On the origin of the specious: Jesuit magazine says that Darwin was both an evolutionist and an advocate of “intelligent design”

February 23, 2022 • 10:45 am

The article below (click on screenshot), is from the magazine America, a “Jesuit Review”. and it’s by Christopher Sandford, a writer who, while he may be religious, is certainly no padre. Here’s his bio from MacMillan:

Christopher Sandford has published acclaimed biographies of Kurt Cobain, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Imran Khan, Harold Macmillan, John F. Kennedy, Steve McQueen, and Roman Polanski. He is also the author of Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini. He has worked as a film and music writer and reviewer for over 20 years, and frequently contributes to newspapers and magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. Rolling Stone has called him “the pre-eminent author in his field today.” Sandford divides his time between Seattle and London.

But the article below, with its provocative title, suggests expertise in the history of science. Sadly, little is evident in the piece, as Sandford is setting up a straw man and then burning it down.

Click on the screenshot to read:

What he means by saying that we’re reading Darwin “all wrong” is that we read Darwin as an icon of atheism, a man who had no truck with any species of the divine, and deliberately designed his works to demolish the idea of God. As I’ll show below, that’s not true. Darwin simply didn’t care much about God so long as he could explain biological design by a theory that didn’t invoke God.

Sandford also states that, after writing the Origin, Darwin had two ideas in his head at the same time: a materialistic evolution but also one mixed with some intelligent design.  This is not true. Insofar as Darwin thought of “intelligent design,” he merely suggested in passing that perhaps the “laws of the universe” were designed. He rejected the idea of God held by his contemporaries (see below). We know this because Darwin told us this. He was at best an agnostic.

But he was also canny: he knew very well the implications of evolution for the religious—the implications of giving a purely materialistic explanation for phenomena that for several millennia had been seen as the strongest evidence for God: design in nature. This is why Darwin devoted only a single weaselly sentence to human evolution in The Origin: “Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history”.

But then he put his cards on the table in 1871 with the publication of The Descent of Man.  But his continuing reluctance to discuss the theological implications of his theory is simply because he wanted his theory to be accepted, and accepted by people who were Bible-believing Christians. This reluctance has been interpreted by some as equivocation, but is seen by Sandford is seen as Darwin believing both in evolution and “intelligent design.”

Sandford’s thesis is summed up in a paragraph near the end (my bolding):

For many people today, Darwin has become a sort of secular deity, an icon for atheism who at a stroke swept away the antediluvian superstitions of his age and ushered in an invigorating new era of scientific logic and rationalism. A close reading of On the Origin of Species, however, strongly suggests that the work was not only an argument against the concept of miraculous creation but also a theist’s case for the presence of intelligent design, broadly in keeping with Albert Einstein’s subsequent aphorism that “God does not play dice with the universe.”

Well, those who see Darwin as an icon for atheism have some justification, for he is an icon for atheism by having replaced divine explanations with materialistic ones. But the last sentence, implying that there was intelligent design in the universe, is not justified by Darwin’s writings. He rejected the idea of a personal God, and as for a Higher Power who created the laws of Nature, Darwin was pretty mute. This letter to Asa Gray in 1860 shows that while Darwin rejected a beneficent God, he just didn’t know if there was any higher power. Bolding in the quote below is mine:

With respect to the theological view of the question; this is always painful to me.— I am bewildered.— I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I shd wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed. On the other hand I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe & especially the nature of man, & to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton.—   Let each man hope & believe what he can.—

Now one could, as Sandford apparently does, take the words “designed laws” as evidence for a higher power who designed those laws. I’m not so sure, for in the next sentence Darwin famously punts, saying that he gives up on the whole subject as “too profound for the human intellect”—”a dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton   . . ”  (That’s an excellent sentence!) I think Darwin just didn’t want to discuss the theological underpinnings of his theory because he wasn’t interested in theology and couldn’t come to any answers about gods.  In that sense, he was a true agnostic, and it’s proper to read him as such.

And, as we see below, while Darwin still believed in “laws” towards the end of his life, the idea that they were “designed” laws seems to have disappeared.

Yet Sandford makes several game tries to show that Darwin was more than just a straight-up agnostic. For example, Sandford says this:

To take another example: Charles Darwin himself would almost certainly not have endorsed the views of many of his spiritual heirs today that the biblical story of creation and the evolution of the physical universe are mutually exclusive rather than twin manifestations of a divine act of self-revelation.

Note Sandford’s claim that Darwin wouldn’t have seen “the biblical story of creation” and the “evolution of the physical universe” as mutually exclusive. That’s almost certainly wrong: Darwin’s Origin was “one long argument” against the biblical story of creation. Time after time he compares what one would expect to see in the biological world if biblical creationism be true, and he shows that you don’t see that: you see what you’d expect if evolution be true.

As for “twin manifestations of a divine act of self-revelation,” I don’t know what that means. Either the Biblical story is true or it’s not. It’s not, and, as far as we know, Darwin’s theory of evolution was true. And how did “a possibly divine origin of the laws of physics” suddenly turn into an acceptance of “the biblical story of creation”?

Sandford also, for some reason, lays at Darwin’s feet the use of his theory by eugenicists, particularly Hitler:

“With savages,” Darwin wrote, in perhaps the most striking passage in the text,

the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed. The aid we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy.

This passage is not perhaps what most modern adherents of Darwinian thought have in mind when extolling their hero’s rigorously materialist approach to evolutionary biology. Nor, to be fair, is it entirely representative of 1871’s The Descent of Man as a whole. Even so, this was the partial reading of Darwin’s theory seized upon by Adolf Hitler and his like-minded crew of genocidal fanatics in their quasi-scientific musings on the evolutionary process.

Here is Hitler, for instance, speaking at Nuremberg in 1933: “The gulf between the lowest creature which can still be styled man and our highest races is greater than that between the lowest type of man and the highest ape.”

Nope. Hitler rejected Darwinism, and his views on Jews, genocide, and the superiority of Aryans were derived from elsewhere—certainly not from Darwin! To see an expert refutation of this claim, read my colleague Bob Richards’s definitive article, “Was Hitler a Darwinian?” And here’s Richards’s answer:

In order to sustain the thesis that Hitler was a Darwinian one would have to ignore all the explicit statements of Hitler rejecting any theory like Darwin’s and draw fanciful implications from vague words, errant phrases, and ambiguous sentences, neglecting altogether more straight-forward, contextual interpretations of such utterances. Only the ideologically blinded would still try to sustain the thesis in the face of the contrary, manifest evidence. Yet, as I suggested at the beginning of this essay, there is an obvious sense in which my own claims must be moot. Even if Hitler could recite the Origin of Species by heart and referred to Darwin as his scientific hero, that would not have the slightest bearing on the validity of Darwinian theory or the moral standing of its author. The only reasonable answer to the question that gives this essay its title is a very loud and unequivocal No!

Sanford mentions that Darwin had a quote in the frontispiece of The Origin that was sympathetic to religion. Well, actually, there are two quotes in that frontispiece that are both sympathetic to religion:

. . . [Darwin] acknowledged the intellectual debt himself by opening On the Origin of Species with a quote from Whewell’s Bridgewater Treatise about the consistency of scientific evolutionary theory with a natural theology of a supreme creator establishing laws:

But with regard to the material world, we can at least go so far as this—we can perceive that events are brought about not by insulated interpositions of Divine power, exerted in each particular case, but by the establishment of general laws.

Indeed. And there’s another religion-friendly quote there, too!:

“To conclude, therefore, let no man out of a weak conceit of sobriety, or an ill-applied moderation, think or maintain, that a man can search too far or be too well studied in the book of God’s word, or in the book of God’s works; divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavour an endless progress or proficience in both.”

BACONAdvancement of Learning.

Knowing Darwin’s own views at this time, it’s nearly impossible to believe that these quotes are there because Darwin really thought there was not only a divine creator establishing laws—that’s a dog speculating on the mind of Newton—but that one should also diligently study “the book of God’s word” or “the book of God’s works” (does he mean biological works?).  I suspect, and I’m not alone in this, that Darwin knew perfectly well that the book following these opening quotes would hit Christians in the solar plexus, and these quotes are there to leaven his arguments—to make people think that Darwin saw the Bible was the word of God, and that world showed the Works of the Word.

Here’s one last passage from Darwin’s Autobiography showing, over his life, how his disbelief in the conventional idea of God increased (again, my bolding):

By further reflecting that the clearest evidence would be requisite to make any sane man believe in the miracles by which Christianity is supported,—that the more we know of the fixed laws of nature the more incredible do miracles become,—that the men at that time were ignorant and credulous to a degree almost incomprehensible by us,—that the Gospels cannot be proved to have been written simultaneously with the events,—that they differ in many important details, far too important as it seemed to me to be admitted as the usual inaccuracies of eye-witnesses;—by such reflections as these, which I give not as having the least novelty or value, but as they influenced me, I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation. The fact that many false religions have spread over large portions of the earth like wild-fire had some weight with me. Beautiful as is the morality of the New Testament, it can hardly be denied that its perfection depends in part on the interpretation which we now put on metaphors and allegories.

But I was very unwilling to give up my belief;—I feel sure of this for I can well remember often and often inventing day-dreams of old letters between distinguished Romans and manuscripts being discovered at Pompeii or elsewhere which confirmed in the most striking manner all that was written in the Gospels. But I found it more and more difficult, with free scope given to my imagination, to invent evidence which would suffice to convince me. Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress, and have never since doubted even for a single second that my conclusion was correct. I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished.

And this is a damnable doctrine.1

Although I did not think much about the existence of a personal God until a considerably later period of my life, I will here give the vague conclusions to which I have been driven. The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man. There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows. Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws. 

1 Mrs. Darwin annotated this passage (from “and have never since doubted”…. to “damnable doctrine”) in her own handwriting. She writes:—”I should dislike the passage in brackets to be published. It seems to me raw. Nothing can be said too severe upon the doctrine of everlasting punishment for disbelief—but very few now wd. call that ‘Christianity,’ (tho’ the words are there.) There is the question of verbal inspiration comes in too. E. D.” Oct. 1882. This was written six months after her husband’s death, in a second copy of the Autobiography in Francis’s handwriting. The passage was not published. See Introduction.—N. B. [Nora Barlow, the editor]

Note that in the last sentence the “fixed laws” are NOT imputed to God. So, at the end, we have no indication that even the “fixed laws” were of God’s devising. Note as well that the Autobiography was published five years after Darwin’s death. We can take it, then, as the cumulation of his views.

In the end, we are reading Darwin right so long as we realize that:

a.) He did not believe in the Christian personal God, a good God, that was prevalent in his day.

b.) He did not accept the Biblical story of creation. The “design” he saw in nature, which his predecessor Paley thought was strong evidence for God, came instead from evolution by natural selection.

c.) He was not an antitheist, nor an atheist in the sense of one who says “the evidence for a divine being is almost nonexistent”.  He was an agnostic who thought, “I don’t know if there’s a divine power and it’s beyond my ken to figure this out.” (Some people would call this atheism, but I don’t.


d.) Darwin’s views may have been coopted by eugenicists, but not by Hitler, and few people fault Darwin for eugenics laws and acts after his time. Darwin, of course, wasn’t responsible for the misuse of his ideas.

Sandford’s claim that “we’ve been reading Darwin all wrong” is, in the end, a strawman argument. It depends, of course, on who “we” represents. Most people have never read a word of Darwin, and get what they know about him from rumor, so they can’t have been “reading Darwin all wrong.”They might have been getting Darwin wrong, but that’s not Sandford’s argument, which seems to be directed at scientifically-minded laypeople.

For those who do read Darwin, those familiar with his books and letters could never conclude that he saw harmony between his theory of evolution and any form of “intelligent design”. For even if you accept (and I don’t) that Darwin thought that only the laws of nature were designed, he still saw the evolution of life as the result of deterministic processes operating on material protoplasm. By and large, the views that most modern people have about Darwin, and I refer to people who have read Darwin, are correct.


h/t: Karl, Andrew Berry

Three ideological confrères produce a questionable piece of accommodationism

February 16, 2022 • 1:30 pm

The Heterodox Academy has a subgroup, Heterodox STEM, which deals with “heterodox” views of STEM—most of them being criticisms of the new “woke” initiatives that are invading the sciences. Heterodox STEM has a Substack, too, where you can see a number of people standing up against the “successor ideology”. A splendid example of that is Ilya Revakine’s recent post, “On Cancel Culture and Anti-Semitism in Academia”, a defense of the opprobrium that descended on Anna Krylov et al. after they posted an honest-to-good reviewed critique, “Scientists must resist cancel culture” in the chemistry-news journal Nachrichten der Chemie. In fact, most of Heterodox STEM seems dedicated to resisting cancel culture in science, and I’m pretty much on their side.

