Let me try again …

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… with (a little) less snark, fewer red herrings, and the admission of a change of mind in one respect, thanks in part to reading contrary posts here and elsewhere and comments on my previous post.

In my original post I wrote

Jerry Coyne, seconded by PZ Myers, Russell Blackford, and Larry Moran among others, has written a critique of the “accommodationist” position taken by the National Center for Science Education, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Coyne characterizes those organizations’ positions as meaning that NCSE “cuddles up to [religion], kisses it, and tells it that everything will be all right.”

Further, Coyne argued, those organizations endorse a particular religious view.

I want to separate NCSE from NAS and AAAS in this post and focus just on the former. The latter two are organizations of professional scientists, and it’s reasonable to expect them to focus solely on science advocacy in their public efforts. I will not defend nor attempt to justify their remarks on religion here, though I now think they’re potentially problematic – comments do have an effect! But I took most umbrage at Coyne’s remarks about NCSE, and that umbrage stimulated my earlier post and is the focus of this one.

The National Center for Science Education is a different kind of animal from AAAS and NAS. Its web site masthead plainly states

NCSE provides information and advice as the premier institution dedicated to keeping evolution in the science classroom and creationism out. LEARN MORE

Clicking the LEARN MORE link leads to this statement:

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is a not-for-profit, membership organization providing information and resources for schools, parents and concerned citizens working to keep evolution in public school science education. We educate the press and public about the scientific, educational, and legal aspects of the creation and evolution controversy, and supply needed information and advice to defend good science education at local, state, and national levels. Our 4000 members are scientists, teachers, clergy, and citizens with diverse religious affiliations.

That is, NCSE is not an association of scientists, but of an array of people with different professions and beliefs. Moreover, it is not a science advocacy group as such, but rather is a group that has as its goal the defense of the teaching of evolution in the public schools. And that defense is necessarily heavily political.

That means that its tactics are in part determined by those of the opposition, the creationists who would turn public school science classes into an opportunity to teach religiously-based creation stories. As a consequence, it has to take into account that opposition and its main arguments, so as to appropriately arm those “parents and concerned citizens.”

The creationist assault on public education has two main prongs. One is to attack, misrepresent, and distort the science, and NCSE has a wealth of resources for blunting that attack. To give but one example, it has an excellent counter to Jonathan Wells’ “Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution.” The responses are brief, to the point, and effective: I’ve used them.

The second main prong of the creationist assault is to equate evolution with atheism. That is a ubiquitous theme from the whole range of creationists, from Kent Hovind’s ravings to the Disco ‘Tute’s anti-naturalism Wedge document. I hear it, every one of us working with local and state boards of education hears it. It’s in the creationist mailers, it’s in their pamphlets, and it’s in their public statements to school boards.

And NCSE completely appropriately provides information to “parents and concerned citizens” about that issue. It completely appropriately points out that there are believers – self identified Christians – who accept that evolution has occurred (it’s a fact) and that the modern theory of evolution is the best available naturalistic explanation of that fact. Moreover, NCSE completely appropriately points to religious organizations that have stated that they accept that.

One cannot argue that pointing to the existence of people and organizations that contradict a main prong of the creationist attack on public school education constitutes an “endorsement.” It’s merely pointing to a fact. This is what NCSE says about it in the introduction to its Science and Religion section:

Can I both accept what science teaches and engage in religious belief and practice? This is a complex issue, but theologians, clergy, and members of many religious traditions have concluded that the answer is, unequivocally, yes.

That’s true, a plain fact, and useful for folks in the field to be able to support via the religious organizations and individuals identified by NCSE.

So to this point I think NCSE is doing its job, and doing it well. However, …

NOMA is a mistake

Coyne is right in one respect, and I withdraw my wholesale rejection of his argument. I think (writing now as a Life Member) that NCSE has recently made a mistake in going beyond simply pointing to individuals and organizations who have somehow reconciled their science and religious beliefs to counter the creationist equation of evolution with atheism. In the essays by Peter M. J. Hess that apparently are the basis of the NCSE Faith Project, there is an endorsement of a particular view of the relationship, an adaptation of Gould’s Nonoverlapping magisteria with a dose of complementarian thinking. Hess writes

Theologians from many traditions hold that science and religion occupy different spheres of knowledge. Science asks questions such as “What is it?” “How does it happen?” “By what processes?” In contrast, religion asks questions such as “What is life’s meaning?” “What is my purpose?” “Is the world of value?” These are complementary rather than conflicting perspectives.

And later, in a linked section titled “God and Religion,” he writes

The question “Do you believe in creation or evolution?” has the same problem. Like color and shape, “creation” and “evolution” do not occupy competing categories, but are complementary ways of looking at the universe.

And later in that same section:

Can I accept evolution as the most compelling explanation for biological diversity, and yet also accept the idea that God works through evolution? Certainly.

Hess has here argued for a complementarian view of the relation between religious belief and evolution that is very similar to Gould’s NOMA, which is also a view that is clearly visible in the writings of people like Denis Lamoureax, a self-identified evangelical Christian and “evolutionary creationist.” Lamoureax writes

In understanding origins, evolutionary creation proposes a mutually exclusive yet complementary relationship between science and Scripture. This position asserts that God reveals through both nature and the Bible, and it respects the limits and differences of each revelation. Science discovers how the Creator made the world, while Scripture offers the ultimate meaning of the creation. Together these revelations from God’s Works and Words complement each other in providing a complete view of origins.

NOMA redux.

In its Faith Project, then, I think that NCSE has gone beyond its remit and past where it can be effective. I now think – in agreement with Coyne, PZ, and others – that it should back off from describing particular ways of reconciling science and religion. Pointing to religious people and organizations who have made their peace with science and evolution is appropriate, but going past that to describing particular ways of making that peace is a mistake. NCSE ought not wade into theological swamps.

So yeah, I was wrong to overstate my case. Sorry, folks. :)

3 TrackBacks

A Panda Baby Step Back Hoppe at Panda’s thumb backs off a bit from his case for NCSE’s approach after further analysis and debate, and once again I support his conclusion with the added information. Just as ID should not be taught in Scienc... Read More

Allow me to recap. Jerry Coyne set a few people on fire with a post arguing that national science organizations have gone to far in blithely conceding the compatibility of science and religion. He strongly suggests that they stick to... Read More

There's a kerfuffle under way in which Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, Richard Hoppe, and a host of others are debating whether NCSE is too nice to theists. Since I work for NCSE, I'm trying to stay out of this, and my comments about NCSE will be based on publi... Read More

113 Comments

RBH: In its Faith Project, then, I think that NCSE has gone beyond its remit and past where it can be effective. I now think – in agreement with Coyne, PZ, and others – that it should back off from describing particular ways of reconciling science and religion. Pointing to religious people and organizations who have made their peace with science and evolution is appropriate, but going past that to describing particular ways of making that peace is a mistake. NCSE ought not wade into theological swamps.

