: after all, there are plenty of scientists and philosophers, including myself, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Steven Pinker, P. Z. Myers, Dan Dennett, A. C. Grayling, and Peter Atkins, who feel strongly that science and religion are incompatible ways of viewing the world. Several of these people have written books to that effect. Apparently the NAS prefers to ignore this dissent.
When a professional organization makes such strong statements about the compatibility of science and faith, and ignores or gives but a polite nod to the opposing view, that organization is endorsing a philosophy. This goes beyond saying that evolution is true. The NAS is saying that most religious people and scientists have no problem with evolution and faith. Given that 40% of Americans reject evolution outright (almost entirely on religious grounds), while 92% of NAS scientists reject the idea a personal god, the National Academy is clearly pushing its agenda in defiance of evidence.
Among professional organizations that defend the teaching of evolution, perhaps the biggest offender in endorsing the harmony of science and faith is The National Center for Science Education. Although one of their officers told me that their official position on faith was only that “we will not criticize religions,” a perusal of their website shows that this is untrue. Not only does the NCSE not criticize religion, but it cuddles up to it, kisses it, and tells it that everything will be all right.
In the rest of this post I’d like to explore the ways that, I think, the NCSE has made accommodationism not only its philosophy, but its official philosophy. This, along with their endorsement and affiliation with supernaturalist scientists, philosophers, and theologians, inevitably corrupts their mission.
Let me first affirm that I enormously admire the work of the NCSE and of its director, Eugenie Scott and its president, Kevin Padian. They have worked tirelessly to keep evolution in the schools and creationism out, most visibly in the Dover trial. But they’re also active at school-board hearings and other venues throughout the country, as well as providing extensive resources for the rest of us in the battle for Darwin. They are the good guys.
So why am I using this space to criticize the organization? I suppose it’s because I feel that in its battle against creationism, the NCSE should represent all evolutionary biologists. But they are not representing a lot of us when they nuzzle up to theologians and vigorously push the harmony of science and religion. In effect, they’re pretending that the many people who disagree with their philosophical message don’t exist. Yet they can afford to ignore us because, in the end, where else can we atheists go for support against creationists?
The pro-religion stance of the NCSE is offensive and unnecessary — a form of misguided pragmatism. First, it dilutes their mission of spreading Darwinism, by giving credibility to the views of scientists and theologians who are de facto creationists, whether they admit it or not. Second, it departs from their avowed mission to be philosophically neutral. Third, it disingenuously pretends that evolution poses absolutely no threat to faith, or conflicts with faith in any way.
None of this would be a problem if the NCSE would just stick to its avowed mission and “neutral” stance toward religion.
What is this mission? As stated on one of its webpages:
What does NCSE do?
The National Center for Science Education, founded in 1981, engages in a number of activities advancing two primary goals: improving and supporting education in evolution and the nature of science, and increasing public understanding of these subjects.
If they just did this, there would be no problem. So do they have to engage with faith to advance the teaching of evolution? Apparently not, at least if you look at their religious position on the same page:
What is NCSE’s religious position?
None. The National Center for Science Education is not affiliated with any religious organization or belief. We and our members enthusiastically support the right of every individual to hold, practice, and advocate their beliefs, religious or non-religious. Our members range from devout practitioners of several religions to atheists, with many shades of belief in between. What unites them is a conviction that science and the scientific method, and not any particular religious belief, should determine science curriculum.
This stance of religious—and philosophical!–neutrality is underscored by a speech given by Eugenie Scott:
I think we make a grave error when we confuse philosophical views derived from science — even those we support — with science itself. . . .
I must say, though, that over the last several months I have presented lectures at several universities and two meetings of professional scientists in which I have argued that a clear distinction must be drawn between science as a way of knowing about the natural world and science as a foundation for philosophical views. One should be taught to our children in school, and the other can optionally be taught to our children at home.
But despite their avowed commitment to not mixing philosophy with science, an important part of the NCSE’s activities is its “Faith Project,” whose director is the theologically trained Peter M. J. Hess. This project appears to be devoted entirely to the philosophical position that evolution need not conflict with “proper” faith. Among the pages of this project is Hess’s statement, in “Science and Religion”:
In public discussions of evolution and creationism, we are sometimes told that we must choose between belief in creation and acceptance of the theory of evolution, between religion and science. But is this a fair demand? Must I choose only one or the other, or can I both believe in God and accept evolution? Can I both accept what science teaches and engage in religious belief and practice? This is a complex issue, but theologians, clergy, and members of many religious traditions have concluded that the answer is, unequivocally, yes.
You can’t get much more explicit than this. To those of us who hold contrary views, including the idea that religion is dangerous, this logic sounds like this:
We are sometimes told that we must choose between smoking two packs a day and pursuing a healthy lifestyle. Many cigarette companies, however, hold unequivocally that no such choice is necessary.
More accommodationism rears its head in the section called “How Do I read the Bible? Let Me Count the Ways”:
Contrary to what biblical literalists argue, the Bible was not intended by its authors to teach us about science — which did not exist at the time the Hebrew oral traditions were set in writing as the Book of Genesis. The Bible does not teach us the literal truths that the earth is flat, or that a global flood once covered Mt. Everest, or that we inhabit a geocentric cosmos, or that the world was created as we now observe it in six solar days, or that species were specially created in their present form and have not changed since the days of creation.
Rather, the Bible can be read as a record of one particular people’s developing moral relationship with the God in whom they placed their trust. As such, it enshrines timeless ideals about the integrity of creation and human responsibility within that creation. For biblical believers, part of that responsibility is using the gift of human rationality to discover the exciting story of how life ― including human life ― has developed on the earth.
Well, the Bible wasn’t intended to teach us about science, but it was intended to be an account of where life came from, and it is still read that way by a huge number of Americans. What gives the NCSE the right, or the authority, to suggest how people interpret the Bible?
The “recommended books” page of the NCSE’s religion section gives the same one-sided view. The section on “Theology, Evolution, and Creation” lists 36 books. Every one of them appears to offer an accommodationist viewpoint. Another 38 books appear (on the same page) in a “related themes in science and religion” section on the same page. In both section we find all the familiar names: Francis Collins, John Haught, Kenneth Miller, Michael Ruse, Simon Conway Morris, John Polkinghorne, Joan Roughgarden, and so on — accommodationists all. There are no books by Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, A.C. Grayling, and all those who have criticized the science-faith concordat.
As is usual in accommodationist literature, when the neo-atheist evolutionists are mentioned, they are done so dismissively, and held partially responsible for arousing anti-evolution sentiment:
When scientists such as William Provine and Richard Dawkins present philosophical materialism as the inevitable outgrowth of science or evolution (Dawkins 1987; Provine 1989) they reinforce the view encouraged by Morris and other antievolutionists that “one cannot be an evolutionist and a Christian.”
Perhaps most telling, the NCSE markets, as “staff publications,” some books that apparently show how religion and science can live happily together. Take a look at the page on which you’re supposed to sign up as an NCSE member. There you’ll find the “staff publication” Catholicism and Science, by Peter M. J. Hess (director of the “Faith Project”). By advertising the book in this way the NCSE is saying, “here’s our point of view.” What is the point of view of Catholicism and Science? The book is so new that I haven’t seen it, but here’s the description on Amazon:
When most people think about Catholicism and science, they will automatically think of one of the famous events in the history of science — the condemnation of Galileo by the Roman Catholic Church. But the interaction of Catholics with science has been — and is — far more complex and positive than that depicted in the legend of the Galileo affair. Understanding the natural world has always been a strength of Catholic thought and research — from the great theologians of the Middle Ages to the present day — and science has been a hallmark of Catholic education for centuries.
Of course this doesn’t mention that the Catholic church itself has gone back and forth on the veracity of evolution. Pope John Paul II, for example, declared that God inserted a soul somewhere in the lineage between Australopithecus and Homo. (Scott mentions this view, albeit only in passing, in an essay “Creationists and the Pope’s Statement.” But Dr. Scott’s long discussion of the position of the Catholic Church is celebratory, completely ignoring how the views of many Catholic contravene everything we know about human evolution.
Digging deeper into the NCSE site, one finds it riddled with strange lucubrations about religion. For example, in an essay by Phila Borgeson called “Is There Two-Way Traffic on the Bridge? Why ‘Intelligent Design’ is not Fruitful Theologically,” one finds this:
The little we know about God from “intelligent design” is not congruent with an understanding of God that takes Hebrew and Christian scriptures seriously. . . In Christian scripture, the central way in which God is related to his creation is, of course, through Christ’s redemption of the suffering of the world. Out of this emerges a theodicy that embraces as the price of the freedom God has bestowed on creation what we often read as the cruelty and caprice of nature. A designer God, though, must also be the designer of pain and death. In theological terms, “intelligent design” offers no articulation of how salvation is accomplished and constructs a God that is hard to square with the God who is steadfast love and suffering servant. George Murphy, working within his Lutheran tradition, has placed much emphasis on a theology of the cross as central to an understanding of God’s interaction with creation (Murphy 2002, 2003). Jürgen Moltmann stresses God’s suffering with God’s people, drawing on the Hebrew concept of shekinah and the kabbalistic concept of zimzum along with the Christian understanding of the kenosis (self-emptying) of God (Moltmann 2001). WH Vanstone pointed out in prose and hymn that the image of God as a creator, omnipotently, serenely, and detachedly presiding, then occasionally condescending to manipulate things to his will, is totally incongruent with what Christians know in the divine self-emptying of Christ (Vanstone 1977).
