Genie Scott at Kamloops: How do you get people to accept evolution, and is theistic evolution “science”?

Dr. Eugenie Scott, former head of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and known as “Genie” to everyone, gave the keynote address on Sunday at the Kamloops “Imagine No Religion” meeting. Her title was “Why do people reject good science? Reflections on the evolution and climate science wars.” And it was a good talk, comparing evolution denialism to climate-change denialism, parsing out via statistics the relative contributions of religion versus politics to each (no surprise: religion contributes the main impetus for creationism; politics and conservative ideology to climate-change denialism), and suggesting ways to get people to embrace the conclusions of scientists.

But I want to talk briefly about one contention she made in her talk as well as one statement she made in the Q&A.

In the talk, Genie said several times that if you want to change people’s minds—about either climate-change denialism or evolution—the most effective way to reach them is through someone who has a similar “ideology,” be that religious or political. In other words, to make a creationist Christian accept evolution, the best way is for an evolution-accepting Christian of the same denomination to convince them that evolution isn’t inimical to their religious beliefs. (That’s what the “Faith Project” of the NCSE is about.) I suppose this wouldn’t work very well for fundamentalist believers, since no other fundamentalists accept evolution!

I vaguely recall some psychological research showing that people are more convinced in the “lab” under such circumstances, and certainly Dan Barker, in his talk, began his road to apostasy by pondering statements by fellow Christians. But I’m still not sure Genie was right.

Take the Dawkins Foundation’s “Converts’ Corner” page, where literally hundreds of former Christians testify that they gave up their faith (and accepted evolution) because of the ministrations of the “strident” Dawkins. (The page is no longer maintained.) Now compare the success of Dawkins, who as a vociferous atheist does precisely the opposite of what Genie recommends, with that of BioLogos, the evolution-friendly evangelical Christian site that aims to bring their creationist co-religionists around to evolution.  I don’t recall BioLogos having a “converts’ corner,” or even boasting of any success at all.

Now I’m sure some Christians have succeeded in bringing other Christians to the altar of Darwin, but I don’t think Genie has hard evidence, beyond what’s been done in lab experiments with undergrads, that the absolute best way to “convert” people to evolution involves sharing their religious beliefs.  We’re talking here about long-term change of mind, not short-term experiments in which students read a paper, or hear someone talk, and then answer questions about their beliefs.  It seems to me that Genie’s claim is based more on faith rather than evidence. What evidence there is from the real world, it seems to me, goes in the opposite direction.

In the end, I’m of the view that all approaches should be tried. Some creationists are susceptible only to the blandishments of coreligionists, others need the push of strident atheism by people like Dawkins, and still others need the ice-cold shower of ridicule. (Of course, most creationists aren’t susceptible to anything!) There is no “best” way to approach everyone, as people have different personalities, different degrees of doubt, and different tolerance for disagreement. So let a hundred strategies blossom. Each of us is best at one strategy. I, for instance, would be useless at accommodationism, for I simply don’t believe it. The NCSE simply won’t consider abandoning their accommodationism. So, given the proven success of atheists in bringing people to evolution (even I”ve had a fair amount of success with my book, which is not an accommodationist tome), I can’t agree with Genie that the best strategy to bring people to evolution is to first osculate the rump of their faith, and then say, “Have you heard the Good News about Darwin?”

I’m curious about readers’ own “conversions” to evolution if they were once religious creationists. Similarly, some readers have been successful in helping others accept evolution. What strategy worked for you? And what strategy do you think would work for others?


One reader wanted to know if I was going ask Genie about theistic evolution—the view that evolution happened, but was somehow guided by God. They wanted to know if she considered that “real” evolution.

I responded on this site that I hardly wanted to get into a kerfuffle about the issue with Genie in public. After all, I know her position on it (theistic evolution is okay), she knows mine, and I didn’t want to do battle in public, particularly when she was giving a keynote talk.

But this website is a different matter.

In fact, the question of theistic evolution did come up in Genie’s Q&A, when one of the audience asked Genie whether she considered theistic evolution “science.”

The question clearly discomfited her a bit, but I knew how she would answer. She said, correctly, that there are a huge variety of positions falling under “theistic evolution,” ranging from pure deism (God created the universe, and then evolution proceeded purely naturalistically) to other forms in which God intervened to a greater or lesser extent. As we know, those interventions range from subtle ones (God tweaked certain mutations making it more likely that they would be more likely to be adaptive, or more likely to create human features), to less subtle (God inserted a soul in the human lineage) to pretty drastic interventions (God let some species evolve naturally, but brought others into existence ex nihilo).

Theistic evolution is in fact the most widely accepted form of evolution in America, at least for the evolution of our species. A Gallup Poll in 2012 showed that 46% of Americans thought God created humans ex nihilo within the last 10,000 years, 32% thought that humans evolved, but with the help of God, and only 15% thought that humans evolved without any intervention by God. In other words, roughly one in seven American accepts evolution in the same way scientists do.  For every American who accepts naturalistic evolution, more than two accept God-guided evolution. (I think accepting that “God guided the process” rules out pure deism.)

Genie said something like this (I didn’t write down her words), “What we care about is getting the science accepted, and yes, all of these positions are compatible with science, so I have no problem considering them as science.” In other words, she’d be okay if she or the NCSE could simply make religious people accept theistic evolution. For, in her view, they’d be accepting a scientific view rather than a religious one. And then they might be our allies in keeping straight creationism out of public schools.

And here I think Genie is wrong—dead wrong.

Theistic evolution is neither science nor scientific. While it may help some religious people oppose the teaching of strict creationism in schools (the real goal of the NCSE’s accommodationism), it inculcates people with the idea that God and his supernatural acts can work hand-in-hand with physical laws to bring about a process that scientists think is purely naturalistic.

Further, we have evidence against certain types of theistic evolution. There doesn’t appear to be any telelogical forces driving evolution in a certain direction; there is no evidence that mutations are more likely to be useful when the environment changes, so that mutations for longer fur in mammals would occur more frequently when the climate becomes colder (this is what scientists mean when we say that “mutations are random”, although “indifferent” is a better word than “random”); and we don’t see violations of Darwinian natural selection, that is, we don’t see natural selection creating “irreducible complexity,” as intelligent-design advocates maintain.

As far as we can see, then, evolution, like all things that occur in nature, is purely naturalistic; it does not require or give evidence for the intervention of a god. As Laplace famously said, “We don’t need that hypothesis.” Theistic evolution says otherwise. And that’s unscientific. There is, after all, a reason that Darwin called his best idea natural selection, not “divinely-aided selection.”

Think about it. Saying that theistic evolution is scientific is equivalent to saying that yes, chemical bonds form between sodium and chloride ions, but those bonds are formed with the help of God. Why not have theistic chemistry? Or that the universe is expanding, but God is helping it expand. Why not have theistic cosmology?

Those hypotheses are unscientific because they not only posit an intervention that isn’t observed, but invoke a superfluous and supernatural intervention to explain a process that can be explained adequately using pure naturalism. God is a useless “add-on” here, and that’s not the way science works. Science works best when we make theories that assume no more than we need to. While it’s logically possible for God to be guiding particles and directing evolution, we have no evidence that this is true. Theistic evolution is not required by science; it is, as we must admit, simply something tacked on to make religious people feel better about a process that, if purely naturalistic, is taken as a direct attack on their worldview.

Further, theistic evolution is, to use Genie’s own term, a “science stopper.” If you say that God is making mutations, or expanding the universe, then we need investigate no further. What we don’t understand can simply be fobbed off on the will of a divine being. There’s need to look for that elusive naturalistic explanation.

The tactic of considering theistic evolution as “scientific” is a purely political one. The NCSE and others (viz., the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences), feel that to get evolution accepted and taught in schools, we need religious allies. And to get those allies, we have to accept their view that evolution was guided by God, even though we don’t believe it ourselves.

Science makes progress only when it doesn’t evoke a God. Even the NCSE accepts that “methodological naturalism”—the rejection of divine hypotheses—is the way that science has progressed.  So why reject God when you’re doing science, but then admit on the sly that he might be in there working away subtly and, perhaps, undetectably? That is a political view, not a scientific one, and it dilutes and pollutes the scientific enterprise. It also gives the public the false idea that theistic evolution is somehow okay with scientists.

It isn’t. No evolutionary biologist puts in her scientific papers a note to the effect that God might be involved in the process she’s studying. Anyone doing that would be laughed out of the field.  So if scientists reject theistic evolution in their own work, why accept it when the public believes it? It’s pure hypocrisy to do so, and a blatant attempt to coddle believers.

I’d rather stand up for the purity and naturalism of science than accept forms of science that invoke God. Yes, I’ll be glad to work with religious people to help expel creationism from schools—and theistic evolution is a form of creationism!. What I won’t do is give my imprimatur to a form of evolution that includes the supernatural. Until we have some evidence for the supernatural in science—and we certainly don’t at this point—let’s not grant it simply to gain allies. That is a false alliance that, in the end, creates a public misunderstanding of science.