I was thus surprised to see an accommodationist and pro-religious piece on the site, which you can read by clicking below. You’ll recognize the last author, Dorian Abbot, as our University of Chicago professor of Geophysical Sciences, whose “heterodox” views on DEI got him into trouble with his department here (the administration stood by him), and then, because of his views, he was disinvited from a prestigious invited lecture at MIT that had nothing to do with DEI. That caused a huge kerfuffle that even made it into the New York Times. Abbot was badly treated then, and it’s brought a lot of shame on MIT.

Here, though, Abbot espouses accommodationist and religious views in a piece written with two co-authors: Daniel Selvaratnam, a Research Fellow in autonomous systems at the University of Melbourne, and Wesley Farrell, an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the U.S. Naval Academy. (Farrell recently wrote another piece on the site, “Cancel Culture in Science is Real.”)

It’s in the spirit of collegial debate, then, that I offer a critique of their piece, a piece that tries to show that both religion and science offer valuable methodologies to contribute to our understanding of the universe. I would normally tell the authors to read my book, Faith versus Fact:Why Science and Religion are Incompatible, as well as my 2013 piece in Slate, “No Faith in Science“,  but what fun would that be?

Since “heterodox” means “going against accepted opinion or beliefs”, and because accommodationism really is the norm in America (though not necessarily among scientists), I offer a critique that is both heterodox and, I hope, constructive.c

The piece makes a number of claims that I’ve discussed in my book, but let me lump them into three categories. The bold headings are mine, while the arguments of Selvaratnam et al. (henceforth “SFA”) are indented—with the exception of my quote from Slate given further down.

Claim 1. Science answers the “how” questions and religion answers the “why questions.” SFA:

At a fundamental level, science is a methodology for the discovery of knowledge about the natural world designed to answer the question, “how?,” which is the true question the young boy on the beach was asking. But science cannot, even in principle, answer the deeper question of the grown man: “why?.”  As Bishop Robert Barron has argued, “though the sciences may be able to understand the chemical compounds that make up paper and ink, the sciences will never understand the meaning of a book.” We can investigate the physical properties of the book using science, but the ideas within it, the meaning of the symbols, the eternal truths or errors that may be held within those pages, simply cannot be reduced to an arrangement of molecules. The same is true for art.  We can explain with basic physics how the violin makes noise of a certain pitch, but are completely at a loss when we attempt to explain why Beethoven’s Ode to Joy is beautiful using the scientific method. Nor can science provide us with a framework to tell the difference between right and wrong.  Consider Fritz Haber.  A German scientist, Haber won the Nobel Prize for his role in the development of industrial synthesis of ammonia, a revolution that has saved billions from starvation. Yet this same invention was used to manufacture munitions, and Haber also used his scientific talents to develop poisonous gasses that led to the slow and painful deaths of hundreds of thousands in the First World War.  Science did not provide an ethical or moral framework for Haber because it cannot: it is merely an amoral method we can use to increase our knowledge about nature.

. . . All of this is to say that, not only is there no inherent conflict between science and Christianity, but the Christian worldview actually motivates and supports the scientific enterprise. Both science and Christianity are systems of thought based on logic, reason, and evidence which complement and build off each other. How much greater is the believer’s wonder at creation given its tremendous magnitude and complexity that have been revealed by modern science? How could science work without the axioms that flow naturally from Christianity, and what ultimate motivation could we have for doing it? Whereas science excels at answering “how?” questions and has dramatically improved the physical conditions under which we exist, Christianity deals with “why?” questions, motivates the fundamental assumptions necessary to do science, and provides us with a reason to continue existing at all.

As you’ll see, SFA tout Christianity as being able to answer the “why” questions, and so we have two nonoverlapping magisteria, or NOMA as Gould called them. Religion and science can snuggle together happily, after all.

But in fact this is not the case. As I show in FvF, religion does ask “how” questions, as many religions are grounded on factual beliefs—beliefs that in principle could be tested and, if they can’t be disproven, there’s no reason to accept them. In fact, the faith extolled by SFA, Christianity, makes many statements of fact: Jesus lived, he was divine and the son of/part of God, he was crucified and then resurrected, and by accepting this fact and taking Jesus as our saviour we are vouchsafed eternal afterlife. Indeed, you can hardly call yourself a Christian if you don’t accept those “truths”.

And here are some “how” issues that are empirical claims, and are even mentioned by SFA:

The Bible makes two profound claims that are relevant to science. First, that the universe was created by a good, powerful, and wise Creator, who endowed it with structure and beauty, and constantly upholds it by his power.

. . . The second Scriptural claim is that man is both flesh and spirit. We are flesh, and so our bodies are subject to the laws of physics. But we are not only flesh. As spirits, we have a God-given ability to reason, to search for truth, and to discover the God who made us in his image. This worldview provides truly fertile ground for robust scientific inquiry. Within it, our five axioms are no longer arbitrary. Science has flourished in the West, not in spite of its Christian foundation, but precisely because of it.

Let’s leave aside the dubious claim that Christianity kick-started science (in fact, it impeded science for centuries, and, in the form of creationism, still does so). Neither of the claims above can be tested, and, if you’re a Bayesian, you might even claim that the priors of Christianity are low, for there’s precious little evidence for a “good, powerful, and wise creator”. (The world is a mess, and little kids die all the time for no discernible reason.) Likewise, there’s no evidence for “spirit”, which is undefined except that it seems to have something to do with our ability to reason, which of course can be explained by evolutionary biology.

Further, religion doesn’t answer the “why” questions, for every religion has a different answer to questions like “why is there physical (or moral) evil in the world.” Why did humans appear? Why should we behave morally? In the end, all of these “why” questions have a simple answer: “Because God wanted it that way.” But that’s no answer.  For it leads to other “why” questions like “why is there a god” and “why does God want us not use contraceptives?” Further, if you ask for evidence for such a God, accommodationists punt, saying, “We don’t need no stinking evidence, we have faith.” But more on faith later.

Many philosophers have shown repeatedly that religion is not itself a source of ethical beliefs but a filter for them. As Plato showed in the Euthyphro Dialogue, asserting that “God is good” raises the questions, “Is God good because everything he dictates is good? Or is God good because he decrees a set of values and actions that seem to us a priori good?. And the latter was Plato’s answer. We have a pre-God-ian idea of what “good” is, and have constructed our god to comport with that.

Yes, you can derive ethics from whatever dictates your God has, but every religion has a different species of morality. If you’re a Catholic, you see homosexual acts as a grave sin that will send you to hell, Not so for many other faiths. If you’re a Muslim, you’re morally obliged to kill apostates and to many sects, women must cover their bodies lest they excite the lust of men.  Religious “morality” dictates what you eat, what you wear, what you eat, and who and how you have sex with. The alternative—humanistic morality, or simple secular ethics—is not even considered by SFA as a valid way of addressing “why” questions, and even there we have the problem that all morality is, at bottom, subjective, based on what you see as desirable or undesirable. But those who argue that religion is our fount of ethics seem unaware of the long history of secular ethical philosophy going back to the ancient Greeks and through Spinoza to modern philosophers like Grayling and Rawls.

In the end I’ll say this:

Religion doesn’t answer the why questions, it addresses them. Religion has no way to answer “why questions”

In contrast, science can and does answer the how questions.

I don’t think I need to list the “how” questions science has answered.  I’ll give just one: “how can we immunize people against Covid-19?”

Claim 2. Both science and religion are based on “faith”. ASN:

Some believe that science is a superior alternative to faith. But if we peer a little deeper, we see that the scientific method actually requires a great deal of faith before it can even get off the ground. For example, here are five axioms that every scientist (often unconsciously) believes:

  • The entire physical universe obeys certain laws and these laws do not change with time.
  • Our observations provide accurate information about reality.
  • The laws of logic yield truth.   
  • The human mind recognizes the laws of logic and can apply them correctly.
  • Truth ought to be pursued.

None of these can be proved by science; they must be assumed in order to do any science at all. They are articles of faith. The fourth point especially bears elaboration. Our ability to think rationally must be assumed before any of our thought processes can be trusted. [JAC: See Pinker’s new book, Rationality, as a refutation of this argument.] Without this assumption, we can get absolutely nowhere. Though every human must make it, critically, not all worldviews are capable of supporting it. Consider that no other rational species exists on Earth or has yet been found in the entire universe. Clearly evolution cannot be relied on, or even expected, to produce rational beings. Moreover, if all our thoughts are simply the product of chemical reactions, governed solely by the laws of physics, then there is no reason for them to have any correspondence with the truth. Assuming that we can think rationally, the atheist’s account of our origins offers us compelling reasons to doubt the validity of that very assumption.

This discussion is familiar to me, and because I saw it so often I wrote the Slate article nearly a decade ago to clarify the difference between the usage of “faith” in science and “faith” in religion. I’ll quote myself here:

A common tactic of those who claim that science and religion are compatible is to argue that science, like religion, rests on faith: faith in the accuracy of what we observe, in the laws of nature, or in the value of reason. Daniel Sarewitz, director of a science policy center at Arizona State University and an occasional Slate contributor, wrote this about the Higgs boson in the pages of Nature, one of the world’s most prestigious science journals: “For those who cannot follow the mathematics, belief in the Higgs is an act of faith, not of rationality.”

Such statements imply that science and religion are not that different because both seek the truth and use faith to find it. Indeed, science is often described as a kind of religion.

But that’s wrong, for the “faith” we have in science is completely different from the faith believers have in God and the dogmas of their creed. To see this, consider the following four statements:

“I have faith that, because I accept Jesus as my personal savior, I will join my friends and family in Heaven.”
“My faith tells me that the Messiah has not yet come, but will someday.”
“I have strep throat, but I have faith that this penicillin will clear it up.”
“I have faith that when I martyr myself for Allah, I will receive 72 virgins in Paradise.”

All of these use the word faith, but one uses it differently. The three religious claims (Christian, Jewish, and Muslim, respectively) represent faith as defined by philosopher Walter Kaufmann: “intense, usually confident, belief that is not based on evidence sufficient to command assent from every reasonable person.” Indeed, there is no evidence beyond revelation, authority, and scripture to support the religious claims above, and most of the world’s believers would reject at least one of them. To state it bluntly, such faith involves pretending to know things you don’t. Behind it is wish-thinking, as clearly expressed in Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

In contrast, the third statement relies on evidence: penicillin almost invariably kills streptococcus bacteria. In such cases the word faith doesn’t mean “belief without good evidence,” but “confidence derived from scientific tests and repeated, documented experience.”

You have faith (i.e., confidence) that the sun will rise tomorrow because it always has, and there’s no evidence that the Earth has stopped rotating or the sun has burnt out. You have faith in your doctor because, presumably, she has treated you and others successfully, and you know that what she prescribes is tested scientifically. You wouldn’t go to a shaman or a spiritual healer for strep throat—unless you want to waste your money.

The conflation of faith as “unevidenced belief” with faith as “justified confidence” is simply a word trick used to buttress religion. In fact, you’ll never hear a scientist saying, “I have faith in evolution” or “I have faith in electrons.” Not only is such language alien to us, but we know full well how those words can be misused in the name of religion.

To reiterate: religious faith is based on scripture, religion, and authority, and is impervious or immune to empirical verification. Mark Twain put it bluntly: ““Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” To be charitable, I’ll amend that to “Faith is believing things for which you have no evidence, but that belief satisfies your emotional needs.”

Science, on the other hand, starts with assumptions that are tested over time to see if they help us understand the cosmos in a way that comports with other people’s understanding. There’s only one kind of science, which is based on assumptions that have been justified because they provide further empirical understanding. Or, as Richard Dawkins said, “Science works, bitches!”

