Over at Panda’s Thumb, Richard Hoppe has had second thoughts about his rather strong post attacking P. Z. Myers and myself for criticizing scientific organiations like the AAAS and NCSE for their accommodationist stance toward faith and science. (See also P. Z.’s reply.) Hoppe still asserts that the NCSE is acting appropriately when pointing out that many religious people and ministers see no conflict between the two magisteria:
That is, NCSE is not an association of scientists, but of an array of people with different professions and beliefs. Moreover, it is not a science advocacy group as such, but rather is a group that has as its goal the defense of the teaching of evolution in the public schools. And that defense is necessarily heavily political.
That means that its tactics are in part determined by those of the opposition, the creationists who would turn public school science classes into an opportunity to teach religiously-based creation stories. As a consequence, it has to take into account that opposition and its main arguments, so as to appropriately arm those “parents and concerned citizens.”
The creationist assault on public education has two main prongs. One is to attack, misrepresent, and distort the science, and NCSE has a wealth of resources for blunting that attack. To give but one example, it has an excellent counter to Jonathan Wells’ “Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution.” The responses are brief, to the point, and effective: I’ve used them.
The second main prong of the creationist assault is to equate evolution with atheism. That is a ubiquitous theme from the whole range of creationists, from Kent Hovind’s ravings to the Disco ‘Tute’s anti-naturalism Wedge document. I hear it, every one of us working with local and state boards of education hears it. It’s in the creationist mailers, it’s in their pamphlets, and it’s in their public statements to school boards.
And NCSE completely appropriately provides information to “parents and concerned citizens” about that issue. It completely appropriately points out that there are believers – self identified Christians – who accept that evolution has occurred (it’s a fact) and that the modern theory of evolution is the best available naturalistic explanation of that fact. Moreover, NCSE completely appropriately points to religious organizations that have stated that they accept that.
One cannot argue that pointing to the existence of people and organizations that contradict a main prong of the creationist attack on public school education constitutes an “endorsement.” It’s merely pointing to a fact. This is what NCSE says about it in the introduction to its Science and Religion section:
Can I both accept what science teaches and engage in religious belief and practice? This is a complex issue, but theologians, clergy, and members of many religious traditions have concluded that the answer is, unequivocally, yes.
That’s true, a plain fact, and useful for folks in the field to be able to support via the religious organizations and individuals identified by NCSE.
Agreed, but it’s also a plain fact that many “theologians, clergy, and members of many religious traditions have concluded that the answer is, unequivocally, NO.” But you won’t find this “plain fact” anywhere in the NCSE’s literature. And although evolution doesn’t lead straight to atheism for everybody, we ALL know that many people have lost their faith after studying evolutionary biology. And there are good reasons for this. It is simply disingenuous, in my opinion, to pretend that this isn’t true. I get emails from people every day telling me how they lost their faith after studying evolution (and it doesn’t bother them). What a breath of fresh air it would be to have somebody admit this hidden truth!
Anyway, Hoppe, after rumination, decides that P. Z. and I were right on one issue:
NOMA is a mistake
Coyne is right in one respect, and I withdraw my wholesale rejection of his argument. I think (writing now as a Life Member) that NCSE has recently made a mistake in going beyond simply pointing to individuals and organizations who have somehow reconciled their science and religious beliefs to counter the creationist equation of evolution with atheism. In the essays by Peter M. J. Hess that apparently are the basis of the NCSE Faith Project, there is an endorsement of a particular view of the relationship, an adaptation of Gould’s Nonoverlapping magisteria with a dose of complementarian thinking. Hess writes
Theologians from many traditions hold that science and religion occupy different spheres of knowledge. Science asks questions such as “What is it?” “How does it happen?” “By what processes?” In contrast, religion asks questions such as “What is life’s meaning?” “What is my purpose?” “Is the world of value?” These are complementary rather than conflicting perspectives.
And later, in a linked section titled “God and Religion,” he writes
The question “Do you believe in creation or evolution?” has the same problem. Like color and shape, “creation” and “evolution” do not occupy competing categories, but are complementary ways of looking at the universe.
And later in that same section:
Can I accept evolution as the most compelling explanation for biological diversity, and yet also accept the idea that God works through evolution? Certainly.
Hess has here argued for a complementarian view of the relation between religious belief and evolution that is very similar to Gould’s NOMA, which is also a view that is clearly visible in the writings of people like Denis Lamoureax, a self-identified evangelical Christian and “evolutionary creationist.” Lamoureax writes
In understanding origins, evolutionary creation proposes a mutually exclusive yet complementary relationship between science and Scripture. This position asserts that God reveals through both nature and the Bible, and it respects the limits and differences of each revelation. Science discovers how the Creator made the world, while Scripture offers the ultimate meaning of the creation. Together these revelations from God’s Works and Words complement each other in providing a complete view of origins.
In its Faith Project, then, I think that NCSE has gone beyond its remit and past where it can be effective. I now think – in agreement with Coyne, PZ, and others – that it should back off from describing particular ways of reconciling science and religion. Pointing to religious people and organizations who have made their peace with science and evolution is appropriate, but going past that to describing particular ways of making that peace is a mistake. NCSE ought not wade into theological swamps.
So yeah, I was wrong to overstate my case. Sorry, folks. 🙂
Well, Mr. Hoppe, you are a gentleman and a scholar. Thanks for the clarification.
My view on the NCSE, AAAS, and NAS remains the same: leave all religion, atheism, and issues of compatibility out of it (except to show how the facts of evolution are incompatible with creationism). When dealing with issues of compatibility, this simple statement should suffice:
If you want to know how to reconcile the fact of evolution with your religious faith (or the faith of others), please consult your minister, rabbi, or spiritual counselor.