Why do people pretend that religion isn’t responsible for creationism?

If there’s one characteristic of faitheists and accommodationists when facing the issue of American creationism, it’s their refusal to see the palpable fact that religion is the source of that creationism. While this seems trivially obvious to those who have followed the creation/evolution controversy, people like Chris Mooney, Karl Giberson, Kenneth Miller and the like will blame almost everything but religion for the hold of creationism on American minds.  Yes, they will indict those nasty Biblical fundamentalists, but the 46% of Americans who are young-earth creationists aren’t all fundamentalist Christians! Indeed, although the Catholic Church officially accepts evolution, fully 27% of American Catholics think that modern species were created instantaneously by God and have remained unchanged ever since, while 8% do not know or refuse to answer. Those Catholics certainly aren’t seen as “fundamentalist Christians.”

No, the problem is obviously far more than just a few pesky snake-handlers and Bible-thumpers. Evolution strikes at the heart of many religious people’s beliefs. As I note in my talks on this subject, people see evolution as inimical to religion in three important ways:

  • It overturns scriptural views of human origins and our supposed “specialness” in God’s scheme.
  • It takes the idea of purpose and meaning out of God’s hands and forces people to confect their own reasons for living.
  • It sees morality as an evolved and/or cultural phenomenon rather than as a package of commands approved by God.

These make people uncomfortable, and explain, to me, why there are so many “liberal” religionists who still reject evolution. It also explains why faitheists and accommodationists waffle when trying to pinpoint the source of creationism. They simply can’t bring themselves to admit that it’s more than just fundamentalists who reject neo-Darwinism.

If one faced the problem honestly, one would have to say that the biggest source of antievolutionism in America—nay, the world—is religion in general.  You can have religions without creationism, as in the ultra-liberal faiths, but you never have creationism without religion. Or, rather, you almost never have creationism without religion. I can count on the fingers of one hand the prominent opponents of evolution who aren’t religious: David Berlinski (though I think he’s really a secret believer) and the philosophers Thomas Nagel and Jerry Fodor.

The reason people give religion a pass as the cause of creationism is simple: if they indict religion for this, then they indict many religions, not just fundamentalism.  Religious people are often self-protective, seeing an attack on one person’s faith as an attack on all faiths.  (Granted, more enlightened believers don’t feel this way). In the end all religions are, at bottom, superstitions, and if a religious person criticizes one for being an “improper” faith, he’s implicitly casting doubt on his own faith. For there is no reason to think that one religion, or one set of religious tenets—is more “proper” than another. There’s no way to decide which religious beliefs, if any, are “true.”

This is also why believers are loath to blame religion for horrors like the Inquisition or the suicide bombings of Islamic terrorists. It’s all politics, they say, or Western oppression, or poverty—anything but religion. The Galileo affair? Nothing to do with religion, just an internecine dispute over power.  These arguments make me ill. As George Orwell said, and I repeat endlessly, “One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.”

And so we get foolish articles like the one by Uncle Emeritus Karl Giberson in Wednesday’s HuffPo Science section, “Why Americans love creationism.” Giberson, an evangelical Christian, is distressed at the intransigence of antievolutionists in America, and was “sobered” when watching a half-hour HuffPo Live video with evolution activist Zack Kopplin, pastor Becky Fischer, a Pentecostalist from North Dakota, Michael Zimmerman, head of the Clergy Letter Project, Zach Carter, a HuffPo Political Economy reporter, and Bill Devlin, an evangelical pastor in New York. (Do watch the video, especially to LOL at the vigorous, mindless, and tedious arguments of Fischer against evolution, and her fulminations against “academians.”)

Giberson gives six reasons why antievolutionism is so entrenched in America. Several of these (including #2 and #3) are pretty much identical, and all are mentioned by Fischer and Devlin in the video.

1. Antievolutionism appeals to “America’s democratic impulse” by claiming that evolution is forced down schoolchildrens’ throats against their and their parents’ wills.

2.  It violates the American qualities of fairness and tolerance by appearing to censor creationist views that should be aired in schools.

3.  It prevents students from hearing both sides of a “scientific” controversy.

4. There are “big names” attacking evolution, like the famous list of 800 antievolution “scientists” mentioned in the video.

5.  Scientists themselves censor new and revolutionary ideas like Intelligent Design by refusing to publish them—or even consider them for publication—in scientific journals

6.  Academics who reject evolution feel humiliated by their intolerant colleagues.

Note that religion isn’t mentioned here. There’s not one word about America being not only the most religious First World country, but also the one whose citizens are most resistant to evolution.

The obvious solution, if you want evolution to be accepted in America, is to weaken the grasp of religion on our country—or at least those religions (and there are many) that lead 46% of Americans to young-earth creationism. Telling religious people that evolution is perfectly consistent with their religious beliefs—the strategy of Michael Zimmerman and of BioLogos, the organization once run largely by Giberson—hasn’t worked, because those three implications of evolution hang over religion like the sword over Damocles.

But Giberson can’t bring himself to indict religion. His sole mention of the issue is that the six points above were raised by “conservative Christians.” Since he can’t see the obvious solution to antievolutionism—i.e., active atheism or secularism on top of science education—he wrings his hands and can’t see a way around the six arguments above:

This rhetorical strategy contains great synergistic power; polls show that Americans are not coming around to accept evolution, even as its scientific credibility has grown to point of certainty. The conservative Christians in the video above have heard and embraced all of these arguments. In their view, they have a strong case and every right to press it.

Dismantling these arguments takes more time than assembling them. And the process often sounds like little more than special pleading and self-serving prejudice. Science, of course, is not a democratic process — and it shouldn’t be — but explaining why is a bit tricky to an audience that values democracy so highly. High school students are not capable of adjudicating the validity of anti-evolutionary arguments — they have enough challenges simply learning the material and taking time to put fringe ideas in their heads is not reasonable. Restricting education to well-established knowledge is certainly not intolerance, but you can’t tell that to someone who rejects well-established knowledge.