In contrast, there are a gazillion religions, no two of which have identical beliefs, truth claims, and moralities. There’s no way to know which one is right. But there is a way to know whether the continents move or are static, whether infectious diseases are caused by airborne “humors” or microorganisms, and whether a molecule of benzene has six carbon atoms or eight. That way is science. There is no way that religion can tell us the truth about reality, and, in fact, theology has not advanced an iota in the last millennium. Do we know more about God than Aquinas or Augustine did? Not a whit. We just have a lot more fruitless lucubrations that have provided employment for theologians.

SFA, then, seem misguided when they assume that the “faith” we have in science (assumptions that bring confidence when they are repeatedly justified) is the same thing as the faith they have in religion (beliefs that are neither evidenced nor justified).

As for Science Faith Claim #5, “Truth ought to be pursued”, that differs from the other claims because it’s an “ought” rather than an “is”. I’d argue that that “ought” is justified by utilitarianism—that if you want to cure diseases and improve well being and understand how the planets move—you have to pursue truth. Science works, bitches.

Finally, the last claim, which can be disposed of easily:

Claim 3. Science and religion are compatible because there have been famous religious scientists. SFA:

The assumption that God’s creation is not random and chaotic, but rather orderly and rational, was necessary for scholars to begin to pursue knowledge via what is now known as the scientific method (see Theology and the Scientific Imagination by Amos Funkenstein).  Even atheists today implicitly make use of this fundamental assumption.  And it also explains why so many deeply religious people have been among the most important scientists historically.  For example, Galileo, despite his differences with the Church, was a pious Catholic. Newton, although certainly not an orthodox Christian, was nevertheless a believer.  James Clerk Maxwell and Lord Kelvin were both devout Presbyterians, with Kelvin commenting that “[t]he more thoroughly I conduct scientific research, the more I believe science excludes atheism. If you think strongly enough you will be forced by science to the belief in God, which is the foundation of all religion.” Gregor Mendel made some of the most important contributions to the theory of genetics, and was also an Augustinian friar.  The Big Bang was first theorized by Belgian priest Georges Lamaitre. Examples abound.  The view that science and Christianity are incompatible is not only incorrect, it is disproven by history.

Yes, and you can argue that science and pedophilia are compatible because some famous scientists were pedophiles (Schrödinger is the latest one accused of this). The fact is that humans can hold two incompatible ideas in their head at the same time, and that fact does not make those ideas compatible. When Maxwell went into the lab, he discarded his religiosity and practiced science, as all good scientists do, as an atheistic discipline, with no need to consider gods or the supernatural. But when he went to church, he suddenly accepted a bunch of palaver that even small children can see through. Does that fact make science and religion compatible? I don’t think so. But you can read a fuller discussion of all of these questions in Faith Versus Fact.

Finally, why am I taking issue with three colleagues whom I’ve joined in a campaign to keep STEM free from ideology? Simply because I think faith is also a bad “ideology”. It does bad things to the world by misleading people, setting group against group, and, most of all, making people think that they can apprehend reality through revelation, authority, and scripture. Faith and science are not only incompatible, but opposites.

Does science need religion because only faith gives us “meaning and purpose”?

January 31, 2022 • 10:30 am

You already know the answer. But let me blather a bit.

I don’t read Patheos much, but an alert reader told me about an article at it’s sub-site Public Theology—a name that would normally make me click away immediately. I’ve read enough theology in my life that my craw is full of it, and I can consume no more.  But of course all of us want to see how our names are used.

It turns out that the article from last fall below (sent to me because it mentions me) is simply a rehash of old ideas, particularly those of Steve Gould.

First, the author’s bona fides:

Ted Peters is a pastor, professor, and author of both fiction and nonfiction. He is emeritus professor of systematic theology and ethics at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He co-edits the journal, Theology and Science at the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences. His fictional thrillers feature an inner-city pastor, Leona Foxx, who courageously challenges the structures of political domination that are buttressed by the latest in science and technology.

Click on the screenshot to read this. TRIGGER WARNING: Theology!

For the entire piece Pastor Peters  (also identified as a professor at the Graduate Theological Union) simply lays out the same mantra over and over again (the points below are my own characterization):

1.) Science and religion are compatible.
2.) In fact, they are inseparable if one wants to lead a complete life.
3.) This is because science can give us the answers to factual questions about the cosmos: the “how” questions”
4.) But only religion can give us the answers to the “why” questions, telling us the purpose and meaning of life, how to be moral, and where the laws of physics come from.

Only line 3 is true, and I’ve written about this so much (especially in Faith Versus Fact) that I don’t feel the need to dilate on the other topics. That book dispels assertions 1, 2, and 4, but I want to concentrate a bit on claim 4: that religion is the only way to answer questions about life that science can’t address.

If you read Steve Gould’s accommodationist book Rocks of Ages, which I reviewed very critically in the Times Literary Supplement (inquire for a copy, as it’s no longer online), you’ll recognize the so-called harmony of science and faith summarized by the “non-overlapping magisteria” (NOMA) trope. In my review, I described Gould’s solution of how science and faith could find harmony:

This principle leaves both religion and science with important but distinct tasks: Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world, and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings and values – subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate, but can never resolve.

Gould grants these “magisteria” equal status and asserts that we must accept the values of both. He calls for intense dialogue between religion and science, not to unite them, but to encourage greater harmony and mutual understanding.

Here are some quotes from Peters that underlines this erroneous thesis. First, accommodationist Denis Alexander’s restatement of NOMA:

Is there room for science in Christianity? Yes, according to biochemist Denis Alexander, founder of the Faraday Institute at St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge. “The scientific and religious accounts of reality provide us with two complementary narratives. Both narratives are important, and are impoverished if one is considered without the other….Conflicts occur when there are boundary disputes between the two domains of knowledge” (Golshani 2021, 25). As long as science and religion remain within their boundaries, then they may enjoy peaceful coexistence.

Religion is not a domain of knowledge, of course. It’s an irrational stew of superstition, with some morality that’s been gleaned from secular ideas.

Let’s pass on to another theologian (my emphases).

This split between fact and meaning gets reiterated by renowned cosmologist George F. R. Ellis. Since 1990, Ellis has served as Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. “Science cannot deal with values and issues of meaning that are the concern of religion….The themes [science] can deal with are measurable quantities such as mass, velocity, distance, force. It cannot cope with purpose” (Golshani 2021, 134). Science cannot cope with purpose, Ellis emphasizes. Purpose is the contribution of religion to the larger society.

Like many acccomodationists, Peters likes to quote religious scientists to buttress his thesis.  But, like Gould, they don’t think very hard about the incompatiblities of science and religion, and, in an effort to be conciliatory, always distort what religion can really accomplish, which is mainly to herd the sheep and fill its own coffers.

Take the last bolded sentence above. “Purpose is the contribution of religion to the larger society.” That’s bullpucky. Yes, some people find “purpose” in religion, but they also find it without religionIn a very popular post here in 2018, our many atheist readers here were perfectly able to describe and discern what they construe as “the meaning of purpose of life”, which generally boils down to “doing what gives one satisfaction.” You don’t need religion for that, and, in fact, religious “purpose” always turns out to be something like “we should serve God or Allah” (a waste of time), or “we should be good” (something you can derive from secular ethics and philosophy).

What people like Peters and Gould always forget is that religion is one source of meaning and purpose but:

a. It is not the SOLE source of meaning and purpose in life; humanism is another (and a better one).

b. People in countries that are nearly completely atheistic, like Iceland or Denmark, do not seem to be stricken with ennui because they don’t have religion to give them meaning and purpose. They get what they need from secular sources.  I’d rather hang out with a bunch of Danes than with a bunch of American theologians any day.

c. Most important, religion doesn’t answer “why” questions in any agreed-upon way. Yes, an individual can find “purpose” in slavish worship of Allah, but that’s a personal answer, not a general answer. In fact, all answers to the question are subjective and personal, and usually don’t come from religion though they may be buttressed by religion. What it boils down to is this: “the answers religion provide to questions of meaning and purpose all involve God’s will.”  And there’s no evidence for what God’s wills, much less for God itself.

But wait! There’s more!

How should the public theologian think about this? If science sticks to the facts and religion to the meaning of the facts, the two together could enrich civilization. Right?

Yes, says Skeptic Kendrick Frazier. “Science is concerned with understanding the natural world, religion with humanity’s moral, ethical , and spiritual needs….If science and religion kept to these separate domains, there would be no conflict” (Frazer 1999, 22). Science gives us data, and religion gives us the meaning of the data. That’s a recipe for peaceful cooperation. Right?

Okay, so give me one example of “the meaning of the data collected by science” that all religionists agree on. The observation that animals and plants exist and are adapted to their environment? Fuggedaboutit: many Christians and Muslims say that the “meaning” is the working of a divine God. Other believers adhere to the naturalistic view of scientists. And that’s only the simplest example. The answer to that one comes solely from science.

Here’s another question that religions are supposed to answer for us: why is there physical evil in the world? Why do children die of cancer and thousands of innocent people get wiped out by earthquakes, tsunamis, and other physical event?  Try to get believers to tell us what that means? You won’t find an answer in faith—but a lot of gobbledygook and foot-shuffling. In fact, science does answer these questions, which are based on seismic movements and the slipping of tectonic plates, as well as mutations and viruses. So why, then, does god make things happen. As the Beach Boys answered, “God only knows”.

At least Peters sees that I regard this as a false reconciliation:

No, exclaims University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne. Dr. Coyne declares war. After the war, only one can reign victorious. The victor must be science.

“Religion and science are engaged in a kind of war, a war for understanding, a war about whether we should have good reasons for what we accept as true….I see this as only one battle in a wider war–a war between rationality and superstition. Religion is but a single brand of superstition (others include beliefs in astrology, paranormal phenomena, homeopathy, and spiritual healing), but it is the most widespread and harmful form of superstition” (Coyne 2015, xii).

By declaring war, Dr. Coyne restricts himself to a worldview that is objective only. It is devoid of meaning or purpose. Now if Coyne were to ask his science to provide meaning or purpose, then he would be practicing theology without a license.

How the hell does Peters know my worldview? Has he read anything I’ve written about it? Of course religion doesn’t give me what “meaning or purpose” I have. These are personal constructs that most of us explain post facto as simply the distillation of what gives us satisfaction or pleasure. (“My purpose is to love and take care of my family.” Or, I find meaning in life by feeding ducks.”) I have a worldview, but it doesn’t come from religion. If you read this website regularly, you’ll learn big bits of that worldview, but I’m not going to explain it here.

Oh, the hubris of these sophisticated but humble theologians who have the temerity to tell us, in the face of millennia of secular philosophy and humanism, that we need religion to find “meaning and purpose”!  Isn’t it theologians who keep telling us that we need to be “more humble”?

Peters then drags Muslims and even atheists into the fray to support his argument:

Culture needs two wings to fly. Science provides one wing, and religion the other. At least according to Maryam Shamsaei and Mohn Hazim Shah. “Humanity needs to understand that science without religion is not moral and they are like two wings which required to function together to let a bird (human salvation) fly” (Shamsaei 2017, 883).

Sounds good, doesn’t it? But it’s not true. So how are northern Europe and Scandinavia able to fly? They’re missing a wing!  And do they lack culture? Not that I’ve seen.

But wait! There’s more:

So we ask: is there room in Islam for science? Is there room in science for Islam? Yes, indeed. At least according to the majority of Muslim contributors to the 5th edition of Golshani’s edited book, Can Science Dispense with Religion?

According to Majeda Omar at the University of Jordan, for example, “Science and religion are complementary concepts, not contradictory….science contributes to obtaining authentic knowledge of the physical world and its workings, and religion helps us in capturing the inner depths of reality, while providing perspective on the purpose and meaning of life” (Golshani 2021, 379). (Photo: Majeda Omar)

Once again, loose and flabby terms are used. What, exactly, are the “inner depths of reality”? If Omar means “God,” well then of course you need religion to find them? But he should define his terms. Maybe the inner depths of reality really mean what goes on at the particle level, in which case physics is answering that.

And—do I have to keep saying this forever?—philosophy provides a much better perspective on the purpose and meaning of life than does religion. For philosophy is a discipline of argumentation and rationality, while religion is a discipline of worship. obeisance, and irrationality. Only religion could produce the dictum that women should cover their bodies and homosexuals should be thrown off roofs.

