A few benighted folks (whose sites I won’t name) continue to argue that organizations like the National Academy of Sciences and the National Center for Science Education should get involved in theology, telling the faithful (regardless of what either the scientists or the faithful really believe) that science and faith are compatible. After all, don’t we scientists agree that if the faithful truly grasped this compatibility, they’d immediately accept the fact of evolution?
Over at Cosmic Variance, physicist Sean Carroll takes up the cudgels against this recurrent and wearying argument:
. . . there are some scientists — quite a few of us, actually — who straightforwardly believe that science and religion are incompatible. There are absolutely those who disagree, no doubt about that. But establishing the truth is a prior question to performing honest and effective advocacy, not one we can simply brush under the rug when it’s inconvenient or doesn’t make for the best sales pitch. Which is why it’s worth going over these tiresome science/religion debates over and over, even in the face of repeated blatant misrepresentation of one’s views. If science and religion are truly incompatible, then it would be dishonest and irresponsible to pretend otherwise, even if doing so would soothe a few worried souls. And if you want to argue that science and religion are actually compatible (not just that there exist people who think so), by all means make that argument — it’s a worthy discussion to have. But it’s simply wrong to take the stance that it doesn’t matter whether science and religion are compatible, we still need to pretend they are so as not to hurt people’s feelings. That’s not being honest.
I have no problem with the NCSE or any other organization pointing out that there exist scientists who are religious. That’s an uncontroversial statement of fact. But I have a big problem with them making statements about whether religious belief puts you into conflict with science (or vice-versa), or setting up “Faith Projects,” or generally taking politically advantageous sides on issues that aren’t strictly scientific. And explaining to people where their pastors went wrong when talking about damnation? No way.
Right now there is not a strong consensus within the scientific community about what the truth actually is vis-a-vis science and religion; I have my views, but sadly they’re not universally shared. So the strategy for the NCSE and other organizations should be obvious: just stay away. Stick to talking about science. Yes, that’s a strategy that may lose some potential converts (as it were). So be it! The reason why this battle is worth fighting in the first place is that we’re dedicated to promulgating the truth, not just to winning a few political skirmishes for their own sakes. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?