Science education in America is in trouble.

Well, if science education is in trouble, it’s because rationality is in trouble, for it’s constantly beleaguered by faith. Most state education standards are actually quite good about evolution, but biology teachers won’t implement them. As a 2011 paper by Berkman and Plutzer (reference below) shows, only 28% of science teachers consider themselves advocates of evolutionary biology when teaching the issue in the classroom, while 13% advocate for (i.e., teach) creationism, and fully 60% advocate neither evolution nor creationism, either waffling on the subject, teaching both, watering down the evolution, or teaching neither).  And that’s because either the teachers themselves are religious, or they’re afraid of pushback from outraged parents. Here are Berkman and Plutzer’s figures, broken down by whether the 969 teachers surveyed teachers had a course in evolution:

Picture 2

Self-reports of qualifications of teachers, classified by approach to
teaching evolution. Based on responses from 926 U.S. public high school biology teachers.

I submit this to Dr. Giberson: the reason why creationism is so prevalent is because of people like you—people who believe in ludicrous things because it makes them comfortable. Yes, Karl, you’ve managed yourself to overcome your own religious bias with respect to evolution, and have even tried to turn your coreligionists toward Darwinism. But you’ve failed, and now you see no solution, although that the solution is right under your nose. It’s to weaken religious belief. Until the grip of faith on America is loosened, we’ll always be putting out these brushfires, fighting rearguard battles against creationist incursions into public education.

We would have none of these problems if America weren’t so full of observant Christians like yourself. Why can’t you see that, Karl? It’s not just the fundamentalists.

___________

Berkman, M. B., and E. Plutzer. 2011. Defeating creationism in the courtroom, but not in the classroom. Science 331:404-405.

78 Comments

  1. Posted April 14, 2013 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    There has only ever been one passable argument for religion: The Argument From Design. But, Natural Selection completely negates that argument. That’s why whilst religionists can sometimes accept evolution, they can never accept the full implications of natural selection. If things happen naturally then they weren’t designed were they?

  2. Posted April 14, 2013 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    Perhaps the title should be “Why do some religious people pretend that they aren’t responsible for creationism?”

    The problem for said people is that they’re struggling with the concept that human knowledge (god-given, no less, to paraphrase Galileo) has advanced and improved.

    Why that notion should be such a challenge to their theology is beyond me. Unless they are fundamentalists who hold to an unwavering and unchanging holy word, which can only be correctly interpreted – quelle surprise! – by themselves.

    • Brygida Berse
      Posted April 14, 2013 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      Why that notion should be such a challenge to their theology is beyond me.

      Evolution – including human evolution – as a natural process, free of divine intervention and fueled only by random mutations, genetic drift and natural selection is a challenge for any theology – or it should be. In the case of moderate religions this conflict is just more subtle and the moderates tend to ignore it.

      • Posted April 16, 2013 at 5:04 am | Permalink

        Perhaps you should elaborate on why it is, or should be, a challenge to “any theology”?

        To cut to the chase, use deism as an example.

  3. Posted April 14, 2013 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Perfectly Opaque.

  4. John Harshman
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    Granting that the arguments below are minor factors in rejection of evolution, we might still consider them. And I think an effective counter that deprives most of them of any force is something I call the flat earth test. Just substitute an obviously ridiculous claim for ID or creationism and the arguments should fall apart. (But you have to be sure it’s a substitution that even creationists will think is ridiculous, hence the flat earth.

    Doesn’t work for #1 unless there actually are parents complaining, and if there were, it wouldn’t be considered an obviously ridiculous idea.

    2. It violates the American qualities of fairness and tolerance by appearing to censor flat earth views that should be aired in schools.

    3. It prevents students from hearing both sides of a “scientific” controversy. (Different controversy, same argument.)

    It doesn’t work for #4 either unless you can find a flat-earth scientist. But geocentrism just might. Perhaps AIDS denial, in some circles.

    5. Scientists themselves censor new and revolutionary ideas like flat earthism by refusing to publish them—or even consider them for publication—in scientific journals

    6. Academics who reject round earthism feel humiliated by their intolerant colleagues.

    Four out of six fall to the flat earth test; not bad. And the point is that the reception people would want and accept for an idea does depend on whether it’s true. And so the subject changes from fairness to evidence.

  5. Posted April 14, 2013 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    Jerry, there you go again!

    I have never said or written that religion is not responsible for the “hold of creationism on American minds.” On the contrary, I think that is exactly what the problem is! That is the reason I have addressed so much of my writing and public speaking to people of faith and to religious groups. To claim, as you often do, that I exempt religion from blame for creationism is a complete misrepresentation of my views, and more importantly, of my public work.

    It is precisely because I regard religious faith as the root of creationism that I tried to help Christians and others to see the value of science and the overwhelming weight of the evidence behind evolution.

    So, go ahead and make the argument, as you often do, that no reasonable person can embrace both science and faith. I respectfully disagree on that point, as you know. However, don’t misrepresent my views on the responsibility of religion and religious leaders for creationism. I understand, just as you do, that creationism correlates with religious faith. And that is why I have tried to take the message of science to exactly that audience. And I’m going to keep on doing it.

    Best Wishes,

    Ken Miller

    • Posted April 14, 2013 at 7:04 am | Permalink

      Hi Ken,

      Thanks for this, but I beg to differ. True, you address your writing and speaking to people of faith, but what you try to do is not dispel faith, but show people that their faith is compatible with evolution. That’s not true, of course, certainly not for those 23% of creationist Catholics who belong to your church.

      As I noted in my review in The New Republic of your book Only A Theory:

      _____________________

      For Miller, a peculiarly American brand of rugged individualism and distrust of authority has had conflicting effects. First, it has produced America’s scientific superiority. Miller notes that in the last three decades, Americans have won about 60 percent of all Nobel Prizes in the sciences.

