I just read Tim Sandefeur’s post saying that “Julian Sanchez has it exactly right” when Sanchez agrees with Jacob Weisberg’s religion-is-stupid rant, “Evolution vs. Religion: Quit pretending they’re compatible,” up at Slate. Tim didn’t post any arguments in support, and disabled comments – he may have suspected that flack would be coming his way on PT, where many of us do make a point of it to note that there is no necessary conflict between evolution and religious faith. So, I will make a few comments on my own, and then let posters discuss it over the weekend.
Jacob Weisberg and Julian Sanchez, who both want to argue that evolution is incompatible with religious belief, have to explain why the same logic does not also apply to meteorology, germ theory, genetics, atomism, etc. All of these contradict certain literal interpretations of fundamental Judeo-Christian-Islamic holy texts. All of these scientific discoveries have experienced objections from certain religious sects, even though, now, it seems silly to almost every religious person that there would be some kind of religious problem with genetics or meteorology.
Evolution relies on “randomness” in exactly the same way as all of these other sciences. All of these sciences study phenonmenon that are a complex interaction of stochastic and regular processes. Evolution is no more or less “naturalistic” than any of these other sciences. None of these sciences, evolution included, conflicts with the theistic theological view that God creates the universe at every moment of its existence. What makes evolution religiously controversial in modern America is historical: fundamentalists on both sides – atheism and Christianity – have, for the last 100 years, used evolution as a club to beat up on the other side. Darwin himself, and most of professional evolutionary biologists since then, did not do this, and neither did most serious religious people. But campaigners on both sides, appealing to the public in popular books, articles, speeches, and sermons, have been much less careful.
Michael Ruse has been getting flack from certain quarters lately for pointing this out, and perhaps he sometimes does exagerrate the sins of Richard Dawkins et al. in this area. But the very reason that Ruse has to pound the table so hard is that a certain segment of evolution/atheism popularizers stubbornly, and in the case of Jacob Weisberg, defiantly, refuses to separate their science and their religious argumentation. Basically, they take the lazy step of saying “Look, folks, it’s science or religion,” and attempt to force people to chose their favorite, rather than actually arguing for their own religious view of atheism. Make no mistake: arguing for atheism is making a religious argument, just like arguing for theism. Having religious arguments is a grand human tradition and all for the good, but history has shown that it is a Very Bad Thing if governments take sides on these arguments. Atheists insisting that evolution proves atheism make it appear as if teaching standard science in biology classrooms is actually state sponsorship of atheism, and this is what motivates creationists/IDists. It is highly doubtful that the evolution=atheism mixture has ever been a significant component of public education in the U.S., but if people who are ostensibly supporting teaching evolution can’t resist mixing in the religious argument for atheism, then it is understandable why the public will continue to be confused.
Continuing the old science-vs.-religion war isn’t going to change any minds that haven’t been changed in the last 100 years, but it will ensure that the political strife over evolution continues for the next 100 years.