Zimzum? Can somebody please tell me what on earth this tedious exegesis has to do with science education?
But my main beef is this: the NCSE touts, shelters, or gives its imprimatur to intellectuals and scientists who are either “supernaturalists” (the word that A. C. Grayling uses for those who see supernatural incursions into the universe) or who have what Dan Dennett calls “belief in belief”—the idea that while religion may be based on false beliefs, those beliefs are themselves good for society. (Among the former are Kenneth Miller and John Haught, the latter Michael Ruse and Francisco Ayala). Both of these attitudes draw the NCSE away from its primary mission of promoting evolutionary biology, and push it into the hinterlands of philosophy and theology.
I have discussed Kenneth Miller’s views on evolution before, in particular his explicit Catholic theism (i.e., God interacts directly with the world), and his speculation that these interactions may occur through perturbations in subatomic particles. He has also floated the idea that God set up the laws of physics so that they were particularly propitious for the appearance of life on Earth, and so made inevitable the appearance of highly intelligent beings who could apprehend and worship their creator. Miller’s theism is also reflected in his published statements such as the following:
In reality, the potential for human existence is woven into every fiber of that universe, from the starry furnaces that forged the carbon upon which life is based, to the chemical bonds that fashioned our DNA from the muck and dust of this rocky planet. Seems like a plan to me.
. . . . .the God that we know through Christianity is not someone who acts like an ordinary human being, who simply happens to be endowed with supernatural powers. We are talking about a being whose intelligence is transcendent; we’re talking about a being who brought the universe into existence, who set up the rules of existence, and uses those rules and that universe and the natural world in which we live to bring about his will.
As both Massimo Pigliucci (a biologist and philosopher at Stony Book) and I have noted, this kind of talk comes perilously close to intelligent design; indeed, it may well be a form of intelligent design. If God “uses rules” to bring about his will, then evolution cannot be undirected.
John Haught, another person who appears frequently on the NCSE website (and was also a religious witness in the Dover trial), has an equally teleological view of evolution. In his accommodationist books God After Darwin and the more recent Deeper than Darwin, he espouses a teleology in which evolution is ineluctably drawn by God to some future point of perfection. In God after Darwin, he approvingly cites (p. 83) the Jesuit philosopher Teilhard de Chardin’s suggestion:
. . . . that a metaphysically adequate explanation of any universe in which evolution occurs requires — at some point beyond the limits that science has set for itself — a transcendent force of attraction to explain the overarching tendency of matter to evolve toward life, mind, and spirit.
But any injection of teleology into evolutionary biology violates precisely the great advance of Darwin’s theory: to explain the appearance of design by a purely materialistic process — no deity required. In a letter to his mentor Charles Lyell, Darwin explicitly decried the idea of divine intervention in evolution:
I entirely reject, as in my judgment quite unnecessary, any subsequent addition ‘of new powers and attributes and forces,’ or of any ‘principle of improvement’, except in so far as every character which is naturally selected or preserved is in some way an advantage or improvement, otherwise it would not have been selected. If I were convinced that I required such additions to the theory of natural selection, I would reject it as rubbish. . . I would give absolutely nothing for the theory of Natural Selection, if it requires miraculous additions at any one stage of descent.
If we’re to defend evolutionary biology, we must defend it as a science: a nonteleological theory in which the panoply of life results from the action of natural selection and genetic drift acting on random mutations.
The directors of the NCSE are smart people. They know perfectly well — as did Darwin himself — that evolutionary biology is and always has been a serious threat to faith. But try to find one acknowledgment of this incompatibility on their website. No, all you’ll find there is sweetness and light. Indeed, far from being a threat to faith, evolution seems to reinforce it! Is it disingenuous to be a personal atheist, as some NCSE officials are, and yet tell others that their faith is compatible with science? I don’t know. But the NCSE’s pragmatism has taken it far outside its mandate. Their guiding strategy seems to be keep Darwin in the schools by all means necessary.
Am I grousing because, as an atheist and a non-accommodationist, my views are simply ignored by the NAS and NCSE? Not at all. I don’t want these organizations to espouse or include my viewpoint. I want religion and atheism left completely out of all the official discourse of scientific societies and organizations that promote evolution. If natural selection and evolution are as powerful as we all believe, then we should devote our time to making sure that they are more widely and accurately understood, and that their teaching is defended. Those should be the sole missions of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Center for Science Education. Leave theology to the theologians.
116 thoughts on “Truckling to the Faithful: A Spoonful of Jesus Helps Darwin Go Down”
“Leave theology to the theologians.”
Agnosticism is good, and atheism is fine, but can we define religion please? If my religion is sitting Indian style in the forest for an hour a day, watching the wind rustle through the trees, that wouldn’t be incompatible with my evolutionary foundations, would it?
How could you forget about the AAAS? Come on! Make this an attack on the trinity: NAS, NCSE, and AAAS. Need some motivation? Get a copy of the AAAS book “The Evolution Dialogues” (2006), and read the soap opera about little Angela and her quest to harmonize evolution with her religion. That’ll get you going.
Jerry: This gratuitous, trivial small talk from scientific organizations is a fairly successful attempt to get along with the less rabid religious sorts. And, it is an acknowledgment that what appears to be religion is actually a hybrid of culture and religion. When I teach evolution to ca 700 freshmen, about 20% of the women in the room have their heads covered, a few of the men are coiffed or dressed in distinctively “religious” (& cultural) fashions. I see some of my students at tables in the union representing their religious – cultural groups. I could go on a class rant about the incompatibility of science and religion (similar to my rant about the anti-science industry in denial of global warming), but then these students would have less interest in the material in the class. They would be less inclined to advocate decent science when they return to Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia, and to their communities in the US, after college.
What the article is calling for is not the false dichotomy you have presented. One who refuses to pander is not automatically one who chooses to slander.
Why can’t you teach your freshmen with no mention of religion? Nothing in the curriculum mentions deities. Nothing theological has any impact on the observed veracity of evolution.
When the inevitable questions arise, you have an excellent opportunity; not to condone or preclude religion in relation to science, but to indicate just how useless it is in these situations.
I should note that the uselessness is not in itself a statement on religion in any way other than its efficacy as a tool for understanding the world. In the same way, science is useless in regards to… well, anything that doesn’t make any sense, essentially.
A kinder analogy might be to say that a hammer drives nails and not screws, though that has the problem of implying that the driving of “nails” is an equally rational activity.
Thanks for the “slandering – pandering contrast.” Indeed, it describes the Scylla and Charybdis-like perils of teaching evolution today when one acknowledges the implications for society of the topic of evolution. Both you and Jerry (in an email to me) advise not to mention religion in the class! This was my strategy back in the 1970’s when, without tenure, I began teaching evolution to undergrads in Florida. With tenure in hand, in the 1980’s in classes much smaller and with much less cultural diversity than my current behemoth, I began a science and society component with stuff like the Overton decision and McLean v. Board of Education. Wot a success! The kids loved it. They knew the venue, Arkansas was just down the road, and most of them loved reading about the Judge lecturing the ignorant rednecks (The science and society part of the course was much more popular than population genetics). If we had only had WEIT back then! It is so full of insightful references to religion and evolution.
During the 90’s when ID began to heat up, we read and discussed the increasingly nuanced and sophisticated stuff on religion and evolution from Lewontin, Ruse, Gould etc. Most students loved it. A small minority complained in the anonymous evaluations written at the end of the class that these discussion were disrespectful of their beliefs (I disagree, but later for that if you care to continue the correspondence). WEIT would have been really useful for both the basics science part of the course and the broader implications where we dealt with evolution and religion. Only a very few of the students in my courses went on to grad school in evolution or an allied discipline. But they all knew a bit of evolution and some of the issues relating to evolution and religion in society. I am really plesed to have does those evolution classes with a dose of religion.
