The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has done some great work in court (and other places) quashing attempts of creationists (IDers or otherwise) to get their falsities taught in public schools. And for that I applaud them. But I don’t applaud them for their constant coddling of religion, guided by the unevidenced belief that if they simply countenance the superstitions of the faithful, evolution-deniers will convert to Darwin.
I do approve of trying to work with clergy to foster acceptance of evolution. Why not? If we can work with religious people to tell the Faithful on the Fence that there is lots of evidence for evolution, and change their minds that way, then so much the better. But what doesn’t seem to work is trying to change people’s minds by telling them that their religion is—contrary to their beliefs or assumptions—compatible with evolution. That’s the tactic BioLogos has taken with evangelical Christians, and it hasn’t worked. Karl Giberson, ex-vice-president of that organization, is constantly bemoaning these days the failure of Evangelicals to give up their false ideas about Noah’s Ark, the Flood, and evolution. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Giberson and other science-friendly Christians. like Biblical scholar Peter Enns, left BioLogos because they wouldn’t bow to the faithful, but took a hard line on the science.
And now the NCSE is taking over from BioLogos. They’ve just sent out this advertisement for online training to forge inter-faith communities, the aim being to produce allies to combat climate-change denialism and creationism.
This is just too much religion-osulation for me. Do we really need to discuss how to make nice to the religious? Why not just join together and file lawsuits against schools, or testify at school board meeting? Let the theologians do their thing (tell the faithful that evolution isn’t a tool of Satan, if they must) and let us secular evolutionists do ours. I’ll be glad to go to a school board meeting with pastors and testify against creationism, but do NOT ask me to coddle superstition, or tell the palpable lie that evolution does not conflict with religion. Do not ask me to make theological statements about what is and what is not “good” religion. And do not ask me to participate in some kind of interfaith “kumbaya” exercise. What is there to learn except how to work with other people, which we know already? It’s irrelevant that those other people are pastors or faitheists, for religion has nothing to tell me about how to teach evolution. And I have no interest in “bridging religious boundaries.” Let the religious people do that.
Since Eugenie Scott left NCSE, the pro-religion stuff has become more prominent, perhaps because Josh Rosenau, the Programs and Policy director (and author of the notice above) is playing a more prominent role. Rosenau is a diehard accommodationist, and I’ve crossed swords with him many times. I’m not keen to keep doing that, but the laws of physics dictate otherwise.
On the NCSE’s blog, “Science League of America” (a rather poorly chosen name that evokes a comic book), Rosenau took out after “Cosmos” for its treatment of Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) a polymathic friar who was burned by the Catholic Church for a list of heresies that included a heliocentric view of the solar system. What was Rosenau’s beef? That Bruno wasn’t really a scientist, but a religious man, and so in “Cosmos” Tyson wasn’t demonstrating the repression of scientific thought by religion. (Rosenau wouldn’t admit that because he’s an accommodationist).
In a post dismissing Rosenau’s complaints, P. Z. Myers notes that Neil deGrasse Tyson’s point was not the repression of science per se by religion (although one count of Bruno’s heresy was “the idea of terrestrial movement”), but the repression of any freethought, i.e., the promulgation of authoritarian thinking that can be antiscientific.
Instead, Rosenau suggested that Tyson should be promulgating a narrative in which science and religion aren’t so inimical:
No, it’s clear that Cosmos wanted to open with a tale about the conflict between science and religion, and repeated hackneyed misreadings of the Bruno tale in order to advance a false historical narrative in which Bruno was an important voice in astronomy, silenced for his views by religious dogmatists.
The failure can be illustrated, as Thomas MacDonald observed, by pointing out that various people who advocated cosmologies comparable to Bruno’s were not punished by the Inquisition for those views. Or it could have been seen in the segment of Cosmos immediately following the Bruno segment, where Neil deGrasse Tyson used the expanding universe and the Big Bang Theory as examples of how science advances through the careful testing of hypotheses. After all, the expansion of the universe was first proposed by ordained Catholic priest Georges Lemaître, who faced no interference from the Church. Then again, his work was initially dismissed by no less a figure than Albert Einstein (a Jewish agnostic), who insisted: “Vos calculs sont corrects, mais votre physique est abominable” (“Your calculations are correct, but your physical insight is abominable”) and dismissed the idea by claiming it “suggests too much the creation.” Arthur Eddington, a Quaker whose work served as a basis for much of Lemaître’s own calculations,nonetheless dismissed the idea of an expansionary universe with a definable beginning, stating: “As a scientist, I simply do not believe the universe began with a bang,” and asserting, “Philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of nature is repugnant for me.”
Had Tyson and the Cosmos team told that story, how might the audience have viewed the relationship between science and religion, especially their own religion? Would viewers have gotten a more accurate, current, and useful vision of that relationship, had the show instead recounted this modern instance where scientists’ prior religious commitments clouded their reactions to new developments in science? And given Carl Sagan’s recognition that science and religion have to work hand in hand to solve the great challenges of our day, wouldn’t telling that story instead have been truer to the show’s own roots?
Tyson, of course, is loath to be called an atheist, and has always shied away from explicitly discussing his nonbelief. But he wanted to make the point that forces of dogmatism, in this case religion, repress scientific thought.
But it didn’t have to be religion; it could have been Stalinism, which gave rise to Lysenkoism and the withering of genetics in the Soviet Union. Never mind. Rosenau simply doesn’t want to hear about any conflicts between science and religion, for the NCSE’s mission is to pretend they don’t exist.
The whole organization is becoming too theological for my taste, and in so doing is also becoming more disingenuous. Religion and evolution are incompatible in many ways, and religion and science are incompatible in fundamental ways. But you’ll never hear that from the NCSE.