Science bridges divides

Venn diagram

Science bridges divides. That is the lesson enunciated by our colleagues Nathan Lents and Joshua Swamidass in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch yesterday and earlier in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on December 18.

The occasion? The fifteenth anniversary of the Dover decision by District Court Judge John E. Jones III “that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.” December 20 has come to be known as Kitzmas, and the Panda’s Thumb article by PZ Myers may be the first use of that term.

What is unusual about the Lents-Swamidass collaboration is that Prof. Lents is a professed atheist and Prof. Swamidass is an evangelical Christian (and indeed the proprietor of the blog Peaceful Science and the author of The Genealogical Adam and Eve). Besides their own collaboration, which has led to speaking engagements “with audiences from the ‘liberal elites’ at Columbia University to the ‘biblically conservative’ at Concordia University,” they note the collaboration between Catholic biologist Kenneth Miller and “non-believer” Barbara Forrest at Dover. They further point out that, a year or so after the Dover decision, Francis Collins published his book The Language of God, in which Dr. Collins attempts to reconcile his Christian belief with his acceptance of evolutionary science. (We discussed The Language of God on Panda’s Thumb here, when Dr. Collins was nominated to be director of the National Institutes of Health.)

Drs. Lents and Swamidass collaborated with Richard E. Lenski to pen a negative review of the book Darwin Devolves by Michael Behe in the journal Science (behind a paywall, incidentally). They claim in the Post-Dispatch article that they are risking their reputations by collaborating with each other. That may be so, but, as an accommodationist myself, I can only support their collaboration. Atheists need to understand that some people have a need to believe in a force greater than ourselves, and fundamentalists (for want of a better, general term) need to accept the findings of modern science and develop ways to integrate them with their religious beliefs. If collaborations such as Lents-Swamidass will encourage atheists to deal better with their religious friends, and fundamentalists to deal better with the reality of science, then I am all for such collaborations.