As I responded yesterday to Jerry’s email in response to my post on Wednesday, in my current huge, diverse course I have steered away from religion except when a student raises the point (they know me from my presentations to the AGATHA, Agnostics and Atheists society, on campus and perhaps from my debates with Creationists). In response to these questions, I always say, first, that science is about the natural, religion is about the supernatural and has no place in doing science (None has raised Miller, Collins, Haight, or Joan, yet). If I stopped there, I wouldn’t be pandering, but no, I take the road to ruin with reference to the pabulum about scientific – religious compatibility from both the progressive religious groups (not mentioned in Jerry’s post) and the big US scientific societies (as per Jerry’s post). Lacking purity and conviction, I am a fellow traveler, walking part of the way with these ideas espoused by such as the AAAS, NAS, NCSE without committing myself to the ideas. If they would only take my upper division class, then we could read and discuss WEIT and Jerry’s post of yesterday, then all of this would be cleared up; my integrity would be restored! Damn, I wish I could refer to WEIT in this class!
To not mention religion in university evolution classes is to ignore the dust up, which is a big part of what the huge majority of students will deal with about evolution when they leave the university. One might say, “science classes should stick to the basic science; teach a different class for the science and society.” I disagree. The problem is that most of these students won’t get any science and society about evolution if they don’t get it in this class. So specialized is today’s university curriculum in biology! An additional factor is the really first rate evolution faculty here who see basic science as what we do, nothing less! None of this soft stuff that reeks of social science (Jerry has a lot of currency here, and maybe WEIT will have some influence in changing this pedagogical tendency).
This is tough one. Sheese, don’t mention WEIT in a majors university course that deals with evolution (that book’s got religion, ID Creationism in there!); certainly don’t mention his website! What if the students ask? It is a bit like sex: if they don’t learn it in the loving environment of the home, then they will pick up the dirt from the streets (of Jakarta, Ankara, or the California Central Valley (our Appalachia). My comment to Jerry’s post yesterday was a description of the angst I experience in dealing with the cultural diversity tied to religious diversity in this course. Jerry gave me some sympathy in his email, Sean gave me none. I can’t see that your advice “not to mention it” is much help.
(We can do the “false dichotomy” thing in later emails if you care to, Sean).
Hear hear! If only their only mention of religion on their website was limited to something like:
We do not endorse any views on what evolution has to say about religion, or vice versa. We merely focus on whether or not evolution is true, and leave the social and philosophical impact of that fact up to others.
Very well written and argued Mr. Coyne.
And to those who are arguing that it may be beneficial and “realpolitik” for the NAS and the NCSE to engage with the religious to further understanding of science, I disagree. The knife can,And Often Does, cut both ways. I argue that there are plenty of other means to have the debate as to whether science precludes belief in the supernatural. Let these 2 organizations stick with the FOCUS of making sure that everyone possible has a deep appreciation and at least a general understanding of what science is, and what we know to be the facts of the matter.
In case anyone was wondering: In Jewish Mysticism, Tzimtzum (צמצום Hebrew: “contraction” or “constriction”) refers to the notion in the Kabbalistic theory of creation that God “contracted” his infinite light in order to allow for a “conceptual space” in which a finite, seemingly independent world could exist. This contraction is known as the Tzimtzum. (http://www.reference.com/search?q=Zimzum)
Prof. Coyne is 100% wrong here. Let me put it this way. What is happening is a war between rationalism and superstition. When one is engaging in warfare, particularly when one is barely holding ones’ own, it is incredible folly to eschew willing allies. Just as Britain and France got into bed with Czar Nicholas II in WW 1 in order to defeat the Kaiser and Britain and the US got into bed with Joe Stalin in WW 2 to defeat Hitler, so the rationalists have no choice but to get into bed with John Haught and Ken Miller if they expect to defeat the religious fundamentalists. To do otherwise to lose the war. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
I’ve submitted a paper into Science with the claim: “Supernatural phenomena are not completely beyond the realm of science.” I’m just waiting for a reply. I have a whole set of test I need to… Besides, we all know there’s an actual “war between supernaturalism and naturalism.” (to think otherwise would be tantamount to being an accommodationist or an appeaser, maybe even an apologist.) Is that “perilously close” or did someone actually claim Miller is a creationist – or is that fourth trait still in play? Perhaps as we thrash about against NOMA we can all make claims about God having been once a part of science (using Newton to forward the notion – thereby confusing that he’s believers to be discovering god’s handy work with his actual science).
I think NOMA actually demands the wish expressed to keep separate science and religion, but some keep confusing what that actually entails, then turn to claim such as “supernatural phenomena are not completely beyond the realm of science” (am I actually to believe this doesn’t have something to do with someone’s atheism?). Maybe the standards of how to fight the culture war are creating strange boundaries now that the “vociferous” scientist for atheism now speak with such authority.
Absolutely spot on, Jerry. It is simply not necessary for the NCSE to offer the sweetner of Jesus, having administered the ‘bitter pill’ of evolution. Why on earth should religion need to be mentioned at all? Some of the quotations you highlight are outrageous coming from the website of a scientific organisation that considers its remit to be that of promoting an understanding and acceptance of evolution. But you are entirely right in saying that the inclusion of anti-religious viewpoints is equally out of place. Who really wants to see the NCSE wasting its time and resources in providing a ‘balancing’ explanation highlighting the obvious problems with so-called theistic evolution? I certainly don’t. Much better (and in the long run, surely a far sounder and safer policy) to stick to promoting science and to leave the subject of religion at the distance of the proverbial barge pole – where the atheists are perfectly capable of wiping the floor with the theologians whilst the NCSE looks on with innocent indifference.
Coyne is calling for our scientific organizations to make neutral statements about religion if necessary. Will that eschew our willing allies?
I apologize a few very sloppy sentences in my last post, still readable I assume.
I enjoy that PZ has stated flatly he’s “anti-religious” in his comments to this blog. It’s true we certainly need more fairness in these organizations, if they snub the anti-religious they shouldn’t promote those anti-atheist guys, because that’s what they are, right? The “raging new atheist” should be heard too, there’s got to be a way to show that “supernaturalism is not completely beyond the realm of science” and that there’s a “war between supernaturalism and naturalism”, I mean we are talking about science, right?
But, that’s not what we want, we don’t want atheism or theism in the science, or the organizational statements, just the science. Though, as scientist there’s claims being made about “supernaturalism” and its relation to science. I don’t think we could ever confuse that people can be religious and accept science, not with the logic that “supernaturalism is not beyond the realm of science.”
I have to admit, nothing here looks like it’s linked to a culture war or the “war between science and religion.”
What is the evidence that Darwin held this view? For example:
“It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist.”
–Charles Darwin, 1879
Sorry in advance if after a quick skim through of your article, I have misinterpreted in any way what was being written:
“There are no statements by anyone who sees faith and science as in conflict.”
My opinion is that Charles Darwin’s writing as I understand what it says, would contradict the Bible’s testament regarding Our Creator’s Character that “God is love” – 1 John 4:8 – for if on the 6th day, everthing was described as “very good” etc. and yet before sin and Satan entered the world, that all the animals were undertaking “survival of the fittest” then obviously, Christian’s could not logically accept that “famine” and “war of nature” were “very good” and “love”, whilst of course accepting that “God is love”.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to post.
Thus from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of higher animals, directly follows. There is a grandeur in this view of life…
(Darwin. Origin of Species. Ist Ed. Closing paragraph)
1 John 4 – KJV
8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
Jerry is spot-on. If the NAS and NCSE want to highlight how some religions currently have no problem with evolution, just list quotes/citations from them somewhere, WITHOUT additional commentary.
Once you start to speak for them, they might point to you when pressed, and then you begin, de facto, to become one of them.
Jerry, that bit you quoted from Ken Miller:
“In reality, the potential for human existence is woven into every fiber of that universe…”
…that you said seemed “perilously close to intelligent design”?
It also seems perilously close to the New Age mantra that Everything Is Connected (and isn’t it wonderful, tra-la-la), too.
I’m new here so I’m not sure how much exposure you’ve had to New Agers, therefore what I’m going to say may be old news.
Many of the New Agers that I know accept evolution, at least at first glance, but dig only a little deeper and you find that what they really believe is that there is some sort of supreme “being”, or universal life force or “universal consciousness” — the terms vary widely but all mean the same thing — that fills and/or touches “everything”, thereby connecting every thing to every other, which apparently is a Very Good Thing, though I’m not sure why. (It could be tautological, since if the universal consciousness means that everything is connected, then the fact (!) that everything is connected “proves” there is a universal consciousness. Right?)
Oh, it further seems that this universal whatever-it-is is in charge of the meaning and purpose of Life, the Universe and Everything (else) as well.
Sounds like a god to me.
Now creationists seem to be mostly religious fundamentalists, and New Agers seem to be mostly antithetical to organized religion and are often socially liberal, so the two aren’t natural allies, but in the culture war they actually line up together on the same side, if one defines the sides as Enlightenment versus Endarkenment, or Reason-Logic-Evidence versus Faith.
