One Reason Evolutionists Are Losing the PR Battle

Jacob Weisberg, editor of the online magazine Slate, has posted <a href=>this piece</a> on the subject of evolution and religion. In it he argues that evolution and religion are fundamentally incompatible. He gets off to quite a good start:

The president seems to view the conflict between evolutionary theory and intelligent design as something like the debate over Social Security reform. But this is not a disagreement with two reasonable points of view, let alone two equally valid ones. Intelligent design, which asserts that gaps in evolutionary science prove God must have had a role in creation, may be---as Bob Wright argues---creationism in camouflage. Or it may be---as William Saletan argues---a step in the creationist cave-in to evolution. But whatever it represents, intelligent design is a faith-based theory with no scientific validity or credibility.

See the original for links.

Well said! But rather than simply write an article elaborating on this point, Weisberg feels the need to find some angle to this that makes evolutionists look bad. It's a failing typical of many otherwise sensible pundits. You don't get to look insightful by bashing creationists. No. If you want people to think you're a keen observer who sees past the superficial banalities of an issue, you have to bash scientists.

So from this eminently sensible beginning, Weisberg goes off on a poorly argued rant about the incompatibility of evolution and religion. His article concludes as follows:

One possible avenue is to focus more strongly on the practical consequences of resisting scientific reality. In a world where Koreans are cloning dogs, can the U.S. afford---ethically or economically---to raise our children on fraudulent biology? But whatever tack they take, evolutionists should quit pretending their views are no threat to believers. This insults our intelligence, and the president is doing that already.

The reference in the final line is to President Bush's recent endorsement of teaching ID in science classes.

While Weisberg is criticizing scientists for suggesting that evolution and religion are compatible, Florida State University philosophy professor Michael Ruse is taking them to task for endorsing atheism. He lays out his views in <a href=>this interview</a> for the online magazine Salon.

You raise this argument that creationism and evolutionism are essentially two competing religions. That's exactly what creationists say, or at least the sharper ones: “We have two competing belief systems. All we ask is to have our case considered.” One could look at this and say, “Wow, Ruse is saying the creationists are right.”

I am saying that. I think they are right. I want to qualify that immediately by saying that the creationists play fast and loose. Like a lot of us, creationists slide from one position to another according to the kind of argument they want to make. A major theme of the intelligent design people is that theirs is in fact a scientific position, and I think that's a double whammy.

Inasmuch as the creationists want to say openly that both sides are making religious commitments, I have to agree with them on that. I don't think that modern evolutionary theory is necessarily religious. Evolutionary theory was religious, and there's still a large odor of that over and above the professional science. The quasi-religious stuff is still what gets out into the public domain, whether it's Richard Dawkins or Edward O. Wilson or popularizers like Robert Wright. Certainly Stephen Jay Gould. Whether you call it religious or philosophical, I would say these people are presenting a weltanschauung. (Emphasis in original)

So the situation is this: The political Right in this country is pulling out all the stops to introduce a load of religiously motivated nonsense into science classes. They launch elaborate public relations campaigns designed to distort modern science, mislead people about the evidence for evolution, and challenge the integrity of scientists. Their attack is continuous, relentless, and never once interrupted by a moment of self-reflection.

When faced with this assault on science education, Jacob Weisberg believes that the really important issue is that some scientists are arguing that evolution and religion are compatible. Michael Ruse believes that the problem is exactly the opposite, and spends his time dwelling on a handful of popularizers who have dared to discuss theological issues.

Why are evolutionists losing the PR battle? One reason is that some of our best pundits seem more interested in calling attention to themselves than in making a good argument.

I have provided further commentary on the Weisberg and Ruse articles over at <a href=>EvolutionBlog</a>; Weisberg <a href=>here</a>, Ruse <a href=>here</a>.