Michael Zimmerman is a biologist at Butler University. He’s also the founder of the Clergy Letter Project, a project that rounds up clergy to sign a letter asserting that science and faith are compatible. Here’s part of that letter:
While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts. . .
We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist.
Well, I still don’t know what the “timeless truths” of the Bible are, or how they differ from the conflicting but equally timeless truths of Islam, Hinduism, or Scientology. What, for example, are the “timeless truths” of Noah or the Adam-and-Eve story? That all animal species went through a bottleneck of two individuals? That all humans were all born in a state of sin?
But never mind. The Clergy Letter Project seems harmless at worst, though it’s predicated on the dubious assumption that if the shepherds assert the compatibility of faith and evolution, creationists will rush to join the Darwinian fold. Still, Zimmerman extols the virtues of accommodationism in a post in Thursday’s HuffPo, where he asks us to not only recognize the differences between science and faith, but respect them.
It’s straight-up NOMA-ism. Zimmerman defines science thusly:
Scientific investigation is a process that depends upon hypothesis testing and demands that scientific claims be offered in a manner that permits them to be falsified. Simply put, if you can’t phrase your hypothesis in a falsifiable manner, it falls outside the bounds of science.
And then tells us that religious claims are outside these bounds— except, of course, for creationism!:
Where does that leave religion? Well, it depends what you mean by religion. When religion (or more likely its fundamentalist adherents) begins to make claims in the complete absence of evidence and in a manner that is not falsifiable, and when those claims are passed off as scientific, the record must be set straight. Creationism, in all of its guises, including intelligent design, regularly makes claims of exactly this sort. Rather than addressing evidence, creationists simply make faith statements and expect that those faith statements be taught in science classes.
While none of us should hesitate to attack such activities, it’s well worth pointing out that most mainstream religions don’t do this. Consider, for example, the resolution overwhelmingly adopted by the United Methodist Church at its quadrennial conference in 2008: “Be it resolved that the General Conference of the United Methodist Church go on record as opposing the introduction of any faith-based theories such as Creationism or Intelligent Design into the science curriculum of our public schools.”
What? Most mainstream religions don’t make empirical claims that are in principle testable? That’s just wrong. In April I gave a list of empirical claims made by religious people. These claims are either testable and have already been disproven (prayer works) or testable in principle (an itinerant rabbi was raised from the dead two millennia ago). And they’re all empirical claims. The only kind of religion that doesn’t make those claims is deism.
Zimmerman isn’t describing the real world, but the world of left-wing theologians. As I wrote a while back in The New Republic:
The reason that many liberal theologians see religion and evolution as harmonious is that they espouse a theology not only alien but unrecognizable as religion to most Americans.
If you turn on your television on Sunday morning, as I did today, you’ll see that real world. You’ll see oodles of preachers testifying to the literal truth of God’s creation, the Fall of Man, and the power of prayer. What’s more, some of these preachers promise salvation, wealth, happiness, or health if you’ll just forward a few bucks to their ministries. Aren’t those empirical claims? Apparently not, because, you know, those people are deluded: religion isn’t really about whether God fiddles with the world:
Many, many religious leaders understand that religion is not dependent upon a single interpretation of any text. Instead, the overwhelming majority of the religious leaders with whom I interact regularly believe that religion is about morality and spirituality rather than science.
Maybe Dr. Zimmerman should get out more.
In the end, Zimmerman wears his accommodationism proudly:
I have no problem being labeled an “accommodationist” for taking such a stand. I also have no problem arguing vehemently when anyone, religious or otherwise, crosses the line from science to nonsense.
Right. I look forward to Dr. Zimmerman’s vehement arguments against the nonsensical and pseudoscientific claim that prayer works.