New Agers may not seem to be as much of a threat to evolution as creationists and organized religions, but while they are not natural allies of the creationists, they are definitely natural allies of the alternative medicine movement, which as Orac and PZ Myers and others have chronicled, is a genuine threat to science based medicine, and by extension, it seems to me, to science in general.
Over and over it keeps coming back to a belief in the supernatural. Religious fundamentalists, New Agers, Alties, they all rely on the supernatural to some degree. Add in the neocons and free-market fundamentalists and their touching faith in the magic workings of unfettered capitalism and I believe you have the Four Horsemen of the Endarkenment.
As if there weren’t enough things for an atheist-progressive-skeptic to worry about!
Happy Earth Day.
OT for this post, but in the article linked as “I have discussed Kenneth Miller’s views on evolution before” (which doesn’t enable comments), Dr. Coyne claimed
“And some scientific explanations of the anthropic principle are testable. Indeed, a few predictions of Smolin’s theory have already been confirmed, adding to its credibility.”
Does anyone know what predictions that statement is referring to?
Too bad about the NCSE and those religious scientists who won’t keep quiet, eh?
If you would like to debate me in Chicago, on the question, “Is Nature All there is?”, I would be willing. Someone would have to cover my travel expenses, but they ought not be too large.
You have my contact information if you want it.
The sad part, I think, of some current ideas forwarded by Jerry (this is outside of his brilliant work as a scientist and communicator) is not only his clumsy “culture war” type claims that confuse science by saying such things as “supernatural phenomena are not completely beyond the realm of science” (then tossing out the lame idea of some miraculous event “convincing” scientist – would have been better to heed the last line of the Darwin quote used when he said; “But this is childish writing”), but also it is the using of Gould to forward his part. To argue against NOMA and to be the “vociferous” scientist for atheism, we now have a scientist claiming that “supernatural phenomena are not beyond the realm of science.” Of course, Gould is not around to defend himself or to speak out against recent misuses of his words.
The crime of claiming that Gould would now disown his own idea of NOMA has been put forward by Dawkins without a shred of evidence this would be the case. It is beyond disrespectful what Richard has decided to claim, and he ignores the fact that nothing Stephen had done up to his death would lead to Richard’s groundless claim. It is just another attempt by him, much like what Jerry has done, to promote the “religion vs. science” front, to push the “war between supernaturalism and naturalism”.
Just a short three paragraphs up from the quote that opens this blog post are the words: “But the culprit is not, and cannot be, evolution or any other fact of the natural world. Identify and fight our legitimate enemies by all means, but we are not among them.”
I have seen the “war” like approach blind many in the past, and for the last two years I have seen a repeat in the name of a “war between supernaturalism and naturalism”. This war and Dawkins’ over use of the phrase, is often accompanied by the idea that the evolution vs. creationism struggle is only a “skirmish” in the larger “war”. The “anit-religion” attitude that forwards and promotes the “war” seem willing to use any means necessary, including making false claims about deceased scientist.
Coyne is asking that science organizations remain neutral; to simply not say anything about religion. How is that losing any “battle”? And since when is kissing ass considered winning anything?
“There are no statements by anyone who sees faith and science as in conflict.”
The perceived ‘conflict’ between science and religion is superficial at best… but it is in our faces every day, so we allow it to mislead us.
The stock-in-trade of religion is ‘belief’… the ILLUSION of knowledge. That being the case, ACTUAL knowledge (and its faithful companion… reason) represents a dire, ever-looming existential threat… especially when it is perceived as a challenge to a particular bit of ‘God did it’.
Science is a primary SOURCE of knowledge. So is history, for that matter. Look at the revisionist pseudo-history of David Barton, taught in so-called ‘Christian Academies’, colleges and home-school, for example… where they are also teaching children that ‘critical thinking’ is the intellectual process of reconciling facts and evidence with scripture.
Anyway… dig deeper. The REAL conflict is knowledge vs. the ILLUSION of knowledge.
I think it is fine to point out that religion and science are compatible in a logical sense since it is indisputably true.
The same goes for pointing out that many religious people in fact accept evolution since it is also true.
Other statements are more dubious. The statement about the interpretation of the bible certainly does not belong there. You can not just casually dismiss the idea that they were attempting to explain the origin of the world and that that explanation is flat out wrong.
With respect to marketing, I can understand an Overton window basis for taking an aggressive anti-religion stance, and can understand a position that ducks the question entirely, but expect that some sort of accomodation will work best in terms of advancing science and evolution generally. Yet it’s the substantive question that most concerns me and where I see Prof. Coyne as talking out of both sides of his mouth. His view is clear that religious faith and science necessarily and inherently conflict. He keeps repeating it, L-O-U-D-L-Y, even while saying that the NCSE shouldn’t take a position on the subject. If science *really* precludes religion, then he should quit whining about his side being disfavored and make his case. If he (or anybody else) can demonstrate it, they should have at it. If they’re any good at all, that demonstration should satisfy the leadership of the NCSE not that accomodation is unwise, but that it is wrong. The NCSE can then move on from there, marketing be damned. On the other hand, since the leadership of the NCSE as a whole isn’t particularly friendly toward religion personally or generally (“92% of NAS scientists reject the idea a personal god” after all), if Prof. Coyne can’t convince them, he might consider that his point of view is really pretty silly after all.
Richard Dawkins has posted about Jerry’s blog, on his own web site.
The repeating of a “war between science and religion” (or fit in what you like, “war between supernaturalism and naturalism”) is going to be even more witty.
“And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.”
“We have so much more to be contemptuous about! And we are so much better at it…. Who have the faith-heads got, by comparison?”
“Maybe I’m wrong. I’m only thinking aloud, among friends. Is it gloves off time? Or should we continue to go along with the appeasers and be all nice and cuddly, like Eugenie and the National Academy?”
Yes, the “war” will wage – drunk with the success to get those that for whatever reason sat quiet for so long to finally speak, they are now told their orders, again (so many that sat while the battles were fought now want to dictate the charge – and claim success beyond the efforts no less).
To argue further against that what has been witnessed the last couple of years in our atheist movement is no less of a quasi-religion, is no long tenable.
Our leading scientist, and some fine thinkers, are now advocating even louder, to be sarcastic, to ridicule, to keep in mind this is a “war”.
I’ll wager ground won’t be held, the true measure of success in a war. There is a clear lack of understanding belief systems taking place. Short term gains are a lousy reason to forfeit the push for a more humanistic species. I’d like to see how one will keep pushing this line of “war” without creating further hostility, within the group and from without.
Not even in my dreams can I write something that lucid before 7:10 AM! Thanks, Professor Coyne.
I do apologize for offering more than my fair share of comments with regards to Jerry’s blog above. I fear that it may cast an unkind light on me. However, as is obvious by the reactions Jerry has seemed to invoke by PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins, it is important.
I would like to quote from a book titled: “And God Created Lenin”, by Paul Gabel (published by Prometheus Books):
-“The Bolsheviks promoted a “progressive” schism within the Orthodox Church with a panoply of communistic priests — after all, hadn’t Jesus united Palestine’s working class and ordered the wealthy to offer their riches to the poor?Finally, in 1927 this tactic was abandoned in favor of support for the newly elected Patriarch Sergei, who submitted to pawn-like status.
Wild pageants erupted in the largest cities, mocking and ridiculing the Christian celebration of Jesus’s birth. Young, working-class atheists paraded through the streets carrying effigies of religious leaders of every faith they could think of. They dressed up as priests, monks, rabbis, mullahs, and shamans, while fellow demonstrators taunted and mocked them. An article in Izvestia described some of the characters: God embracing a naked woman, the Virgin Mary, the pope in a fancy motor car blessing the people, a monk riding on a coffin full of holy relics, a priest offering to marry anyone for a price, a Protestant pastor, a Jewish rabbi, a yellow-robed Buddha, Marduk of Babylon, and a group of devils with long tails and horns bringing up the rear.”-
I know the reaction by many in the atheist movement once the soviet union in mentioned (usually as a knee jerk reaction to accusation from theist about the evils of atheism). However, there are lessons to be learned. One shown by Gabel and others is tactics such as described above (which is only a short mild version), along with the printed sarcastic, ridiculing variety had little lasting effect (though it did create intense hostility).
And if for an instant one denies the possibility of a growing mission creep where more repressive orders are given or “suggested”, then I fear you may have learned little by history. More public displays of ridicule, mocking and so forth are more than likely yet to come as the group grows larger and the “suggestions” more the within group type as the group “grows” (usually just louder). After all, we are talking amongst friends, right?
I have to disagree with you. The war between science and religion was started by religion. Our god-appointed superiors did not want us sheep to learn the truth about anything. Science has continued to expose the lies of religion through the ages and many religious tyrants such as the popes have moaned about the educated masses becoming less religious. Even before Darwin became the favorite scapegoat of the church there have been other people and ideas to blame for the decline in religion (apparently these days homosexuals are to blame). Religious leaders believe their power is threatened and rightly so. Anyone who mentions a belief in the divine rights of kings is laughed at, but religion manages to hold a special post despite its foundation on divine gibberish.