It is ironic that the National Center for Science Education is willing to include theistic evolution as “scientific.” It is wrong, it is hypocritical, and it’s a cynical political tactic unbecoming to scientists. The NCSE has done terrific work in keeping creationism out of schools.  But in saying that theistic evolution is “scientific,” as Genie did on Sunday, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.  What is science profited if we help evolution get accepted more widely, but in so doing lose our own scientific soul?


Genie Scott speaking at Kamloops

Note: While I don’t object to religious people trying to bring co-religionists around to Darwin, I do object to them doing so by saying that evolution “was guided by God.” That’s bringing them around not to science, but to an unholy mixture of science and superstition. If they’re going to sell evolution, let them sell it for what it is: naturalistic science.


  1. gbjames
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 6:18 am | Permalink


  2. Robert Bray
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    Perhaps the only brand of ‘theistic evolution’ that makes sense is Calvin’s hard determinism, minus the soul. This is close, if not identical, to naturalism/determinism.

    • rickflick
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 7:25 am | Permalink

      Good observation. Minus the soul, and I think the punishments are different.

  3. Posted May 20, 2014 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    The goal shouldn’t be to convince people to accept evolution. The goal should be to convince people to use reason and evidence in their decision-making. Acceptance of evolution follows.

    A few days ago I had a long discussion on BioLogos (, with someone trying to convince me that I should not oppose theistic evolution, for strategic reasons. Genie’s name came up. I think honest debate will be more effective and long-lasting, in the long run, than strategic dissimulation.

    • reasonshark
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 6:49 am | Permalink

      “The goal should be to convince people to use reason and evidence in their decision-making. Acceptance of evolution follows.”

      I think that mischaracterizes other positions a bit. It’s not that they don’t accept reason and evidence, or else they wouldn’t argue for their positions. They respect it. It’s just that, when it comes to false pet ideas, they either genuinely make mistakes or are trying to have their cake and eat it too. It’s the special pleading that results that causes the problems, because they either use bad reasoning or try to undermine the other side in the hope of claiming a “you lose, I win” scenario.

      • Shea B
        Posted May 20, 2014 at 8:53 am | Permalink

        I would put it this way: in practice, science can simply ignore any “other positions” (theistic or otherwise supernatural) as irrelevant to the scientific method.

        Methodological naturalism is the key to the remarkable successes of the sciences over the past several centuries. As Jerry rightly points out, whenever you insert god(s) into a process, you may as well say “there is no need to probe any further here.” Science takes precisely the opposite approach–“there is not yet any need for that hypothesis (god)–let’s keep looking deeper.”

        One problem with accommodationism is that it invites the idea that scientists are somehow willfully “ignoring” or “overlooking” god in their work–as if adding a place for god(s) in the scientific method could somehow help science work better. As the past several centuries have shown, the exact opposite is true–science advances only through a firm commitment to methodological naturalism.

        In his debate with William Lane Craig, Sean Carroll made the important point that no matter what kinds of bending and maneuvering theists might do to bring their god(s) in line with scientific findings, science will continue to work just fine (thank you) with its commitment to methodological naturalism. As Sean said (I’m paraphrasing), you won’t find physicists at a cosmology conference exploring the utility of adding god to this or that equation. And it’s not because they “hate god” or “shun god”. It’s because there is no evidence or basis or principles with which god could be introduced. We can make god look “compatible” with scientific findings, but it is impossible to bring god into the scientific method in any meaningful way.

        • Kevin
          Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:20 am | Permalink

          That is a good point about ignoring theism.

          If one chooses to adopt science, and only science, as an explanation for how things are, then theism is unnecessary and justifiably ignorable. Proponents of theism or accomodationist need to explain how it is that theism explains nothing and how this justifies their claim that theism is compatible with science in any way.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted May 20, 2014 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

            Good point!

        • JChotard
          Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:24 am | Permalink

          Exactly right. Well said. There is accommodation and then there is bastardization. Science says the supernatural is not necessary to explain evolution period. The issue is whether “believers” can accommodate that into their worldview. And if they do (and some do)that’s their business, but they don’t get to call their view scientific. Rather, their view is an accommodation to science – not the other way around.

      • Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:49 am | Permalink

        Reasonshark, I think the main difference is the weight they give to intuition versus the weight they give to evidence which contradicts their intuition. Many of them seem to feel that intuition is a valid form of gaining knowledge about what exists, rather than just a means of generating hypotheses.

        Shea B, I strongly disagree with you about methodological naturalism. It is not part of the scientific method, nor a presupposition, but rather a tentative (but very well-confirmed) conclusion about the world, based on evidence.

        • Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:23 am | Permalink

          Here’s a dictionary definition of supernatural: “(of a manifestation or event) attributed to some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature.”

          Unless there’s some radically different definition, science certainly operates in the realm of the first part of the definition. Science advances by investigating what is not understood and when progress is made, it is incorporated into the body of knowledge. The second part of the definition, “beyond the laws of nature” really isn’t coherent. If something is discovered which appears in contradiction with known laws, it is also investigated and new theories are worked out. A couple centuries ago, stuff like QM, dark energy and dark matter might have been considered supernatural were it proposed. Certainly, the extra dimensions in String Theory would’ve been as well, but no one goes around declaring these areas to be science’s supernatural studies.

          • Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:35 am | Permalink

            If supernatural phenomena are defined as phenomena “attributed to some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature”, then it could still be the case that science could detect the existence of such phenomena, even if they were beyond our understanding. They cannot be ruled out a priori, nor should they be ignored if they existed. Even if they showed non-lawlike behavior, sometimes the mere existence of something (even of unpredictable) can have important scientific consequences.

            We conclude that such things don’t exist because there is no good evidence for them, not because they are off limits to scientific inquiry. Many things claimed to be supernatural could indeed have been detected by science, if they had existed.

            • Posted May 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

              Yes, I agree, and I would say science has already proven this over and over again. Science did detect dark energy and dark matter (whatever those things actually are), and did not dismiss them as “beyond understanding.”

              Likewise, religious nonsense could be proven quite easily if any of the claims actually produced evidence.

              • David Miller
                Posted May 20, 2014 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

                I was thinking lately about naturalism vs. supernaturalism, and I’ve realized I can’t make sense of it. Defining supernaturalism roughly as “that which is beyond nature” only makes sense if you can define nature as something other than “everything that exists, excluding the supernatural.” That does not make for a helpful distinction.

                Better, I think, to just say that either something exists or it doesn’t. If it exists, then in principal we ought to be able to say something about its nature, even if its nature is very different from anything else we’ve encountered before in the universe.

              • Posted May 20, 2014 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

                Yes. I have definitely tried parsing this distinction in multiple ways myself. It ends up being utterly incoherent. Science doesn’t exclude anything a priori.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted May 20, 2014 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

                I believe it was Dan Barker that I heard speak about the supernatural and therefore god. We cannot know something that is outside of nature and it cannot interact with us therefore for all intents and purposes it does not exist and the Christian God cannot be.

              • Posted May 20, 2014 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

                David and Chris, that’s what I think too. I don’t agree with Dan Barker, or maybe I don’t understand what he meant. The Christian god certainly is claimed to have interacted a lot with nature, and these interactions are fair game for science to try to confirm or disconfirm.

              • Posted May 21, 2014 at 6:41 am | Permalink

                I think Dan Barker is just saying that if God is outside nature, He can’t act inside of nature or even have an effect on nature.

                I’m not sure I agree that that alone is a sound argument. Certainly, it is not a logical fallacy to say there could be undetectable causes, but Barker may just be alluding to what we’re discussing here, that defining “supernatural” is hard to do coherently.

                I think the mind/brain distinction is likely a valid subset of what most people would say is supernatural, but that’s really just pushing the incoherence back a level. What in the world would a mind with no brain (or at least some matter) tied to it look like?

                A couple weeks ago, I got into this very discussion on another site where someone was defending David Bentley Hart’s book and they brought up the hardware/software analogy for brains and consciousness. In my opinion, this is a strong analogy as software simply does not exist absent hardware, or at least directions for creating it being stored in some medium. I let the guy have the last word as the conversation was rapidly starting to become counterproductive, but in addition to repeating the God of the Gaps “science can’t explain consciousness” twice, the guy added on that an afterlife may be possible by restoring our memories from “spiritual hardware!” I didn’t dare ask what that even is and why it could explain consciousness but physical hardware (our brains) can’t. In any case, if there were another element to consciousness or evolution (or anything), none of these theistic arguments can explain why these other things are not, in principle, detectable by science.

              • Posted May 21, 2014 at 7:06 am | Permalink

                “Certainly, it is not a logical fallacy to say there could be undetectable causes”

                Yes, it is. If a cause has an effect, it is necessarily detectable.


              • Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:25 am | Permalink

                I said the cause could be undetectable. That alone isn’t necessarily illogical. We can observe effects and know that something is causing it to happen yet just not be able to find it, for any number of hypothetical reasons. At risk of sounding too much like a sophisticated theologian, maybe a better way of putting it is that we may detect that a cause exists via its effects but understand little else about the cause’s nature; e.g. our current understanding of dark energy and dark matter.

                This conversation is now possibly heading in a direction that does a good job underscoring Tyson’s points about philosophy.

              • Posted May 21, 2014 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

                How do we ever detect causes except through their effects?

                * we may detect that a cause exists via its effects but understand little else about the cause’s nature *

                But isn’t that trivially obvious? Examples abound throughout science, from Empedocles’ /clepsydra/ to the photoelectric effect.


              • Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

                I like Sastra’s distinction, that the supernatural encompasses anything “mental” that exists without something material — minds without brains. I can’t think of anything generally regarded as supernatural that doesn’t fit this.


  4. Jimbo
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    Fantastic post Jerry. I liken Genie’s approach to ‘let’s lie for expediency.’ Scientists can never compromise scientific results because they make people face tough social and personal issues. The anthropology of rape, incest, and cannibalism is unnerving stuff but knowledge is impeded by ignoring these truths.

    That is the explicit contradiction manifested in all accommodationists like Mooney–they want others to accept the truth propositions of science by violating the truth propositions of science.

  5. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    As always, an excellent post that very delicately hits the nail on the head.
    It must be that the accommodationist positions of the NCSE and the AAAS are political strategies to gain religious allies (or to not gain religious enemies). So the form of accommodationism of the NCSE is to allow for theistic evolution. Does anyone recall what was the form of accommodationism from the AAAS? I thought it was where they point out that ‘many scientists are religious or spiritual’, but I was not sure.

  6. MAUCH
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    Though I was not raised per say as an athiest I was definitely raised as a nonbeliever and a Missourian. As the state motto says its the show me state. When I was taught that evolution was true I was shown that it was a purely naturalistic process that had piles of evidence to confirm the theory. I didn’t for a moment consider it anti-religous; I just considered it To be wonderfully true. Then along comes the religous community inserting an unsupported religous invention into this theory so that they can claim it as their own. People’s motivation to do this totally mystified me as a child and it mystifies me today. Come on people it’s not about religion it’s about science; a proven science that works.

    • rickflick
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      The human mind is a strange wonderful organ of self deception.
      It is always working through cognitive dissonance with attempts at compromise. With pure science, you can’t have your science and afterlife too.

  7. reasonshark
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    “It is ironic that the National Center for Science Education is willing to include theistic evolution as “scientific.” It is wrong, it is hypocritical, and it’s a cynical political tactic unbecoming to scientists. The NCSE has done terrific work in keeping creationism out of schools. But in saying that theistic evolution is “scientific,” as Genie did on Sunday, we are shooting ourselves in the foot. What is science profited if we help evolution get accepted more widely, but in so doing lose our own scientific soul?”

    I certainly don’t like the idea of either lying to people or (to give this a generous misinterpretation) putting forward mistaken information. In the long run, it would most likely backfire.

    But have you considered that it’s not so much about improving acceptance of evolution so much as it is about scientists just not wanting to get involved in religion and politics, and throwing a sop to keep complainers off their backs? Granted, that’s hardly any better an excuse, but, as you yourself can attest, there’s no shortage of people willing to take swipes at “angry/militant/fundamentalist atheists” and anything resembling them. It’s a hot potato. You get a hot potato, you pass it on to someone else before it burns your fingers.

    Moreover, if we think coldly and calculatingly, this kind of accommodationism might at least be a convenient short-term tactic, akin to sheathing your sword to signal you’re not about to attack. It’s a sad fact that some people invest way more in their ideas than they rationally should, and if such people wield power, currying favour may be a kind of smart “survival” tactic, at least until they’ve been talked out of it or disarmed.

    Lastly, it probably would be more successful if more people took your stance and increased its numbers. But “coming out”, so to speak, is a risk if other people chicken out and keep quiet, leaving you in a minority of outspoken critics who are easier to dismiss. Allowing that non-accommodationist tactics are more effective, that might only be the case so long as a critical number of people are seen to be performing them.

    This is all tactics, by the way, and cynical tactics at that. The intellectual argument hasn’t budged an inch. However, if nothing else, maybe this could explain why accommodationism is adopted, namely since doing otherwise might actually be less successful?

    • reasonshark
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

      “However, if nothing else, maybe this could explain why accommodationism is adopted, namely since doing otherwise might actually be less successful?”

      At least, under the current climate in the USA.

      Also, I put “misinterpretation” earlier when I meant “interpretation”.

    • Posted May 20, 2014 at 7:22 am | Permalink

      Did you read the post? There is a mountain of evidence that “strident” atheists can convert religious people not just to accepting evolution, but also into giving up God. Where is the evidence that accommodationism works? Can you cite any data that matches the hundreds of pieces of testimony on Dawkins’s site. In contrast, I’ve never seen one person say, “You know, I’d accept evolution if only Dawkins would shut up about atheism, and some other Christian would tell me that that evolution isn’t incompatible with my faith.” Maybe such “testimony” exists, but I haven’t seen any.

      As far as I can see, accommodationism is based on wish-thinking rather than hard data.

      • reasonshark
        Posted May 20, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

        I did read the post! What you have are strongly indicative collections of anecdotes, not rigorous studies comparing Dawkins’ approach with another. That’s good for a hypothesis to set up a psychological study, and it’s a good start, but any opponent with knowledge of scientific methodology would pick it apart in minutes. The question isn’t “Does Dawkins succeed in converting believer into skeptics?” but “Do less forgiving approaches convert at a higher rate than accommodationist approaches?”

        It’s not enough to have lots of testimony from converts. If we’re comparing accommodationism to “stridency”, we need comparisons of their respective audience’s ratios between people who were convinced and people who remain unconvinced or even dug their heels in deeper. Dawkins could have hundreds of converts, but there might have been millions of readers who needed to be convinced, giving a success rate close to 0.01%. By contrast, if NCSE made yearly surveys of people’s attitudes to evolution before and after they communicated to the public, they might find that their success rate, however modest, might simply be bigger than Dawkins’.

        Unfortunately, this is hypothetical. I can’t find any studies that specific: just generic psychological studies into persuasion, manipulation, and conversion, as well as the charts you yourself publish on this site that indicate public attitudes to such topics as religion and evolution. I don’t think any of them established any particular factors for the change, but maybe I’m wrong?

        “In contrast, I’ve never seen one person say, “You know, I’d accept evolution if only Dawkins would shut up about atheism, and some other Christian would tell me that that evolution isn’t incompatible with my faith.” Maybe such “testimony” exists, but I haven’t seen any.”

        That’s not what I’m suggesting at all. Nobody explicitly says they’re swayed by who delivered the message, because everyone aspires to be (or at least to appear) rational in their thinking. That does not mean people won’t be swayed by irrelevant things, such as who delivers the message and how. I don’t think you yourself believe NCSE explicitly say that their views are based on wishful thinking.

        “As far as I can see, accommodationism is based on wish-thinking rather than hard data.”

        Yes, but have you also considered that it might turn out to be an effective tactic, say as a stepping stone into making people less resistant to accepting evolution? I’m not saying it IS, mind, or that I’ve got a study tucked up my sleeve to prove it. However, it is an empirical claim that could be investigated, and I think you might be putting too much confidence on the idea that directly criticizing religion and creationism is an effective move across the board. You yourself admit different techniques might work for others.

        Let me reiterate I’m not an accommodationist myself. To me, it is an untruth, when you get down to it, and I oppose it on intellectual grounds. But I’m willing to concede it could be an effective TACTIC in practice, if only because I’m pessimistic enough to suspect people are not going to be brought around in large numbers simply by presenting the truth to them. I hope that this is not true, but that does not mean it isn’t.

        • michaelfugate
          Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:20 am | Permalink

          That’s a lot of verbiage just to say you have no evidence that accommodationism works.

          If one actually studied the literature on how people learn – I think one would conclude that accommodationism might work in the short term, but will almost always fail in the long term. One has to bring misconceptions to the fore and demonstrate how those conceptions are wrong – then and only then will one be able to give up those misconceptions. Ignorance is not bliss.

          • reasonshark
            Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

            “That’s a lot of verbiage just to say you have no evidence that accommodationism works.”

            I was saying considerably more than that, namely that there’s a way to make a comparison empirically, with actual data. I’m not trying to demonstrate accommodationism works, and contrary to the posts outlined here, I would prefer it turned out it didn’t. But such a point would be better made with strong evidence, and certainly evidence stronger than Jerry has provided in the OP.

            • Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:51 am | Permalink

              Look, reasonshark, I never claimed I had definitive evidence, only that the evidence that does exist (and it’s a LOT of anecdotes, not just one) points to the fact that stridency CAN work, contra the hypothesis of Scott, who says that it doesn’t. And there are no similar anecdotes for accommodationism. So don’t claim that I’ve made any definitive statements, okay? Note that I also said that a variety of tactics might be best if your goal is simply to get people to accept Darwinism, whether or not it includes God-interference.

              • reasonshark
                Posted May 20, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

                Sorry, Jerry. I did not mean to put words into your mouth. I guess it would make a good challenge to accommodationists to go find equivalent anecdotes.

                It’s just that one of the things I’ve picked up over time is a lack of confidence over how convincing anecdotes are than straight up experimental evidence, like a survey or study. Surely, if such was carried out and it provided support of your approach, it would be harder for an accommodationist to counter you without looking silly? If such a study exists, or could be done…

        • gbjames
          Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:32 am | Permalink

          Call me strident, but I tire of people advocating dishonesty as a potentially useful tactic for advancing science. Lying for science is no less offensive than lying for Jesus.

          Science is the project of figuring out what is true about the universe. How one can advocate dishonesty as a tactic to advance a truthful understanding is beyond my ability to comprehend.

          • Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:17 am | Permalink

            Well said.

          • Blue
            Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

            I, too, tire of same.

            And I have been termed strident more often than, say, have I been termed charming: I recall again last November ( 2013 ) the saga of the ( state ) University Dean’s secretary apparently viewing ( up closely enough ) for her first time my daily wearing of the evolvefish pendant.

            And, suddenly, what she wanted “to do” about that “for me” … … right then: yank it off from my neck, discard asap and replace it with her gift – to – me: the “correct” ( read that, christian / godly ) fishy !

            Unaccommodatingly however, I right off and right away with that charming smile calmly and quietly counter, “O no ! You shall not. As godless as The Way of Things ARE, this IS already the correct one —- this fish of the Ancients, Ms ____ Secretary’s Name ____. ”

            Usual response always — as was hers — “Aaaah, O. Aaaah, okay.”

            And on to nearly ANY next topic … … else I tire, again, and reclusively walk away.


          • darrelle
            Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

            Well said X 2.

          • Kevin
            Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:57 am | Permalink

            Accommodationists are being dishonest with themselves, or at the very least, they are unaware that they manufacture justification to believe something that has no evidence.

          • reasonshark
            Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:29 am | Permalink

            “Call me strident, but I tire of people advocating dishonesty as a potentially useful tactic for advancing science.”

            Which is fine, since I am not, as you seem to assume, an advocate of accommodationism. If I was making a point, it would be that a rigorous empirical study of the issue of accommodationist versus “strident” tactics would, if it came out in favour of the latter, disarm accommodationists of one of their arguments – namely, that accommodationism works better at convincing religious people not to oppose science. I don’t think pointing to convert’s corner would be sufficient to make the point.

            • gbjames
              Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:41 am | Permalink

              Sorry, reasonshark, but you said this:

              “Yes, but have you also considered that it might turn out to be an effective tactic, say as a stepping stone into making people less resistant to accepting evolution?”

              If I had a dollar for every time someone rhetorically suggests that lying-for-science just might be effective (in some way)I’d go have one hell of a grand party in a foreign land.

              The fact that you claim impartiality as to whether accomodationist lying is effective or not does not diminish from the blatant wrongness of the idea. Science is not advanced by pretending (lying about) how gods just might be involved in making the universe work, IMO. The ends don’t justify these means.

              • reasonshark
                Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:52 am | Permalink

                I said it might be an effective tactic. I did not say I agreed with said tactic. Assassinating political opponents might be an effective tactic in pushing one’s agenda, but that’s different from saying I’d actually suggest it. There’s nothing rhetorical about the point I made. In fact, I’ve stressed already that I don’t agree with accommodationism, and I’d rather accommodationism was not just ethically dubious, but ALSO ineffective. And the best way to ascertain the latter is to test it scientifically.

                My point is not that, if it turns out to be an effective tactic, we should therefore do it. My point is that it would help us understand how to tackle the accommodationist position if we did know this sort of thing. To put it obviously, if it turned out accommodationism was completely useless, or at least less successful, then the case for blunt communication is strengthened considerably, and we can cite the study as strong evidence for straight talking, encouraging people to take the “strident” path. If accommodationism is a more effective tactic, we would be alerted to the temptation for people to use it, and would place more emphasis on the ethical inconsistency.

              • gbjames
                Posted May 20, 2014 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

                I don’t understand what is so hard about this.

                It doesn’t matter if it is effective as a tactic. It should be avoided because it is dishonest and dishonesty is incompatible with good science.

              • Tyle
                Posted May 20, 2014 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

                …which is exactly what reasonshark said. It’s annoying to see how this poor guy is getting piled onto by people who don’t actually seem to disagree with him, and don’t actually seem to have bothered to understand what he is saying. I’m usually a fan of the commentariat here but this is mood-affiliation/partisan blindness/strawmanning run rampant.

                Accomodationism is either bad science, or it’s theology. Either way, it’s garbage. We all agree about that. There isn’t a good evidential case for the effectiveness of this garbage. We all agree about that. I thought reasonshark made some decent points in his first post (that there might be other reasons for accomodationism, such as self-preservation, which could make it a good short-term tactic, and that the dynamics of this tradeoff might depend on other people’s behavior, and that it might be a prisoner’s dilemma) that were independent of these points of agreement. And then he was attacked for things which he doesn’t even endorse. Shameful.

              • gbjames
                Posted May 21, 2014 at 5:46 am | Permalink

                Well perhaps, Tyle, shorter and more clear comments would have resulted in a different exchange. Because clearly embedded in reasonshark’s comments were very tired arguments made as if we had never encountered them before.

                “have you also considered that it might turn out to be an effective tactic, say as a stepping stone into making people less resistant to accepting evolution?”

                “Moreover, if we think coldly and calculatingly, this kind of accommodationism might at least be a convenient short-term tactic, akin to sheathing your sword to signal you’re not about to attack.”

                “I’m willing to concede it could be an effective TACTIC in practice”

                “I said it might be an effective tactic.”

                This sort of wording is what provoked the responses you find so shameful. If I was confused by it perhaps you can see why.

          • Posted May 21, 2014 at 2:40 am | Permalink

            I don’t think that accommodationism is necessarily dishonest or “lying for science”. It is simply recognising that some people are able to maintain a religious position that does not contradict scientific evidence. There is a gap between “not scientific” and “unscientific” and many forms of theistic evolution sit in this gap. Theistic evolution is not the scientific conclusion given the data but it does not necessarily contradict the data either.

            Personally, I do not think that religion and science are compatible and would explain why if challenged. However, I do not see it as my place as a scientist to tell others that they cannot think that, so long as they are not actually lying about the evidence to support their view. I know theistic evolutionists who admit that the evidence is not there and for some their theology actually precludes there being evidence of God’s intervention. It is a position of faith. Whether they do this by cognitive dissonance or theological gymnastics is up to them.

            • Posted May 21, 2014 at 3:04 am | Permalink

              PS. By “unscientific”, I really mean “anti-scientific”.

            • Posted May 21, 2014 at 4:25 am | Permalink

              It is, if it claims, as Genie does, that theistic evolution is science/scientific.


            • gbjames
              Posted May 21, 2014 at 6:03 am | Permalink

              No, Rich. The fact that some people partition their minds in order to maintain two incompatible sets of ideas at once does not make the ideas compatible. Accommodation is the process of pretending that two incompatible things are in fact compatible. To this extent it is a falsehood, a.k.a., a “lie”. I suppose one could consider it a “white lie” (or perhaps a “grey lie”?) to the extent that the extent that the accomodationist is unaware of this.

              • Posted May 21, 2014 at 6:20 am | Permalink

                That assumes that just because you (and I) do not find it compatible, everyone who does is lying to themselves. They just might have a different worldview or theology to those you (and I) would be willing to accept. I do not believe that all theistic evolutionists are lying to themselves. I think some of them have genuinely found ways to make their science and religion compatible for them. It does not need to work for everyone to be a legitimate position, so long as they are not trying to convince people that it is the only legitimate position. I don’t hold that atheism is the only worldview that is consistent with the world and scientific evidence – it is simply the one that makes the most sense and is therefore most likely.

                I can easily think of worldviews in which certain kinds of deity could exist and not violate any scientific evidence. I just don’t believe such a deity exists.

              • gbjames
                Posted May 21, 2014 at 6:29 am | Permalink

                “…compatible for them…”

                There’s the fallacy. These two things are not compatible in the universe. The failure to recognize this does not create a compatibility. You’re going all POMO on me.