Right-o. I’m sure there are as many different ways of making peace between one’s scientific and religious beliefs as there are people who have done so. NCSE (and all of us) should stick to science advocacy when under the scientific “big tent.” When people ask “is evolution/science inherently atheistic?” in such venues, we are free to answer “No.” or better yet, “No, science is silent on the validity of religion.”

Those of us who are atheists can find plenty of opportunities outside the science forum to advocate atheism.

A quick point. As stated in the NCSE FAQ:

We are an affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Thus, it’s simple for the AAAS to direct those with questions regarding creationism to the NCSE.

Richard B. Hoppe Wrote:

So yeah, I was wrong to overstate my case. Sorry, folks. :)

:-)

Well it got a lot of pretty good discussion going. Nothing wrong with revisiting strategy, tactics and weaponry from time to time. And it illustrates we are still open and above board in our discussions.

Whew! Thank you, Mr. Hoppe - no one (at least not me or anyone I noticed) was demanding some retraction or apology, just a bit of clearing up of that “snarkiness”.

There is plenty of room for accommodation of the very wide range of almost-entirely philosophical views of the facts and demonstrated theories of the sciences. And while one view or another may believe it “strategically important” for views less “popular” with what they see as the “general public”, there is nothing to be gained by hinting or suggesting others bend to the suggested strategy, much less by belittling those working for the same shared goals.

But the tension is there and will be. It’s not entirely a bad thing: it keeps our side honest while working against groups almost entirely made of utterly, bizarrely dishonest people (at least among the “leadership”).

がんばって!

wait…

after more than 3 years of this argument back and forth…

progress???

fuck me sideways, never thought I’d see the day.

I’m really, truly, impressed. I’d even spout hosannas if i were of the religious persuasion.

Instead, I’ll just say:

cheers!

Um … I confess that I did say plainly that retractions and apologies were in order for one section of the first attempt. But this second revision sticks to the substance and that helps a lot. Thanks!

KP makes an obvious point in comment #1: “Those of us who are atheists can find plenty of opportunities outside the science forum to advocate atheism.”

Quite so. Hence it’s a distraction to be critical of individuals for speaking out on their own behalf on the inconsistency of science with religion, or to be critical of individuals for speaking out on their own behalf on how religion and science are mutually supportive. (I’m thinking of Miller and Myers here.) We can disagree, of course, and give robust criticism of such views on their own merits, should we choose. Or we can let it be; we cannot consistently be critical of them merely for speaking their mind plainly. They are not constrained by the tactical concerns of one political/social campaign.

The NCSE, however, is not an individual; so here it is entirely appropriate to look at its raison d’etre and make tactical considerations bear upon what should and should not be said, as an organization.

I think Richard just about nails it here.

The NCSE should not be in the business of identifying “good” religion, or defining how religion ought to operate. On the other hand, I am persuaded that the NSCE does need to address the matter of religion explicitly.

A policy of saying nothing on religion is IMO naive. Religion is much too much a part of the whole problem to be merely avoided. You avoid mention of religion when giving a lesson on science; but not when engaged with a public meeting where religion becomes directly involved.

It makes sense to point out that in one pragmatic sense, science is consistent with religion – and that is, science doesn’t care. There are plenty of scientists who in their own mind have a reached a personally satisfying reconciliation of their own faith with their work in science. That’s their own business. Their work in science is judged no differently as a result. It is often useful to point out individual scientists who are Christian in particular, because in the USA, it is Christians who most often are attacking science, and need to be defused.

This is not because we want to advocate a position. And hence, there’s no reason to “balance” it by pointing out scientists who are not religious! As I see it, the reason for this part of the arsenal of argument is simply to cut the ground out from under those objecting that teaching science is being anti-religious.

Cheers – Chris Ho-Stuart

Mr. Hoppe writes: “(…) it has an excellent counter to Jonathan Wells’ “Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution.” The responses are brief, to the point, and effective: I’ve used them.”

You’re probably not aware of Mr. Well’s response to the falsehoods in NCSE’s “answers”. Read it for yourself: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2008/0[…]se_answ.html

Good. I was hoping it wouldn’t come to a Lenny Flank type situation with one party walking away.

I do find myself becoming less tolerant with religion in general and maybe that’s the natural result of conflict on any level.

Nikahara Suzuki said:

Mr. Hoppe writes: “(…) it has an excellent counter to Jonathan Wells’ “Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution.” The responses are brief, to the point, and effective: I’ve used them.”

You’re probably not aware of Mr. Well’s response to the falsehoods in NCSE’s “answers”. Read it for yourself: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2008/0[…]se_answ.html

I see Wells’ response not only repeated his mistakes but has revised and extended them.

Nikahara Suzuki said:

Mr. Hoppe writes: “(…) it has an excellent counter to Jonathan Wells’ “Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution.” The responses are brief, to the point, and effective: I’ve used them.”

You’re probably not aware of Mr. Well’s response to the falsehoods in NCSE’s “answers”. Read it for yourself: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2008/0[…]se_answ.html

Richard Hoppe almost certainly is aware of this document, and aware of how pathetic it is. For example, the first sentence:

Most biology textbooks include the origin of life–and the Miller-Urey experiment–in their treatments of evolution. If the NCSE feels that the origin of life is really “not a question about evolution,” the organization should launch a campaign to correct biology textbooks.

Most biology textbooks also include a brief biography of Charles Darwin in their treatments of evolution. All agree that the biography of Charles Darwin is not a question about evolution. Does this mean that the inclusion is an error and that NCSE should launch a campaign to correct that error?

This is so pathetic it doesn’t deserve a response.

Do these textbooks saying anything about survival of the fittest?

KP Wrote:

NCSE (and all of us) should stick to science advocacy when under the scientific “big tent.” When people ask “is evolution/science inherently atheistic?” in such venues, we are free to answer “No.” or better yet, “No, science is silent on the validity of religion.”

How can they “stick to” science advocacy and answer those questions, especially when those asking those questions want them to dominate the issues? ;-) I guess you mean “concentrate” on science advocacy, and quickly move past the inevitable questions that keep the “debate” on the anti-evolution activists’ terms. One way to keep the debate on our terms is to keep asking specific questions of anti-evolution activists about their “theories”:

Nikahara Suzuki Wrote:

You’re probably not aware of Mr. Well’s response to the falsehoods in NCSE’s “answers”.

I would bet that Richard is very aware of Wells’ response, and of the longer critiques of Wells and other IDers. Without even looking at that particular example I will say that the DI is very good at responding to criticism in ways that impress their target audience. What they are not at all good at is answering the questions critics ask them about their “theory.” The simple “what did the designer do, when” questions are invariably evaded or dismissed with “it’s not ID’s task to connect dots.” That’s a huge problem for ID because even YEC has no problem connecting dots (the wrong way). ID will never be science, but IDers could at least back up their empty “ID is not creationism” chant by occasionally refuting YEC claims.