I totally agree with Jerry.
There’s an overwhelmingly powerful empirical case for evolution – the sort of case he puts in his book – and the science organisations should concentrate on putting that case. They should NOT purport to settle such philosophical questions as whether the image of the world to be found in religion, or some particular religion, is compatible with the image of the world emerging from science.
Individual scientists can have opinions on that … as can philosophers, who have a professional interest in it. But it can’t be settled by science-advocacy organisations on grounds of political expediency; and I think that individual scientists ought to be pissed off with the organisations when they try to do so.
Thanks Jerry! Right on the mark!
Religions might be able to rearrange their god ideas to accommodate what has been learned but the science classroom isn’t the place for accommodation.
In 2005 Nature published what I thought was a very reasonable editorial on dealing with ID. It called for theistic scientists to explain how they reconcile evolution with faith and for atheists to be sensitive to the religious concerns of others. Jerry Coyne (and many others) did not agree (Nature 435). To him and others who lent their names to his commentary the science classroom was a place where religious beliefs “crumble”. I disagreed (Nature 435|30). Unlike many of my colleagues in academia I have no interest in watching anyone’s religious faith crumble. I do have an interest in spreading science literacy and making sure people understand evolutionary biology. Positions like those espoused in this post do not help in spreading science literacy. It is unfortunate that the likes of Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet, William Provine, and PZ Meyers essentially agree with the likes of Ken Hamm and Phillip Johnson in the belief that evolution (and science in general) denies any conception of God. I also however disagree with people like Ken Miller and Peter Dodson who have this odd mix of divine intervention and evolution. Coyne, Meyers, Dawkins, Provine, Dennett and many others virtually guarantee creationists in every guise that the foes they so desperately depend on will persist well into the foreseeable future. I think these folks should think whether spreading atheism is more important to them than spreading science literacy. The NCSE, I think, has made the right choice between those two alternatives. NCSE focuses on the acceptance of evolution among those of faith simply because doing so is a direct rebuttal to the most fundamental objections of creationists to evolution (not scientific objections of course but let’s not kid ourselves, the evolution-creation debate is not about science). Unfortunately atheists like Coyne and Dawkins just happen to be on the same side of the argument in this case as the creationists.
I don’t see any conflict between my religeous beliefs and science. Quite simply, God brought everything into existance, to evolve! I cannot deny God the Creator. Nor can I deny His using evolution as His means of creating and perfecting His creations. He created man to evolve, from a tiny seed into a wonderous being!
To do otherwise to lose the war. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
“Dr. Coyne claimed
“And some scientific explanations of the anthropic principle are testable. Indeed, a few predictions of Smolin’s theory have already been confirmed, adding to its credibility.”
Does anyone know what predictions that statement is referring to?”
Yeah I was wondering about that one. Actually as far as I know the fecund universes theory (Cosmological natural selection) is now a lot less credible than when it was first proposed by Smolin. A number of serious objections have been raised it it. Shame because it was a really neat idea. It certainly hasn’t made any confirmed predictions. I think Jerry is getting confused with Inflation.
This site (http://discovermagazine.com/2009/may/11-a-scientists-guide-to-finding-alien-life/), toward the end of the second page, makes some related comments:
“Smolin’s model has two notable advantages. First, it explains why our universe has the physical laws that it does, since universes like ours that can create the massive stars that produce black holes are strongly selected. Second, it explains why our physical laws allow life to exist: The elements that permit the existence of stars happen to be the same ones that allow the existence of our kind of biology.
Actually, there is a third advantage. Smolin claims his black-hole multiverse hypothesis can be tested. Since universes that give rise to the largest number of black holes have the most offspring, our universe should be optimal for making black holes. Smolin’s predictions, including ideas about cosmological inflation and the mass of the heaviest stable neutron star, have held up so far. “The theory is falsifiable,” he says. “If observations come out contrary to my predictions, then the idea is wrong.””
Right, Lord Kitchener, There is no evidence that black holes give rise to another universe. Not even via speculation through the math.
So, qbsmd, since much of Smolin’s claim is based on that, his hypotheses are mostly speculation. I loved reading Smolin’s books but that theory has no legs at this time.
Well. I think now its is quite clear who is the one who will write the definitive book killing the NOMA notion forever. I look forward to reading that book.
NOMA was dead upon conception. Many people have shown that it is a foolish idea. Gould was into appeasement. Many of Gould’s writings were confused and ofuscatious.
Dave, you wrote:
..and you are way off base. I have read several books where it was shown that people are confused about things Gould had written. There have been many cases where people came to the opposite conclusions about statements written by Gould. This happened with punctuated equilibrium. Go read the Wikipedia entry on Gould.
“NOMA was dead upon conception”: Of course you are right here. What I mean is a book just like WEIT: Evolution is an established fact but that doesn´t mean its publication was not necessary/useful. NOMA is also an established nonsense but many people doesn’t seem to get that, and a lot of scientists are playing the “accommodation” game, giving fuel to that status quo…
But science properly speaking cannot disprove teleology. Yes, it could conceivably show that there could be a way that life in its present form could have come to be apart from design. You are convinced that it has done so, and we may even stipulate you are correct in that. It still doesn’t get you to a disproof of design. Merely to show that life could have come to be apart from design is not the same as showing that it did come to be without design; for such design might have operated on some level inaccessible to scientific investigation.
But you seem to accept no other source of knowledge (on this level at least) except science alone. So how do you get to that next step, to conclude that life’s appearing was necessarily without design? You didn’t get to that conclusion through science, because science can’t do that. If you’re quite sure there really is no level of reality that’s inaccessible to scientific investigation, you came to that conclusion through some route other than science; for by definition, that conclusion refers to something on which science cannot speak.
Thus it appears to me from what you’ve written that to “defend it as a science: a nonteleological theory” means “to defend our atheism.” As already noted, atheism (or dogmatic anti-design in any form) is not a conclusion that can be reached just through scientific inquiry. It’s a theological/philosophical position, if not pure unreflective prejudice. So what you have done here, Dr. Coyne, is a fascinating mirror image of the very thing you’re complaining about the NCSE doing.
Yes, I believe wholeheartedly that there is a small teapot in orbit around our sun.
I dare anyone to disprove that!
Also, I believe that there are fairies in my garden that steal little children’s teeth and bury them somewhere that can Never be found. I am sure that if you study this on a Really Deep Level (RDL Theory) you will see that it all makes us feel better about everything and it explains everything that we could ever want to know. Also, you can’t disprove that either.
I am not really sure why we bother with this “science” thing.
wait a second, I changed my mind. I just figured out that I have no need of the above hypotheses.
Gilson has a point. Science isn’t in the business of defending non-teleology, only in the business of getting the most transparent, parsimonious, evidence-based explanations. If those explanations eventually reveal something teleological, so be it (not that there’s any evidence for this thus far, and I don’t expect any to crop up, but you can’t rule it out).
Similarly, Coyne says “by consorting with scientists and philosophers who incorporate supernaturalism into their view of evolution, they [NAS and NCSE] erode the naturalism that underpins modern evolutionary theory.”
It isn’t naturalism that underpins evolutionary theory, it’s science. So there’s no reason that naturalists like Coyne and Eugenie Scott shouldn’t consort with supernaturalists like Ken Miller when doing science. Science doesn’t care what your worldview is.
Organizations such as NSCE and NAS should be defending science, and the teaching of science, on the grounds that factual beliefs about the world based on intersubjective empiricism (public evidence) are simply more reliable than beliefs based on non-empirical modes of knowing. This defense necessarily requires contrasting empiricism with non-empiricism, which of course casts doubt on faith as a reliable representation of reality. This means advocates of science can’t avoid raising hackles. But it’s worth raising them since it’s arguably an ethical obligation to make the case for science and empiricism, given how much hangs on getting our beliefs about the world right in an interconnected technological age. More on this at http://www.naturalism.org/epistemology.htm .
Thanks, Tom (and nice to see you here).
We may not agree on everything, but it seems to me, and apparently also to you, that this is a rather straightforward matter of what science can and cannot be expected to do. The flying teapot answer previously given may feel cute but it doesn’t address the actual issues either of us have brought up here.
OK. I like being cute but that is beside the point.
I understand your statement…
“But science properly speaking cannot disprove teleology. Yes, it could conceivably show that there could be a way that life in its present form could have come to be apart from design. You are convinced that it has done so, and we may even stipulate you are correct in that. It still doesn’t get you to a disproof of design. Merely to show that life could have come to be apart from design is not the same as showing that it did come to be without design; for such design might have operated on some level inaccessible to scientific investigation.”
