No matter how much conflict we see between science and faith, there are some people and organizations all too ready to assure us that all is well. This is especially true for those so desperate to get evolution accepted by Americans—and taught in the public schools—that they cozy up to religion, ignoring the fact that faith creates harms far worse than simple creationist intrusions into the science classrooms. At least those don’t kill anyone.
Such accommodationist outfits and people include BioLogos, The National Center for Science Education, and, of course, Michael Zimmerman, a biologist and administrator at Evergreen State College who’s known for his “Clergy Letter Project,” in which he gets various churches to sign statements that all is well between faith and evolution. (I’ve written about this project before, and characterized it as “harmless at worst.”)
Zimmerman’s still at it. In a new piece at PuffHo, “Peace breaks out in the war between religion and science,” he argues that the so-called “war” between religion and science is really a “manufactured conflict,” ginned up by both religious fundamentalists and atheists for unspecified ulterior motives. Moreover, he says that the war is over—peace has “broken out”.
What’s the evidence for the peace? He cites several organizations devoted to reconciling science and faith. One is the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which, to its shame, has an 18-year, $5.3 million dollar grant from the Templeton Foundation to “promote a public conversation” between science and faith). What has this Templeton-Funded AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion done this year? Have a look:
On November 18-19, 2011 the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) are presenting three events at this year’s American Academy of Religion & Society of Biblical Literature (AAR/SBL) Annual Meeting in San Francisco. The two workshop sessions are entitled, “Seminaries and Science: Challenges and Opportunities” and “Seminaries and Science: From Principles to Practice.” During these workshops we will present the benefits of incorporating forefront science into theological education. On Friday night we will be hosting a reception as well. For more information click here.
The program lists six theologians and two scientists.
Zimmerman also cites the National Academy of Sciences which, also to its shame, hosted the award of the Templeton Prize two years ago, and has published an accommodationist pamphlet. Other signs of peace breaking out are Zimmerman’s own Clergy Letter Project, and organizations like BioLogos and the humorously named “Not Mutually Exclusive initiative“of the United Church of Christ.
I question whether the creation of a bunch of initiatives to convince the faithful that they can have both science and Jesus is a sign of “peace breaking out.” Instead, it’s a sign that the war continues, and that a lot of people are invested in pretending that science and faith don’t conflict. It’s as if the failed 2000 Camp David summit was a sign that “peace broke out” between Israel and Palestine. If there was already peace, why do we need all this investment of time and money by accommodationists? It won’t work, because it doesn’t attack the root of the problem: the persistence of faith and superstition in America.
But here’s a scary announcement from Zimmerman:
. . . let me point to an exciting new initiative that is just getting started. Funded by the Templeton Foundation, this project will bring scientists into congregations with the goal of creating meaningful conversations about faith and science. The Templeton Foundation put up $1 million for this initiative, providing up to $30,000 to each of 37 congregations. You can read more about how some of these projects are playing out within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in a good article written by Susan Barreto. In summary, though, it is fair to say that the individuals involved will explore how it is possible to retain faith while appreciating science — without compromising either.
Note the part about making sure that people “retain their faith”! Why can’t science organizations concentrate on science instead of theology? It’s not our job to show people what kind of religion they should have. And, if what the Pew Forum says is true, it won’t work anyway:
When asked what they would do if scientists were to disprove a particular religious belief, nearly two-thirds (64%) of people say they would continue to hold to what their religion teaches rather than accept the contrary scientific finding, according to the results of an October 2006 Time magazine poll. Indeed, in a May 2007 Gallup poll, only 14% of those who say they do not believe in evolution cite lack of evidence as the main reason underpinning their views; more people cite their belief in Jesus (19%), God (16%) or religion generally (16%) as their reason for rejecting Darwin’s theory.
Further, Zimmerman doesn’t seem to realize that many faiths don’t just deal with ethereal questions of spirituality, but with facts on the ground. He says this, for instance:
Thousands upon thousands of religious leaders recognize that scientific principles need not be compromised for faith to be honored. These deeply religious individuals know that they turn to religion for questions of spirituality that science neither asks nor answers.
Yes, but those people don’t need to be convinced. And what about the millions of other followers—including all those Catholics who oppose abortion on the grounds of a nonexistent soul—whose faith not only requires that they compromise scientific principles, but compels them to force their belief on others (viz. Mississippi, tomorrow)? Insofar as religions are theistic, they intersect, and conflict, with science.
So why do the “science/faith wars” persist? According to Zimmerman, both scientists and religious fundamentalists have an interest in prolonging the war:
And, yes, there are some scientists, who do exactly this [conflate religious fundamentalists with the "vast majority of religious individuals" who, presumably, are willing to acccept science]. They characterize anyone who holds any religious belief in the same fashion as they describe those who are dogmatic in their misunderstanding of science. Some of these scientists believe that science must lead to atheism and, while such a path may have made sense for them, it is demonstrably not the case for large numbers of other scientists and millions of citizens interested in both religion and science.
For those on both ends of the spectrum, the religious fundamentalists who mischaracterize science and the scientists who misconstrue the motives of any who believe in religion, there is value in keeping the war between religion and science alive.
I don’t know of anyone—and that includes the Four Horsemen—who think that “science must lead to atheism.” Even the most atheistic of us think that science comports better with atheism than with religion, but there are plenty of religious scientists. So what? They’re still fooling themselves when they do double-blind studies during the week and recite the Nicene Creed on Sunday.
And I don’t think many of us “misconstrue the motives” of those who believe in religion. There are plenty of motives: fear of death, longing for answers, belonging to a community of like-minded people, and so on. The motives aren’t the problem; it’s the results of faith.
Zimmerman invokes Ronald Numbers (who always exaggerates, I think, the comity between faith and science) to support his idea that the conflict is a manufactured one:
In fact, however, the “war” may never have been more than a manufactured controversy in the first place. As historian Ronald Numbers so evocatively pointed out in his wonderful book “Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion,” the view that there was longstanding and deep conflict between religion and science was “more propaganda than history.”
It’s not propaganda, for crying out loud. We see it every day: in the constant fights against religiously-based creationism that spurred the creation of the National Center for Science education, in the political incursions of faith that is palpably anti-science, in the lies about condoms that the Catholic Church tells Africans, and so on. And there are these statistics from a Pew Forum Survey in 2009 (click to enlarge):
The controversy is of course “manufactured” in the sense that it’s a result of human thought and faith. But it’s not “manufactured” in the sense that scientists and some religious people have decided for other reasons to pretend that there’s a conflict when there isn’t one. Let me tell you what is manufactured: the idea that there’s no conflict at all, and the pretense that if religious people are told that they just have to tweak their beliefs into some “correct” faith, it would all go away. That’s an illusion, and I think Zimmerman knows it. But he “manufactures” a false peace because he thinks that’s the way to get the faithful to accept evolution and the rest of science.