I can’t agree that you can separate the roll of the NAS and AAAS in advocating science from the interaction of religion and evolution education. Like it or not, the latter is a political question and, as is the case with all our politics, religion has to be addressed, albeit delicately … unless you want those organizations to cede the field to the likes of AiG and the Discovery Institute. Chris Ho-Stuart has it right, I think, as did the NAS booklet. Point out the creationists are wrong to say that science, particularly evolutionary theory, is an inherently atheistic position, using examples, and leave it at that. Contrary to one thing Coyne said, this is important for the court cases we have won recently. It is just as against the First Amendment to teach atheism is true in public schools as it is to teach Christianity is. If a court is convinced that evolution is, in fact, an atheist philosophy, it would necessary have to ban it from public school science classes and relegate it to comparative religion or civics classes. Statements from our leading scientific organizations to that effect are, therefore, most helpful on the legal front.

Dan Styer said:

Richard Hoppe almost certainly is aware of this document, and aware of how pathetic it is. For example, the first sentence:

Most biology textbooks include the origin of life–and the Miller-Urey experiment–in their treatments of evolution. If the NCSE feels that the origin of life is really “not a question about evolution,” the organization should launch a campaign to correct biology textbooks.

Most biology textbooks also include a brief biography of Charles Darwin in their treatments of evolution. All agree that the biography of Charles Darwin is not a question about evolution. Does this mean that the inclusion is an error and that NCSE should launch a campaign to correct that error?

This is so pathetic it doesn’t deserve a response.

You’re wrong. Darwin is the founder of the theory of evolution, therefore it’s ok to include his biography. I would expect Newton’s biography in an engin. mechanics textbook, however I wouldn’t expect quantum physics or polymer chemistry to be in the textbook.

Frank J said:

The simple “what did the designer do, when” questions are invariably evaded or dismissed with “it’s not ID’s task to connect dots.” That’s a huge problem for ID because even YEC has no problem connecting dots (the wrong way).

Intelligent Design proponents fully intend to connect the dots, once they have destroyed the educational system enough to enter, they will make it crystal clear whom the Intelligent Designer really is (re: God, as described in the Old and New Testaments in the King James’ Translation of the Holy Bible)

ID will never be science, but IDers could at least back up their empty “ID is not creationism” chant by occasionally refuting YEC claims.

The only time any Intelligent Design proponent would have the brazen audacity to refute a Young Earth Creationism claim is when one of the more stupid Young Earth Creationism claims are brought to their attention, like the claim about a missing day, or that not even “microevolution” occurs, or that Satan and or God plants fossils in order to ensnare the unwary. Even then, they do so with the utmost care and hesitation. They have to be, given as how a) Young Earth Creationists are their biggest income source, and b) many Young Earth Creationists use Intelligent Design as a pathetic attempt to grasp at legitimacy (like a couple of the senior staff at the Discovery Institute).

Heavens! It’s almost as if a group of rational and intelligent people are capable of having a vigorous debate on a controversial issue and changing their positions based on evidence and reason.

This is not what the Internet is for, people!

:)

Stephen Wells said:

Heavens! It’s almost as if a group of rational and intelligent people are capable of having a vigorous debate on a controversial issue and changing their positions based on evidence and reason.

This is not what the Internet is for, people!

:)

Agreed, pretty awesome indeed :) Just too unfortunate that it makes it all the more difficult to do something about my internet addiction and my SIWOTI syndrome ;)

KP said:

When people ask “is evolution/science inherently atheistic?” in such venues, we are free to answer “No.” or better yet, “No, science is silent on the validity of religion.”

Those of us who are atheists can find plenty of opportunities outside the science forum to advocate atheism.

We are of course free to do anything we like, but I think the second answer is wrong. The correct answer is “It depends.” Science is silent on the validity of some religions (the ones that don’t conflict with science), but increasingly noisy on the validity of others. YEC biblical literalism, for example, is indeed a religion, and it’s right out. Still, for a short answer, “no” is appropriate, even if it needs an asterisk.

Nikahara wrote:

“You’re wrong. Darwin is the founder of the theory of evolution, therefore it’s ok to include his biography. I would expect Newton’s biography in an engin. mechanics textbook, however I wouldn’t expect quantum physics or polymer chemistry to be in the textbook.”

Yes, most college textbooks do include a discussion of the Miller-Urey experiment. It is usually included in a chapter titled “The Origin of Life”. That chapter may or may not be included in the section on evolution. It is a related topic to the topic of evolution, that’s all.

What is your point here? The experiment is a very important one and demonstrates that life could have arisen spontaneously under the conditions of the primitive earth and that if it did one would expect it to look very much like it does today. What section of the book it is contained in has no bearing whatsoever on the validity of the theory of evolution or on the validity of the experiment or the conclusions drawn from it. If this is the best criticism you’ve got then you might as well throw in the towel right now.

Wells is sadly misinformed about most critical aspects of evolutionary theory. His reasoning is fundamentally flawed, he makes many factual errors and worst of all he refuses to correct his errors when he is proven to be wrong. I would not take anything he writes at all seriously. You would be much better served by going to the primary literature if you want to study evolution.

Noew if you are really interested in evolution, the Talk Origins archive has refutations of almost every creationist argument ever made, including those by the infamous Wells. I would advise you to increase your knowledge.

Stanton Wrote:

Intelligent Design proponents fully intend to connect the dots, once they have destroyed the educational system enough to enter, they will make it crystal clear whom the Intelligent Designer really is (re: God, as described in the Old and New Testaments in the King James’ Translation of the Holy Bible)

That’s not what I mean by “connecting the dots,” and in fact they no longer even pretend that they don’t want their target audience to infer the fundametalists’ God. Not necessarily Jesus, though; can’t alienate Stein and Medved, y’know.

What I mean, and what Dembski knew he had to avoid when he uttered those famous words, is to specify, and test, what God did, when, and how, other than Darwinian evolution. The closest any DI person has come to specifying that is Michael Behe’s “designed first cell,” which concedes 4 billion years of common descent. Of course there’s a huge difference between ID not specifically denying common descent and mainstream chronology and ID specifically denying the most commonly inferred alternative which is YEC. ID rarely denies YEC, and is even more careful never to refute it. I only call attention to that to make people aware how the DI wants it - but can’t have it - both ways.

Okay, Richard - so I guess there’s now no use in getting your response to my very long comment on PZ’s thread that I wrote while you were writing this. :)

Thanks for being prepared to reconsider.

Is discussion of NOMA really a mistake? Given that Christian thinkers have been dealing with it since Augustine, if not since Jesus himself, it seems fair to mention it as one well-known means of doing what NCSE says it’s possible to do.

Quite frankly, I suspect that NOMA is just plain inevitable, if only because theists will use it to keep their non-materialistic ideas safe from rational inquiry. Either we accept some form of NOMA, with or without the name, or we tell theists they have to become atheists, which they will never do. Seriously, what other alternative is there?

NCSE ought not wade into theological swamps.