Even poor Einstein gets dragooned into the war:

Let me offer a clarification. It’s quite clear that practicing scientists want to eliminate from their methods any appeal to supranatural causes, design, meaning, or purpose. This is OK, because religion provides those things to society. Might society benefit from both? Yes, indeed, according the legendary physicist Albert Einstein. “Science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind” (Einstein 1950, 26).

Does Peters not realize that Einstein’s “religion” was merely a sense of wonder about the world that gives us curiosity to move forward. Einstein was pretty much an atheist–or rather a pantheist who saw the cosmos as a god, but not a personal God. And even if Albert were an an orthodox Jew, just because he was a good physicist doesn’t mean we should bow down before his arguments about theology.

One more point. People like Peters are always calling for a dialogue between science and religion. The assumption is that each discipline can contribute to furthering the other. This is, of course, hogwash. Science can contribute to theology by testing (and always disproving) its assertions. On the other side, religion has nothing to contribute to science, for science is a discipline that does not need the numinous or divine. If there is to be a meeting of these disciplines, it will be not a constructive dialogue but a destructive monologue, in which science tells believers that they’re either wrong or have no evidence for their claims.

Finally, as if he hasn’t said this a gazillion times already, Peters bangs on about how science can’t give us a “worldview”:

Here is my tentative observation. Both Muslims and Christians recognize that the materialist assumptions of scientific research–which preclude at the outset any reference to divine causation let alone meaning or purpose–can only mislead us on the nature of ultimate reality. Muslims are less willing than Christians, by and large, to accept living with two incompatible worldviews, one scientific and the other religious. Despite this modest difference in emphasis, both Muslim and Christian theologians feel the deep impetus to formulate a single worldview that incorporates all that science can tell us about the natural world into a single comprehensive scheme in which everything in reality is understood in relationship to God.

Well, pastor Peters, first convince me that there is a god and then we’ll talk. By the way, you have to specify which god you’re talking about and the nature and characteristics of said god.

. . . Christian philosopher Nancey Murphy teams up with cosmologist George Ellis to make one point very clear:  any worldview constructed on the basis of science alone would be woefully inadequate. “The fundamental major metaphysical issues that purely scientific cosmology by itself cannot tackle–the problem of existence (what is the ultimate origin of physical reality?) and the origin and determination of the specific nature of physical laws–for these all lie outside the domain of scientific investigation” (Murphy 1996, 61).

In the face of science, Murphy and Ellis lay on the theologian’s shoulders “the reconstruction of a unified worldview” (Murphy 1996, 1) that includes “genuine knowledge of a transcendent reality” (Murphy 1996, 7).

What makes pastor Peters and Dr. Murphy think that religion can give us answers about the origin and nature of physical laws and of reality? Science in fact is giving us answers about some of these things, but religion is silent, or rather full of hot air. I would love to hear Murphy’s answer to the question, “why is the speed of light in a vacuum 299,792,458 meters per second?” Is she going to respond, “Because God decreed it”? For, after all, that’s all these theologians can say, and it’s a non-answer. (My riposte would be, “and how do you know that?”) Scientists may, as Sean Carroll has emphasized, never be able to answer such questions, and may have to wind up saying, “Well, the constants are what they for reasons we don’t understand.”

And that’s fine. At least scientists have the decency to admit when they don’t know something. Theologians like Peters and Murphy don’t: they always make up stuff, including dictates by an imaginary god.

I swear, when I read stuff like this I wonder how smart people can produce such gibberish. Do they really believe this “reconciliation”? Don’t they know that secular philosophers have been grappling with questions of meaning and purpose since the ancient Greeks?

I suppose the one thing that bothers me most about religion is that it’s an enormous waste of time, employing otherwise useful brains to analyze a gigantic fairy tale. And people pay them to do this! Every time you put a fiver in the collection plate, or donate to a religious charity, or pay the salaries of these people, it’s a complete waste of money. We already have therapists for those who need counseling. The rest is fiction.


More than half of Americans oppose the use of Arabic numerals!

December 29, 2021 • 1:30 pm

Just a bit of fun, but the headline below is true. The survey on which it’s based is reported in this article in from the Independent, which you can see by clicking on the screenshot:(you can register for free with email and a password if it’s blocked; there’s no paywall)

So, here are some results given in the article:

More than half of Americans believe “Arabic numerals” – the standard symbols used across much of the world to denote numbers – should not be taught in school, according to a survey.

Fifty-six per cent of people say the numerals should not be part of the curriculum for US pupils, according to research designed to explore the bias and prejudice of poll respondents.

The digits 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 are referred to as Arabic numerals. The system was first developed by Indian mathematicians before spreading through the Arab world to Europe and becoming popularised around the globe.

A survey by Civic Science, an American market research company, asked 3,624 respondents: “Should schools in America teach Arabic numerals as part of their curriculum?” The poll did not explain what the term “Arabic numerals” meant.

Some 2,020 people answered “no”. Twenty-nine per cent of respondents said the numerals should be taught in US schools, and 15 per cent had no opinion.

John Dick, who happens to be the head of Civic Science, issued this tweet with the data in graphic form, which I’ve put below as well:

Now Dick thinks this is an example of bigotry—”Islamophobia,” I suppose. I’m not so sure. Although I am sure that many of us know that Arabic numerals are the numerals we use every day, some people don’t, and, this being America, it’s possible that nobody has told children that they are learning “Arabic numerals.” The 56% figure could thus represent ignorance rather than bigotry, although both could play a role.  But Dick seems wedded to the latter explanation. Regardless, if it is ignorance, it’s pretty appalling. After all, everyone knows what Roman numerals are!

But wait! There’s more. There was so much doubt about this survey’s results that Snopes had to investigate it.

In its headline Snopes says “It’s difficult to answer survey questions if you don’t fully understand the meaning.” I’m pretty sure, from following them, that Snopes is woke,but their assumption that there’s no anti-Arabic bigotry involved is just a guess.

You can read their analysis, in which they reluctantly admit that the claim is true, by clicking on the screenshot below.

But wait! There’s still more! You get this special grapefruit-cutting knife if you read on—for free!


Those were the results of a real survey question posed by the polling company Civic Science. John Dick, the Twitter user who originally posted a screenshot of the survey question, is the CEO of Civic Science.

The full survey doesn’t appear to be available at this time (we reached out to Civic Science for more information), but Dick has posted a few other questions from the poll, as well as some information regarding the purpose of the survey.

Dick, who said that the “goal in this experiment was to tease out prejudice among those who didn’t understand the question,” shared another survey question about what should or shouldn’t be taught in American schools. This time, the survey found that 53% of respondents (and 73% of Democrats) thought that schools in America shouldn’t teach the “creation theory of Catholic priest Georges Lemaitre” as part of their science curriculum. Here are the results:

33% of Republicans, a whopping 73% of Democrats, and 52% of independents thought that Lemaître’s theory should NOT be taught.

Now this question is more unfair, because, really, how many Americans know what the “creation theory of Georges Lemaître” was? If you read about science and religion, or have followed this site for a while, you’ll know that, although he was a Catholic priest, Lemaître held pretty much the modern theory of the Big Bang and the expanding Universe. As Wikipedia notes:

Lemaître was the first to theorize that the recession of nearby galaxies can be explained by an expanding universe, which was observationally confirmed soon afterwards by Edwin Hubble. He first derived “Hubble’s law”, now called the Hubble–Lemaître law by the IAU, and published the first estimation of the Hubble constant in 1927, two years before Hubble’s article. Lemaître also proposed the “Big Bang theory” of the origin of the universe, calling it the “hypothesis of the primeval atom”, and later calling it “the beginning of the world”.

Yes, and Lemaitre did other science, including analyzing cosmology using Einstein’s theories of relativity. He was a smart dude, and should have gone into physics instead of the priesthood. There’s a photo of him with Einstein below.

Why did so many people answer that Lemaître’s theory, which is, as I said, is pretty much the current theory of the Universe’s origin, NOT be taught? Surely it’s because the question identified Lemaître as a “Catholic priest”. That means that people probably thought his “theory” was the one expounded in Genesis chapters 1 and 2—God’s creation. So they didn’t want a religious theory taught in school.

Two points: most Republicans didn’t mind as much as Democrats of Independents, and that may be because more Republicans are creationists than are Democrats. But why did so many Democrats not want Lemaître’s theory taught? Are they that much less creationist than are Republicans? Perhaps that’s one answer. Another is that they are more anti-Catholic, but that seems less likely. But underlying these data—as perhaps underlying much of the data about Arabic numerals—is simple ignorance. I, for one, wouldn’t expect the average Joe or Jill (oops!) to know what Lemaître said.

One final remark: Accommodationists sometimes use the fact that Lemaître got it right as evidence that there’s no conflict between science and religion. I’m not sure if Lemaître thought God created the Universe, but if he did, he might have thought that the Big Bang was God’s way of doing it. (He was surely NOT a Biblical literalist). So yes, religious people can and have made big contributions to science. But that doesn’t mean that religion and science are compatible—any more than Francis Collins’s biological work shows that science and Evangelical Christianity are compatible. I’ve explained what I mean by “compatible” before, and it’s NOT that religious people can’t do science.

In the case of Lemaître, Francis Collins, or other religious scientists, they are victims of a form of unconscious cognitive dissonance: accepting some truth statements based on the toolkit of science, and other truth statements based on the inferior “way of knowing” of faith. And that is the true incompatibility: the different ways that we determine scientific truth as opposed to religious “truth.”

But I digress, and so shall stop.

George Lemaître (1894-1966), photo taken in 1930:

From Wikipedia:

(From Wikipedia): Millikan, Lemaître and Einstein after Lemaître’s lecture at the California Institute of Technology in January 1933.

h/t: Phil D.

What did the Galileo affair say about science vs. religion?

December 26, 2021 • 11:30 am

Several readers sent me a link to this post by Patrick Casey on the Heterodox Academy blogs because I’m mentioned in it (and in good company too!). It’s an example of what historians of religion (who are often religious) write about all the time. Casey, like other accommodationists, most notably Ronald Numbers, maintains that:

1.) Religion and science are not continually at war with one another (a view called the “conflict hypothesis”), and

2.) The Galileo affair was not an example of the conflict hypothesis. A “nuanced” and complete analysis shows, says Casey, that other factors were involved, including history and philosophy.  This stance is often used to tout accommodationism: the view that science and religion are actually compatible. And it’s often held by people who want to make nice to religion.

I didn’t know of the author, Patrick J. Casey, but he is an assistant professor of philosophy at Holy Family University, a private Roman Catholic University in Philadelphia.  I can’t find him in the faculty directory, but I won’t worry about that; and I have no idea whether, even though he teaches at a religious school, he’s religious. But I won’t psychologize his motivations, I’ll just mention his arguments.

Now I don’t embrace the “simplistic” conflict hypothesis, characterized as arguing that science is continuously at war with religion(see below). Some people like Andrew Dickson and William Draper at the turn of the 20th century did pretty much embrace the “conflict hypothesis,” and I discuss this in Chapter 1 of Faith Versus Fact (p. 5):

The truth lies between Draper and White on one hand and their critics on the other. While it’s undeniable that religion was important in opposing some scientific advances like the theory of evolution and the use of anesthesia, others, like smallpox vaccination, were both opposed and promoted on biblical grounds. On the other hand, it’s a self-serving distortion to say that religion was not an important issue in the persecutions of Galileo and John Scopes. Nevertheless, since not all religions are opposed to science, and much science is accepted by believers, the view that science and faith are perpetually locked in battle is untrue. If that’s how one sees the “conflict thesis,” then that hypothesis is wrong.

But my view is not that religion and science have always been implacable enemies, with the former always hindering the latter. Instead, I see them as making overlapping claims, each arguing that they can identify truths about the universe. As I’ll show in the next chapter, the incompatibility rests on differences in the methodology and philosophy used in determining those truths, and in the outcomes of their searches. In their eagerness to debunk the claims of Draper and White, their critics missed the underlying theme of both books: the failure of religion to find truth about anything—be it gods themselves or more worldly matters like the causes of disease.

