There’s a big discussion at Panda’s Thumb about whether the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), the premier organization in combating creationism in science education, is following the correct course in refusing to go on the offensive against religion, given the alleged incompatibilities between science — especially evolution — and religion.
We posted our own position as a comment at Panda’s Thumb, but it didn’t make a dent in their conversation. As often happens, we’ll have to go it alone. This is, perhaps, a bit self-indulgent, but we think these are things that should be said.
We have no idea whether NCSE is following some kind of wishy-washy accommodationist course. If they are, we never noticed it. We often link to NCSE’s information about the alleged incompatibility between evolution and religion. For example, The Clergy Letter Project, and Statements from Religious Organizations, a list of denominations that accept (or at least don’t dispute) evolution. We do this, not because we’re being accommodationist, but to show that the alleged controversy is a dispute among denominations, and the debate is theirs, not ours.
Interestingly, the Caldwell case was filed by a creationist against the University of California at Berkeley because UC’s educational website, Understanding Evolution, had a link to NCSE’s Statements from Religious Organizations. Now some on the evolution side are objecting to NCSE’s information too. Life is strange.
Right from the beginning of our humble blog, we took the position that we would neither promote nor oppose either religion or atheism. We treat them both as irrelevant to science. We certainly make sport of creationism, but that’s because it’s pseudo-science, which isn’t unique to any religion or denomination. Nor is it essential to any of them, except the Raelians. There are those who insist that creationism is vital to their faith, but we won’t debate them about theological issues. Rather, we leave that to their co-religionists who don’t share their opinion.
Regarding the alleged incompatibility between science and religion, we generally ignore it — except for historical episodes like the Galileo affair. What we focus on here is that scientists must be free to pursue their work and to teach their subjects without political or ecclesiastical censorship. This is vital, and for that reason, one must always oppose trends toward theocracy. The flip side is that religion should be free of interference from science, but that’s always been the case so it’s a non-issue.
As to the existence of actual science-religion incompatibilities, we can never say that evolution is consistent with everyone’s understanding of his own religion, but this shouldn’t be necessary. For example, virtually all religions, even the most stridently creationist of them, have finally — after ferocious opposition — accommodated their faith to the solar system. If they can do that, then it’s possible to interpret any scriptural passage so that it doesn’t conflict with science. We regard that as ideal, but we’re indifferent as to whether people choose to do this.
Some churches actually enjoy the fantasy that they’re under assault by an evil scientific opponent. If that’s their pleasure, we should leave them to play that game without our participation. Some day they may tire of imaginary martyrdom.
Our preference is to let those denominations that reject evolution battle it out with others who disagree. Creationism is, and should remain, a denominational squabble, utterly inappropriate in science discussions.
The only time when such issues could impact science would be if we were living in or threatened with a theocracy. This isn’t by any means a theocracy — despite the ignorance of several legislators and school board members — so except for dealing with occasional outbreaks of official idiocy, the whole problem of “incompatibilities” is unimportant. At least it seems so to us.
But we are not lounging around in an ivory tower, isolated from the controversy. Everyone can – and should – insist on the freedom to pursue science separate and apart from his or anyone’s beliefs about religion. And vice versa, of course.
Those who would deny anyone such freedom are a serious problem; but the problem for science is one of of political freedom, not religious faith. (Note: we are, as you know, speaking of genuine freedom, not the misleadingly-named “academic freedom” promoted by creationists to force their religious views into science classes.)
When such conflicts arise — and we report on them daily — our position is that by insisting on freedom we can avoid all the tiresome debates about incompatibilities between science and religion. At least that’s how we handle it.
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