I’m not a big fan of biologist Michel Zimmerman’s Clergy Letter Project, which involves soliciting churches to write letters supporting evolution. I’ve criticized the project for being “harmless at worst”: it smacks too much of the failed accommodationist view that religious people who oppose science (evolution in particular) will suddenly accept evolution if they see that church leaders push that comity.
And too often the brand of evolution supported by churches is “theistic evolution”, i.e., God either created or (worse) guides the evolutionary process. The project is simply dripping with the brand of accommodationism that, to me, pollutes the scientific enterprise. Here, for instance, is part of a letter from the Project signed by over 12,000 Christian clergy:
We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. . . . .We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.
We all know what’s wrong with that: unless you define Biblical “truths” in a circular fashion, so that the “timeless truths” are by definition those not disproven by science, you still run into conflict. That includes the virgin birth, the resurrection, and all manner of divine intervention in the world. Further, there are no “timeless truths” produced by faith—at least none that haven’t also been produced by secular region. And the last sentence smacks of NOMA-ism.
Nevertheless, when an accommodtionist does strike a blow for pure science, and against creationism, I’ll give him due credit. In his latest post at PuffHo, “What physics teaches us about creationism,” Zimmerman points out a difference that many of us have noted (and one I emphasized in my debate with Haught): the atmosphere of doubt surrounding a “revolutionary” scientific finding differs completely from the assurance with which many of the faithful buy the tenets of their faith. (Yes, I know some Christians and Jews are doubters, but really, how many doubt that Jesus was the son of God?).
The doubt that surfaced when researchers reported that neutrinos seems to move faster than the speed of light instantiated the pervasive doubt and criticality of scientists. Here’s a sentence I used in my debate: it was uttered by one of those researchers, and perfectly epitomizes the character of science:
“This is quite a shake-up,” said Alvaro de Rujula, a theorist at CERN. “The correct attitude is to ask oneself what went wrong.”
Zimmerman contrasts that kind of doubt with the certainties of creationism, though the contrast holds as well for all those “timeless religious truths”:
Creationists regularly assert that science is a closed operation, that those offering opinions differing from the norm cannot get a fair hearing within the scientific community. They argue that it is impossible to publish papers in the technical literature that call the dominant paradigm into question. It is this narrow-mindedness, they continue, that keeps their “important” ideas from being shared broadly. I can’t begin to count the number of notes I’ve received from creationists who rail against the biologists who refuse to consider what they have to say. The charge is always the same: scientists are biased and unwilling to consider any ideas that contradict their opinions.
The work arising from CERN demonstrates just how absurd this argument is. The scientists responsible for the work calling special relativity into question had absolutely no trouble getting their results in front of their peers. No one closed ranks and black-listed those who challenged the prevailing paradigm. Quite the opposite occurred. The physics community is abuzz with the results, and healthy discussion, meaningful skepticism, and plans for replication abound.
Indeed. It’s a pity that Zimmerman doesn’t indict all the superstitions held by the faithful rather than creationism alone . But then he’s an accommodationist, and we all know that while creationism is fair game, we should keep our strident atheist mitts off the other fairy tales. But kudos anyway to Zimmerman for pointing out this difference, and for saying this:
How does one go about attempting to overthrow a scientific paradigm? Very, very carefully and as transparently as possible. Consider what Antonio Ereditato, the spokesperson for the CERN group, said about their work, “We have high confidence in our results. We have checked and rechecked for anything that could have distorted our measurements but we found nothing. We now want colleagues to check them independently.” These scientists worked for three years, found a result that might shake physics to its very core, presented their full methodology and have now asked their fellow scientists to check and replicate their work. They understand that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
Creationists, on the other hand, simply make assertions. They offer no data and perform no experiments. As was pointed out by creationists themselves under oath in the Dover, PA intelligent design trial in 2005, no one is performing any scientific investigations of intelligent design. No one is publishing any empirical data on the subject. No one is doing anything at all other than saying, “wow, it seems really unlikely and counter-intuitive for evolution to work.” What the creationists want is for an alternative theory of evolution to be accepted – and taught to our children – simply because they don’t like the one that currently is supported by the data and by virtually every scientist in the field.
His ending is strong, but I’ve edited it a bit to reflect my own feelings, crossing out what Zimmerman wrote and replacing it with bolded words:
The difference between scientists and
creationiststhe faithful is so stark that it can be summarized simply enough to be placed on two bumper stickers.
Don’t believe everything you can think!
Don’t think about anything you believe!
I bet even
creationistsreligious folks can figure out which one is theirs.
h/t: Grania Spingies