As I wrote on Christmas Eve:

My own view, which I’ll summarize in one sentence (read Faith Versus Fact if you want the whole megillah) is this: science and religion both claim that they involve “ways of knowing about the universe”, but while the methods of science really do enable us to understand the universe, the “ways of knowing” of religion (faith, authority, scripture, revelation, etc.) are not reliable guides to truth. If they were, all religions would converge on the same truth claims, which is palpably untrue.

Note that I do not claim that religion is the same thing as science, for it includes things like morality and worship and divinity. The Bible is not a “textbook of science.” But all religions do make firm claims about what’s true, and these truth claims, insofar as they’re not based on actual evidence, contravene the methods of science. That’s why science converges on what we think is real (and can use to make correct predictions), while religions haven’t converged one iota. (Compare the truth claims of Hinduism, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Scientology, cargo cults, and so on.) Nor do I claim that religion has always been opposed to science, is always in conflict with science, that religionists can’t accept modern science, or all all scientists are or must be atheists.

So when Casey says that I am one of the promulgators of the “conflict hypothesis”, as below, he’s just wrong. Is he familiar with my writings?  I’ve put the statement in bold below because I’m chuffed to be lumped together with such thoughtful men.

But simplistic narratives like the conflict thesis aren’t innocuous — they can warp our understanding of history (for example, here and here the historians of science Stephen Snobelen and Seb Falk address the myth of the “Medieval Gap,” which is grounded in the conflict thesis, as promulgated by writers like Carl Sagan, Jerry Coyne, and A.C. Grayling).

Nor do I think that Sagan promulgated the simplistic narrative of the “conflict thesis”, and I’m not sure that Grayling ever did (he’s too smart to think that). For this is how Casey defines the “conflict thesis”:

Yet anecdotes about religion suppressing science are part of a broader cultural narrative of conflict where science and religion have been locked in a zero-sum struggle — when science advances, religion is forced to beat a hasty retreat. This view of the historical relationship between science and religion is called “the conflict thesis” (see hereherehere).

Note that all of these videos were made by believers, including the DoSER wing of the AAAS (Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion), headed by evangelical Christian Jennifer Wiseman and designed to “to facilitate communication between scientific and religious communities.”

Now, the argument by Casey is that the Galileo affair involves politics and philosophy and religion, and is not as simple as the Pope accepting a Biblically-based geocentric solar system, Galileo touting a heliocentric one, and Galileo going on trial for contradicting the Bible and then being sentenced to lifelong house arrest. Galileo was not tortured, but none of us believe that anyway; he was threatened with torture if he didn’t recant. And of course Galileo insulted the pope by putting the geocentric arguments in the mouth of a character called Simplicio, which surely pissed off the Pope.

Here’s the most important “nuance” that Casey adds to the argument

The Pope was a better scientist than Galileo, for he realized that there were arguments against Galileo’s hypothesis, and he just wanted Galileo to do good science and not assert he had “proof” of heliocentrism. 

I quote Dr. Casey (my emphasis):

In addition to a reasonable desire to keep with the Church’s previous ruling, the pope had a fairly sophisticated philosophical justification for his instruction — one that foreshadows what is now called “the underdetermination thesis” in the philosophy of science. The pope argued that whatever evidence Galileo may have had for heliocentrism, it couldn’t amount to a demonstration or proof of its physical truth, since it is possible for God to bring about whatever was observed through means other than heliocentrism. At the time, an obvious example would have been Tycho Brahe’s geo-heliocentric system, which readily accounted for Galileo’s new observational evidence without needing the objectionable hypothesis of a moving Earth.

In taking this position, the pope was standing in a long tradition in natural philosophy that maintained that the job of astronomers was not to determine what the world was physically like but only to provide useful models for predicting the motions of planets. Stated charitably, the pope was instructing Galileo not to go beyond his evidence.

I love that last sentence: it’s more than charitable; it borders on dissimulation. And it’s FUNNY. And the tradition that astronomers are just supposed to make models and not find truth has long fallen by the wayside.

But Casey goes on.

Unfortunately, when Galileo published his Dialogue, he argued adamantly for the physical truth of heliocentrism, “clearly, though not explicitly” (in the words of Peter Machamer and David Marshall Miller), while sometimes making his opponents seem like idiots. To make matters worse, Galileo foolishly put the pope’s argument about the difficulty of ascertaining final scientific truth into the mouth of a character called Simplicio, which many have taken to be an insult to the pope. The pope was enraged by Galileo’s apparent deceit in defending the physical truth of heliocentrism as an established matter of fact, and Galileo was summoned to Rome to stand trial.

But Casey does admit that there was a conflict between Catholicism and Galileo’s arguments:

For better or worse, the trial of 1633 was not the site of a renewed debate about the status of heliocentrism. Rather, the trial focused on whether Galileo had violated the Church’s instruction not to argue for the physical truth of heliocentrism. In the end, Galileo was forced to recant and sentenced to house arrest at his villa in Florence for the rest of his life.

Is that not a conflict between science and religion? Galileo argued for a physical truth that the Pope didn’t want to hear, ergo he was found guilty.

Casey’s last resort is to deny that the conflict hypothesis predicts eternal enmity and war between religion and science. But that’s a straw man:

Third, and most important, even if this were a clear case of conflict, one incident wouldn’t by itself justify the grand cultural narrative of inexorable conflict between science and religion. Historians of the era have repeatedly pointed out that the Galileo affair was not representative of the norm.

But in the last 80 years or so, nobody said that this kind of conflict was the “norm”. Rather, people like Sagan and I argue that the method of finding truth in science is incompatible with the method of finding “truth” in religion, and this occasionally leads to clashes. The church doesn’t argue against the existence of electrons, or claim that benzene doesn’t have six carbon atoms, or argue against most of science in general, because most of science isn’t relevant to the Bible.

But there’s one important part that is: the story of creation. In particular, the first two chapters of Genesis, which 40% of Americans take literally—with another 33% thinking that God guided evolution. (Total percentage of those thinking God helped create life: 73%.) Only a measly 22% of Americans accept naturalistic evolution (including of humans) the way that we teach it in college. That’s about one in five.

And all modern creationism is, at bottom, rooted in religion: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, as well as other creationist faiths, including Hindusim. There is no creationist or Intelligent Design organization that is not based on religion. And I know of only a single creationist who isn’t religious—David Berlinski (and I have my suspicions about him).  Is this not, then, a palpable conflict between science and religion? Of course it is! I look forward to Dr. Casey’s explanation of why the battle between creationism and evolution in American is much more nuanced than the simplistic narrative that evolution contradicts the Qur’an or the Old Testament.

Why do people like Casey feel compelled to repeat the same old narrative about Galileo? Well, they’re partly right: more than science is involved and lots of misconceptions (e.g., the Church tortured Galileo) litter the field. But I also think that this kind of accommodationism often comes from religious people who admire science, and fear that the “conflict hypothesis” will drive people out of religion since they feel they’re being forced to choose between science and religion.

That’s not the way it works, though.

If you talk to former creationists who became atheists because of science, it’s not because a scientist told them that “they had to choose.” No, you hear that they were curious about science and evolution in particular (often because the subjects were banned), and learned about it. They finally realized that evolution is true and Genesis is false, and, like Samson, this brought down the edifice of their faith. Plus they realized that there’s simply no good evidence for God—far less evidence than we have for the existence of atoms or the fact that infectious diseases are caused by microbes.

Blogger: Ken Ham and I are like “two peas in a pod”

December 24, 2021 • 1:30 pm

Well, I’ll be: of all the characters whom I’m compared to, the young-earth creationist Ken Ham is the one I find the most unlikely.  But Joel Edmund Anderson, who presents himself as a Sophisticated Theologian®, sees profound similarities between Ham and me. Well, yes, we both have two arms, two legs, and presumably a Y chromosome.  Yet Anderson sees another similarity—and there is one, though Anderson characterizes it wrongly.  First, a bit about Anderson from his Linked In site.

Although I current am a high school teacher, I hope to eventually teach Biblical Studies at the college level. In addition to my masters degree from Regent College, I also have an MA in Old Testament from Trinity Western University, as well as a PhD in Old Testament from the University of Pretoria. I would also like to get more articles and books published.

According to Anderson’s blog, Resurrecting Orthodoxy, Ham and I are in fact like “two peas in a pod.” Click on the screenshot to see the 2018 post that someone called to my attention. But the arguments that Anderson makes are still around in 2021; I’ll talk about a more recent version of this argument against the “war between science and religion” next week.  The narrative that there’s no incompatibility between science and religion, and that they’re not in opposition to one another, continues.  In Faith Versus Fact I describe what I mean by “the war between science and religion”, and apparently Anderson either didn’t read that book, did read it and didn’t understand it, or read it and understood it but deliberately mischaracterizes my views.

Ham, “creator” of the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum in Kentucky, was on a roll three years ago tweeting about me. I don’t have the tweets but Anderson repeats them:

. . . . for the purposes of this post, I am going to focus on a recent article Coyne wrote, entitled, “Yes, There is a War Between Science and Religion.” It came to my attention because Ken Ham tweeted about it three different times the other day. Ham’s tweets were as follows:

    • “Jerry Coyne (emeritus professor) is an atheist, & so such an article as this is totally expected from one who is against God & totally committed to his religion of atheism. Interestingly he sees Christians who compromise as inconsistent–which they are”
    • “There’s no war between observational science & creation, such science confirms Genesis account. But there’s a spiritual war between Christianity & blind faith religion of atheism & the belief in evolution which is contradicted by observational science”
    • “This scientist arbitrarily defines religion as involving the supernatural, declares atheism is not religion, arbitrarily declares evolution science & fact, so he can then falsely declare creation is at war with science! It’s how secularists work”

So Anderson’s point is that Ham and I are alike because we see a war between science and religion. In Ham’s case, the war is between evolution and creationism, and he sees creationism as “science” because it’s “observational science”, and views evolution as a religion, because it’s based on faith and the “religion” of atheism. In other words, Ham sees a war between the Bible and atheistic modern science.

My own view, which I’ll summarize in one sentence (read Faith Versus Fact if you want the whole megillah) is this: science and religion both claim that they involve “ways of knowing about the universe”, but while the methods of science really do enable us to understand the universe, the “ways of knowing” of religion (faith, authority, scripture, revelation, etc.) are not reliable guides to truth. If they were, all religions would converge on the same truth claims, which is palpably untrue.

Note that I do not claim that religion is the same thing as science, for it includes things like morality and worship and divinity. The Bible is not a “textbook of science.” But all religions do make firm claims about what’s true, and these truth claims, insofar as they’re not based on actual evidence, contravene the methods of science. That’s why science converges on what we think is real (and use to make correct predictions), while religions haven’t converged one iota. (Compare the truth claims of Hinduism, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Scientology, cargo cults, and so on.) Nor do I claim that religion has always been opposed to science, is always in conflict with science, that religionists can’t accept modern science, or all all scientists are or must be atheists.

End of my views.  Now here’s what Anderson has to say:

Like Coyne, Ken Ham also sees the creation/evolution debate as being a war. Ham doesn’t see it as a war between science and religion, though. Ham simply throws in his made-up distinction between “observational science” and “historical science,” claims “observational science” confirms the creation account in Genesis, and then equates the scientific theory of evolution with “blind faith religion of atheism,” and claims the “war” isn’t between science and religion, but rather atheism and Christianity.  But make no mistake, both Ham and Coyne agree: evolution is atheism, and evolutionary science is at war with the Christian faith.

No, evolution is a science, atheism a disbelief based on the absence of evidence. Science is atheistic in practice, for we do not use gods or the concept of miracles in our research. We don’t rule them out a priori—we’ve just found that dragging gods into science doesn’t help us understand anything.  Evolutionary science is at war only with those Christians who deny evolution (or other scientific findings) and accept either an ex nihilo creation or the intervention of God in evolution.


Now, sadly, it is true that many people have abandoned their faith because they think evolution has disproven the Bible. In that respect, both Coyne and Ham are correct. But let’s be clear, the reason why evolution has led to a loss of faith of many people is that people like Coyne and Ham are mischaracterizing what science is and what the Christian faith is. Ham is actually correct in one of his tweets: Coyne essentially is hijacking the scientific theory of evolution and smuggling in his atheism into—later in his article, he claims, “science is practiced as an atheistic discipline.” Yes, it is “atheistic” in the sense that is simply studies natural processes, but to call it an “atheistic discipline” as Coyne does is to falsely equate the scientific theory of evolution with the philosophical worldview of atheism.