              • Posted May 21, 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

                I think you are wrong there. There is no evidence for one but it is not necessarily incompatible with the other – there are just certain constraints upon the nature of something that could be compatible. I personally don’t think that those constraints make what could be left worth worrying about (hence atheism) but I do not have the absolute confidence in the omniscience of science to say that categorically there is absolutely no way that someone else can make a coherent and compatible worldview that leaves room for God (of some kind). You are trying to enforce an Ockham’s razor approach on everyone – what is best supported by the evidence IS true. Wrong. What is best supported by the evidence is most likely to be true and therefore rational to believe. Other possibilites, lacking evidence but not directly contradicting the evidence we have, remain. You need another reason to believe them but that does not make them illegitimate, internally inconsistent or dishonest – UNLESS you claim that you believe them because of evidence rather than some level of wishful thinking.

              • gbjames
                Posted May 21, 2014 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

                It does directly contradict the evidence. All evidence is for a universe that is not influenced by supernatural beings and most emphatically not the ones that populate the christian mythos. The natural universe that science examines has no room in it for spooks and spirits. (Excepting the spy-type spooks and the beverage-type spirits.)

                The only way to make science and religion “compatible” is to ignore this fact. One can ignore, but (except in the “we all create our own universe” world of postmodernism) they remain incompatible.

        • darrelle
          Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:18 am | Permalink

          Accommodationism has always been the default position since ancient times and been an order of magnitude (at least) more prevalent than unapologetic skepticism. And for good reason. For most of human history you wouldn’t just get dirty looks or sanctimonious remarks for unashamedly admitting unbelief, you’d get physical violence.

          That being the case, order of magnitude more prevalent for thousands of years, it shouldn’t be all that hard to come up with some evidence of at least the quality of Dawkin’s Convert’s Corner, showing that accommodationism is as good or better at converting believers as straight confrontation is.

          And yet, I’ve never seen it. And no, accommodationism is not common sense, at all. If I were to follow my common sense I’d try to make every believer I come across feel like a complete idiot for believing what they do, because in my experience people really don’t like feeling like an idiot and often do something about it. Even if merely to become unwilling to continue admitting to whatever they were made to feel humiliated about. Luckily for the believers in my vicinity I don’t rely only on my common sense understanding of things to decide how to act towards them.

          Accommodationism is far from new, it is ancient, and in all that time there is no good reason to think it is particularly effective at anything except validating religious belief.

          Lastly, accommodationism is not subtle or sophisticated. It is not necessary to expound at length about it. It is very simple, we all know what it is and we understand it quite well.

          • Blue
            Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:25 am | Permalink

            re “what it is,” I so do like how gbjames states ( above ) accommodationism is, “ … … lying for science.”

            Thus it is.


          • reasonshark
            Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

            Firstly, that’s rather a sweeping view of history.

            Secondly, is it the case that you have not seen it because you haven’t actually sought it or found it, rather than because it’s not actually out there?

            Thirdly, when did I say it was common sense?

            Fourthly, I’ve already suggested how to test its effectiveness scientifically.

            Fifthly, I have not suggested that it is subtle or sophisticated (stop putting words in my mouth!).

            Sixthly, I was expanding on a point that Jerry suggested in the OP – different strokes for different folks – and wondering about the evidence for the effectiveness of either tactic.

            Just because I agree that accommodationism is untrue, does not mean we are supposed not to ask questions about it (such as how effective it is) because “it’s simple, we all know what it is, and we understand it quite well”. As I said in my replies to michaelfugate and to gbjames above, strong evidence would make Jerry’s point more potent than it currently is.

            • darrelle
              Posted May 20, 2014 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

              If you say so. I’m sorry if you feel misunderstood, and if I have misnuderstood you here, but I think you share some of the responsibility for that.

              I can understand your frustration, but I didn’t put any words in your mouth.

              Part of the reason for the responses you got here is the rather lengthy dissertation you gave that reads rather precisely like many arguments that have been hashed, and rehashed many times here. Additonally, you have . . . implied, at the least, that we have not considered that accommodationism might have some efficacy simply because we do not like it, that we are being closed-minded about it, and you have done so repeatedly despite clear explanations to the contrary, that you seemingly are not reading.

              It might be a good idea to carefully read the OP again, and Jerry’s response to you just upstream a bit, time stamped 11:51 AM.

              I also invite you to find and point out to us some evidence at least comparable to Dawkin’s Convert’s Corners and other such collections. I do not claim that none exist, and would in fact welcome it. And yes, I, and many others here I am sure, have spent time looking for such. No luck. Are you going to be the one to do the exhaustive definitive data collection and study on this? I look forward to it.

              Until then I won’t feel bad in the slightest making the claim that “there is no good reason to suppose that accommodationism is more effective than direct confrontation of religious belief.” And that “there is good reason to believe that direct confrontation of religious can be effective at advancing acceptance of science, secular ideals and non belief.” And even if good evidence is uncovered in the future showing that accommodationism is significantly effective at doing those things, that will not change my position that, “lying, or otherwise implying that untrue things are true in order to try and get people to be somewhat more accpeting of science is not a good thing to do for science, and is ethically questionable with respect to those you are accommodating.”

              Those are the things that have been said by the OP and others here. Not the things you seem to have been implying.

              And now I am apparently competing with you for wordiness.

              • reasonshark
                Posted May 20, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

                My concern is that at least some people end up assuming that, merely because we are correct, that is sufficient to presuppose we just hammer the point home until the truth succeeds. There are smarter ways to handle the opposition, and that requires understanding, to some degree, what the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition are, and anticipating potential counters, rather than just reiterating why accommodation is ethically and intellectually wrong. Jerry himself appreciated the point, or else he wouldn’t have undermined the accommodationist stance by citing Convert’s Corner as an example of why being direct is not just principled, but effective. Yes!

                Reading Jerry’s OP, it struck me that a critic could counter his invocation of Convert’s Corner. I did not see very strong evidence to suggest that accommodationism was ineffective, per se, which I thought was Jerry’s aim, and that he hadn’t considered the complications. My own post was supposed to point this out, namely by pointing out the cynical tactics that would make accommodationism a tactic of short-term convenience, or a “survival” tactic, for the one doing it, and might even be effective at converting. In other words, what if accommodationism IS effective, or at least convenient, in the current US climate?

                Moreover, I repeatedly pointed out that I disliked the lying, that none of this effected the intellectual point, and that this was “if nothing else…” an explanation of “why accommodationism is adopted, namely since doing otherwise might actually be less successful”. I was speaking hypothetically, as in “have you considered”? I certainly wasn’t proposing doing the investigative work or skewing my point if I couldn’t come up with anything, much as I’d like to.

                At no point did I say I approved of accommodationism – quite the opposite, in fact – and I have clarified in subsequent comments that I was talking about its efficacy, not its ethics. Yet nearly every reply after that treated me as if I’d put my stamp of approval on accommodationism, as if I was trying to persuade people to adopt it, and as if I apparently was too cynical or stupid to tell the difference between explaining why dishonesty is adopted and endorsing its practice. Perhaps now you get the scope of why I, admittedly, felt frustrated to see counters being made to points I hadn’t even made.

                “Additonally, you have . . . implied, at the least, that we have not considered that accommodationism might have some efficacy simply because we do not like it, that we are being closed-minded about it, and you have done so repeatedly despite clear explanations to the contrary, that you seemingly are not reading.”

                If they had been in the spirit of michaelfugate’s response below, I might agree. And in hindsight, I appreciate that Jerry was not trying to make a waterproof case, but pointing out that even a modest hurdle has not been surpassed, as he himself has pointed out.

                Is that the end of it? Of course not. What if an accommodationist organization takes up the gauntlet and commissions a thorough scientific investigation, one tougher than simply pointing to a lot of anecdotes? More broadly, could our level of evidence be stronger still? If you’re going to take factual claims seriously – such as the efficacy of accommodationism – actual, rigorous science is needed, and I would like to see it. I don’t mind if the science hasn’t been done yet, or is in progress, but I at least want people to recognize the need for it, and I really don’t want to suspect that a “We’re right, end of story” attitude is getting in the way. It’s not idle research, either: depending on the efficacy of the opposition, we need to tailor our responses appropriately, because simply being right doesn’t guarantee a thing.

                In hindsight, I appreciate my wording was clumsy, especially since I didn’t emphasize enough what the tactics were supposed to accomplish and why I was focusing on them. For that, I am sorry, and I hope my subsequent comments clarify things. However, when I was looking forward to seeing something closer to michaelfugate’s citing sources or jerrycoyne’s explaining the value of the Convert’s Corner example, I certainly don’t appreciate being told repeatedly that accommodationism is dishonest (as if I didn’t know), or as if my point would be invalidated if little ol’ me didn’t prove accommodationism worked tout suite (which was not my point to begin with).

              • gbjames
                Posted May 20, 2014 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

                Roolz 8 and 11 come to mind.