What choice do they – or we – have, when the theocrats and theotards are doing everything they can to turn every possible subject of ratinal inquiry into a “theological swamp?”

You can’t clean up a swamp without wading into it.

Raging Bee Wrote:

Either we accept some form of NOMA, with or without the name, or we tell theists they have to become atheists, which they will never do. Seriously, what other alternative is there?

My limited understanding of this complicated mess sees a simple component, which even the anti-science activists can’t deny. That is that “is does not imply ought.” IOW “is” and “ought” are non-overlapping. IMHO religion ought to be strictly about “oughts”, but unfortunately is, partly at least, about “is” (and “was” and “will be”). So with science and religion it’s not as simple. There will be some overlap and/or conflict, depending on which aspect of religion one refers.

In terms of “what happened when and how,” most major religions accommodate evolution, but they also accommodate (tolerate) belief in various obsolete accounts. Note that some beliefs are admittedly in spite of the evidence (e.g. Omphalos), which creates kind of a loophole. But if the belief is accompanied with the insistence of treating the evidence selectively, or out of context, or with any other deliberate tactics to mislead (e.g. quote mining, defining terms to suit the arguments, etc.) that conflicts with any religion that declares it a sin to bear false witness.

Raging Bee said: Quite frankly, I suspect that NOMA is just plain inevitable, if only because theists will use it to keep their non-materialistic ideas safe from rational inquiry. Either we accept some form of NOMA, with or without the name, or we tell theists they have to become atheists, which they will never do. Seriously, what other alternative is there?

The alternative is to accept that some scientific conclusions conflict with some religious claims, generally when those religious claims say something about the empirical world. The counter-question I’d ask you Bee, is why do you feel compelled to solve other people’s philosophical contradictions? I personally feel no compulsion to “tell theists they have to become atheists.” I may not be able to resist pointing out the contradiction, but I can live with the fact that other people may believe contradictory things. As long as it doesn’t pick my pocket or break my leg, right?

I see the issue with creationism to be more one about teaching good science. As long as that happens, I could really care less if and how someone resolves the contradictions they may have within their own set of beliefs.

This comment has been moved to The Bathroom Wall.

I would’ve liked to have seen more language regarding that science is a secular and deals with secular issues like KP said above: “science is silent on the validity of religion.” just like - “residential plumbing design is silent on the validity of religion” or “algebra is silent on the validity of religion” or “the law is silent of the validity of religion”

I realise that some will make the accusation that ‘secular’ is code for ‘atheist’ (which anyone with access to a dictionary can dismiss) however in constitutional circles this statement re-affirms that science is not in the ‘church’ side in the separation of church and state - also such a statement (which many may feel is self -evident, but alas some teachers do not) might help in court when someone decides to preach in class-

The alternative is to accept that some scientific conclusions conflict with some religious claims, generally when those religious claims say something about the empirical world.

Yes, we all acept that here, and I’m not advising against it. But when this conflict – between the material-fact-claims of science and those of one’s religion – comes to light, as it already has and inevitably will, that’s where some form of NOMA will have to come in: whatever your religion states, and however you wish to interpret it, must be kept separate from the practice of scientific inquiry.

I see the issue with creationism to be more one about teaching good science. As long as that happens, I could really care less if and how someone resolves the contradictions they may have within their own set of beliefs.

There you go: another incarnation of NOMA – religious belief is okay as long as it’s kept separate from honest science and science education.

In its Faith Project, then, I think that NCSE has gone beyond its remit and past where it can be effective. I now think – in agreement with Coyne, PZ, and others – that it should back off from describing particular ways of reconciling science and religion. Pointing to religious people and organizations who have made their peace with science and evolution is appropriate, but going past that to describing particular ways of making that peace is a mistake. NCSE ought not wade into theological swamps.

So yeah, I was wrong to overstate my case. Sorry, folks. :)

You’re absolutely wrong.

The NCSE exists to promote science education. That’s why it’s called the National Center for Science Education.

A very common creationist tactic, used solely for the objective of disrupting science education at the public or individual level, is to falsely state that the theory of evolution is 100% associated with atheism.

A very straightforward way to address this tactic is to have a set of data available that refutes it, and refer briefly to that data set whenever this tactic is employed by a creationist.

To insist that the NCSE not do this is to insist that the NCSE indulge in hamstringing self-censorship.

In short, what Meyers, Coyne, and now you demand, is that the NCSE pander to atheists, in a ludicrous way.

You all literally want the NCSE to self-censor itself from alluding to data that refutes a common creationist claim, solely because some atheists emotionally interpret that neutral refutation as saying something vaguely “positive” about somebody else’s religion, and are too insecure to handle that.

I’m not religious, but I hate all all authoritarian attacks on human dignity.

Yes, people often assume that I’m gay because I’m not homophobic, that I’m a member of a “visible minority” because I hate racism, or that I’m religious because I hate unreasonable discrimination on the basis of someone’s presumed private religious beliefs. Most ironically, I’m none of those things, I’m just a guy who respects the rights of others.

I understand that atheism is not being imposed by authority in the US, but it has been in other places, and that effort is being vigorously made in the little corner of US society where Coyne and his ilk hold some sway.

It’s none of your designer-damned business what other people feel privately, your views don’t deserve to be pandered to any more than anyone else’s views, and it’s grossly unreasonable to ask the NCSE to hamstring itself in order to pander to insecure atheists.

I seem to be the only one who’s still annoyed.

The reason is simple.

The NCSE has the right to allude to the fact that some religions don’t have a problem with evolution.

It’s not pandering to do so.

You know what? I’m as opposed to the NCSE pandering to religion as anyone else.

I despise the constant, daily, implicitly discriminatory pandering to some religions that goes on in US society.

And the instant that the NCSE actually panders to religion, I’ll condemn it.

But what Coyne and Meyers originally complained about was the NCSE making neutral, factual statements about science and religion.

That isn’t pandering.

Refusing to factually state that a certain religion has no problem with evolution, in order to prevent opponents of that religion from being annoyed, is pandering.

If the pope calls the NCSE and asks them to state only that the Catholic church has no problem with evolution, but to take down references to Jewish and Protestant denominations, because he doesn’t want “positive” information about those who don’t share his exact views to be presented, and the NCSE complies, THAT’S PANDERING.

And it’s pandering if the same thing is done at the demand of someone other than the pope, too.

Correction noted. Back to our muttons.

My own take on RB’s suggestion, viz:

“For many years, people believed certain things about the physical world, and those beliefs were taken for granted as “common knowledge” and got written into ancient holy texts, and no one had the means to prove them wrong until quite recently. Because of this, new findings that seemed to contradict the holy texts were sometimes attacked, discounted, rejected and ignored; and those who attempted to publish them were often punished or persecuted for apparently working to undermine the religious beliefs of their time. But while one generation initially rejected and/or silenced new findings, later generations came to accept them and accomodate their beliefs the new knowledge. Many persons of faith today acknowledge that modern humans have learned things about the physical world that previous generations could not have known; and have accepted and made use of the new knowledge while retaining much the same religious beliefs that have come from those times.”

is that it’s too long and too elliptical to be effective. It’s factual, of course. But consider your audience, which means, consider its actual level of interest in history.