To the point, when atheists like Coyne and YECists like Ham are telling people that if you accept evolution then you must reject belief in God and accept atheism, then a whole lot of them are going to reject their faith because they are being told they have to.     

I wish! Yes, I’ve met people who abandoned their faith because they were literalist Christians, and when they saw the evidence that the Genesis stories weren’t true, the whole edifice of their faith toppled. But I don’t tell people what to do. I either teach them evolution and let the results fall where they may, or I explain to them why I, Jerry Coyne, see science and religion as incompatible. People can ponder my arguments and make their own decisions. I don’t believe I’ve ever told anyone that they have to reject their faith if they accept evolution.

Just a bit more. Anderson touts himself as having a “correct” understanding of religion versus the “cartoonish” versions held by Ken Ham (and about 40% of Americans with him!)  When I say that evolution is incompatible with creationism, I mean just that: it’s incompatible with a literal reading of the Bible. Anderson, however, being a Sophisticated Theologian®, somehow knows that much of (but not all of) the Bible was written as metaphor.  Clearly Augustine, Aquinas, and many other church fathers didn’t understand Scripture properly either, for they always defended literalism—sometimes with a metaphorical veneer. Anderson:

And both Coyne and Ham lump the creation account in Genesis 1 in as being the same kind of writing as found in the Gospels. They see no difference between the genre of Genesis 1 and the genre of the Gospels. This failure of basic reading competency views anyone who acknowledges the difference in genre as trying to pull a fast one. Call it accomodationism [sic] or compromise, both Coyne and Ham think you are deceptive and dishonest if you simply acknowledge that the Bible is not written in one monolithic genre. Both men might think that failure to read Genesis 1 a literal history automatically means you have to reject the account of Jesus’ resurrection, but competent readers of Scripture know better.

In other words, Anderson knows that Genesis was metaphorical, but the Resurrection really happened. But we have no more evidence for the latter than for the former: they’re both assertions in a book that’s almost wholly fictional. Anderson is a Picker and Chooser, presumably anointed by God to know that sometimes God was speaking metaphorically, and at other times literally; and Anderson can tell us which is which. Piffle!

I could go on for hours, but we have celebrating to do, albeit many are celebrating the birth of a fictional being. I want to proffer one more bit of Anderson and let you have the laughs:

  • (5) Coyne (like Ham) misinterprets Hebrews 11:1 (“the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”) as referring to believing things about the origins of the natural world without evidence.

Both men are horrible biblical exegetes, as seen in their understanding of Hebrews 11:1. Both view it as defining faith as nothing more than blind belief about the past creation of the natural world. On AiG’s website, one can find an article entitled “Blind Faith” that says this: “So faith, as commended in God’s Word, is being sure about something that wasn’t witnessed firsthand (including creation), or that cannot be seen now, or that is yet to be revealed. By this definition, all faith is blind! If we can see something, then faith is no longer operative.”

Well, not quite. To the point, the “substance (or assurance) of things hoped for” and “the evidence (or conviction) of things not seen” has nothing to do with looking back and believing things about the creation of the material universe. Rather, the faith of Hebrews 11:1 is forward-looking to the fulfillment of the saving work of Christ and the new creation. Faith is being certain that what had begun in Christ and the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit will be completed in the New Heaven and New Earth. The faith that Hebrews 11:1 is talking about is the faith that sees the evidence of the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit in part, and that looks forward to the fulfillment of Christ’s work in the future. It is being certain of the outcome because we have been given, and now witness, a foretaste of that future reality. Contrary to what AiG (and Coyne) belief, the Christian faith is not blind, and Hebrews 11:1 isn’t about “blindly believing” that Genesis 1 is telling us exactly how God actually created the world.

Yes, Hebrews 11:3 says, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible”—but it is not a scientific statement. It is saying something fairly simple: God created the universe and there is more to reality than just the material world.

No unevidenced claims in those paragraphs!

Ummm. . . .if you look at Hebrews 11, it’s not something forward looking, and it says almost nothing about Jesus, even though it’s in the New Testament. In fact, most of it tells people how faith was used in the Old Testament. What Anderson is doing here is exegesis: interpreting the Bible, and in a way that suits his beliefs. I would assert that the definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1 is accurate.

I’ll pass over Anderson’s claim that “Coyne says that religion is science”, as it’s a lie. I say that religion makes truth claims, but they aren’t asserted after using the methods of science.

End of story: I’m off to rest and have some bubbly. Happy holidays, and send in your cats!

Ken Ham and his life-sized Ark



Here’s Hebrews 11:1-8 (King James Version) being backward looking; you can read the rest of the chapter here.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

For by it the elders obtained a good report.

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.

By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.

Lame compatibilism from the NYT’s resident Anglican priest

November 8, 2021 • 9:15 am

How many times must I “unpack” the anodyne columns of Anglican Priest Tish Harrison Warren before the New York Times realizes what kind of nonsense they’ve unleashed on their readers?  Today’s column, though, isn’t all that anodyne, for it floats an idea I’ve gone after for years: the idea that science and religion are not only compatible, but are in the same business: finding truth! I wrote a whole book about this deeply flawed thesis, and am grumpy at having to critique Warren’s views when she could have read my book. She didn’t.

But in fact, in trying to push her thesis, she inadvertently refutes it. Time after time she cites examples of religious belief being in conflict with science. But she pronounces that those conflicts are not real conflicts. It’s as if she describes the Vietnam war as “not a real war” because it wasn’t formally declared by Congress.

Read by clicking below on the screenshot:

You almost have to go line by line through the piece, but I’ll spare you that. Her quotes are indented:

I have never had much interest in faith versus science debates. They simply did not resonate with me. I believe God created the world, but I never felt the need to nail down the details or method of creation. I went to a fairly conservative evangelical seminary (founded by Billy Graham himself), and even there, I was taught that Genesis 1 was more like a hymn or a poem than a science textbook. I have long been influenced by early church theologians like Augustine of Hippo, who understood the biblical creation account as primarily making theological claims instead of offering a precise explanation of cosmological origins.

She begins her piece with a statement not of fact, but of faith: “God created the world.” How does she know that? Well, let’s just say she feels it in her bones or read it in the Bible. What’s worse is the familiar claim that Augustine of Hippo read Genesis as pure metaphor. That’s not true/ As I wrote in Faith Versus Fact, Augustine, like many of the church fathers, read Genesis metaphorically as well as literally (pp 57-59). It’s true that Augustine kept debating whether the seven days of creation were literal or figurative, but he never doubted the creation of plants and animals de novo, Paradise and Adam and Eve, and the Fall.  Here’s a passage from my book in which I quote from The Works of St. Augustine, volume 13:

The narrative indeed in these books [Scripture] is not cast in the figurative kind of language you find in the Song of Songs, but quite simply tells of things that happened, as in the books of the Kingdoms and others like them. But there are things being said with which ordinary human life has made us quite familiar, and so it is not difficult, indeed, it is the obvious thing to do, to take them first in the literal sense and then chisel out from them what future realities the actual events described may figuratively stand for.

It looks as if Warren not only hasn’t read my book, but isn’t well up on the works of Augustine!

And then Warren, trying to dispel the myth that faith and science are at odds, gives evidence that they are indeed at odds!

It has not been hard for me to trust the medical community and their recommendations during the pandemic because I personally know biomedical researchers whom I trust. I worship each Sunday with physicians. My church prayed for an end to the pandemic and asked God to help scientists in their vaccine research. We never saw a conflict between the work of God and efforts of science.
But others saw the two in opposition. In April 2020, Andrew Cuomo, then the governor of New York, explained declining coronavirus rates by saying, “Our behavior has stopped the spread of the virus. God did not stop the spread of the virus.” Around me, I heard some churchgoers say that Covid precautions were motivated by fear, not faith.

Indeed, these past two years have exposed how the science vs. faith discourse isn’t an abstract ideological debate but a false dichotomy that has disastrous real-world consequences. According to a September Pew study, white evangelicals are the least likely religious group to get vaccinated (about 57 percent have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine). There are certainly political reasons for this. Many white American evangelicals lean Republican, and Republicans overall are less likely to get vaccinated against Covid. But we also cannot overlook the broader context of distrust between evangelical faith communities and the scientific community.

So the Evangelical form of Christianity is in opposition to science. Why, then, is it a false dichotomy?   And, of course, 40% of all Americans accept the Genesis account of creation, with instantaneous poofing of life and a young Earth. Isn’t that a conflict? In fact, Warren scores another own goal by showing that the young are increasingly finding MORE conflict between science and religion:

A 2018 study by Barna, a Christian research and polling firm, showed that “significantly fewer teens and young adults (28 percent and 25 percent) than Gen X and Boomers (36 percent and 45 percent)” view science and faith as complementary. Young people increasingly see an essential conflict between faith and science.

[Christian astrophysicist Deborah] Haarsma told me that the rise of the creationism movement in the 1960s, led by the engineer Henry Morris, increased the skepticism between some evangelical churches and scientists. The rift continued to grow because of bioethical conflicts around issues like stem cell research and euthanasia, but more so because of a latent cultural assumption that faith and fact oppose each other. When President Barack Obama appointed Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian (and the founder of BioLogos), as head of the National Institutes of Health in 2009, some questioned whether Collins’s religious faith should disqualify him from the position.

If there are so many people who see a conflict, why are they wrong? Are they misperceiving? They’re not, and the reason is simple: there is a conflict, and that’s what my book is about. I’ll write a paragraph about that below. In the meantime, Haarsma and Warren tout the old “there are religious scientists” trope as evidence that they’re not in conflict:

It wasn’t always this way. At the outset of the Scientific Revolution, many scientists were motivated by their beliefs about God. Nicolaus Copernicus, Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle and other giants of modern science were people of faith. But, after high-profile debates over Darwin’s theory of evolution in the late 19th century, a perceived division began to emerge between religion and science. In the spectacle of the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925, which assessed, among other things, whether a state could prohibit the teaching of evolution in schools (but was also staged as a publicity stunt by town leaders in Dayton, Tenn.), Christian beliefs and science were set up as incompatible ideas.

Yes, but everybody was religious back them. In fact, Newton was also into alchemy. Does that mean that alchemy and science are compatible, too? If science and religion are compatible, Warren should tell us why a very high percentage of scientists—much higher than the general public—are atheists. That either means that atheists are attracted to science, or that science turns believers into atheists. I think it’s a bit of both, but either way it shows some kind of incompatibility. There is an incompatibility in Francis Collins’s rejection of supernatural causes when he goes into his lab, and his embracing of completely unevidenced nonsense when he steps into his church. The kind of evidence he sees for the Resurrection wouldn’t pass muster as a scientific hypothesis.

Finally, let’s skip all the other nonsense and understand why, in my view, science and religion are incompatible. It’s actually hidden in the column:

. . . . the scientific community could be more honest about the limits of the discipline. “Sometimes people say things like, ‘If everyone would just accept the science, the world would be great,’” Haarsma said. But she notes that science doesn’t solve everything and that scientific communities have to “acknowledge the value of religion as a way of answering life’s biggest questions.”

No we don’t, because religion never answers “life’s biggest questions.” She goes on.

In the end, Haarsma said, these two communities share a goal: seeking truth. “They can find common ground in their desire to know what is true,” she suggests, “whether about nature or about God.” I asked Haarsma how faith and science entwine in her own work. Her voice sounded ebullient. As a professor of astronomy, she said, she truly sees how, in the words of Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” That’s what scientists study, she told me, “the very handiwork of God.”

The problem, which should be obvious, is that yes, science and religion are both ways of finding out the truth about the universe, but only science has a reliable way to find those truths. If religion does tell us the truth about God (or nature), what is it? If there is a truth about God, every religion has a different take on it, so in fact there is no consensus truth. That’s why there are so many religions, for crying out loud! Is there one God, like Warren believes, or many, as Hindus and other polytheists believe? What’s the answer, Reverend Warren? And how do you know the answer?

