When the topic of the antagonism between science and religion arises, people who seem reasonably intelligent suddenly seem to lose some neurons. We saw an example earlier today with Elaine Ecklund, who appears to have become a Templeton-funded automaton, endlessly repeating false mantras of accommodationism.
Now writer Lauri Lebo has fallen victim as well. She’s incensed about a piece by fellow Post writer Julia Duin, who, observing in an On Faith column that one in eight high school biology teachers rejects evolution, notes that:
Evolution runs directly counter to most major world religions, which teach that God created the world in some form or another.
Duin’s point was that there is considerable “mainstream” opposition to evolution, including Speaker of the House John Boehner’s belief that creationism should be taught in school.
And boy did this tick Lebo off! Writing at Religious Dispatches, she furiously demands that Duin retract her statement about the opposition of faith and religion:
Really? Just off the top of my head I can think of a few major religions that have no trouble reconciling evolution with faith, including Judaism, Catholicism, Buddhism, and all non-fundamentalist versions of Protestantism, such as, for instance, the United Methodist Church.
Lebo then consulted Michael Zimmerman of the Clergy Letter Project, asking for his take. Of course Zimmerman agreed with her:
Although some claim that evolution is at odds with the beliefs of most religions, the truth is very different from that perspective. If you look at the basic tenets of the world’s religions, as Joel Martin has in his book The Prism and the Rainbow, you’ll see that religions and denominations representing a large majority of adherents across the globe are fully comfortable with evolution. Similarly, The Clergy Letter Project, with its more than 13,000 American clergy from various traditions, fully demonstrates how deeply religious individuals can be fully comfortable with their faith and the basic principles of modern science. The perspective that evolution must be rejected by those who are religious is nothing more than an oft repeated myth, promoted by some who want to advance both their political causes and their narrow religious perspective. For so many others, the wonders of evolutionary theory in particular and the amazing discoveries of science in general have served to deepen their religious faith.
And, in a high dudgeon, Lebo finally demands that Duin retract her entire piece:
I sincerely hope Washington Post’s religion editors take note of Duin’s factual inaccuracy, which cries out for a correction. A newspaper of the Post’s reputation owes far more to its readers than to print blog posts of different viewpoints to generate buzz, without regard to the facts. Duin’s just-so assertion, which was not backed up by a shred of evidence, shows a woeful lack of understanding of her beat, and insults the beliefs of the countless people of faith she so casually dismissed.
The problem, of course, is distinguishing between the views of “religion”—which I guess Lebo (along with Zimmerman) sees as the official position of church officials and theologians—and the views of religious people themselves.
There are two points to be made here. First, even the “tolerant” official views of religion can be anti-science. While the Catholic church officially accepts evolution, it accepts theistic evolution, in which God guided the process and casually slipped an immortal soul into the hominin lineage. And theistic evolution, in which God has a role in the process, is not acceptance of evolution as we biologists understand it. So yes, the true biological view of evolution as a materialistic, unguided process is indeed at odds with most religions. Organizations that promote evolution, such as the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), prefer to avoid this critical point: all they care about is that evolution get taught in the schools, not whether believers wind up accepting the concept of evolution as it’s understood by scientists. (If all they want is evolution to be taught, that, I suppose is fine. But it’s not fine if they want public understanding of evolution.)
Second, if you construe “religion” as “what religious people believe,” then there certainly is opposition to evolution among members of all religions. For example, despite the position of their church, many Catholics adhere to the form of young-earth creationism accepted by 40% of Americans. That 40% does not comprise only Bible-waving fundamentalist Protestants.
When we’re totting up resistance to evolution, then, we have to do more than look at official church positions: we have to see what religious people actually think. And we should stop claiming that theistic evolutionists are fully on the side of science, because they aren’t. They’re on the side of the angels (whose existence, by the way, is accepted by 75% of Americans). These theists see evolution as involving miracles at one point or another.
Only about 20% of Americans agree both that humans evolved and that this process wasn’t guided by God. If you’re a naturalist, those are our real allies. The rest are what Anthony Grayling calls “supernaturalists.”