“The evidence from science is against any idea that the Universe, Earth and life were created in a brief time in their present form.”

would, perhaps, accommodate Frank J’s observation that there are several different readings in Genesis alone, without singling out Genesis specifically, which as RB points out, is undesirable.

“To the degree that a religious faith cannot tolerate factual refutation” really sounds like a harshly-worded, impatient blanket value-judgement of someone’s religion; and it implies it’s the ENTIRE FAITH that “cannot tolerate factual refutation;”

Um. I didn’t realize it could be read that way. Maybe some more verbiage to the effect of “to the degree that anyone’s religious beliefs cannot accommodate scientific discovery, there will be conflict.”

My intent was to emphasize that the conflict is individual rather than institutional, and that specific conflicts are with specific individual beliefs, not necessarily with all beliefs or with the general overall pattern of beliefs.

I won’t argue with you here, but to note that I think you, Coyne, and now, regrettably, Hoppe, are wrong to criticize the NCSE Faith Project, when it is consistent with ongoing work done at a respectable institute like Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Science and Religion. You are also making it too easy for delusional creationists to yell and to scream that the only ones capable of accepting evolution as valid science are godless atheists:

PZ Myers said:

Certainly I can’t any evidence of non-religious scientists (e.g. Profs Meyers and Coyne)wanting an accommodation with those of faith in a common cause.

You mistake accommodation for surrender, and then are irate that we won’t sit quietly about our beliefs about religion. That’s not the way it is going to work.

You are wrong on every point. I do work with theists, and there’s no problem on either side. They think I’m going to hell, and I think their superstitions are an affliction. So? If we’ve got a job to do, we do it.

The problem here is this near-universal expectations that atheists have to respect religion in order to get along with people: we don’t, and it’s ridiculous to yell at us that we’re supposed to lie and hide our ideas for fear of offense. Atheists are quite accustomed to working with people who have crazy beliefs – we’re the minority, remember – and coping just fine. If there are problems, it’s from the other side, from people who expect to be able to dictate what we think and demand that we pay lip service to their faith. I won’t do that. I want them to learn what tolerance really means.

As for those faith projects you like: I’ve looked into Evolution Sunday a bit. I dislike it intensely, and if that effort shut down abruptly because one day PZ Myers said he didn’t like religion, I’d consider myself to have done a good day’s work. I’ve read a bunch of the sermons they have on site, and haven’t found one yet that wasn’t a mucked-up abomination that does more harm than good to science education. Those are clear cases of religion using science (bad science) to promote more religion, and the project does science no favors.

John Kwok said:

I won’t argue with you here, but to note that I think you, Coyne, and now, regrettably, Hoppe, are wrong to criticize the NCSE Faith Project, when it is consistent with ongoing work done at a respectable institute like Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Science and Religion.

This is flawed logic. It is an appeal to authority. A “respectable organization”, the NAS, also supported eugenics in its history, but no longer does so. But your logic above would require that eugenics was therefore acceptable in the 30s because it was supported by the NAS (if you though the NAS was “respectable” enough, that is, another flaw in your logic; what is “respectable enough”?). And the reason eugenics is not now accepted is because that same NAS doesn’t endorse it.

Anyway, John, you are dealing with a bunch of curious, interested people here, many of whom are professional scientists and philosophers, etc. We can handle the full glory of an argument, gory details and all. You do not need to rely on the credentials of those that support a position to lend an argument strength. Explain your position in great detail, leave the credentials and fellow proponents at the door, and let the argument stand or fall on its own merits. It is irrelevant that CSR adopts this approach. The question is, why is the approach good to begin with?

John Kwok said:

I won’t argue with you here, but to note that I think you, Coyne, and now, regrettably, Hoppe, are wrong to criticize the NCSE Faith Project, when it is consistent with ongoing work done at a respectable institute like Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Science and Religion.

Personally I’m not that uncomfortable with the discussion so far. It seems appropriate to think about the transitions people make in their thinking about sectarian religion and the effects of learning science.

It might be more appropriate for religious scientists to deal more directly with other believers who have fears about such thoughts. Non-religious scientists, if they have qualms about the accommodation process of religious scientists, could be a little more circumspect about their critiques of these processes and let these other scientists do their job.

We simply don’t know where this process will lead in any given individual, and we would have little knowledge of how that accommodation meshes with all the other deeply personal events in the life of the religious scientist. If we are talking about good scientists, we should simply trust the intelligence of the persons making these accommodations and/or transitions.

You are also making it too easy for delusional creationists to yell and to scream that the only ones capable of accepting evolution as valid science are godless atheists:

All one has to do is look at the taunting by FL, Sal, and Ray. They are totally clueless. Sure they will attempt to capitalize on such discussions with their followers, but we already know they do that anyway.

Let the lurkers see the process going on. Many of them are afraid because they have been made to feel guilty for having such thoughts themselves. They should be able to see other intelligent people honestly discussing the same ideas. By comparison, the thoughts of FL, Sal, Ray and others of their ilk are the thoughts and paranoia of people who have lived their entire lives in an intellectual dungeon. The contrast is striking. The more rattled they are, the more they taunt. But they can’t come up with anything original.

And don’t forget; they sit on top of at least a 40 year-old dung heap of pseudo-science from which they can no longer separate themselves. It’s out there and it stinks.

Mike Elzinga Wrote:

Your attention to the details and nuances of religious belief are very helpful. PZ’s passionate pursuit of getting the honest truth out there is driving the discussion. The point is, the discussion is taking place. I find that refreshing.

The discussion is necessary but I would only find it “refreshing” if the general public better understood that such healthy debates are a sign of strength, not weakness. Same for the scientific debates that the media (I saw the word “scavengers” above) loves to spin as “a theory in crisis.” I think I’d pass out if I ever heard the average “person on the street” say “Why would they want students to ‘critically analyze’ evolution if they refuse to ‘critically analyze’ their own mutually-contradictory ‘theories’?”

John Pieret said, It is just as against the First Amendment to teach atheism is true in public schools as it is to teach Christianity is. If a court is convinced that evolution is, in fact, an atheist philosophy, it would necessary have to ban it from public school science classes and relegate it to comparative religion or civics classes.

What if it could be demonstrated that the correct teaching of science conflicts with the religious views of almost every student in the public schools?

I believe that’s the case. Does that make teaching of science illegal?

Larry Moran said:

What if it could be demonstrated that the correct teaching of science conflicts with the religious views of almost every student in the public schools?

I believe that’s the case. Does that make teaching of science illegal?

Isn’t that the entire universe of Creationism’s war on science in a pecan shell?

All one has to do is look at the taunting by FL, Sal, and Ray. They are totally clueless. Sure they will attempt to capitalize on such discussions with their followers, but we already know they do that anyway.

