Let there be no doubt that as they are currently practiced, there is no common ground between science and religion . . The claims of science rely on experimental verification, while the claims of religions rely on faith. These are irreconcilable approaches to knowing, which ensures an eternity of debate wherever and whenever the two camps meet. —Neil deGrasse Tyson
If you’re a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), perhaps the most important scientific association in this country and publisher of the prestigious journal Science, you should know where your dues are going. According to Alan I. Lesher, CEO of the AAAS and executive publisher of Science, they’re going to support accommodationism. (Let me hedge this a bit: I’m not 100% sure that what I’m about to describe is supported by membership dues, but the project is certainly supported and promoted by the AAAS.) Let this post be a lesson to those who claim that scientific organizations don’t promote accommodationism.
We’ve already seen Leshner posting science-and-faith-are-pals sentiments on HuffPo (aka Accommodationism Central), and he’s just done it again with a post called “Exploring the middle ground between science and religion.” What’s not new here is Leshner’s usual call for harmony between science and faith:
Discussions about science and religion too often resemble one team lining up against the other. In this country, the science-religion interaction can be as aggressive as NFL football. Sometimes, however, a few serious players come onto the field and refuse to take a side. This disrupts the polarized conflict, and it reminds us that the scientific and religious communities are not opposing teams, and do share common interests and concerns.
What is new—and depressing—is Leshner’s announcement that the AAAS annual meeting, to be held February 17-21 in Washington D.C., is having a symposium on “Evangelicals, Science, and Policy,” designed to harmonize evangelical Christianity with science, thereby drawing that subset of Jebus-lovers into our fold (but not asking them to give up their antiscientific superstitions):
Evangelical Christians constitute approximately 30 percent of the U.S. population, and their influence on public policy is considerable. As a community with major concerns regarding science, ethics, and national priorities, its impact on science policy has been particularly significant, as in the case of stem cell research. Around such controversial issues, communication between science and evangelical Christianity has been hampered by limited appreciation of both the scientific facts and each others’ concerns. On the other hand, new models of positive engagement between these communities around global issues such as climate change is encouraging awareness and leading to science policies that benefit both science and society as a whole. As science progresses in other disciplines, evangelicals will continue to play a significant role, but their positions on many of these issues have not yet been fully formed. The opportunity thus exists to anticipate concerns and to develop a positive understanding that will benefit scientific advancement.
(A grammatical plaint: when did “advancement” replace “advance”? The longer word is pompous and grating.)
Who is speaking at this symposium? Certainly not anybody opposed to accommodationism. We have James McCarthy of Harvard speaking on evangelicals and environmentalism. His abstract includes this:
What resulted from discussions launched by Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment and the National Association of Evangelicals (which represents 45,000 local churches) was a remarkably productive exchange of views about the power of partnership between our communities. Stewardship for the whole of the Creation was clearly a shared goal. Although we approach this topic from different perspectives a mutual respect for these differences allows us to see that we have a great deal in common. We have resolved to deploy jointly, whenever possible, our respective resources to address climate change.
“Creation”? (Note that its capitalization implies divinity.) Is that what we biologists are trying to preserve? Note, as well, the call for “mutual respect for . . . differences”, i.e., lay off the evangelicals about Jesus. I am not opposed to working with evangelicals for environmental causes, but why on earth do I have to respect their crazy beliefs?
We also have neuroscientist William Newsome of Stanford—described by Leshner as “a devout Christian”—speaking about neuroscience and Christianity. I was at first heartened when I read this part of his abstract:
On such issues [the question of free will and neuronal determination of behavior], resolutely reductionist accounts of behavior will no doubt create conflict with Christianity and other major religious traditions as well. Mainstream Christian thought, for example, postulates the existence of an immortal soul, related to but potentially independent of the physical body, which comprises the most profound essence of personhood.
Indeed, here is a real conflict. One simply can’t comport the findings of modern neuroscience with the concept of a soul. Here’s a chance to highlight a genuine impasse between religion and science. But this is an opportunity missed, for Newsome will harmonize them!:
Is it at all conceivable that these notions can engage constructively? [JAC: NO!] Can another round of conflict between religious and scientific communities be headed off, or at least steered in directions that are open and curious rather than dogmatic and destructive? I hope to suggest ways in which both religious and scientific communities can move beyond their own “fundamentalist” tendencies toward a more nuanced conversation concerning human personhood and related social and policy issues such as criminal responsibility, cognitive enhancement, and end-of-life concerns.
There’s that word “nuanced” again. Run away fast when you see it. In this context it’s always a synonym for “obfuscatory.”
Leshner lauds Newsome’s lack of scientism:
A lauded researcher, Newsome says he feels “it doesn’t serve a religion or its adherents to deny the contributions of science.” On the other hand, Newsome says his religion allows him to look at science critically and to consider aspects of life that may not lend themselves to the scientific method. For instance, intuition and commitment without proof may be more appropriate, not only in matters of faith, but also when deciding where to live, whom to marry, or how to proceed in the face of tragedy.