Wanting to know what is true is not the same as having the ability to find truth. Science does have that ability, and religion doesn’t.  Warren may feel that the tenets of her Anglican faith and its claims about God and Jesus are “true”, but can she then tell us why the Muslims, Hindus, and Scientologists are wrong?

At least in science, something doesn’t become provisional truth—the only kind we have—until it’s repeatedly confirmed. Likewise, repeated failure to confirm, or direct falsification, means a scientific hypothesis cannot be taken as true. We have a toolkit for determining truth: observation, testing, experimentation, replication, consensus, and so on. Religion has only authority, propaganda, and scripture, which conflict with other faiths’ authority, propaganda and scripture.

And that is why science and religion are in conflict. If Warren really thinks that religion can answer life’s biggest questions, then let us by all means have the answers!

And why does the New York Times try to inflict this kind of harm on us? By flouting reality and favoring fantasy, Warren’s claims are nothing other than violence!


Five books, all trying to show that science and religion are BFFs, get my kishkes in a knot

September 1, 2021 • 12:00 pm

UPDATE: Philosopher Maarten Boudry has issued a series of tweets also criticizing Harrison’s take on the relationship of science and religion. Here’s the first one, but there are about two dozen in the thread:



Matthew sent me a tweet about this Five Books article telling me it would irritate me. Well, it really didn’t, as the books aren’t really about the compatibility of science and religion, but more about whether there’s been a perpetual war between science and religion. These are two different issues. The second is completely empirical: have there been recurrent clashes between religion and science over history?  The first is a combination of philosophical and empirical study: do the natures of science and religion give them different ways to find out what is true about the cosmos? And, if so, have those different methodologies led to conflicting and incompatible claims?

In my book Faith versus Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible, I maintain that there have been sporadic clashes between science and religion (the most notable being the Galileo story and the persistence of creationism), but in general most modern science doesn’t step on religion’s toes.  In this interview, Professor Peter Harrison of the University of Queensland, whose field is the relationship of science and religion, picks out five books that he’d recommend for the layperson to study the intersection of these fields. Click to read it:

Here are photos of the five books chosen by Harrison. I’ve read only one of them: the Hardin et al. essay collection.

Harrison is pretty much an accommodationist, and although he admits that, say, Darwinism conflicts with religion, this is a relatively new phenomenon because, he avers, before the 17th century nobody took the Bible as a handbook of science. What he means—and I think he’s dead wrong here—is that before the 17th century nobody thought that the Bible’s empirical claims were true. If you read the Church fathers, or the Nicene Creed (a fourth century confection) you’ll see that the account of the Bible was seen as purveying the literal truth about our origins, the existence of deities, the existence of Heaven and Hell, and many other empirical matters. Most important is the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, for which we have no extrabiblical evidence, and yet is the fulcrum on which all Christianity rests.

So the idea that Biblical literalism is a new phenomenon seems badly wrong to me. Yes, “science” as a practice and profession didn’t come along until a few centuries ago, so there couldn’t be a conflict between science and religion per se, but even the ancient Greeks engaged in empirical studies that didn’t involve the hand of Zeus.

As with all accommodationist historians, Harrison argues that the Galileo affair has been exaggerated as a clash between empiricism and religion; these people always say it’s about religious power, or is more nuanced than we think.  Harrison even emphasizes a “science versus science” element: that Galileo neglected some of his contemporaries’ claims, like Tycho Brahe’s “parallax” arguments against a heliocentric solar system. But you’d have to be deluded to think that the controversy wasn’t mainly about Galileo’s empirical claims contradicting the Earth-centricity divined from Scripture.

On to creationism. Harrison’s discussion of it is weird, and I reproduce it below:

It is slightly different with Darwin. With evolution, there are religious issues at stake. This is part of what motivates young earth creationism: fundamental questions about the nature of human beings, the origins of morality, and the literal truth of the Bible. Darwin’s theory puts question marks against these in a way that the Galileo case doesn’t. It wasn’t evolution that generated difficulties but the method of natural selection, because it made evolution look like a random directionless process. Again, that appears to be inconsistent with Christian notions of a providential direction to history and the special place given to human beings.

But, as we say, history is complicated. Darwin has very powerful highly religious supporters and he has some scientific critics as well. And until we arrived at “the modern synthesis”, with its better understandings of genetics, there wasn’t a plausible mechanism for natural selection.

At least he admits that creationism does exemplify a war between science and faith. But his claim that it was natural selection and not evolution itself that generated creationism seems wrong. Regardless of the mechanism of evolutionary change, the idea of evolution itself flatly contradicts the Bible, and much of the opposition to Darwin’s views rested on his claim that evolution happened (contradicting Genesis), that it was slow (contradicting a young Earth), and that the distribution of plants and animals on the surface of the earth, according to Darwin, could not be explained by a Flood and dispersal scenario.

Second, if you understand natural selection, you know that it is NOT a “random directionless process”. It is the presence of variation (randomly generated by mutation, but Darwin didn’t know that) interacting with a non-random process: the differential proliferation of variation that confers a reproductive advantage. Does Harrison think this? It seems so, because he implies that Darwin’s theory made evolution look like that “random directionless process.” Even if you’re a creationist, you don’t understand what you’re criticizing if you go after natural selection on that basis.

Finally, once we had genetics at the beginning of the 20th century, we knew about mutations and thus had a theory of how natural selection worked on newly arising (or standing) variation. (The “modern synthesis” didn’t begin until the mid-Thirties). But so long as there is heritable variation, which even Darwin knew about, you have a “plausible mechanism for natural selection,” which is simply the differential sorting of variants via their effect on reproductive success. If the variants are heritable, that causes evolution.

One gets the idea from these two paragraphs that Harrison doesn’t really understand Darwin’s theories, is unable to explain them, or doesn’t know their place in history.

A few more items lest I go on forever.

First, Harrison takes the common stance of believers and some philosophers (I don’t know if he’s religious) that you have to philosophically justify the methods of science a priori before you can have any confidence in what you find by doing science. I quote (here he’s talking about Merton’s book):

What’s particularly interesting is that he treats science itself as a kind of ‘black box’ and focuses on external factors and, crucially, values. He argues that Puritan values were important to setting up science and justifying scientific practice. That’s the key thing about this book. He understands that more generally, social values are crucial to the legitimation of science. That means it’s not just to do with the inherent internal logic of science as something that is somehow self-evidently true. That’s not how you make science successful—it’s something external to the sciences that leads us to value them, that makes scientific advance possible, and that makes science an important and central feature of society.

Why this question is so vital to this very day is that science is undergoing challenges to its legitimacy. It’s simply not enough for a scientist to rehearse the chorus ‘well, we’re scientists and this is what the science tells us’; they have to understand the role played by values in giving legitimacy to what they’re doing.

I’m not sure what “challenges to legitimacy” science is undergoing, but I deny that there are any “social values” or a priori philosophical rationales necessary to give us confidence in science or make it “legitimate.” While there’s no one fixed “scientific method”—and here I agree with Feyerabend that “anything goes”—there are general agreed-on principles of what counts as evidence, including empirical observation, doubt, criticism, replication, and so on, that are used by all scientists trying to discern “truth”. If there is a social value at play here, it’s merely “we value what is true.” (That’s not what Harrison means, of course.) There is nothing external to the sciences that leads us to value them, but simply the toolkit that is science that, importantly, IS A TOOLKIT THAT WORKS.  Why people value science is simply that it tells us the things we want to know, and tells them truly. You don’t turn to religion if you want to make a vaccine against Covid-19. (Now why we want to make one rests on social principles, but the method itself is what gets us what we want.)

Second, Harrison claims that it is religious values that gave rise to science. That is, the legitimation of science that he deems necessary comes from faith—Christian faith. In this case, it is the faith that gives us impetus to understand God’s laws. Harrison also claims that religion is “necessary but not sufficient” to give rise to science. In other words, in an atheistic West, we would have no science. Two quotes here:

To overgeneralise somewhat, with the new views of Descartes and Newton, the powers of things are stripped away—they become inert—and God has to do the work of moving things around. He does according to his own laws. The notion of divine omnipotence—that God can make any kind of world he wants and is not constrained by any other considerations—then leads to the necessity of empirically investigating the world. That’s one example: the idea of laws of nature and mathematical laws of nature which are foundational to modern science come out of the idea of divine omnipotence. Descartes is explicit about this, and so too are English thinkers like Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, and Samuel Clark. They are very explicit that laws of nature are divine edicts.

Now you can argue about the extent to which scientists were motivated by religion to find out stuff, but I don’t think that, say, the ancient Greeks, or many scientists in the early days, were simply trying to work out “God’s laws”. I think you’d have a hard time arguing that William Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of blood, for instance, was motivated by his efforts to work out how God designed the body. It was motivated, as far as I know, by sheer cussedness: the desire to find out for himself whether Galen was right (Galen wasn’t). And certainly now, when most working scientists and a big majority of good ones are atheists, there is NO motivation to do science as a way to understand God or God’s plan. Even Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian, leaves God at the door of the NIH.

There’s also this:

Interviewer: One of the claims that Funkenstein makes towards the end of the book is that while one “can draw many meaningful connections between medieval theology and early modern science”, the stronger claim that “without the former, the latter would never have emerged” is “neither demonstrable nor plausible.” Do you disagree?

Harrison: I think I would. I’d be inclined to say that the medieval theological background is necessary but not sufficient. That would be my view, which is a bit stronger than Funkenstein’s claim.

Ergo, had we not had medieval theology, we’d never have had science. Well, of course this is an untestable claim, but I’d argue that pure curiosity, and the realization that the empirical, naturalistic toolkit of science produces results, that all that would have emerged without medieval theology. You have to do some fast dancing to lay the entire enterprise of modern science at the doorstep of Thomas Aquinas.

Third, I’ve long argued that while science can make contributions to religion—by determining whether their truth statements are really true—religion has, like Laplace apocryphally asserted, nothing to contribute to science.  Harrison disagrees, arguing (without giving examples) that naturalism is not necessarily a sufficient assumption for science: that maybe injecting an element of the divine or numinous could advance science:

Clearly, the advocacy of something like intelligent design or scientific creationism in present circumstances is absolute heresy. And I want to be clear that I am not advocating that. But I do think it’s very interesting to consider whether religious conceptions might lead to unconceived possibilities in terms of contexts of discovery. This is precisely Funkenstein’s point—that thinking about divine omnipotence and what God could possibly instantiate led to new ways of thinking about the world. This was also argued even more strongly by the French historian and philosopher of science Pierre Duhem.

. . . I wonder whether the very strong naturalism which either explicitly or implicitly shapes virtually all modern thought is in some way restrictive. Your point is that specific religious dogmas are potentially restrictive, and I think that’s absolutely right. But there’s a difference between specific religious dogmas and thinking in more elaborate theological terms about something like divine omnipotence (which is the historical case I’m thinking of). To put it this way, I don’t buy the idea that scientific naturalism is some neutral position and that the religious position is the one invested in a set of restrictive assumptions. I think naturalism is potentially just as dogmatic and restrictive.

I’d love for Harrison to give us an example of how naturalism has limited scientific thought, for surely there must be one example in the history of science in which thinking about God would not just motivate scientific exploration, but produce specific hypothesis that naturalism wouldn’t. He doesn’t give us those examples, and that’s because they don’t exist.

Finally, and least important, Harrison claims that the existence of religious scientists constitutes an embarrassment for those of us who claim that science and religion are incompatible. A quote:

As you say, the existence of Christian scientists who are not obviously subject to cognitive dissonance is an embarrassment for some who would claim the incompatibility of science and religion (as, for example, the New Atheists did). The fact is that there are now eminent scientists who have religious commitments, as there have always been throughout history. This is an awkward fact for advocates of the incompatibility of science and religion.

It’s not awkward to me, not if you understand human psychology.  People are religious for a variety of reasons (including childhood brainwashing), and to say that people can’t be superstitious in one part of their life and rational in others is to misunderstand human nature.  I think religious scientists are philosophically muddled, but don’t necessarily experience cognitive dissonance because they’ve built a mental wall between delusion and rationality.

h/t: Matthew

Elaine Ecklund has a new book, and yes, it’s more of the same accommodationism

August 31, 2021 • 9:30 am

It’s been a long time (over a year) since we’ve examined the oeuvre of Elaine Ecklund a sociologist at Rice University—and now “director of the Religion and Public Life Program in Rice’s Social Sciences Research Institute—who used to be the subject of many posts.  The reason? Because she made her living as a researcher heavily funded by the Templeton foundations, and apparently dedicated to showing that religion and science are compatible. She was not above twisting or misrepresenting her data to make that point which, besides the tendentious nature of her scholarship, upset many of us, including Jason Rosenhouse and Russell Blackford, who panned her 2019 book Secularity and Science for misrepresenting the very data she published.