      Is there something in the American character that bore the seeds of this conflict [evolution versus creationism] and provided fertile ground in which it could flourish? I think there is, and I’m not ashamed of that. In fact, I’m downright proud of it…. America is the greatest scientific nation in the world…. Disrespect–that’s the key. It’s the reason that our country has embraced science so thoroughly, and why America has served as a beacon to scientists from all over the world. A healthy disrespect for authority is part of the American character, and it permeates our institutions, including the institutions of science. Scientists in this country, whether American by birth or choice, have been allowed to dream of revolutionary discoveries, and those dreams have come true more often in this country than in any other.

      But this is a two-edged sword.

      If rebellion and disrespect are indeed part of the American talent for science, then what should we make of the anti-evolution movement? One part of the analysis is clear. The willingness of Americans to reject established authority has played a major role in the way that local activists have managed to push ideas such as scientific creationism and intelligent design into local schools.

      But do we really owe our leadership in science to our inner John Waynes? Surely there are other–and equally American–factors: freedom from religious persecution, and money. Our scientific community has been immensely enriched by recent immigrants, especially Jews who fled the Nazis. More important, after World War II our government began funding scientific research at a furious rate, a largesse that attracted hosts of foreign scholars. And even though we have dominated the Nobel Prizes since then, in earlier years we were completely eclipsed by Europe. Until 1930, for example, Americans won only four Nobel Prizes in all of the sciences, while twenty-nine went to Germany and fifteen to the United Kingdom. Germans and Britons can hardly be accused of “disrespect for authority”!

      The resistance to evolution in America has little to do with populism as such. Our ornery countrymen do not rise up against the idea of black holes or the proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem. It is evolution that is the unique object of their ire, and for this there is only one explanation. The facts are these: you may find religion without creationism, but you will never find creationism without religion. Miller and Giberson shy away from this simple observation. Their neglect of the real source of creationism is inexcusable but understandable: a book aiming to reconcile evolution and religion can hardly blame the faithful.

      Yet it is acceptable, it seems, to blame the faithless. For Giberson and Miller, the main aggressors in the “science wars” are the atheists. Books by the “new atheists,” they contend, have inflamed religious moderates who might otherwise be sympathetic to evolution, driving them into the creationist corner. In Finding Darwin’s God, Miller explained that “I believe much of the problem lies with atheists in the scientific community who routinely enlist the material findings of evolutionary biology in support [sic] their own philosophical pronouncements.”
      ____________________________________

      In your popular book, which I much admire for its superb attack on intelligent design, you manage to avoid directly confronting the real cause of creationism, and blame it instead on innate American “disrespect” and “rejection of authority”—-the same thing Giberson does.

      The fact is, and you won’t accept it, that creationism won’t vanish from this planet until religion does. And that includes your own religion of Catholicism. It’s obvious that attempts to convert creationist believers to evolution is a losing strategy. Far better to deconvert the religious themselves–which has the advantage of not only eliminating creationism as a byproduct, but also eliminating the many other–and far more harmful–effects of faith. In fact, one of the most harmful faiths, though it officially accepts evolution, is your own: Catholicism. I won’t recite the full litany of immoral and harmful Catholic beliefs, but we know full well what they are. It’s always puzzled me how a respected scientist can sign on to not only a complete superstition, but a brand of superstition that has harmed so many people.

      cheers,
      Jerry

      • Posted April 14, 2013 at 8:09 am | Permalink

        Sorry for the nit-picking here, but when you wrote, “what you try to do is not dispel faith, but show people that their faith is compatible with religion”, didn’t you mean “show people that their faith is compatible with science”? Other than that–good point(s)!

        • Posted April 14, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

          No apologies necessary–that was a typo and I’ve fixed it. Thanks!

    • Pierre Masson
      Posted April 14, 2013 at 7:15 am | Permalink

      Re: “So, go ahead and make the argument, as you often do, that no reasonable person can embrace both science and faith.”

      I think the argument could be that when a person is in “faith mode”, he/she is no longer acting as a scientist.
      Someone who is acting based on faith is kind of saying “Don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is already made up.”

    • Peter Ozzie Jones
      Posted April 14, 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      Prof Miller

      In your writings of June 2009 you seem to be blaming our web host & not religion for arming the ceationists?

      From:

      http://www.millerandlevine.com/evolution/Coyne-Accommodation.htm

      In purely tactical terms, Coyne’s recent writings provide powerful and persuasive support for one of the most effective arguments in the creationists’ bag of tricks. If the American public can be convinced that the central theory of the biological sciences cannot be understood without rejecting religion, the forces of anti-evolution in our country will have achieved one of their most cherished goals — to depict evolution as a secular philosophical movement rather than a natural science. Then, with Coyne’s aid, they will have a much easier time persuading voters and school board members to protect their schoolchildren against what creationists call this “sinister plot.”

      Is no small part played by prominent scientists who persist in beliefs that are counter to modern science?

      Eg do you believe that there was a creation; Adam+Eve are our ancestors; we are born with original sin; a global flood wiped out most of life; existence of god in human form, that when sacrificed (yet knowing that in 3 days . . .) somehow saves us (how?); along with a frequent commenter’s fave of colon handling; right on to the infallibility of the Pope and that some of us will go to hell while others will be bored out of their minds in heaven?

      Or to save time, maybe just respond to Dawkin’s challenge on the wafer & wine.

      Do you have any evidence or is it just faith?

      • Brygida Berse
        Posted April 14, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

        Dr. Miller: If the American public can be convinced that the central theory of the biological sciences cannot be understood without rejecting religion, the forces of anti-evolution in our country will have achieved one of their most cherished goals — to depict evolution as a secular philosophical movement rather than a natural science. Then, with Coyne’s aid, they will have a much easier time persuading voters and school board members to protect their schoolchildren against what creationists call this “sinister plot.”