…to be asserting that science cannot prove a negative. Therefore my cute little reply.
secondly, “science” of course has many definitions, a lot of them use the words natural or naturalistic.
“You didn’t get to that conclusion through science, because science can’t do that. If you’re quite sure there really is no level of reality that’s inaccessible to scientific investigation, you came to that conclusion through some route other than science; for by definition, that conclusion refers to something on which science cannot speak.”
I had this thought, you are studying why babies seem to be cute, are felt to be cute by most adults etc. Since you are a scientist you have to develop an hypothesis to test. How would you choose a supernatural hypothesis to test? By your definition, of course you can’t. But it is surely an option to try and this option is not taken. For all practical purposes, a scientist, engaging in the scientific method, has come to the conclusion that the hypothesis of supernatural cherub DNA arrows needs not be tested. While I agree with you that we need to be very careful here, surely when this scientist comes to realize this, he will be, is suppose, in a default way, using his scientific judgment and coming to the conclusion that the design hypothesis is simply unworkable and unnecesary.
Also, refer back to my first post, #6 I believe.
That is nonsense,because there is o orthogenesis shown and no teleology period : selection has no goals or preconceived outcomes: neither we nor any other intelligent being was supposed to arrive as chance also acts>
The teleonomic/atelic nauturalst argument is that as the weight of evidence shows no teleology, there is no place for teleological God period: to argue thus for theistic evolution is to contradict science. It us the new Omphalos argument that God lets scientists think no teleology operates but He is there as teleology: nay, no teleology period!
And the argument from pareidolia is that theists see Him acting as people seeing Yeshua in a tortilla- not there.They thus see designs rather than patterns, obfuscating natural causation.
And all teleological arguments assume what they should first show that patterns are designs: that it was, contrary to science, that we were inexorably to arrive on the scene.
So,Jerry, you are so right and the accomodationist ever so wrong. Now they can state that from the stance of religion that there is no conflict but not from the stance of science; yea, their position indeed should be neutral in respect to science and stop criticizing us new atheists for our stance in favor of reason against all faith. They aver that our stance hurts the cause of evolution for our “rigid” stance against religion.
Where is the evidence for that malarkey? It is our rationalistic, naturalistic and skeptical obligation to ever note that theistic evolution is an oxymoron and blasphemes reason.
We no more need Him as a personal explanation [ always God did it for theists], Richard Swinburne notwithstanding, than we need gremlins in addition to mechanics to explain mechanical failure or demons in addition to psychology to explain my schizotypy and double depression! Jerry, thaaanks for “Seeing and Beliving.” I take offence at Miller and Giberson for their obscurantism! They are creationists in the wide sence as that is the only way their theism can be. @ Tallllk Reason, Amiel Rossow illustrates the stupidity fo theistic science in his essay on Miller.
Thank you for standing up to Scott and Ruse!And thanks for your personal email to me about your then coming article. I thought you might be on the side of reason with Provine, Paul Kurtz, Myers and -me. I post all over the world for naturalism, ever scorning theistic evolution = theistic nescience! [ Mary’s Christian Science; the Church of Nescientology]. And these two arguments- teleonomic and from pareidolia should help you furhter our stance.
Mary’s Christian Nescience
Mr. Coyne, this is my first visit to your blog and keep up the good work. Thank-you for calling attention to the NCSE’s inexcusable condonation of the non-overlapping magisteria viewpoint. However, I respectfully disagree with your conclusion that: “religion and atheism [should be] left completely out of all the official discourse of scientific societies and organizations that promote evolution”.
I submuit that the NCSE should be condemning supernatural beliefs as being fundamentally incompatible with the scientific method. If that condemnation alienates the religiots, then so be it.
#1) Supernatural belief is not incompatible with the scientific method. The two are unrelated. I can believe in God, and carry out scientific investigation based purely on evidence with thorough peer-review. You don’t have to be an atheist to be a solid scientist.
#2) The supernatural itself is not testable, by defintion (since science, as we are talking about, is the methodological study of the NATURAL world). But it is possible to find something in the natural world that is only explicable by a supernatural origin. I believe the complexity of the genome is completely inexplicable by strictly natural origin, but as of now remains a personal opinion based on available evidence. That is a bad example since many here would have opinions differing from mine. But suppose we discover a planet with a mountain range that spells out the word “Hello”, in flawless New Times Roman font, and we are able to date the mountains to several billions of years old (using all dating methods we have), right around the time when planets were first forming. There would of course be POSSIBLE naturalist explanations, but they would be extremely unlikely, making supernatural origin the only statistically believable explanation. We would still have zero scientific basis to study the author of that “Hello”, because science can’t study the supernatural. Is it God + Jesus? God alone? Zeus? Highly evolved martians from another universe? Those would be unanswerable questions (from a scientific standpoint). Ironically, this is the same thing that many naturalists want to require of ID, to give a testable theory of the designer. ID remains within the sphere of science, or the natural world, but this requirement is unscientific, or scientifically impossible. I understand the objection that it is not methodological, that it is not falsifiable. But I think the more our knowledge of biology (especially genetics) increases, it will be more and more obvious that the genome (which more like a 3-dimensional programming code, with code that can be read in all directions, forward and backward, for differing but highly effective results) is most plausable from a supernatural origin.
#3) I submit that you submitted that proposal not because you thought the proposal itself was useful or true, but just because you WANTED to alienate “religiots”.
The idea the genome is irreducibly complex is quite amusing.
However the tree of life shows that this “irreducibly complex” item was substantially different (and simpler) at the earliest stages of evolution we know about. One can figure this out for oneself just comparing the different singled celled organisms around these days.
So I’m wondering what did the genome look like at the point something supernatural created it nearly 4 billion years ago. The biologists here are keen for an answer I’m sure.
If the rock sediment analysis show the evolution of the earliest organisms is consistent with a natural origin for the genome will you stop believing in god?
Great post. I certainly agree that science-promoting organizations should just stick to promoting science and not bend over backwards to grant concessions to faith. However, I’m faced with a personal dilemma that mirrors the intentions of these organizations.
I’m a proponent of philosophical naturalism, and I find that any form of faith or appeal to supernaturalism flatly contradicts the objective methods of science. My parents (and some other family members) are on the other hand, biblical literalists who see evolution as an affront to their faith. Would it be disingenuous of me to introduce them to the views of Ken Miller and others, even though I disagree with them, in an effort to get them to accept evolution in a way that wouldn’t require wholesale dismissal of their beliefs?
Exactly. This is the fundamental mistake many naturalists have allowed to be engrained in their beliefs: That just because all we can study (nature) is all we can study, that all we can study is all that there IS. It is METHODOLOGICAL naturalism that is the basis of science, not METAPHYSICAL naturalism.
Of course it is, since it rules out any reliability of physical naturalistic explanations. If results of observation or experiment can be changed at the whim of some supernatural being, then induction goes out the window.
If someone has the belief that a supernatural being is controlling every atom in the universe, and whatever any particle is doing is because He/She is deciding for it to move in that way at that time, then maybe you have a point. That person’s belief would be incompatible with science, because they would say you can’t predict what will happen in the future, because it’s up to God/the gods. But for the vast majority of theists in the world (Christians, Jews, Muslims, deists, etc.), they believe the universe was created by God and given physical laws for it to obey. What does belief about how the physical laws came about in the natural world have to do with the methodological, evidence-based, peer-reviewed study of the natural world?
Things like Creation Science (intentionally skewing, interpretting and ignoring data to support a pre-determined worldview) ARE incompatible with science. It is not “follow the evidence where it leads”, it is “how can we best interpret/skew/ignore the data to point to where we want it to lead us”? Also in this group of unscientific worldviews is militant naturalism, which, in my opinion, has led to an adoption of a naturalist theory without evidence (and in the face of opposing evidence). Evidence that evolution happened is quite abundant. But it is just assumed that since evolution happened, it happened in a natural, Darwinian fashion, where there is no evidence that the primary driving force of it was this. If you are a militant atheist/naturalist, like Coyne or PZ, whatever evidence is discovered, you MUST interpret it to fit a naturalist viewpoint. THAT is unscientific. That’s why things like compound-programming in the genetic code (which completely baffles all modern-day computer programmers, which is why the vast majority of them are advocates of ID) are ignored or simply accepted without evidence to have developed completely naturally by a theory that was naiively developed when the cell was that to be a simple blob of organic matter.
I’d like to refer you to this post from Pharyngula back in January. It epitomized this mindset, which is no better than Creation Science:
New Scientist Says Darwin was Wrong
From the article PZ quotes, the author says:
But he dogmatically ends with:
Basically, we were wrong all along, but we will continue to be right…err, somethin…
If he is simply saying that we will still continue to believe in evolution, in general, then I agree, because evidence is already clear that evolution happened. How it happened is the question, the question that militant naturalists refuse to answer in any other way than “purposeless and all-natural”. Regardless of what evidence we find (like, oh I don’t know, programming in the genome that mocks the simplicity of the most complex human computer programming code ever produced), they will not follow the evidence where it leads, but will instead interpet the evidence as best they can to fit their worldview. How is this any different than Creation Science?
uoflcard, you are confused.
