The University of California at Berkeley has a website, Understanding Evolution, which is generally a great resource for teachers and students of evolution. There’s one fly in this ointment, though, and it’s in the section called “Misconceptions about evolution.” It includes the usual misconceptions: evolution is “just a theory”, it’s not widely accepted by scientists, and so on. And the site does a nice job of refuting these.
But there’s an additional misconception. Guess what it is.
It’s that “religion and evolution and religion are incompatible.” Who could have been dumb enough to think that? And this is how the website dispels this ludicrous notion:
Misconceptions about evolution and religion
- Evolution and religion are incompatible. Because of some individuals and groups stridently declaring their beliefs, it’s easy to get the impression that science (which includes evolution) and religion are at war; however, the idea that one always has to choose between science and religion is incorrect. People of many different faiths and levels of scientific expertise see no contradiction at all between science and religion. For many of these people, science and religion simply deal with different realms. Science deals with natural causes for natural phenomena, while religion deals with beliefs that are beyond the natural world.
Of course, some religious beliefs explicitly contradict science (e.g., the belief that the world and all life on it was created in six literal days does conflict with evolutionary theory); however, most religious groups have no conflict with the theory of evolution or other scientific findings. In fact, many religious people, including theologians, feel that a deeper understanding of nature actually enriches their faith. Moreover, in the scientific community there are thousands of scientists who are devoutly religious and also accept evolution. For concise statements from many religious organizations regarding evolution, see Voices for Evolution on the NCSE website. To learn more about the relationship between science and religion, visit the Understanding Science website.
Who’s responsible for this stuff?
This site is a collaborative project of the University of California Museum of Paleontology and the National Center for Science Education. For more information, see our credits page.
Support for Understanding Evolution has been provided by The National Science Foundation [NSF] (under grant no. 0096613) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (under grant no. 51003439).
Now I’m sure that when the NSF gave money to the Cal Museum of Paleontology, it had no idea that taxpayers’ money would go to fund theology—for that’s exactly what this kind of accommodationism is—but we need to be aware of what message taxpayer–funded institutions are putting out to the public. (Berkeley is a state university) My position has always been that scientific organizations, particularly ones funded by the taxpayers, should say nothing about the compatibility of science and faith. The statement about the teaching of evolution by the Society for the Study of Evolution, for instance, is a model of how to promote evolution purely on its scientific merits, without treading into the marshy hinterlands of theology.
Let’s rewrite that statement so it better reflects reality, though of course I’m not suggesting that this appear on the website:
Misconceptions about evolution and religion
- Evolution and religion are compatible. Because of some individuals and groups stridently declaring their beliefs, it’s easy to get the impression that science (which includes evolution) and religion are at war; and indeed, in many respects they are. Although people of many different faiths and levels of scientific expertise see no contradiction at all between science and religion, for many others the contradictions are many and profound. Science and religion have different methods of “knowing” (science depends on reason, observation, doubt and replication, religion on dogma, authority, and revelation); science and religion arrive at different conclusions about the world (e.g., the existence of Adam and Eve or of a sudden creation); and while there is only one form of science that transcends ethnicity or faith, different faiths arrive at different conclusions, so that the idea of religious “truth” must differ from that of scientific “truth.” Further, although many people feel that science and religion simply deal with different realms—that science deals with natural causes for natural phenomena and religion deals with beliefs that are beyond the natural world—many others think this demarcation is misleading. Many religions, for example, make claims about the natural world, some of them testable by science, and many of these claims have been disproven by science. Religion and science are distinct realms only insofar as religion is deistic, and posits no supernatural intervention into the creation or workings of the universe.
Of course, some religious beliefs explicitly contradict science (e.g., the belief that the world and all life on it was created in six literal days does conflict with evolutionary theory); however, some religious groups have no conflict with the theory of evolution or other scientific findings. But many others, do. In fact, only a minority of Americans—16%—accept that humans evolved via a purely naturalistic process (the current scientific consensus), 38% agree with a theistic evolution of humans guided by God, and 40% of Americans think that humans were directly created by God in their present form within the last 10,000 years or so.
Although many religious people, including theologians, feel that a deeper understanding of nature actually enriches their faith, that can be seen as a way to avoid the cognitive dissonance of simultaneously entertaining two incompatible worldviews. And although in the scientific community there are thousands of scientists who are devoutly religious and also accept evolution, around 60% of scientists are atheists or agnostics, a figure that rises to 93% for members of America’s most elite body of scientists, the National Academy of Sciences. Clearly there is a profound disconnect between science and religion, one that reflects their fundamental incompatibilities.
But don’t worry about that, just take our word that that science and religion are compatible. After all, there are all those religious scientists.