For most of the years I’ve written this site, Ecklund has been heavily funded by three foundations started with John Templeton’s mutual-fund fortune. According to her c.v., she’s currently sitting on three grants from the Templeton Religion Trust totaling $ 3,939,548! Sir John Templeton’s ambition, when he founded the John Templeton foundation, was to show that the more we learn about science, the more evidence we have for God.

Well, Ecklund doesn’t talk about her own religious belief, but she’s dedicated her career (and spent a gazillion Templeton dollars) trying to show that scientists aren’t as atheistic as people think they are, and that scientists are “spiritual people,” not meanies like Richard Dawkins. This message, of course, plays right into Templeton’s program, ergo the continual stream of funding she gets from their foundations. And once you’ve gotten your stall in the Templeton Stable, the feed bag has no bottom.

Now Ecklund has a new book, coauthored with David R. Johnson, which promises to be more of the same. I haven’t yet read it, but I’ve read several of her books and papers, and have never failed to be infuriated by them. To get an idea of what it’s about, there’s a summary of the contents in the puff piece issued by Rice University and on Ecklund’s personal website.  The book is called Varieties of Atheism in Science (you can also get it from Oxford University Press). The screenshot below links to the Amazon page.

Some of the puffery in a press release from her school, Rice University:

As it turns out, the “New Atheism” embraced by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and other notable scientists is at odds with the beliefs of most scientists who are atheists.

“Atheist scientists and religious communities, for example, certainly disagree about many things, but we found that they have so much more in common than they might think they share,” Ecklund said. “Both groups often have a sense of fascination about the world, a sense of meaning and purpose and a desire to explain something larger than themselves.”

This is completely disingenuous. Science has ways of showing what we think is true about the world, while religion just makes stuff up and its claims about the cosmos are falsified or untestable. The “sense of meaning and purpose” of scientists rests on the desire to find out the truth about the world, or involves secular stuff like their families and hobbies, while that of believers rests on the assumption that a deity confers meaning and purpose upon us. Finally, “something larger than ourselves” means “the universe or the Earth” to scientists, but “God and his plan” to religionists. We also have in common that we eat, breathe, and sometimes like books and music. We should be friends!

But wait! I rant! The puffery goes on:

. . . Ecklund and Johnson argue that improving the public’s perception of scientists requires uncovering the real story of who  scientists are.

“As the pandemic continues to ravage the global population, never before has it been more important to improve the relationship between the public and the  community,” Ecklund said.

Of the New Atheists, the book concludes, “It is now our responsibility to replace their rhetoric with reality.”

“Reality” is Ecklund’s construal of the data, which, as we’ve seen repeatedly, doesn’t quite match with what the data themselves say. And I wonder who those 81 interviewed scientists are. They certainly don’t include Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris or me!

The onus for improving the “science-religion relationship” rests not on scientists, who by and large are atheists who ignore religion, but on religionists and their rejection of science. It’s not the scientists who are making the pandemic worse by ignoring data!

Which reminds me, as I continue my rant, of a lovely quote from The Great Agnostic, Robert G. Ingersoll:

“There is no harmony between religion and science. When science was a child, religion sought to strangle it in the cradle. Now that science has attained its youth, and superstition is in its dotage, the trembling, palsied wreck says to the athlete: “Let us be friends.” It reminds me of the bargain the cock wished to make with the horse: “Let us agree not to step on each other’s feet.”

That, in a nutshell, is the academic program of Elaine Ecklund.

Here’s a summary of her new book with Johnson from Ecklund’s personal website:

A significant number of Americans view atheists as immoral elitists, aloof and unconcerned with the common good, and they view science and scientists as responsible. Thanks in large part to the prominence and influence of New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Hitchens, [JAC: SAM HITCHENS????] New Atheism has claimed the pulpit of secularity in Western society. New Atheists have given voice to marginalized nonreligious individuals and underscored the importance of science in society. They have also advanced a derisive view of religion and forcefully argued that science and religion are intrinsically in conflict.

Many in the public around the globe think that all scientists are atheists and that all atheist scientists are New Atheists, militantly against religion and religious people. But what do everyday atheist scientists actually think about religion? Drawing on a survey of 1,293 atheist scientists in the U.S. and U.K., and 81 in-depth interviews, this book explains the pathways that led to atheism among scientists, the diverse views of religion they hold, their perspectives on the limits to what science can explain, and their views of meaning and morality. The findings reveal a vast gulf between the rhetoric of New Atheism in the public sphere and the reality of atheism in science. The story of the varieties of atheism in science is consequential for both scientific and religious communities and points to tools for dialogue between these seemingly disparate groups.

Well, unless Ecklund produces a survey showing the percentage of “people around the globe who think that all scientists are atheists and that all atheists scientists are New Atheists”, I will doubt that. Many atheist scientists have criticized the likes of Dawkins, Harris, and [Sam] Hitchens for being too outspoken and “shrill.” So even atheistic scientists themselves think that not all atheist scientists adhere to their views.

Given the way Ecklund has vastly overblown her findings in the past, I’d take that second paragraph above with a grain of salt.  For years Ecklund has been calling for productive dialogue between science and religion, and yet what we have, and will always have, is an unproductive monologue, with science telling religion, “Your claims are either unevidenced or disproven.”  Religion has nothing valuable to say to science, though they often repeat the ironic mantra: “Be humble”. Yet it is “humble” to be a believer who not only thinks there’s a divine being, but claims to know its nature?

Will I read the book? I suppose so, but only in the way that I visit the endodontist for a root canal.

Public acceptance of evolution grows in the U.S.

August 24, 2021 • 11:30 am

According to a survey just published in Public Understanding of Science, acceptance of evolution is increasing in the United States. Click on the screenshot below to read the article (it’s free), or access the pdf here.

The survey continued data collected over 35 years, but a lot of the methodology is described in the Supplemental Materials, which are not given in this link nor on the journal page, where I can’t find this article (it’s clearly an early publication).  Now other surveys have found a smaller percentage of Americans who accept evolution (see below), but it’s surely because of the different ways the questions were asked.

Here’s the question this survey posed to Americans:

The following question was used in all of the years in this analysis:

For each statement below, please indicate if you think that it is definitely true, probably true, probably false, or definitely false. If you don’t know or aren’t sure, please check the “not sure” box.

Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.

Acceptance must be the sum of “definitely true and probably true”, while rejection would be the converse.

So the question at hand is simply: evolution or no evolution of humans? And for the first time, acceptance of human evolution, now at 54% , was seen in a majority of those surveyed—an increase of 14% in the last decade. Rejection of evolution (red line) appears to be about 37%, while “don’t know” is about 9%. As the authors note, the increase in acceptance since 2009 or so seems to be due more to those who “don’t know” moving into the acceptance column than to rejectors moving into the acceptance column.

If you look at a similar survey of a Gallup poll over 36 years (below), you see a different pattern, but that’s because they surveyed for more than just acceptance of evolution: they asked whether people accepted human evolution as purely naturalistic (22%), accepted human evolution but with God guiding it (33%), or simply rejected human evolution in favor of Biblical creationism (40%). The figure for rejection is pretty much the same as shown in the figure above, but the difference in “evolution acceptance” is undoubtedly due to the fact that “acceptance” below includes evolution guided by God. If you added that up with the naturalistic acceptors, the Gallup poll would show that 55% of Americans “accepted” human evolution, again close to the data above. But there are two types of evolution being accepted, one involving supernatural intervention. (Intelligent design would qualify, in this way, as “acceptance of evolution.”)

The data, then, are not that disparate between the two polls, but the apparently heartening 54% acceptance of evolution in the poll above seems to conceal the fact that most acceptors see a hand of God guiding evolution. I don’t find a teleological or theistic view of evolution all that heartening, for it still gives credence to divine intervention. And although the authors mention that disparate results of different surveys depend on the questions asked, it would have been nice had they compared the data above with that below.

A few other points. First, among the demographic data (age, gender, education, college science courses, children at home, etc.), the most important factor determining acceptance of evolution is whether the respondent took at least one college science course.

But “demographic data” did not include religion, which, as usual, turns out to be the most important factor determining how one answered the new polls. (The authors play this down in the paper, perhaps because the National Center for Science Education, two of whose members or former members are authors of the survey, have always been accommodationists.)

Nevertheless, when you do a path analysis of how these factors interact, and parse out the individual effects of factors that normally interact (for example, Republicans are more likely to be religious, and therefore to reject evolution), you find that “fundamentalist” religion has by far the biggest effect on evolution acceptance—in a negative direction, of course. (Because I can’t access the supplementary material, I can’t see how they determined whether a religious person was “fundamentalist”.)

Here’s the complicated path analysis and the weight of each factor. Religious fundamentalism has nearly twice the effect, in isolation, of any other factor on whether one accepts or rejects evolution.

Two more points. More men than women accepted evolution (57% vs 51% in 2019, a reduced disparity from 1988, when the data were 52% and 41%, respectively). This is probably because, on average, women are more religious than are men. And in terms of politics, here are the data for its relation to evolution. As you might expect, the more liberal you are, the more likely you are to accept evolution, and there is a huge difference between conservative Republicans and Liberal democrats in accepting evolution (34% vs. 83% respectively in 2019).  Republicans just can’t get with the program!


There’s one other point I want to mention. The authors claim that it’s really “fundamentalist religion” that’s at odds with evolution, not really other forms of religion, though I’ve maintained otherwise. Here’s what they say:

Religious fundamentalism plays a significant role in the rejection of evolution. The historical explanation of the low rate of acceptance of evolution in the United States involves the central place of the Bible in American Protestantism. In a country settled piecemeal by colonists of varying religious views and without a state church, it was natural for people of faith, especially Protestants who already accepted the principle of sola Scriptura, to privilege the Bible—or their interpretation of it—as the primary source of religious authority and an inerrant source of information about history and science as well as faith and morals. In contrast, religion in European countries is strongly structured by ecclesiastic institutions and the public receptivity to creationism has been limited as a result (Blancke et al., 2014Branch, 2009).

It is thus a particular form of religion that is at the foundation of American anti-evolutionism of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, not religion in general (see Coyne, 2012, for a dissenting view). Indeed, evolution is routinely taught in Catholic parochial schools in the United States, and mainstream Protestant denominations similarly accept evolution (Martin, 2010). While not all anti-evolutionism originates in Fundamentalism and its inerrantism about the Bible, it largely reflects a conservative form of Protestantism with relatively inflexible and inerrantist religious views (Scott, 2009), which we have been calling fundamentalism.

I would deny the claim that it’s only Protestant fundamentalism that’s at odds with evolution instead of religious belief in general. I say this for two reasons/

First, across the world, where Protestant fundamentalism doesn’t have such sway, you still see a negative correlation between religiosity and evolution. Here are data I published in a paper in 2012. There’s a strong negative correlation between religiosity and acceptance of human evolution across 34 countries, but it’s significant even omitting the U.S.point. Further, the only country lower in evolution acceptance than the US is Turkey, which is a Muslim nation.

More important, here are data taken from the Gallup survey mentioned above. Look at “religion”. Yes, Protestants are more likely to be creationists than are others (note that they don’t subclassify “fundamentalist Protestants”), but the Catholics, touted above as being good for teaching evolution in their schools, are still 34% young-earth creationist! What is taught is not always what is accepted!

No, it’s religion of all stripes in the U.S. that’s inimical to accepting evolution. I wish the authors would have mentioned these data as well.

Nevertheless, both surveys show a general acceptance of evolution, though I like the data from the Gallup poll better because it decouples theistic evolution from naturalistic evolution. What I teach is naturalistic evolution, and so I want to know what proportion of Americans accept evolution the way I teach it to students.

When will nearly everyone in America accept evolution, then? When America is like Iceland: a country that is basically atheistic.