This is completely wrong. I know hundreds of computer programmers and few are ID advocates.
You took that all out of context, go read it more carefully.
That is a malicious statement. Have you read Coyne’s book? read any of PZ’s papers, etc? You must be a follower of “all the world is relative” nonsense.
I tend to see the posturing of the NAS and the NCSE as more of a logistical matter than anything else; these organizations need money to function, and they have to be sure not to alienate potential sources of funding.
But then there’s a side issue: they don’t need to pander to us as naturalists/rationalists/atheists, because we’re already on the same side of the fence. The people for whom those statements were written are those who might be *on* the fence. And the surest way to knock them back to their side is to require them to abandon a component of their belief system before we grant them admission.
If a theist comes to the NCSE or NAS website, they’re looking for encouraging words, not challenging ones. We should give them to them and let the merits of the science itself argue its cause.
The NCSE and NAS have a tough enough job just promoting evolution in this religiously saturated country. But if you want them to take a hard line stance, then you’re effectively asking them to incorporate the inordinately larger task of debunking religion. In our non-ideal world, they have to pick their battles. It might offend me that they have to speak disingenuously to do so, but I’m going to have to live with that.
My views on religion and science.
You’ve got to be kidding me. I must keep myself more involved for cryin out loud. Someone needs to save that organization from itself. Religon and science, especially the creation thing,(no theory)is compatible with evolution, do they not understand who they’re supposed to represent?
Hello Mr Coyne…hope you’re well today. Just a few comments I would like to make.
Given the choice between placing my faith in GOD, or placing it in darwin’s myth, I’ll take GOD.
At least HIS story doesn’t keep changing because new evidence continually contradicts it.
(sponges, and homo habilis (remember “Lucy”, were all claimed to be in our lineage..now they’re not…not to mention the fiasco
of alleged avian evolution that has to be rewritten by imaginative darwinists
in light of the new evidence)
It makes one ask: How accurate was the alleged ‘evidence’ that placed those oganisms in our lineage in the first place…and why should we continue to believe you???
Anyway, last I heard, scientists hadn’t discovered how life
on earth allegedly arose from non-living matter…but heaven forbid we allow the possibility GOD created it.
If materialism is the only ‘religion’ you subscribe to Mr Coyne, how can anyone say what is or isn’t moral?
Look at pedophiles.. who are we (just matter) to judge other ‘matter’ as evil
or immoral??? If we’re merely the product of evolution, then how can we blame/judge people for being the way evolution made them???
What makes our alleged billions of genetic mistakes (mutations) better or morally superior than those of a pedophile or rapist??
Why should we even listen to people like yourself if you’re the result of billions of genetic mistakes??? Can we even trust a mind that came about that way???
Lastly, what if God DID create the universe and everything in it…how will you ever find the truth if you exlude HIM as a possibility from the start?? You may say such discussion belongs in religion or philosophy classes, and they do…but so does the myth of evolution. It has no empirical evidence and is UNfalsifiable. It’s a fairytale where frogs can become princes…if enough time is given.
If evoluti onary predictions that proved incorrect
do not cause you or your fellow evolutionists to question your ‘theory’..what would Mr Coyne?????
Thank you for your time.
You forgot “If evolution is true, why are there still monkeys?”
Jerry, this is where I think you’re going wrong:
NCSE is not a science organization. It is a lobbying organization. It is, and always has been, made up of people who want real science taught in the classroom, and not anybody’s mythology. Some of those people aren’t scientists; they’re religious people who fully support the 1st Amendment and who also support good science. They buy into methodological naturalism. They may not extend it further into metaphysical naturalism.
As a lobbying organization, NCSE is about the possible. The people they’re trying to influence are, in the main, happy buyers of some sort of woo. In America, that woo comes with a Christian denomination attached.
You think that’s deplorable, I know. But that’s reality.
The enemy we’re fighting has one, and only one, big weapon in their arsenal. That weapon is usually called the False Dichotomy, and it says you can have science, or faith, but not both.
I KNOW you agree with that. To you, the False Dichotomy is the True Dichotomy.
But to me, and Ken Miller, and Scott Hatfield, and Francis Collins, and the NCSE, the false dichotomy remains FALSE.
So it’s not just that you’re handing the ICR and the DI the equivalent of an atomic weapon.
It’s that you’re jerking the rug out from under the group of spokesmen for the cause of science education that has any real hope of winning over that big bulge in our demographic that has “faith here” stamped on it.
I’m not disagreeing with your right to do this, Jerry. If nothing else, your latest book earns you the right to do whatever you damn well please.
I’m just asking you, is this sensible?
Am I still being “moderated” or may I assume my message is unacceptable here?
There he is, Davidson, the IDiot and retired U of Vermont professor who has gone off the deep end running for governor and posting incoherent and nasty crap all over the place.
This mentally diseased cretin has been known to post as many as 900 rantings on ONE THREAD.
I suggest he banned for good. His comments are incoherent and racist.
I urge avoidance of the term “Darwinism”, as it suggests that evolutionary science is an ideology, and a person-centered one, at that. “Evolutionism” would be marginally better; “evolutionary understanding”, “the evolutionary perspective”, and similar terms would be far better.
NewEnglandBob whoever that is and I am sure we will never know.
It is not Davidson. It is John A,. Davison as in John Davison Rockfeller, a relative.
If you are representative of Coyne’s clientele here, I don’t want anything to do with this kind of an intellectual cesspool. It smacks of Pharyngula and After The Bar Closes from both of which I have been proud to have been banished long ago. I’m even more proud to be a charter member of Paul Zachary Myers “Dungeon.”
It doesn’t get any better than this
I agree that evolution WAS true but there is not a shred of evidence that it is still in progress.
All current evidence and the fossil record pleads that the present biota is the terminal one in a planned sequence.
have a nice cozy flame pit.
Smells like a religious nut case to me. Especially that last sentence.
“…but there is not a shred of evidence that it is still in progress.”
Lets see here – I guess this Davison has never heard of E. coli which everyone can see evolve in a matter of weeks or the flu virus which evolves from year to year. So either you are blind, ignorant or stupid or some combination of those.
I was sure correct. He is a true nut case. I went to his blog site and he has hundreds of posts – almost all his own!
His posts are truly nonsense.
isn’t every thought which comes to mind, evolution in progress?
If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
I am not a believer in organized religion, but I’m not quite an athiest. (Given the geographic opportunity, I’d probably practice Shinto, considering its reverence of nature.) However, religion is a huge part of human history – to simply dismiss its impact on past and current (and future) society is too simplistic. Just because you don’t WANT to include religion in this argument of religion’s construction doesn’t mean you can wish it away.
NCSE is doing what it can to not necessarily reconcile faith and science, but to make people of faith (generally Christians) understand that accepting evolution is not a violation of their faith. NOMA is still valid and I agree with an earlier poster that to tweak Gould’s elegant description after his death is an insult to the effort he put into the work (I was lucky enough to hear him speak during the book tour).
I would love for the argument for the acceptance of evolution to not exist – I see it as a basic tenet of science and don’t really grasp why those who are so threatened by it try so hard to push it aside.
But that the argument exists is because of religious protest. To not engage them on a battlefield where we speak their language – indeed, to not engage their beliefs and way of life at all – is foolish. Saying “No!” to those with more sophisticated levels of faith (not necessarily ID believers mind you, just those who find comfort in their faith but can reconcile it with their scientific beliefs) is just as bad as Creationists saying “No!” – just at the other end of the scale.
Bottom line? I’m all for what NCSE does, which is fight to keep creationism and ID out of the schools. It’s the over-all war they have to win, and if that involves wooing some hearts and minds that don’t have my exact same belief system then that’s what it’s going to take.
Oh – and it’s disingenuous to talk about the Catholics vacillating on evolution. There are so many orders within the Catholic church (the Jesuits, the Franciscans, the Dominicans, etc), many of whom have members that do not agree with whoever is sitting on the Papal throne. One only need to look at George Coyne, SJ to see that.
I was surprised recently to read “The Biology of Ultimate Concern” by Theodosius Dobzhansky whose contribution to the modern synthesis is legendary. But it seemed he was not only an “accomodationist,” as discussed in this article, but trying hard to see some sense in Teilhard de Chardin! It seemed almost like two people were writing the book – the hard headed, but wise scientist, and the ga ga maybe – mumbo theist. The key issue for him and many others in the modern world, and one that philosophers of scientist would do well to address more strongly is the question of meaning. Until we get over the idea that life has to have one rather than we need to give it one through our own actions and commitments, many will still be tempted to run back to Goddy.