            • michaelfugate
              Posted May 20, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

              I agree that good studies are often lacking in this debate.
              A couple of papers by Mike Smith
              Current Status of Research in Teaching and Learning Evolution: I.Philosophical/Epistemological Issues
              Current Status of Research in Teaching and Learning Evolution: II. Pedagogical Issues
              Both in Science & Education 2010 19: 523-571.
              summarize the sate of the field.

              In particular an article by Steve Verhey in Bioscience 2005 55:996-1003 The Effect of Engaging Prior Learning on Student Attitudes
              toward Creationism and Evolution used two different approaches one directly discussing creationism and the other not discussing it.
              Confronting creationism head-on appears to have had the greatest impact on changing attitudes toward evolution.

              • reasonshark
                Posted May 20, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

                Thank you! 🙂 Having a look at them now.

  8. Michael Day
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    To me, accepting theistic evolution as science is akin to accepting some things in the natural world as intelligently designed. Sort of like saying, “well, obviously the bacterial cell evolved naturally, but that flagellar basal body, THAT’s the designed bit”. I assume that NCSE would never suggest that.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted May 24, 2014 at 3:01 am | Permalink

      That seems to be just what they are suggesting it’s OK to believe.

  9. redlivingblue
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    Raised in a fundamentalist home, I remember bringing home a book in grade school about dinosaurs. In the back of the book were pictures of our extinct ancestors. I showed the pictures to my mother who promptly told me that the skulls were fakes and that I should not be reading such books. She returned the book to my teacher. Turned out that the book was in a portion of my school library that I was not supposed to have access to ( I was in the 2nd or 3rd grade, section the book was in was for the 5th graders). I was forbidden to return to the library for some time. I had several more experiences like this as young child. Church elders would feed my curiosity about dinosaurs and fossils with B.S. stories similar to the drivel Ken Hamm preaches.

    When it came time for high school, I wanted to go to a local Catholic school ran by a sect of Benedictine monks. I was accepted and could not have been more excited! It was around this time that pope John Paul II endorsed theistic evolution. My biology teacher was ecstatic. She told the class how happy she was that she would “no longer have to lock the door” when teaching evolution to her students. I was given a teaspoon size dose of evolution by Mrs. Rudski while receiving theology by the gallon from the monks. I hear stories of how science classes have turned people away from the Christian faith. My faith was slowly disassembled in the classroom as well, but it was in the theology classes. Learning the history of the bible, old and new testaments, was the perfect cure for the god virus that infected me at a young age. This is why I agree with Dan Dennett when he recommends teaching all religions to school children without bias. Give the kids the facts all the while teaching them to reason on their own.

    • Alex Shuffell
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      I went to Church of England Schools as a kid, there they try to teach all religions equally and without bias. I consider that the biggest reason why I am an atheist.
      It confuses me why religious people tend to see faith as their religion or no faith, I don’t get how they go from one religion to atheism. When Mormons or Jehovah Witnesses come to my door (I always try to invite them in) my first question is why I should take your religion seriously and not the others, I try to explain why I don’t believe in their god for the same reasons they don’t believe in other gods. This reasoning has only confused them.

      • Posted May 21, 2014 at 2:12 am | Permalink

        That’s interesting. I went to a C of E school as a kid and “religious education” was just Bible studies. I don’t think I ever had any formal education in a non-Christian faith (or even different denominations of Christianity for that matter). I agree that they should all be taught.

  10. Posted May 20, 2014 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    I wonder if Genie Scott would be ok with high school science textbooks including language about god possibly guiding evolution. Would she accept as a correct answer on a test – b) Evolution may occur due to a variety of mechanisms including, but not limited to, natural selection, genetic drift, and intervention by god?

  11. Susan
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    This reminds me of the First Lady’s push for healthier meals in schools. How can anyone argue with a straight face that feeding kids healthier meals is anything but good? So they introduced whole wheat pasta, lots of new vegetables, and made everything low fat, low salt. And the food tastes like cardboard. So now we have the healthiest trash cans in the developed world. Food that doesn’t get eaten provides no nutrition at all.

    I’m torn. Saying gob intervened in evolution is like saying the tooth fairy intervenes in evolution. But what if that is what is necessary to get real science taught in every school? If we can teach a generation of kids what science is, will the next step that they will be able to apply the scientific method to the tooth fairy and other fiction?

    Wm Wrigley, of Wrigley gum fame said, “When two men in business always agree, one of them is unnecessary.” Maybe the multi-pronged approach is best option available.

    • gbjames
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 7:45 am | Permalink

      ” But what if that is what is necessary to get real science taught in every school?”

      The problem here is that you make a false assumption, that lying about gods is necessary for teaching evolution. It isn’t. As Jerry repeatedly has pointed out, where is the evidence that polluting science with religion advances the adoption of evolutionary biology in school classrooms?

      • Susan
        Posted May 20, 2014 at 8:19 am | Permalink

        I don’t know the answer. I personally can’t see how any person would believe a “loving gob” would create something as brutal and heartless as evolution.

        For me, I don’t think it matters how much lip service is given to imaginary friends. Once people learn science, more and more will figure it out for themselves.

    • darrelle
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      Public school lunches in the US are freaking disgraceful. I better not get started on this tangent.

  12. Posted May 20, 2014 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Ok, I read through, and does anyone have actual data available? Otherwise, all we have is anecdotes.

    I can describe where I am NOW and how I got here: I was brought up Catholic and though my parents were uneducated (neither made it through junior high school) they took me to the library regularly.

    I grew up a creationist (during the years up to and through early high school) then accepted a theistic type of evolution (God had a plan and set it in motion during college.

    Eventually my “faith” dwindled to seeing God as some sort of deist who had such foresight that “He” knew it would turn out that way, though it sure “looked like” a purely naturalistic process; after starting it all my deity was indistinguishable from the deity of a Deist.

    Eventually I became an atheist (via a trip through being a Unitarian; there was a time when I still missed church).

    Summary: for me, theistic evolution was the first “crack in the egg of theism”, so to speak.

    As an aside: evolution isn’t really what killed theism for me; for me it was my coming to understand Copernicus.

    • Posted May 20, 2014 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      “(God had a plan and set it in motion during college”

      I didn’t know god went to college. Was is the University of Chicago?

      • Posted May 20, 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

        Groan. Punctuation FAIL on my part. 🙂

        (God had a plan and set it in motion) was meant to describe how I viewed “how it all came together” and that is what I believed in college.

    • darrelle
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      Yes, as Jerry pointed out there is some decent data, Dawkin’s Converts’s Corner, though as far as I know there has been no rigorous analysis of that or similar data sets. While that data is not anything to make a partical physicist feel comfortable it is at least as good as any other study that relies on self reporting of experiences.

  13. Posted May 20, 2014 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    Maybe some work should be done to get people to understand not just science, but the scientific method. As it stands now, most laypeople treat science as just another form of clergy; people in positions of power who hand down pronouncements that should be accepted like the gospel. This is probably one of the reasons why people are creationists. They refuse to accept another clergy because they already have one.

    If people understood the process behind science and not just the results, maybe it could go some way into fighting creationism. This would also do the work of showing why theistic evolution makes no sense.

    • Susan
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      I agree. As people learn how to think and evaluate evidence, religion gets harder and harder to support.

    • Kirth Gersen
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      Yes, this. As a former secondary science educator, the main reason I saw for non-acceptance of scientific facts was total ignorance of what science actually entails. Most of the kids started class thinking that scientists just make stuff up out of thin air and call it true (if I had a dime for every time someone said, “well, they have all these unproven theories…”).

    • Barb
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      This is the most important factor in my deconversion. I was raised young earth creationism through college, but was also encouraged to educate myself. Non-religious graduate school in the social sciences taught me the scientific method, but didn’t profoundly challenge my faith either – I wasn’t really thinking too much about it one way or the other.

      That had to seep for awhile as I tackled evolution. I accepted evolution through reading theistic evolution authors like Ken Miller. Then things seeped awhile longer as I contemplated the ramifications of evolution on theology. My views got more and more liberal until finally I read Professor Ceiling Cat’s comment one day, “Given the evidence, what’s the most likely answer?” and I knew my faith was doomed. I hung on kicking and screaming awhile longer, but it was really all over at that point.

      So Dr. Coyne, while there are many factors that led to my acceptance of evolution and my subsequent loss of faith, knowing the critical thinking skills of the scientific method and applying them to theistic claims like you prodded me to do gives you at least one in your convert corner!

    • Posted May 20, 2014 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

      Good point.

      Actually a lot of scientist also like to think clergy-like – in the sense that they have the esoteric knowledge above the laymen.

      In case of the clergy it is mostly the wrong knowledge. In case of the scientist it is often the narrow and very limited kind of knowledge. Except for some bright wise men (both prophets and scientists).

      Both are often confusing, and ripe for misappropriations.


  14. Daniel Wilcox
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Your best sentences are: “Why not have theistic chemistry? Or that the universe is expanding, but God is helping it expand. Why not have theistic cosmology?”