        Oh, the Little People argument.

        Obviously Dr. Miller doesn’t notice the irony: he stipulates that when facing the choice between scientific truth and faith, many religious people will choose faith. And he still insists that it’s the atheists who are the problem, because they refuse to go “tactical” on the Little People.

        • Logicophilosophicus
          Posted April 16, 2013 at 5:44 am | Permalink

          I think Dr Miller is working for a solution, rather than being hung up on apportioning blame for the problem. If “the problem” is that vast numbers of religious people deny and thereby impede evolutionary science, then there are at least two possible solutions.

          1) Try to turn them into atheists, largely by telling them they are stupid, pretending, causing much of the evil in the world, abusing their children, “lying for Jebus”, etc. Then they’ll be ready to accept evolution.

          2) Try to get them to accept the truth of evolution directly, based on the evidence (and leave them to sort out their own faith issues in the light of their new knowledge).

          From where I stand, (2) looks more likely to work. (1) is only likely to polarise views, and leave people tribally defending entrenched positions. I think the 30-year record of Gallup polls shows this. In the previous (pre-confrontational atheism) century, belief in evolution rose from around zero to a slim majority…

          • Posted April 16, 2013 at 5:51 am | Permalink

            This is a trolling comment; we don’t try to “convert people” by telling them they’re stupid, and most of us don’t level accusations of “lying for Jebus”.

            I’ve been trying for years to get people to accept evolution based on the evidence; it hasn’t worked. Evolution won’t be widely accepted until religion goes away, and I’ve presented tons of data on this site (which you apparently haven’t read) showing that.

            If you look at the data, evolution acceptance has been flat since the 1950s, even through the age of Gould, early Dawkins, Sagan, Attenborough, etc. That was before “confrontational atheism.” For some reason you chose to ignore that.

          • gbjames
            Posted April 16, 2013 at 6:07 am | Permalink

            You ignore an important matter, Logicophilosophicus. When talking with people, some of us insist that being truthful is important. Your second option is premised on a willingness to deceive other people in the interest of a “solution”. It should be rejected on that basis alone. Honesty matters.

    • darrelle
      Posted April 14, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      “So, go ahead and make the argument, as you often do, that no reasonable person can embrace both science and faith.”

      I think a more accurate summation of this argument is, “it is not reasonable for a person to embrace both science and faith.” Most people making this argument clearly understand that human beings are quite capable of being unreasonable, of holding two contradictory beliefs at the same time, and that doing so in specific instances does not necessarily mean that they are generally unreasonable.

      And, people tend to be unreasonable about things that they hold dear.

    • Posted April 14, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      The problem for people of religious faith in accepting evolution is a problem of the ultimate distillation of evolution: there is no eternal life after death.

      Once a person of religious faith reaches the conclusion, based on accepting science,… that evolution is a valid and true fact, the loss of an afterlife, the absence of a heaven, the -loss- of seeing all your ancestors, lost love ones, again, that immortality is NOT a possibility…in fact, a CERTAINTY of loss, is a tremendous emotional wall to scale. Think of all the eulogies heard in your lifetime, all the firm pronouncements about “We’ll meet again..”, all dashed with no pity or solace.

      And so, at this juncture, the whole philosophical works is thrown into reverse. For those who are intelligently able, eternal existence is a a great motivator of intricate, nuanced, philosophizing to “prop up” the idea of eternal life. For those not intellectually equipped, it is a short journey back to arguments such as “it’s just a theory” and “no proof!”

      All the hoop jumping, arm waving, calls for “democratic” teaching have all been synthesized to avoid the reality of no afterlife, never seeing anyone already dead, ever again, and that you vanish as well. The factual reality is a tremendous burden to those of religious faith.

      They will build =any= kind of elaborate philosophical construct to avoid it.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted April 16, 2013 at 6:57 am | Permalink

      I’ll shorten it: no reasonable person can embrace faith.

      Faith is unreasonable by its nature.

  6. logicophilosophicus
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    “…believers are loath to blame religion for horrors like the Inquisition or the suicide bombings of Islamic terrorists. It’s all politics, they say, or Western oppression, or poverty—anything but religion. The Galileo affair? Nothing to do with religion, just an internecine dispute over power.  These arguments make me ill. As George Orwell said, and I repeat endlessly, ‘One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.’ ”

    Orwell, in the year 1944, expressed a completely opposite view of the moral impact of religion:

    “The truth is the opposite: when one’s belly is empty, one’s only problem is an empty belly. It is when we have got away from drudgery and exploitation that we shall really start wondering about man’s destiny and the reason for his existence. One cannot have any worthwhile picture of the future unless one realises how much we have lost by the decay of Christianity.”

    Orwell would certainly have disapproved of the New Atheist rush to demolish traditional morality, especially moral imperatives, before replacing both convincingly. He would certainly have agreed that morality is “an evolved and/or cultural phenomenon rather than as a package of commands approved by God.” But he certainly believed that religion was part and parcel of that cultural evolution, and not to be carelessly or hastily destroyed.

    • Posted April 14, 2013 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      Well, just because Orwell said it doesn’t mean I have to agree with him. In fact, the data on this issue (which he didn’t have–he’s going on his own opinion) show that religiosity increases with income inequality and social dysfunction, both within countries over time, or among countries. It’s when your belly is empty and your kids are sick (and you have no medical care) that you turn to God.

      His opinion is completely belied by the fact that the most religious countries on earth are the poorest and most dysfunctional (Islamic countries and sub-Saharan Africa); and in those places an empty belly certainly doesn’t keep people from being religious.

      And really, “carelessly and hastily destroyed”? Is that what we’re doing? I doubt it, because we’re using argument and rationality, not killing believers or bombing churches. I don’t call that careless or hasty.