Great post. The complaint on science organizations taking religious and philosophical stands that can’t be backed up by science (in fact, often conflicts with it), and the problems that leads to, was long overdue.
Oh, and congrats to the Panda’s Thumb retraction. I look forward to reading it.
I’m probably too late to the party, but I have some reflections anyway:
The problem with these claims or similar (“science method is methodological naturalism” comes to mind) are that they are as religious, theological, philosophical and contested as NOMA is.
For scientists who rely on natural realism one can look at Stenger for example. He doesn’t cater to the competing ideas that observable phenomena or theories are “natural” by definition.
Instead Stenger defines, consistently, natural as material, and matter as anything that reacts to actions, i.e. anything that obeys Newton’s laws but above all anything that obeys observation in QM [“God – the failed hypothesis.”]
And that is a valid definition. Moreover, it makes science natural by falsifiable observation instead of definition, which is consistent with the method.
But in fact you don’t have to go there for looking at purported supernatural phenomena and know something about their constraints.
For example prayer studies (falsifying prayer effects). Or the fact that natural processes are enough for explaining origin of life or universe, that wouldn’t happen if supernatural phenomena was needed for the explanation.
For some, yes. Therein lies the problem, because it is assumed to be valid for all.
Greetings I’ve always begun with a “no matter what our views, disciplines or fields of study, we are ALL still speaking of one and the same universe. This speaks to me of the holographic nature of creation of which we are each give our own perception through visions, views and the constant stream of thoughts which come to mind, through which the universe reveals its self to us. This to me, is evolution in progress. we are indeed riding the crest of evolution, with each conceived being imprinted with all the cosmos has journeyed through. in other words, Each and every one of us picks up on the cosmic consciousness to where it has evolved to, to that particular momend in time. As in, materialized on matter. I now see time as the drag of the process of materializing itself in matter. While the universe has taken billions of years to materialize life on earth to where it has evolved to now taking mere months to dream ourselves in matter and be give life on planet earth. it is not about picking it apart, rather it is a case of how we fit all the diverging views into one over all comprehensive one. our kids pick up on where we are at, and are indeed lightyears ahead of us until we begin school them to the facts and gures of life which cannot help have the prisms of insight dance off into the spectrums of wonder. while educations has fast forwarded us and continually have us crash through the thought barriers of the frontiers of our mind. Ultimately, ALL humanity is about, is the product of the thoughts which have come to some one mind and have been acted upon. some day soon it will all begin make sense, as it has to me, thought it is way to much to sum it up in the hear and now and there will be many others as all the gifts and blessings we have been showered with will have life come work for all of us. We have been so focused on being right, more and more is left out of the picture. if it doesn’t make sense, it is because we are looking from the outside in, rather than the insight out.
What are we trying to accomplish here?
To expose students to science as much as possible.
If we accept the (slightly Old Testament) gauntlet that there is a war going on and that you can’t accept evolution without rejecting religion outright, we do give all the religious nut jobs out there a reason to stay away. And some of those nut jobs happen to be the parents of children who control (or at least try to control) their children’s exposure to ideas.
As far as I’m concerned, religious people who accept evolution are preferable to religious people who reject it. As the history of philosophy shows, pantheism and deism eventually lead to atheism. Time is on our side here. It’s just a very slow process, but I’m convinced we’ll get there. There are many countries in Western Europe where creationism has been marginalized. Just let’s be smart about it.
The way I see it, if God and His nature can be backed up by science, then He ceases to be God!
I rejected christianity, the bible, genesis, and jesus at my C of E boarding school when I was 16. I have reached the ripe old age of 78 and my views have not changed – even allowing my first wife was a strict R.C. and my second is a strict adventist. But, it is always nice to find a site that I agree with. I’ve written a few articles about it – if you are interested.
Understand and agree. At 16, one has reached the apogee of intelligence, and mastery of knowledge. I was the same.
thanks this post. I made some adjustments
Thank you to evolutionary biologists Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins for launching the excruciating, yet necessary, new debate on whether, when, and which “out” atheists should participate in accommodationist communications with non-atheists — and which should speak in protest. I have already begun posing this question for discussion within my circles. I will be seeing both Michael Shermer and Robert Wright tonight after a Skeptic Society meeting here in L.A., so I will continue the dialogue with them. In addition, my husband (Michael Dowd, who was the lecturer at the Skeptic Society this past Sunday) and I will be on a National Center for Science Education float trip through the Grand Canyon with Eugenie Scott in July, so there will be much more opportunity to talk this issue through with a diversity of key players.
In the meantime, I have one idea to contribute to the mix, and it is an idea that I have been preaching in churches (yes, preaching in churches — in my own tradition, Unitarian Universalism) since September 2008). The challenge I have been posing to religiously liberal and atheist audiences is this:
For more on this line of thinking, go to the sermon PDF or audio of my “Evolution Now” manifesto, or the longer chapter I contributed to a forthcoming book (chapter titled, “Evolution Now: The Epic of Evolution in Children’s Religious Education”). You can link to those via Connie Barlow’s publications page on my website.
So here is my challenge to fellow atheists (or speaking positively about what we are, evolutionary emergentists):
Let’s do a better job of allurement for the fence sitters and especially for the religiously moderate. We’ve done a great job of speaking the truth of evolution and the immense value of evidential science as a way of knowing — and especially as a way of knowing that welcomes new discoveries. But, as a group, we have been lousy thus far at espousing evolution for its inherent beauty and utility. To quote evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson, author of Evolution for Everyone,
That’s the utility side of the evolutionary emergentist worldview. For the beauty side, check out my “TheGreatStory.org” educational website and peruse some of the offerings: children’s curricula, evolutionary parables, Great Story Beads, “Death Through Deep-Time Eyes.” There you can also learn more about how, in 7 years of living entirely on the road speaking in hundreds of religious and secular settings, Michael Dowd and I have been called America’s evolutionary evangelists. There you can also peruse some amazing Stories of Awakening to Evolution” that stem from our traveling evangelism.
Finally, for those skeptical about how it is possible for an atheist to deliver a great and completely honest sermon, go to YouTube and search for this phrase “best sermon ever”. You will be astonished at who snagged that honor!
So, in essence, your rebuttal to the notion that science and theism are compatible is… “No they’re not”? Or is it, “Not everyone believes that”?
Sorry, but since when has the number of adherents to a particular belief made it any more or less true?
Philosophically, science (including the theory of evolution) and theism are not incompatible. The truth of the one does not negate the truth of the other (and if that is false, you have certainly made no attempt to show it). It doesn’t matter how many scientists or fundamentalists “believe” otherwise. Your “belief” is not evidence. It doesn’t prove anything. You, being a scientist, ought to know that.
This is not the domain of science, it is the domain of philosophy, a subject with which you are clearly unacquainted. Perhaps you’d better stick to science, and leave philosophy to the philosophers.
Teleology contradicts no preordained outcomes that science reveals. Otherwise arises the new Omphalos argument that it is only apparent non-planning, anti-chance agency know as natural selection works. That is stupid, folks1
Superstition can accommodate itself to science , but science must avoid any creationist overtones, even that of the likes of Miller!
I must admit this topic has been somewhat of a dilema for me too, take the moderate path and try to include the religious and thusly open their eyes to reason and science, or to deride the ridiculous anti-science rubbish spouted oh so frequently.
It’s most liely a failing of mine, but i tend to use either approach depending on my mood that day.
The evolution deniers tend to fall into 2 camps, the innocently ignorant and the willfully ignorant. In all likelihood, the softly softly approach would be a benefit to the former group, whereas no approach at all will likely effect the latter group.
Looking at it this way, would seem to suggest the NSCE’s approach to be supierior, however my personal views take the more extreme path. I see religion as a mental health issue, one that can and should be treated.
It may be hypocritical, but i feel the right course may not necessarily be the best course. Actively seeking to attack religion, while undoubtable the right thing to do, will ultimately lead to a longer period of support for the irrational fairy stories of religion.
no matter our individual disciplines or belief, we are all speaking of one and the same happening. With our each being give a different version of it? know it presents me with an ever broader picture, including the realization, with every fresh thought, dream and vision coming into mind, we are evolution in progress.
with most of its happening in our sleep
Do you want your opinions taught in a science classroom?
I agree that the NAS is being misleading when they say “scientists….have written eloquently…explaining they see no conflict.”
As written, this misleadingly suggests that it is the norm among scientists to be accommodationist and believe in god.
Has anyone petitioned them to at least change this to:
” There are scientists… who have written eloquently…explainig they see no conflict…”
I think they would have a hard time saying no to this change if enough scientists signed a petition to that effect.
I know that’s far short, but sometimes a series of small steps is the best way to get something to change.