If we already know they do it, why give them more ammo, and more credibility, by making statements about other people’s religions that are demonstrably wrong, and that, in many cases, contradict the message we’re trying to put out? The more idiotic and counterproductive statements we make, the more successful their tactics are likely to be. What good does it do, for example, to keep on saying “science and religion are incompatible,” when a) it’s demonstrably falsified by the huge number of believers who can indeed do honest science, and b) that’s THEIR talking-point and it serves THEIR purposes more than ours?

I’ve been hearing quotes from conservative evangelical Christians who have totally renounced creationism and accepted that evolution is honest, useful science. Not liberal Christians, not Unitarians, not Catholics, but Protestant evangelicals! They’ve reconciled their faith with new knowledge, just as so many Christians have reconciled themselves with the round Earth and heliocentrism in the past. This is NOT the time to be saying that science and religion are incompatible.

Yes, it’s good to have a debate, but it would be even better if that debate reflected a better understanding of what’s going on outside our own camp.

Larry Moran said:

John Pieret said, It is just as against the First Amendment to teach atheism is true in public schools as it is to teach Christianity is. If a court is convinced that evolution is, in fact, an atheist philosophy, it would necessary have to ban it from public school science classes and relegate it to comparative religion or civics classes.

What if it could be demonstrated that the correct teaching of science conflicts with the religious views of almost every student in the public schools?

I believe that’s the case. Does that make teaching of science illegal?

Of course not. The point is – that determination is up to the holders of the religious views. In a science class, you just teach the science. That is going to conflict with the religious views of many students, and that’s perfectly permissible.

As soon as you make it a part of your lesson plan to teach that these scientific models conflict with all religious belief, or all belief in God, you’ve crossed the line that John defines. This isn’t complicated.

Religious students often adjust their religious beliefs to take into account what they learn. It’s perfectly normal. The guideline under which we are required to operate is that we cannot help them out in that adjustment by actually teaching that the only consistent reconciliation will involve total loss of belief in God.

There’s no restriction on teaching things that conflict with religious belief. The restriction is on teaching them the way to deal with that conflict. You cannot teach a particular theological solution – including the solution of rejecting theology and God altogether.

Cheers – Chris

One might argue that “the correct teaching of science” requires that students learn and practise the inherent requirement of science that a proposition should not be accepted into credence until it has been successfully and repeatedly tested against empirical evidence obtained from observation.

That is certainly sound science, but if it were the standard that religious beliefs were measured against, I can’t think of any that would survive. I wonder if that were the demonstration to which Larry Moran was referring?

GuyeFaux said:

jasonmitchell said:

hear hear! I think the NCSE hasn’t gone far enough! - although the Faith project offers evidence that religion and science do not necessarily conflict- and some people of faith accept the facts of evolution - I don’t see enough explaination of WHY that is.

It’s because science is a secular persuit (sic) and ‘secular’ is not the same as ‘athiest’

‘god free’ is not the same as ‘godless’ !

Genuinely curious, what do you think the difference is? And please, no straw-men of what atheists believe.

Hess’s essays, endorsed by the NCSE, is light apologetics. It stakes out a pretty clear philosophical position which is opposed by many others, including atheism. Though it does answer your question of “WHY that is.”

Out of many opposing theological arguments to reconcile evolution with faith, atheism being one such an argument, the NCSE chose the one which it decided was the most palatable to its target audience. As such, it waded foolishly into theology.

More appropriate, non-committal answers exist that don’t pander to any one philosophy. Hell, I wouldn’t be offended if the NCSE listed a catalog of reconciliation methods, and simply stayed the hell out of apologetics.

my definition of terms I think are pretty close to generally accepted use of the terms: secular = separate from religion (god free) atheism = position that god/gods do not exist, or the absence of belief in god/gods, the divine etc. (godless)

I know that AIG and their ilk intentionally conflate these terms as do those those that promote ‘no separation of church and state’ but for the rest of us there is both a distinction and a difference

stating that science is secular is stating that faith(or lack thereof) and science need not be mutually exclusive. It is a direct response to a tactic that anti-evolutionists use that science = atheism. I don’t think that the NCSE’s goal was to ‘reconcile evolution with faith’ it was to make the point science/evolution is not in and of itself a ‘threat’ to one’s faith and that the NCSE is not part of some program with the goal of promoting atheism.

Raging Bee said:

I’ve been hearing quotes from conservative evangelical Christians who have totally renounced creationism and accepted that evolution is honest, useful science. Not liberal Christians, not Unitarians, not Catholics, but Protestant evangelicals! They’ve reconciled their faith with new knowledge, just as so many Christians have reconciled themselves with the round Earth and heliocentrism in the past. This is NOT the time to be saying that science and religion are incompatible.

Yes, it’s good to have a debate, but it would be even better if that debate reflected a better understanding of what’s going on outside our own camp.

But I think that is part of the point, Raging Bee. We are seeing that many people from within the science community, religious or non-religious, are themselves confused about the process of accommodation/transition. I don’t find that surprising, but I do find it refreshing that many of these misconceptions are being laid out on the table. For some reason this has become a somewhat taboo topic in the attempts to deal with the religious public’s concerns about the relationship between science and religion.

I hope in the long run that this will be more helpful by alerting people that this process of accommodation/transition is quite a bit more nuanced than the culture war rhetoric makes it appear. I’m not as pessimistic about the misuse of these discussions as a weapon by the ID/creationist crowd.

Dear J. J. E. -

If mine is an “argument from authority”, then it is a very weak one at best:

J.J.E. said:

John Kwok said:

I won’t argue with you here, but to note that I think you, Coyne, and now, regrettably, Hoppe, are wrong to criticize the NCSE Faith Project, when it is consistent with ongoing work done at a respectable institute like Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Science and Religion.

This is flawed logic. It is an appeal to authority. A “respectable organization”, the NAS, also supported eugenics in its history, but no longer does so. But your logic above would require that eugenics was therefore acceptable in the 30s because it was supported by the NAS (if you though the NAS was “respectable” enough, that is, another flaw in your logic; what is “respectable enough”?). And the reason eugenics is not now accepted is because that same NAS doesn’t endorse it.

Anyway, John, you are dealing with a bunch of curious, interested people here, many of whom are professional scientists and philosophers, etc. We can handle the full glory of an argument, gory details and all. You do not need to rely on the credentials of those that support a position to lend an argument strength. Explain your position in great detail, leave the credentials and fellow proponents at the door, and let the argument stand or fall on its own merits. It is irrelevant that CSR adopts this approach. The question is, why is the approach good to begin with?

When you have nearly half of the American public believe in some kind of creation myth and strongly reject or doubt the teachings of modern science with respect to biology, then it makes perfect sense to note that there are many religiously devout scientists who see no major conflict between their beliefs and accepting evolution as valid science. It also makes perfect sense to note that there are religious leaders like the Dalai Lama (and the late Pope John Paul II, for example) and religious organizations such as the Clergy Letter Project who contend that religion and science can be compatible AND accept evolution as valid science.