Well, those questions may not be resolvable by hard science per se, but they’re certainly amenable to reason and evidence. And why is religion a better way to approach them than, say, inspecting the entrails of slaughtered goats or consulting one’s horoscope? And surely issues of evidence come into play when deciding where to live or whom to marry—unless you’re a Hindu or fundamentalist Mormon and have to marry someone chosen by others. Remember the list that Charles Darwin made about the pros and cons of getting married? Well, that’s a bit “geeky” (LOL!), but we all go through a similar process when contemplating marriage or a move.
The third speaker is James Childress from the University of Virginia, whose topic, “Evangelical Christians and stem cell policy,” has no abstract (perhaps wisely!).
What irks me about all this are two things. The first is the complete omission of contrasting anti-accommodationist views. There is a huge subset of AAAS members who don’t feel that science and faith are in harmony—indeed, that they are in dire conflict. Those views never get represented at these meetings. You will never see a AAAS symposium on “The incompatibility of science and faith,” with scientist-speakers like Richard Dawkins or Victor Stenger. (What a lovely thing that would be!). The AAAS chooses to present only one view, as if it represented a majority of its members. What about the many of us who feel that the best thing for science—and humanity as a whole—is not respectful dialogue with evangelical Christians, but the eradication of evangelical Christianity?* (See footnote.)
This one-sided treatment of faith is particularly galling because Leshner pretends to be inclusive:
Acknowledging the diversity of views within both the scientific and religious communities and “encouraging respectful dialogue with insight into different perspectives,” as recommended by the director of the American Scientific Affiliation Randy Isaac, throws off a polarized contest in which “there’s so much heat that people aren’t listening to each other.”
That’s a laugh! Where is the atheist “perspective”? The AAAS would rather do anything than acknowledge the important view that science and religion are implacable foes. Which brings me to the second irk. Have a look at what members of the American Scientific Affiliation, an organization of Christian scientists (note the small “s”), are asked to affirm. Their first two “planks” are these:
- We accept the divine inspiration, trustworthiness and authority of the Bible in matters of faith and conduct.
- We confess the Triune God affirmed in the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds which we accept as brief, faithful statements of Christian doctrine based upon Scripture.
In case you don’t know these creeds, the Nicene says the following:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And the Apostles’ Creed:
1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
5. The third day he rose again from the dead:
6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
8. I believe in the Holy Ghost:
9. I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:
10. The forgiveness of sins:
11. The resurrection of the body:
12. And the life everlasting. Amen.
God, Jesus as the son of God, the virginity of Mary, the Resurrection, sin and its absolution, heaven, Judgment Day, eternal life after death—none of these are in harmony with modern science. Nor, indeed, is the idea that a group of scientists have to swear to a ludicrous set of beliefs for which there is no evidence. This is what we’re supposed to respect? Why is this stuff part of a national scientific meeting? And if it has to be, where is the other side?
In the end, Leshner sees this “dialogue” as a productive:
That’s certainly a good thing. Such conflict is likely to produce few winners. In fact, considering the serious issues facing us at this moment in history, we all stand to lose.
No—here are the real losers: abortion doctors who are shot by evangelical Christians, women forced to bear unwanted babies because abortion is seen as sinful, gays who are either marginalized or demonized because evangelicals consider their thoughts and behaviors as sinful, children who are terrorized—and infused with lifelong guilt—by the concepts of sin and hell, women who must accept their status as a second-class gender. Even believers like Francis Collins, surely on the liberal end of the evangelical Christian spectrum, hold profoundly antiscientific beliefs. Collins, for example, can’t see how morality could have either evolved or developed in society unless it was a creation of God, and considers the “Moral Law” as profound evidence for the existence of God. To anyone working in anthropology or neuroscience, that claim is simply embarrassing!
The sooner that religion goes away, the sooner these ills will abate. “Dialoguing” with evangelical Christians (and granted, not all of them hold the beliefs I’ve just mentioned) only enables superstition—a superstition that, one would think, would be resolutely opposed by a scientific organization like the AAAS. Remember that Leshner is the CEO of that organization and the executive publisher of one of the world’s two most prestigious scientific journals.
*For the many people who have misinterpreted (willfully of otherwise) what I meant by the “eradication of evangelical Christianity”, it is this: I hope for the eventual disappearance of this faith, not by banning it or persecuting or killing its adherents, but through reasoned argument that changes minds (or affects minds not made up) over time. Anyone who has followed this website will understand that.
UPDATE: P. Z. also discusses this over at Pharyngula, but offers a constructive proposal for a secular symposium. And Nick Matzke, of course, is over there in the comments, kvetching about the horrid Gnus.