By and large, Brother Blackford is a gentle man, not given to the strident invective that supposedly characterizes the rest of us. But he doesn’t suffer fools lightly. Over at the Religion and Ethics website of the Australia Broadcasting Corporation, Russell reacts to recent criticisms of the Gnus in a piece called, “With friends like these: atheists against the New Atheism“.
Russell’s special concern is Michael Ruse’s ridiculous argument that any connection between atheism and evolution (and note that this connection is made far more often by the faithful than by evolutionists!) would mandate that evolution could not be taught in American science classrooms, for that would be tantamount to teaching a “religious” view. And it’s forbidden under our Constitution to bring religion into public school classrooms. Therefore evolutionists should STFU about their atheism or evolution will get the boot.
Blackford first notes that drawing a strict line between science and religion is impossible given that scientific advances affect religious dogma:
For Ruse, the whole point seems to be that a bright line must be drawn between religion and science, but this is not merely simplistic, misleading and wrong – though it is all of those. It is impossible.
Whatever we find out about the universe we live in, whether through science as narrowly-understood, through work in the humanities (such as archaeology and historical-textual scholarship), or other means, is potentially grist to the mill of theologians and philosophers.
If physicists find that the fundamental constants are just right for the emergence of complex chemistry, and hence of life, certain philosophers and theologians will claim that this is evidence for the existence of God.
If physicists then find that the alleged “fine-tuning” of the constants does not exist, or that it can be explained in some independently attractive way, that will then undermine one argument for God’s existence.
If geologists find – as they certainly have – that our planet is four to five billion years old, that renders highly implausible a particular theological approach which, based on a literalist approach to the Bible, claims it was created by God about 6,000 years ago. Less literalist theologies thereby benefit.
If archaeologists and historians ever find good evidence for the Egyptian captivity, the decades that the Jews supposedly spent wandering in the wilderness, and the conquest of the promised land, all as described early in the Hebrew Bible, that will provide ammunition to theologians who take the relevant biblical accounts literally. If they don’t, it helps less literalist theologians and may also help some atheist arguments.
The theory of evolution provides an explanation for the intricately functional diversity of life on Earth. Accordingly, it undermines certain arguments for the existence of God based on that diversity – there is no reason to posit a supernatural designer of life forms.
Other theistic arguments will be undermined when and if we get a truly robust scientific theory as to how life arose from non-life in the first place.
And only someone like Ruse could object to Russell’s conclusions:
The point of the First Amendment is not to prevent the state and its agencies from saying anything that might be seized upon to support a theological position or an anti-religious one. It is to ensure that the state acts for secular reasons, not, for example, out of religious favour or with a persecutory intent.
When it comes to science education, public school systems in the United States and other liberal democracies generally have the secular goal of teaching students well-established findings, those that are generally accepted by working scientists.
In other words, students are provided with secular knowledge. The theological and philosophical chips can then fall where they may – outside of class.
I’ll add that this holds not just for science, but for almost any area of human thought. There’s hardly any aspect of education, particularly higher education, that doesn’t have effects—mostly inimical ones—on religious thought. So should we ban all colleges on First Amendment grounds?