      • logicophilosophicus
        Posted April 14, 2013 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

        “It’s when your belly is empty and your kids are sick (and you have no medical care) that you turn to God.” I agree – it’s the no-atheists-in-a-foxhole principle – but that wasn’t Orwell’s point, which was about the moral and (in Sam Harris’s sense) spiritual underpinning traditionally given by religion. I challenged the paragraph in which you seemed to quote Orwell in support of the view that religion is the source, particularly, of evil. He held the opposite view (though he particularly disliked Roman Catholicism), that religion was a source of moral authority, and some such prop is essential. He could easily have expressed his point in exactly your own terms (last November): “If our goal is to eradicate superstition, then, we must first create a society in which people feel more secure…” I agree that the social replacement for religion must come before the destruction of religious social/moral structures, not after: emphasis on “first”. Certainly, undeveloped communities tend to be religious, but (as I have pointed out before) your own City of Chicago is a really cogent example of a largely post-religious society struggling in a moral hiatus.

        • Posted April 14, 2013 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

          This idea of “preserving morality” by maintaining religion is foolish. Is there a lack of crime in such countries as Brazil, where you can commit atrocities daily, but get absolution at confession, and then continue with “business as usual”???

          There is only one moral necessary: do unto others as you would have them, do to you. If you do not want cheating, lying, theft, bodily harm inflicted on you, do not do that to anyone else.

          With that in place (any time..) no need for goofy hierarchies of preachers, priests, or imams.

          • Cremnomaniac
            Posted April 14, 2013 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

            I would suggest that you read Dan Barkers book, Godless. In chapter Ten he demonstrated how the “Golden Rule” oft cited as the moral pinnacle of religious morality, is at best “bronze”.
            I find it interesting that you have chosen it as well. However, I do agree that the morality of humanity has far exceeded that of any religious doctrines.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 14, 2013 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      “Carelessly”? It is care for science and education that drove the above post.

      Why do you dislike science and education and secular morality like democracy so much that you put “traditional morality” before it?

      And “hastily”?

      – It is certainly not a fast process of loosing the grip of religiosity in general, outside of such fortunate periods we have seen lately where the global community came together and hastily decreased poverty and increased education which (it seems from recent polls) gave the expected decrease in religiosity.

      – It is deliberate. I think the greeks more generally questioned superstition (the atomists, say) and its effects, maybe its roots was there. In any case we have some millenniums of deliberation on this question.

      • logicophilosophicus
        Posted April 14, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

        “Why do you dislike science and education and secular morality like democracy so much that you put ‘traditional morality’ before it?”

        I love science and decry religion. I am passionate about, and have devoted my entire working life to, education. I have been a committed and outspoken libertarian democrat for many years. Why would you think otherwise?

        Demolishing (for example) Christian morality without first replacing it – accessibly and convincingly for all citizens – is like closing coalmines before building alternative utilities: stupid. The interregnum is a bad time to live.

        • Posted April 14, 2013 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

          But it’s not like we don’t already have a secular morality which is perfectly accessible to all citizens!

          In fact, it’s what most of them live by most of the time, the most rebarbative aspects of Christian morality being discarded in the last centuries. It’s only some who are out of step with secular morality re some (non-trivial) issues: women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, abortion, and choice in dying. (Maybe more.)

          I’m not quite sure what you mean by “convincingly [replacing]” Christian morality. This seems to beg the question. If anyone is convinced, they’ve already accepted secular morality where it differs from the older/their former Christian morality.

          The problem them is not trying to “demolish” Christian morality, but to convince the religious to accept that secular morality results in greater human well being. However, like convincing the religious to accept evolution, this really means convincing them that their faith is wrong. (No easy task.)

          Nonetheless, that secular morality is there and is accessible.

          /@

    • logicophilosophicus
      Posted April 15, 2013 at 6:14 am | Permalink

      @ o2generate
      ‘This idea of “preserving morality” by maintaining religion is foolish.’
      An idea I never floated – nor did Orwell. My view is that Anglicanism, for example, is atheism by stealth. It yearly erodes its own authority: good. Gradualism is prudent.
      ‘Is there a lack of crime in such countries as Brazil, where you can commit atrocities daily, but get absolution at confession, and then continue with “business as usual”???’
      You misunderstand absolution/confession. It is made perectly clear to Roman Catholics that confession of a mortal sin made with the secret intention to repeat the offence is not valid. You have cited Brazil with NO comparison/benchmark. Where are the atheistic South American countries? In the European Union we do have both highly religious (Catholic) countries and highly atheistic countries. Of the 6 largest states 2 have more atheists than convinced believers (France and the UK). Germany has over 20% positive believers, less than 20% atheists. 2 have 5-10% atheists and c 40% convinced theists – Italy and Spain. Poland has 3% atheist and 62% certain theists (and, incidentally, about half the GDP per capita of the other 5). Yet the highest murder rate is in the UK, with France and Poland tying for second place.

      ‘There is only one moral necessary: do unto others as you would have them, do to you. If you do not want cheating, lying, theft, bodily harm inflicted on you, do not do that to anyone else.’ But where is the AUTHORITY for that ‘commandment’? It seems like a good idea to you, but not to a Somali pirate, say;a sex addict might agree, though… And how do you separate it from its natural corollary: if you have been so abused, you may in turn abuse someone else?

      @ Ant
      ‘…we… already have a secular morality which is perfectly accessible to all citizens! In fact, it’s what most of them live by most of the time… secular morality results in greater human well being.’

      Where is it written down? I will assume (‘well being’) that you have Sam Harris (‘The Moral Landscape’) in mind. It is not accessible to most people. They can buy it, but they can’t comprehend even its ‘very simple premise: human well-being entirely depends on events in the world and on states of the human brain.’ I understand it but don’t accept it – it likely implies, for example, that drug-induced euphoria or even painless euthanasia is morally better than the usual day-to-day anxiety. Of course you could justify moral universals pragmatically, as matters of consensus… but then the Polish (or indeed American) consensus would be that a good life is defined by Biblical and Evangelical authority.