Where you, Coyne, Myers and others who are militant atheists are in error is your claim that professional scientific organizations like NAS and AAAS and a science advocacy group like NCSE have no business to suggest that religion and science can be compatible. As I noted above, it makes perfect common sense to do so, especially from a pragmatic political perspective.

Respectfully yours,

John

Not only I strongly endorse your remarks, but I will also note that I have a relative who is an Evangelical Protestant Christian, and she has observed that her pastor does accept evolution as valid science:

Raging Bee said:

All one has to do is look at the taunting by FL, Sal, and Ray. They are totally clueless. Sure they will attempt to capitalize on such discussions with their followers, but we already know they do that anyway.

If we already know they do it, why give them more ammo, and more credibility, by making statements about other people’s religions that are demonstrably wrong, and that, in many cases, contradict the message we’re trying to put out? The more idiotic and counterproductive statements we make, the more successful their tactics are likely to be. What good does it do, for example, to keep on saying “science and religion are incompatible,” when a) it’s demonstrably falsified by the huge number of believers who can indeed do honest science, and b) that’s THEIR talking-point and it serves THEIR purposes more than ours?

I’ve been hearing quotes from conservative evangelical Christians who have totally renounced creationism and accepted that evolution is honest, useful science. Not liberal Christians, not Unitarians, not Catholics, but Protestant evangelicals! They’ve reconciled their faith with new knowledge, just as so many Christians have reconciled themselves with the round Earth and heliocentrism in the past. This is NOT the time to be saying that science and religion are incompatible.

Yes, it’s good to have a debate, but it would be even better if that debate reflected a better understanding of what’s going on outside our own camp.

RBH (and others) -

Here’s why NCSE should be involved in the religion vs. science issue:

http://ncseweb.org/rncse/22/1-2/why[…]igion-dialog

This is an approximately 7 year-old statement which wasn’t written by Hess, but apparently, a predecessor of his, Phinna Borgeson.

Here’s her statement in its entirety, and one which I believe that NCSE still strongly endorses:

From time to time at NCSE, we hear questions from skeptical, agnostic, and atheistic members who wonder what we are doing getting involved with people of faith. Creationism in its several forms is, after all, largely motivated by religion. Many of the household names in evolutionary science are quite vocal about the death of religion as they see it, while others seem to see religion as tolerable as long as it is limited to private, individual faith or to informing moral and ethical decisions. So why would NCSE want to be involved in science and religion conversations?

Perhaps the first reason is simply that many NCSE members are people who belong to communities of faith. They support the teaching of evolution; they disagree strongly with creationist attempts to substitute their spin on religion for science, yet they are themselves religious. NCSE is a membership organization, and a part of what we do is support our members in their advocacy for evolutionary science. That means being where they are, and that is sometimes in the thoughtful dialogs between science and theology – the places not just where science and theology conflict and contrast but where they make contact with and confirm each other’s assumptions and world views.

The second reason is what we might unabashedly call good politics. Not all Christians are creationists, and many are not happy about the appropriation of the name “Christian” as synonymous with anti-evolutionist – as well as with other reactionary and exclusivistic stances. Many Christians deplore equating “Christian” with the radical religious right and enemies of religious liberty. Many moderate and liberal Christians, and yes, even some conservative Christians, are our allies in working to keep religion out of the science classroom. We simply cannot make common cause with Christians who stand for evolution if we use the categories “Christian” or “religious” for one narrow stripe of Christian tradition and activism.

When working for Unitarian-Universalist Project Freedom of Religion in Southern California in the late 1990s, I did considerable reading and research on all the issues that were favorites of the religious right. Reading Perfect Enemies: The Religious Right, the Gay Movement and the Politics of the 1990s by Chris Bull and John Gallagher, I saw how easy it is to make perfect enemies – how tempting it is for both sides on a controversial issue to play to each other’s prejudices, hobby horses, and weaknesses in such a way as to keep the conflict going without getting anywhere.

Two significant ways to avoid such a situation caught my attention. Do not adopt a campaign mentality, but build a movement for the long haul – a strategy at which NCSE excels. Another involves finding those people in the middle who are more open to dialog than invested in being the perfect enemy. When it comes to supporting the teaching of evolution, those people are most likely to be found among people of faith who reject the claims of the religious right, but themselves make faith claims of a broader and more exploratory nature. Allying with such folks is good politics. There is no need to make perfect enemies.

These are perhaps the major reasons, and the most obvious ones, that NCSE needs to be there in science and religion dialogs. But there are also softer reasons – reasons not just of obligation and expedience, but of values.

One I have already mentioned is the ethical connection. People of different faiths and no faith agree that the insights of both the biological sciences and of theological reflection are needed if the human community is to grapple effectively with issues in human genetics and the human impact on the rest of the life on our planet. While these issues are not primary to the mission of NCSE, the scientific literacy we support and advocate is partnered in public debate with theological and philosophical literacy. While actively working for better science teaching, free of religious restraints, we must also respect those exchanges in which we “deal with our deepest differences”.

Finally, NCSE has been effective because we connect, encourage, and provide resources to people at the grassroots – dealing with real threats to the teaching of evolution in their communities. We recognize that it takes whole communities to do this, with activists from education, science, citizen groups, and religious congregations working together. Yet many religious congregations that want to be partners in our cause have not done the dialog work at the local level that can help them to argue for sound science teaching from a faith perspective. We cannot do that work for them, but we can point them toward resources that can help if, and only if, we are involved and informed about what is happening nationally and internationally in the conversation between religion and science.

Chris Ho_Stuart says,
As soon as you make it a part of your lesson plan to teach that these scientific models conflict with all religious belief, or all belief in God, you’ve crossed the line that John defines. This isn’t complicated.

Actually it’s very complicated.

At the Center for Inquiry Conference in Washington a few eeks ago we had a discussion about this very topic. A high school biology teacher stood up and reported that it was next to impossible to do what you suggest.

It will be obvious to every single student that what the teachers says about the age of the Earth and evolution conflicts with a literal interpretation of Genesis, for example. You can’t avoid saying something about that conflict, especially if students put up their hands and ask you directly whether science is consistent with the deluge. It will be obvious that every common religious belief is threatened by a good science education.

Avoiding the question on the grounds that the answer might conflict with the US Constitution will be seen as a cop-out and it will affect how the students respect you, according to the high school teacher.

Let’s face it. A good education of any sort will necessarily cause religious students to question their beliefs. That’s what education is all about. If casting doubt on religious beliefs is against the Constitution then Americans should abandon public education altogether.

Let’s face it. A good education of any sort will necessarily cause religious students to question their beliefs. That’s what education is all about. If casting doubt on religious beliefs is against the Constitution then Americans should abandon public education altogether.

That’s been suggested. Largely by the religious right.

But you make a good point. What casts doubt on most if not all religions is not exposure to biology but exposure to reality. Too much reality is bad for faith, and it’s hard to see how honest education can avoid that. Perhaps this is why philosophy classes are rare in secondary education?