    Or how about theistic mathematics;-) God helps me add 2+2=4.

    The fields of science aren’t philosophical but rather methods to study the physical world.

    Rather amazing we agree on something, oh and that cats are the best.

    • Posted May 20, 2014 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      Actually, 2 + 2 = 3.999,999,999,999,…

      God makes up the difference.


      • Posted May 20, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

        If we really want to get theistic about things, 1 = 3, so 2 + 2 = 12.

  15. Richard C
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    “I’m curious about readers’ own “conversions” to evolution if they were once religious creationists. Similarly, some readers have been successful in helping others accept evolution. What strategy worked for you? And what strategy do you think would work for others?”

    I was never a creationist, and both my parents have Ph.Ds in various sciences. They’re also religious (the non-biologist more so), so I was raised with an accommodationist form of evolution. My more religious parent taught me that God drove the process, that the odds of good mutations happening completely by random was poor, and purely random mutations can cause cancer. There was also the deism there about God setting up the laws of physics to be skewed in one way and then letting the Universe unfold as it did. But I was never told that evolution itself didn’t happen or that we were more evolutionarily special than our cousins.

    It was two things in college that convinced me of purely naturalistic evolution. The first was a really good biological anthropology professor who discussed the natural process, and the evidence for it, at length. The other was math: understanding both randomness and statistics. When the two came together it all clicked.

    I will say this about growing up with accommodationism: it made it a whole lot easier to accept the real process because I had very little to unlearn.

  16. Susan
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    My own history with evolution is that I always accepted evolution. I don’t recall the subject ever being taught in school (texas a few decades ago), but my family wasn’t/isn’t loony, and we accepted evolution. I couldn’t explain it, but I accepted it. During the time I was a christian, it was all fuzzy “yeah gob probably intervened along the way somehow.”

    I started moving away from christianity due the raging hypocrisy and the fact that religion makes no difference, especially no positive difference, in the behavior of anyone. The powerful and connected will protect their own and sacrifice the vulnerable outsider in the catholic church, Penn State, Enron and everywhere else. I realized that the bible was completely immoral and useless as a guide to anything.

    When I realized that I couldn’t carry on an intelligent conversation about evolution, I started reading. I read the transcripts of the Kitzmiller-Dover trial on NCSE, several articles on wikipedia, and The Greatest Show on Earth. However, tho I try not to tell christians this, it was WEIT that put the final nail in the coffin of me believing in any sort of supernatural being. Evolution is a complete explanation for life on earth. Reconciling a loving gob with the brutality of survival of the fittest (fitter) is impossible. They are simply mutually exclusive.

    So for me, merging a fluffy religious belief into evolution wouldn’t have made a difference. But I want to see real science taught in schools. If it is necessary to pat some adult on the head and say “yes widdle boy/girl, you can still believe in your lovey-wuvey imaginary friend” in order to teach real science to their kids, I say it is worth it.

  17. Posted May 20, 2014 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    I was raised Catholic and my father was a firm believer in Young Earth Creationism. This was prior to the Pope’s statement in 1997 calling evolution more than a “mere hypothesis.”

    My High School Biology teacher also intentionally pushed the topic of Evolution back until the end of the year so that we’d run out of time before we got to it. Even with this program, I still managed to test out of college biology and held many creationist canards in my head for some time after. It was only through my own desire to learn that the facade eventually unraveled when I finally saw the things I thought were evidence against Evolution were not even attacking what the theory actually is.

    I had at some point come to the conclusion that if evolution did happen, of course God could have done it, being an omnipotent Being. OTOH, I also figured He could just as easily whip everything into existence 6000 years ago. When I finally learned that the creationist movement is willfully spreading disinformation (or, to be charitable, just grossly misinformed), I wondered what else people may be grossly misinformed about.

    Maybe theistic evolution is comforting for some and it will bring them around to learning to think scientifically, and that it definitely is a scientific hypothesis. When you are indoctrinated as a child, the process of letting go of these beliefs and learning to trust reason can be quite long. Once a fundamentalist goes down the path toward theistic evolution, I’d imagine any further progress is likely to continue toward accepting naturalism.

    What’s important is cracking the foundation. I don’t think anyone should go so far as to say that theistic evolution is valid science though, other than to say it is a hypothesis, as I mentioned above. The only scientific way that such a hypothesis could be shown true is to find hard evidence of God, or to search for the mechanism God uses (of course this reduces to a God of the Gaps method), but to paraphrase what I’ve seen Neil deGrasse Tyson say, so long as we aren’t going to throw our hands up and say, “God did it,” and continue to investigate, we’ll be far better of as a society than we are with charlatans who oppose that which is observably true with ridiculous ideas that are in direct contradiction of these ideas.

    As Jerry pointed out in the post, everyone is different; there shouldn’t be just one approach. Any good salesperson could tell you that.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted May 24, 2014 at 3:13 am | Permalink

      Scientists can learn about teaching from salespeople? I call bullshit.

      • Posted May 24, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

        I’m not suggesting the stereotypical example of the used car salesman using sleazy tactics and lying through his teeth is something to be emulated. What I am suggesting is that tactics that are used in sales can also be (and often are) applied in other professional settings and should be applied in classrooms and public settings as well. Key among these is the need to build rapport; make the audience comfortable, learn to empathize and realize that different people have different ways of learning.

        Building rapport builds trust and mutual respect. Good salespeople know this. Good professionals in any field where there’s interaction with other people know this, and good professors know this. This concept has been shown repeatedly in social psychology studies and it seems to be the point Jerry was making in this post when he says, “I’m of the view that all approaches should be tried. Some creationists are susceptible only to the blandishments of coreligionists, others need the push of strident atheism by people like Dawkins.”

        Popular science promoters from Carl Sagan to Neil deGrasse Tyson are making sales pitches; it’s not all that they do, but it’s one aspect. This isn’t meant as a pejorative. Just because science is true doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to be sold to the public and that involves building rapport, having different approaches (including approaches from different people), and understanding the audience from its size to its demographics to the cultural context. A crowd New York City is probably far more receptive to blunt criticism and ridicule than one in a small in the Midwest. Some cultures expect to get right to the point, others expect small talk; etc.

  18. Chris Crawford
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    I’m what you would call a theistic evolutionist, and I have some ideas as to why you don’t see droves of Christians publicly proclaim their change of opinion on the topic.

    First, there is often a price to pay. A Christian might be ostracized or even kicked out of some churches for accepting evolution. One might lose friends or acquaintances. At the very least, it can limit opportunities to participate at church, especially as a teacher. Unless they want to leave their church for an evolution-friendly one, most seem to keep their new revolution quiet except among those they trust.

    Second, acceptance of evolution isn’t the dramatic shift for TE’s that it tends to be for Christians-turned-atheist, and it’s also very rarely the focus of their faith.

    I’d like to see some reliable statistics on the impact of Biologos, but I’m not sure what the best way to gather them would be. I’ve seen quite a few of my Christian friends change or at least soften their views after I’ve recommended the site, but of course that’s hardly definitive.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      I suspect some of the consternation is because in accepting evolution, it appears as though the religious are challenging established doctrine. Since religion works in completely the opposite way from science in that religion by and large discourages dissension, frowns on questions and punishes challengers, doing these sciencey things like questioning established ideas, is something the religious feel naturally uncomfortable doing.

      In this way, we not only face a “science stopper” in investigating the unknown, but also a science stopper in challenging the “known”.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 20, 2014 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

        Oops, hit submit too early. My final point is that theistic evolution is not science, but doctrine and doctrine is not to be challenged.

  19. Posted May 20, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    I think there is always a problem for a theist about where her God exactly intervenes. If it’s not in evolution then it’s got to be at some other place which science tends to find inconvenient too!

    Theist Randall Rauser reviewed a book on the historical Adam here:

    …which makes for interesting reading. One of the contributors he criticised was theist Denis Lamoureux, who does not believe in a historical Adam (*because* of evolution), and considers those who believe in theistic evolution to be making a ‘God-of-the-Gaps’ argument. But, Rauser says:

    If we recognize that God-of-the-gaps extends to any divine being acting ‘specially’ and ‘supernaturally’ in cosmic origins, then Lamoureux is guilty [too].

    Rauser has a point.

    Incidentally, as one small data point on the accommodationism/confrontation debate, Lamoureux did not take kindly to his fellow theist’s criticism, eventually saying about Rauser:

    You know, I have more respect for the professional integrity of the atheists on my campus than I do for Randal.


    The whole thread is quite the car crash, in fact.

    • Posted May 21, 2014 at 2:02 am | Permalink

      Many theistic evolutionists I have met have actually concluded that God must be deliberately keeping his touch too light to see. Otherwise, you would not need faith to believe in Him. Their God is not so much in the gaps as deliberately outside of the picture.