      • Posted April 15, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

        No.

        And since we’re talking about secular morality your last examples are non sequitur.

        /@

        • logicophilosophicus
          Posted April 15, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

          Not Sam Harris, you say? Fine – but where is this ‘secular morality’ spelled out? Or can you state one or two of its universals?(And, BTW, re American morality, ‘what most of them live by most of the time’ is avowedly Christianity – so no non sequitur there.)

    • truthspeaker
      Posted April 16, 2013 at 6:59 am | Permalink

      I thought we had provided an alternative to traditional morality quite some time ago.

  7. gbjames
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    sub

  8. David Hoss
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    First of all, I cannot tell you how sick I am of hearing about why or why not creationism should be taught in our public schools. All these folks talking about how science and religion can or cannot be compatible with one another are ignorant. Faith is blind has always been blind and will continue to be blind, anti-reason, and anti science.
    Now for the myth and fairy tale of creationism, first of all there is not a shred of evidence to prove the earth is 6000 years old. Secondly, and this is most important, if someone can prove without a dout that it was a supreme godly being that instantaneously created humans and every living creature, plant, micro-organism, ect. on the face of the planet, that that said person or person has just proven the existence of GOD, yes, they would have just proven that their god is really the one true god is real. this of course would take a miracle and I quite frankly do not tend to believe in miracles.
    So, I hope I’m not the only one to see it this way, but I believe that whoever is teaching creationism to their children, whether in school or at home, is abusing that child. yes, teaching creationism to your children is child abuse. and teaching creationism in school biology classes is ridiculous, it is not science and has no place in a science class what so ever, period. If you want your children to hear that side of the “Argument”, then by all means send said child to Sunday school. it is as simple as that

  9. Eddie Janssen
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Democratic impulse, fairness and tolerance are found throughout the western world. Creationism much less.

  10. Mark
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Sorry, folks. Creationism is false and the overwhelming evidence is all about evolution. Otherwise, you have to pitch astronomy, genetics, paleontology, biology, the entire fossil record, radiometric dating, all of geology and your EYES into the toilet.

  11. David Duncan
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    “They simply can’t bring themselves to admit that it’s more than just fundamentalists who reject neo-Darwinism.”

    People I know who reject evolution are often just ignorant. They aren’t people of I’ll will. They just don’t know what they’re talking about. I usually make an effort with family and friends, with others I rarely bother.

    • David Duncan
      Posted April 14, 2013 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      *ill will

  12. Christopher
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    “Why do people pretend that religion isn’t responsible for creationism?”

    Because it is much easier to blame anything and everything than come to the inevitable conclusion and admit that religion is in fact a problem – a concession far too dangerous to make by these people.

  13. darrelle
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Rejection of evolution by religious believers is just a symptom of the central problem with religious belief.

    Telling believers that evolution is compatible with their religious beliefs is somewhat analogous to treating the symptoms of a disease. Doing so may offer some temporary relief but does nothing whatsoever to combat the actual disease that is causing the symptoms.

  14. Posted April 14, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    With respect, I’d have a small but significant quarrel with the central claim.

    Religion isn’t the cause of creationism or its popularity.

    Religion is a symptom.

    Faith is the cause.

    Religion just happens to be the most popular, pervasive, and pernicious manifestation of faith.

    Once you grant that it is good to apportion belief other than in proportion with a rational and empirical analysis of all available evidence…well, it’s like dividing by zero. The results are undefined and undefinable. If you insist on an answer, any and every answer will be equally and perfectly worng.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Brygida Berse
      Posted April 14, 2013 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      Religion isn’t the cause of creationism or its popularity.

      Religion is a symptom.

      Faith is the cause.

      Yes, but religion – especially organized religion – provides the mechanism that amplifies the effects of faith, reinforcing the notion that faith is indeed a virtue and insulating the subject from a possibility of self-correction.

      • Don
        Posted April 14, 2013 at 10:17 am | Permalink

        Exactly.

      • Posted April 14, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

        And yet, it is faith that informs the religious people that faith is a virtue….

        It helps to understand that religion is just yet another confidence scam.

        The problem with the used car salesman selling you a lemon of a cherry isn’t the condition or the car or even the sales price. It’s the undue trust you place in the salesman.

        The problem with the stock swindler isn’t the company whose stock you buy. It’s with your trust in the swindler and subsequent failure to investigate the company and / or the failure of the regulatory agencies to enforce proper disclosure.

        The problem with the real estate agent selling prime oceanfront property in Arizona isn’t with the lack of oceans bordering the state. It’s with your trust of the agent and inability to read a map.

        It’s the same thing with religions. The problem there isn’t with the doctrines or dogmas or whatever. It’s with your failure to ask why grownups are taking seriously a book that opens with a story about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard.

        Once your trust has been corrupted in any of these scams, the prime goal of the perpetrators is to keep your faith in them. If they can do that, the rest is academic.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Brygida Berse
          Posted April 14, 2013 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

          All I’m saying is that a gullible person may buy a used car from a shady salesman, but then, if the car is a lemon, they may wisen up and not do it again. However, if there is a shoppers’ club in town (sponsored by said salesman) and other members persuade our unfortunate buyer that cars available elsewhere are so much worse and overpriced that only fools buy them, while here one can collect valuable points and some day get a car for free… Also, the weekly club meetings are nice and friendly…

        • Posted April 14, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

          Remember Ben, that the reason that Xianity caught fire and perpetrated was the novel idea of heaven and eternal life, for simply having faith. Roman gods were unpredictable, and had their favorites. To accept Xian tenants, as a slave or serf, well, SO MUCH the BETTER you are suffering…YOU, with your faith, get ETERNAL LIFE in heaven. The rich guy?? Nope, easier to put a camel through the eye of a needle. Pssst, pass it on! Eternity, bliss, in heaven! See all your fellow Xtians again, too!! Those that have faith!

