UPDATE: Over at Choice in Dying, Eric has written a very perspicacious piece on Tallmon’s article, concentrating on whether religion really does serve as a source of morality. A snippet:
Tallmon, sadly, is mistaken in practically every way in his attempt to reconcile religion and science. He thinks the world can be neatly divided into two different realms of knowing. No, it can’t. Religious people are right to be afraid of science, because science, and empiricism or naturalism generally, are corrosive of religious belief. But the truth is that most people already know this. They already make moral decisions based on what makes life better, not on the basis of what a few men in dog collars or with long beards may say. And it really is time that we simply sidelined religion as a pastime for those who get a charge out of religious feelings and experiences.
As per Arianna’s diktat, the HuffPo Science Section continues—with the refreshing exception of Victor Stenger—to push accommodationist pap when it isn’t extolling the latest discovery of fossilized dinosaur feces. (In fact these two genres are much alike.) The latest piece, “Teach the non-controversy,” is by David Tallmon, an associate professor of biology and marine biology at The University of Alaska Southeast. In this call for the teaching of evolution in schools, while retaining our respect for believers, we find the usual tropes of the Kumbaya-NOMA crowd:
1. Blame Americans’ rejection of evolution on scientists.
Although this might seem a trivial point to some, I think we scientists have failed to teach the general public that falsifiable hypotheses lie at the core of science. One of the consequences of this failure is that we continue to waste time debating the role of evolutionary biology in public schools.
Yes, for if all those Christians understood that scientific hypotheses are actually tested, and that evolution has passed many such tests (see, for example, my fricking book), they’d immediately embrace Darwinism. Not!
2. Claim that science and faith can cohabit happily. After all, there are religious scientists!
Understanding evolution needn’t cause one to abandon one’s god, moral code, or respect for life. Many brilliant scientists have reconciled their spiritual beliefs, however fundamentalist or liberal, with evolutionary theory and have emerged both devout believers and insightful scientists. They seamlessly function in the spiritual and scientific worlds. One of the things I enjoy most as a teacher is seeing my senior biology students have an “aha” moment when they realize how much evolution makes sense as a mechanism to explain the diversity of life, and that they do not have to abandon their morals to appreciate its elegance.
I call this The Argument from Francis Collins. And I needn’t reprise the many reasons that it’s wrong, and why I see faith and science as incompatible; read my paper in Evolution if you’ve missed them. (By the way, could some kind reader with Wikipedia skills add that paper to my list of publications?)
Tallmon also conveniently omits the well known data on the greater prevalence of nonbelief among scientists than among the general public. In the elite U.S. National Academy of Sciences, for example, only 7% of members accept a personal God, with 93% being agnostics and atheists. In the U.S. general population, these figures are almost exactly reversed. And, of course, in our BioLogos post yesterday, president Darrel Falk noted that “Evangelicals are fourteen-fold under-represented among the scientists at the nation’s leading universities.”
For every brilliant scientist who accepts a personal God, there are more than thirteen who reject one. Doesn’t Tallmon wonder why that is? It is because we scientists simply haven’t taught people about hypothesis testing? LOL!
3. Argue that science and religion are nonoverlapping magisteria that address different topics. Ergo, Jesus and Darwin are pals.
We need to make sure the general public understands that science is about proposing testable mechanisms for how the natural world works. Let us teach evolution (and particle physics) in our science courses. Let us teach religion in our religion courses. Let there be no controversy; they address different topics. Science is a method of learning about the world that need not be threatening. To suggest otherwise is to add sound and fury that divert resources away from learning how the world works. Our students deserve better. Our society deserves better.
This, of course, neglects the very many religious people—not just evangelical Christians, but Jews, Catholics, Muslims, and Hindus as well—who do see religion as imparting genuine truths about the universe. I have a whole folder of statements by Sophisticated Theologians™ like John Haught, Alvin Plantinga, and John Polkinghorne, for instance, claiming that religion and science are both ways of apprehending real, empirical truths.
Let’s face it: Gould’s idea of “nonoverlapping magisteria” (NOMA) is dead in the water. No “person of good will” (Gould’s euphemism for accommodationists) thinks that religion has the corner on morality, as Gould claimed in Rocks of Ages. And who among us really thinks that religion refuses to make claims about the real world? Gould’s limitation of moral arguments to the domain of religion, and assertion that “real” religion says nothing about the real world, is a dichotomy that was palpably false from the outset. Yet it’s still being pushed by people like Tallmon. Are they unaware of the weakness of their accommodationist arguments, or do they simply ignore them? Do they not see that accommodationism hasn’t worked at all, despite being the dominant strategy of the last forty years?
If Tallmon were honest, he’d see that the way to dispel creationism in America is not for scientists to do a better job imparting to the public how science works, but for scientists (and everyone else) to show the vacuity of unsupported superstition.
Victor, come out of the HuffPo woodwork and pwn this guy!