One might argue, however, that it’s unconstitutional to teach explicitly that someone’s religious beliefs are false, and perfectly constitutional, though logically identical, to teach truths that contradict those beliefs. You can teach that the earth is 4.5 billion years old, but perhaps not that a kid’s religious beliefs about a 6000-year-old earth are false. Discuss.

Larry’s comment induces me to ask if we have any 1st Amendment experts in the house. I can imagine how I’d handle that question in a public school setting: “Yes, Johnny, the scientific evidence tells us that the earth is old – billions of years old – and there’s no geological evidence of a global catastrophic flood.” Period. But I don’t know where that boundary is, and it would be helpful to have some expert advice on the question.

Teachers wrestle with it, I know, and need guidance, too. I know there are some resources, for example this overview from a range of religious and secular organizations, but it’s a little short on the kind of practical advice that would be helpful. It has platitudes like

Just as they may neither advance nor inhibit any religious doctrine, teachers should not ridicule, for example, a student’s religious explanation for life on earth.

A teacher pointing out that that the scientific evidence contradicts a young earth view is not “ridicule,” as I interpret the gist of the document, so that should be OK.

I can imagine how I’d handle that question in a public school setting: “Yes, Johnny, the scientific evidence tells us that the earth is old – billions of years old – and there’s no geological evidence of a global catastrophic flood.” Period.

IANAL, but this is perfectly okay, IMHO; it’s a flat-out factual statement, unembellished with any stated opinion about any part of any religion, or religion in general.

Of course, the creo-hysterics won’t like that one bit, and will try to drum up a huge stink about how persecuted they are yadayadayada. So one of them might get their kid to ask “But does that mean the Bible is wrong?” Then, when the teacher points out another flat-out fact – “the six-day account in Genesis is not supported by the evidence” – out come the megaphones and the victimhood mentality and the “state attack on religion” arguments, and, possibly, a campaign to intimidate teachers and school officials into just soft-pedaling or ignoring geology and evolution altogether.

Teacher:

“Yes, Johnny, the scientific evidence tells us that the earth is old – billions of years old – and there’s no geological evidence of a global catastrophic flood.” Period.

Johnny:

“But does that mean the Bible is wrong?”

Teacher:

“I have no idea. I’m only here to teach science. Perhaps you should ask your pastor to explain the Bible to you. Now, let’s go on to discuss transitional fossils. This will be on the test.”

Larry Moran said:

Chris Ho_Stuart says,
As soon as you make it a part of your lesson plan to teach that these scientific models conflict with all religious belief, or all belief in God, you’ve crossed the line that John defines. This isn’t complicated.

Actually it’s very complicated.

At the Center for Inquiry Conference in Washington a few eeks ago we had a discussion about this very topic. A high school biology teacher stood up and reported that it was next to impossible to do what you suggest.

It will be obvious to every single student that what the teachers says about the age of the Earth and evolution conflicts with a literal interpretation of Genesis, for example. You can’t avoid saying something about that conflict, especially if students put up their hands and ask you directly whether science is consistent with the deluge. It will be obvious that every common religious belief is threatened by a good science education.

That’s a non-sequitur.

You suggest that science education conflicts with EVERY common religious belief, but you have given no arguement for that; just an assertion. I don’t think that’s actually true, but that turns on what beliefs are common or not. It makes no difference to the fundamental point – you can’t try to teach a science class that science conflicts with every common religious belief.

You just teach the science. If you are right, and if what you teach happens to be inconsistent with every common religious belief, it’s no problem (apart from being a huge hurdle for your students, of course). But you are under no obligation to alter your teaching in the slightest just because of these conflicts.

You are perfectly free to teach facts of science that conflict with the religious beliefs of every last one of your students.

You CANNOT include as a part of your lesson plan that all common religious beliefs conflict with science. You CANNOT teach that it is going to be impossible for students to find a line of religious beliefs that remain consistent with the science.

This isn’t complicated at all. Teach the science, without constraint. Don’t try to teach that there’s no prospect of finding a reconciliation of science and religion. That is basically a theological question, and you don’t get to teach theology.

Let’s face it. A good education of any sort will necessarily cause religious students to question their beliefs. That’s what education is all about. If casting doubt on religious beliefs is against the Constitution then Americans should abandon public education altogether.

Complete non-sequitur. I agree without hestitation that a good education will necessarily cause religious students to question their beliefs – and many of them will alter their beliefs drastically, or lose them altogether.

You’re making a strawman. You have total freedom to cast doubt on religious beliefs, and no-one is denying this in the slightest, that I can see.

We are saying – and this ISN’T complicated at all – that you can’t teach as a proposition that all religious beliefs are falsified. You don’t teach atheism. You teach the science, without any constraint.

In my view, that’s going to lead plenty of students to become atheists, to a large extent because so many common religious beliefs are falsified by science. That’s perfectly consistent with the simple fact that you can’t give explicit instruction that they should become atheists.

Cheers – Chris

I have read the arguements from boths sides of the issue: some stating that to accept evolution, you must be an atheist. Others have said that faith and evolution are not incompatible. While I sympathize more with the latter view, I have to suggest that it isn’t that simple.

Both sides of the arguement are wrong.

The question is not whether faith is compatible or not with evolution is a moot point. [b]In order to accept evolution, you need only accept the evidence.[/b] This is the same for all science.

We shouldn’t be addressing science in terms of religion (whether pro- or anti-). Religious people with either be for or against the facts of evolution no matter what whether we address religion or not. Statements that say that reason and faith are not incompatible really do nothing to change this. In fact, to the religious, such statements can seem antagonistic.

Instead, science needs to present itself as secular. Evolution is simply indifferent to religion. To promote science, the facts are the same no matter what belief the individual hearing them. While there are those that dispute the fact, it generally means that they are ignoring or misinterpreting others. This can be done by the religious or the non-religious. The scientific or the layman. Why make a statement regarding religion when, in fact, religion should be ignored.

Obviously, those who argue most stringently against evolution are those with a religious bias. However, in most cases (like with the Intelligent Design arguement), they try to disguise their bias by putting it in scientific terms.

The Dover trial showed us one thing: those people cannot compete on that level. Their science is flawed and without support. They ended up looking dishonest. Creationist trying to enter the science arena simply end up looking like fools when the truth is exposed. However, going in the other direction, science (and evolution in particular) is likely to look equally ridiculous. Science cannot claim to compatible with religion for those who take the writings of Genesis to be literally true. Science then ends up looking foolish and disengenuous in return.

Instead, it is better to make scientific claims and support those claims with evidence (as scientists have been doing in all fields for many centuries). Vigorously and completely destroy the arguements of those who would argue against the science without evidence or by dismissing or misrepresenting facts. This will be what convinces people in the long run. Scientists won’t convince everyone but the general public will be more likely to accept a strong presentation of the facts, well-thought and well-presented, than an arguement lacking facts.

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