          So the sales pitch has always been eternal life. That is how the major religions of the world have prospered.

        • Posted April 24, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink

          I have been trying to figure out why people believe in something that there is no proof for. For years and years I have been trying to figure it out.

          With the overwhelming evidence against the belief, they can still continue to believe in the swindle.

          I think for certain brain types, early indoctrination cements the belief/faith Meme into the psyche of those brains. Once it has latched on it is hard to remove. It is kind of like a parasite, which lives off it’s host, without the host realizing it. The host can get something back from the parasitic behavior. Primarily a tribal community of fellow believers, who can help the parasite reinforce your belief.

          Please expound!

  15. krzysztof1
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    I could sum up the “controversy” about teaching of evolution and intelligent-design thus: You don’t settle scientific issues in the court of public opinion. It’s not a question of “fairness,” but rather a question of what is good science and what isn’t.

    • Posted April 14, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      Which sums up the problems of media coverage of science, too.

      /@

  16. Gordon Hill
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Interesting variety of views. In mine, creationism was a fairly universal view in many if not most prehistoric cultures… The Hopi myth of nine worlds–one for the creator, one for his aides, seven for humans (where they are currently living in #4–is my favorite. Creation myths are stories offering answers to the fundamental question, “What’s it about?”

    As for Judeo-Christian-Islamic Creationism, it begins in genesis and seems to be perpetrated as the followers hang on to a creator god myth. Ironically there are non-theistic movements in both Judaism and Christianity where the teachings are embraced and the god idea discarded.

    For me, one of the obstacles for many creationist believers is that if they dismiss god, they will miss out of the hereafter, not realizing that the here and now is it…

    • Posted April 14, 2013 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

      You casually make mention, “…miss out of the hereafter..” as if it were a dessert at a restaurant: “Oh, sorry, we’re all out of apple pie…too bad you missed it.”

      Think of all those many, many moments at funerals, the consolations that “we’ll all meet again in heaven…” It’s like asking someone to break up and destroy their best dishes, plate by plate, cup by cup, into the tiniest shards, then deposit the broken heap in an uncaring garbage truck. Who can do it, and feel nothing??!

      No, better to claim, “It’s only a theory! I’ll see Mom again some day! Look at all the major, intelligent people who say so!”

      • Gordon Hill
        Posted April 14, 2013 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

        You mean the hereafter isn’t the transcendent desert at the fundamentalist restaurant? ;-)

        • Posted April 15, 2013 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

          True, but I think non-theists minimize a crucial way in which this life is not simply “all there is.” We are the current crest of the 3.8 billion year chain of living things and are a link in its continuity, probably, into a long future. This is, to me, as awe-inspiring a perspective as the fundamentalist Christian one but non-theists seem unwilling or unable to allow themselves to respond to it emotionally.

          • Posted April 15, 2013 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

            “We are the current crest…”

            No. No, we’re not.

            If you think atheists aren’t moved by the multi-billion year sweep of the history of life on Earth, you just haven’t read, listened or watched widely enough.

            /@

            • Gordon Hill
              Posted April 15, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

              I think everyone who is paying attention, whatever label is applied, is moved by the wonder of all that is, known and unknown… wonder is my temple.

            • Posted April 15, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

              They may be moved by it–I should have put this more clearly–but I don’t read or hear atheists articulating at length, for example, how our fear of dying might be eased by knowledge of the history of life. I haven’t found explications of how a meaning in life can be found not by stoically accepting its brevity but by envisioning our place in its long continuity. If such writing is out there, let’s pass it along. Any references to suggest?

              • Posted April 16, 2013 at 3:23 am | Permalink

                So, why do you think that this may be the best way – even a way – of easing our fear of dying or finding meaning in life?

                I’m with Epicurus re fear of dying (and he was certainly unaware of evolution!).

                /@

          • Gordon Hill
            Posted April 15, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

            Non-theists (which in my reading of the term includes atheists, agnostics and theist-inconsequentialists) are no more easily categorized than theists… the spectrum from one end to the other is populated by individual views for all who think. As for “all there is”, I prefer Jasper’s tidy phrase “reality as such” which encompasses all there is, including that which is unknown and that which is also beyond knowing.

            • Posted April 16, 2013 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

              Reply to Ant–There is no guarantee that it is a way, of course. But the desire to make some sense of the bigger picture, or to have a place in it, runs pretty deep. (It helps drive science.) It’s possible both to share Epicurus’ clarity about dying and to feel part of the long chain of life as well.

  17. Posted April 14, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Religions serve to promulgate themselves and to enrich/empower those who control them. Anything that challenges the religion must be discounted, removed or absorbed in service of those who benefit from the religion.

    If something cannot be removed or absorbed, like the Cornucopian Universe, the relgion adapts to the incontrovertible by retreating from literal to metaphorical/allegorical interpretations of its holy books/doctrines.

    The more threatening/important to central tenants of the religion the subject, the greater the push-back against the subject.

    Nothing threatens religion more than evoution which removes everything of importance from religion:

    You are no longer created.

    You are not one God’s special
    snowflakes.

    Your holy book is just so much
    bronze/iron age rambling. The entire
    meta-physical order of the universe in
    which you believe is false.

    You are, in fact, just a hairless,
    clever ape who will die and cease
    to exist.

  18. Posted April 14, 2013 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Atheism, Music, and More… and commented:
    Thank you Jerry Coyne. I agree wholeheartedly.

  19. John Schneider
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Likewise their would be no nihilism without atheism.
    Atheism does not entail nihilism, nor does “religion” entail anti-evolutionism.
    Branch Rickey’s religion (Methodism) motivated him to sign Jackie Robinson.
    Would the be better without religious anti-racism (ala Martin Luther King)?
    This critique of Karl seems a bit heavy handed.

    • Gary W
      Posted April 14, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      Would the be better without religious anti-racism (ala Martin Luther King)?

      The world would be better without religion. Religion encourages people to believe without evidence.

      • Posted April 14, 2013 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

        To say that Branch Rickey’s religion motivated him is foolish. He was a swindler who made many a dishonest deal in trading players. His motivation for integrating baseball was initially motivated by an incident in college, where the single black man on the baseball team was refused a room in the hotel where the rest of the team stayed.
        Look up the conversation. It burned Rickey to his inner core.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted April 16, 2013 at 7:05 am | Permalink

      Would we be better without religious racism?

  20. Bob Carlson
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    There’s no way to decide which religious beliefs, if any, are “true.”

    I presume that John Loftus would disagree, given the title of his recent book: The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion Is True.

    I submit this to Dr. Giberson: the reason why creationism is so prevalent is because of people like you&emdash;people who believe in ludicrous things because it makes them comfortable.

    A very recent book that deals with this issue by discussing the evolutionary viewpoints of believers, ranging from creationists to theological evolutionists of the most liberal variety, is Evolving out of Eden: Christian Responses to Evolution by Robert M. Price and Edwin Suominen. Authors whose arguments are criticized include Ken Ham, Bernard Ramm, Kenneth Miller, John Haught, Francis Collins, Karl Giberson, John Polkinghorne, and Denis Lamoureaux. The book’s coverage of evolutionary science is heavily reliant on authors like Coyne, Dawkins, Ehrlich, and Dennett.

  21. Jeff Johnson
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Giberson’s six points could hold equally for any paranoid conspiracy theory people choose to embrace, say the one that holds that shape shifting lizards from another planet are controlling governments worldwide and are about to establish a new world order to rule over humans. Such a crisis that this is not taught in schools.

    It’s so anti-democratic of those scientists to censor astrology and to refuse to teach the controversy between the germ theory and the demonic possession theory of disease.

    Sometimes arguments really are over, but sadly we can’t expect all people to be smart enough to recognize it or honest enough to admit it.

    It is understandable that someone of religious convictions who manages to suspend belief and cognitive dissonance enough to grasp the truth of evolution might think that religion doesn’t necessarily lead to creationism, and they are logically correct. But still they are ignoring the overwhelming number of cases when it does, because of their own outlier case.

    If religion breeds creationism, what breeds religion? It seems pretty clear that fear, insecurity, and weak mindedness lead to religious faith. Will these human weaknesses ever go away? Perhaps not until humans have evolved into a new species with a different set of mental characteristics, or until our median level of intelligence becomes much higher.

  22. Kurt Helf
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Frans de Waal should be added to the list of accomodationists discussed here; since he espouses such views all over the place lately.

  23. kelskye
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    I think that’s a bit unfair on Jerry Fodor. He’s definitely pro-evolution, and accepts that life evolved. His gripe is that Natural Selection is empty, not that evolution is wrong. I think he’s mistaken in his thinking on NS (even Nagel does), but it would be wrong to characterise him as being anti-evolution.

  24. abandonwoo
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    Gilberson writes: “High school students are not capable of adjudicating the validity of anti-evolutionary arguments — they have enough challenges simply learning the material and taking time to put fringe ideas in their heads is not reasonable.”

    Perhaps st some point Gilberson will embrace the opposite approach, and instead word his sentence so that he states that:

    Science students ARE capable of determining the validity of claim statements; educators MUST be empowered to teach the skills necessary for this task; and publicly funded schools must be administered so that the value in utilizing classroom time to REMOVE fringe superstitious notions from heads as necessary is recognized.

    • abandonwoo
      Posted April 14, 2013 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

      clicking follow now

    • Posted April 15, 2013 at 5:15 am | Permalink

      “Simply learning the material”–certainly this old “pour the knowledge into their heads” approach to–or view of–teaching anything is education at its weakest. I’m reading that new standards for science education put heavy emphasis on engaging students in scientific method. That may make it a little more likely young people will think more clearly about evolution and creationism. Coyne emphasizes the weakening of religion. A stronger problem-solving approach in science education is one way to get there.

  25. jess
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    Creationism is in old ancient texts from many cultures, from the Chinese, to Mayans, Aztecs, Summerians, etc. This is not a new idea…

    • Gordon Hill
      Posted April 14, 2013 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

      Have you read The Book of the Hopi by Frank Waters? Theirs is a great one.

  26. Tony G
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    How do you propose to weaken religious belief? How should the grip of faith in America be loosened? What steps should be taken?

  27. Cremnomaniac
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    I’ve watched the linked HuffPo video, and I must say that it is a laugh a minute. I was particularly entertained by Pastor Bill devin who repeatedly said, “Where’s the tolerance?” Oh vey, so we should tolerate creationism in a science class even though its not science? Maybe the Pastor wouldn’t mind me showing up at his church and teaching evolution (however futile that might be) as a demonstration of his tolerance.

    He also calls evolution a religion! He’s pulled the covers and exposed the truth. “Oh Darwin, I beseech you, smite the heretic. Show him of your almighty theory.”

    WHAT……..A……..QUACK.

  28. Venise Alstergren
    Posted April 14, 2013 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    That almost thirty percent of Americans believe in creationism would have to be a dire comment on the American educational system.

    OR

    Along with the ‘right to bear arms,’ the Americans believe ‘in the right to be stupid.’

  29. Posted April 15, 2013 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    This may have been pointed out before in one of the many times that Jerry has cited these polls, but that first poll doesn’t give any good option for old-earth creationists! I wonder why Gallup would do that….


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