      It doesn’t work for me as I can’t choose to believe in something for which I perceive no evidence but I know people who (claim that they) can and seem happy to do so. Happily, they are also willing to accept that they do not believe due to evidence and therefore do not try to convince me that the evidence really does point to God or try to re-convert me.

      • Posted May 21, 2014 at 6:31 am | Permalink

        The question I have for those people is really one of the basic ones that can always be asked of fundamentalists. How can they really believe such ideas in comparison to say Hindu beliefs that gods are in everything?

        I’ve run into the argument that many generations of thought have gone into the Abrahamic God, so it isn’t comparable to some dismissive comparison to fairies in the garden. Of course, this isn’t true. All those generations can quite obviously be wrong and when comparing Hinduism (also old with years of thought and books written about it), that argument falls flat again.

        • Posted May 21, 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

          I agree. But that’s a problem for religion, not science.

          • Posted May 21, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

            Oh yes, I agree. But I just find it pretty ironic that this very same line of reasoning that can be applied to Biblical literalists can be applied to these supposedly more sophisticated arguments for theistic evolution. It would seem all the bloviating about New Atheists attacking straw men and caricatures of religion doesn’t actually remove the validity of the criticisms when you dig down deep enough.

            • Posted May 21, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

              Perhaps surprisingly, some people are actually happy to admit that ultimately their position comes down to blind faith and something that “works for them”. Not everyone needs to live with a worldview that is wholly derived from evidence. Where the Sophisticated TheologiansTM go wrong is by trying to claim that the evidence is there when it isn’t. Regular folks are often happy to admit that “I know there is no evidence for it but I choose to believe it anyway.” (I think we all do this to some extent when information is limited.)

  20. Posted May 20, 2014 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Your analysis of theistic evolution is perfectly stated. Only one addition:

    Typo: “There doesn’t appear to be any telelogical forces driving evolution…”


  21. Posted May 20, 2014 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    I wish I could remember my conversion story more clearly. It was very rapid, over a period of a couple of months at most. I grew up Southern Baptist and then attended a Wesleyan (Methodist breakaway) evangelical church for 10 years during high school and undergrad and was heavily involved in ministry (at the church, in my public high school, in the community, mission trips to Mexico). When I was preparing to begin my Master’s in biology, I spent a semester taking classes – including evolution – and doing independent research in an evolution/ecology lab. It’s hard to say, but I think it was a combination of an advisor I could trust who wasn’t shy about talking with me about religion and science, reading Sam Harris and Dan Dennett (Dennett’s book was particularly enlightening for me), and a change in worldview to evidence-based thinking caused by owning my research.

    That said, I still have many close friends who are wholeheartedly religious as I once was, and I’m always conflicted about choosing the most effective way to bring people like that to reason. On the one hand, I’ve seen the likes of the “Four Horsemen” work — I myself am proof of that. But I also have a deep understanding of the minds and emotions of the devout (at least, the kinds of Christians you’d come across down here in the Deep South, where I grew up), and I know how they tend to respond to that sort of stridency. BUT…still, I again am case-in-point that no one is completely predictable and that occasionally someone might surprise me. So you see, I just continue to walk in a circle in my head 🙂 For this reason, I appreciate Jerry’s comment in the OP that perhaps no one method/attitude will convince every person, and that we need to exercise all possible options.

    • Susan
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      It’s the difference between

      “Learn about evolution, apply the scientific method, and decide for yourself how it fits in with your religious views”


      “Learn about evolution, apply the scientific method, and you’ll be an atheist within a month.”

      The second may be true, but the first may be more likely to make people willing to listen.

      • Posted May 21, 2014 at 1:55 am | Permalink

        I totally agree. If you go in with the statement that religion and evolution are not compatible then you will alienate those who are utterly convinced that their religion is right – it cannot be any other way for them and so evolution (by YOUR words not theirs) MUST be wrong. If you avoid religion and simply make it about the evidence, it is up to them to fit their faith to it. As you say, many will not be able to and will become an atheist. Others will not. If they stop “lying for Jesus” and attacking evolution, that’s still a win in my book.

        • gbjames
          Posted May 21, 2014 at 5:58 am | Permalink

          The problem is that the line between “avoiding religion” and “lying for science” is rather thin. One can not easily discuss evolution or climate science in the United States these days without acknowledging the motivations for the opposition. To do so is to play make-believe, pretending that that these issues are simply about facts and that religion isn’t a major factor in the public policy debate.

          • Posted May 21, 2014 at 6:10 am | Permalink

            I guess it depends what is being advocated. It is “lying for science” if you (or I for that matter) pretend that we personally find science and religion compatible. However, there are those that clearly do find them compatible and it is not “lying for science” to (a) acknowledge that such people exist nor (b) accept that it is a legitimate (even if ultimately wrong!) position to hold.

            At the end of the day, the evidence FOR evolution is scientific, not religious, so there is no need to bring in religion to teach/educate about evolution. The same is not true of Creationism, of course.

            • gbjames
              Posted May 21, 2014 at 6:26 am | Permalink

              There are those who believe that President Obama is the anti-christ. When they make these claims, are they telling a lie? I think so, even if they believe the lie themselves.

              I would never claim that recognizing the existence of such people is “lying for science”. But I would respond that a false position is inherently NOT legitimate because it is… well, false. (The fact that something exists does not make it legitimate.)

              Accommodation as a tactic embeds a lie within it. The fact that some people believe the lie is secondary.

    • gbjames
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      Question for you, Cathy Newman…. Are you “out” (as an atheist) to your religious friends?

      • Cathy Newman
        Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:06 am | Permalink

        Yes! I came out a few months later. During the intervening period, I went on my last mission trip to Mexico — the leader and my good friend begged me to go because they needed another translator, and no one knew yet that I didn’t really believe anymore. After that experience as basically an undercover atheist on a mission trip, I decided I couldn’t live a lie. I consider myself very lucky in that I only lost a handful of “friends,” who were’t that close to me anyway, and none of my family. Some of my family is deeply fundamentalist Southern Baptist, but they are still very supportive of me in every way. Really the only thing that changed is that I now have a list of topics that I don’t bring up at family gatherings 🙂

        • Cathy Newman
          Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:09 am | Permalink

          In fact, I am the only atheist that many of my Christian friends know, so I enjoy talking about my beliefs to the few who are open to honest, respectful conversation. I don’t go into those conversations with the goal of changing their beliefs, but rather to help them understand some of the common misperceptions of atheists, how I came to believe what I do, evidence-based thinking, etc. It’s also helpful for me, since my understanding of their thinking grows, too.

  22. Kevin
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Theism is incongruent with science. Evolution is not negotiable. See here:

    • Kevin
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      If link does not work. In YouTube try:

      “How Physics Fakes Design, and Makes Things Difficult for Theism” – Alex Rosenberg

      • Posted May 20, 2014 at 2:24 pm | Permalink


      • JohnnieCanuck
        Posted May 20, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

        The text in your link is correct but the actual link points a nonexistant location on this site. Curses upon your head, WordPress! works.

        I found that title that uploader ‘tacticalfaith’ gave to the video very unhelpful. I didn’t make it all the way through it so I probably missed the part it refers to.

        In the video Alex Rosenberg debates William Lane Craig in a science vs religon format that for me was mind numbing. YMMV.

  23. Posted May 20, 2014 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    I wonder how to determine which approach will work better for any given indivudual. We know there are different learning styles (though sometimes these differences are oversold), so it seems plausible that there would be different approaches to getting people to understand and “accept” evolution.

    That said, I agree with Jerry – theistic evolution is at best a “stop gap” viewpoint.

  24. Bob J.
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    “Similarly, some readers have been successful in helping others accept evolution. What strategy worked for you?”

    As an atheist with a biology background, I begin by staying away from science and pick holes in the accuracy and moral aspects of Christianity. The first question, “What is the first commandment?” So there are other gods. “What about slavery? The role of women? Cheeseburgers?”

    Once they determine that they are accepting and rejecting based on their own desires, it is easier to start rejecting or at least critically thinking about their religion.

    Both Noah and Adam and Eve become great points to review their childhood biblical stories in light of current critical thinking. You do not need current scientific knowledge to dismiss these stories as highly improbable – indeed impossible.

  25. Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Now let’s get serious. Science versus religion is the subject. Instead of pitching one against the other ad neausium, why not be totally belligerent and posit that religion is merely an evolutionary adaptation or a by-product of war strategies between ancient hunter/gatherer societies. The problem for non-human species is that they cannot get past the obvious evolutionary success of cowards who shy away for the vanguard in any war. Where such laggards can be identified, shamed and possibly put to death then their cowardly advantages begin to be undermined. If, additionally, the soldiers can be imbued with a good dose of religious fervor which promised unspeakable torture in an afterlife for those who flying from the fight or unimagined bliss for those who fall in battle, then bravery as a warring strategy could, in theory, arise. This, ironically, would be due to religion taking hold, not as a peaceful ideology, but as a good fashioned Old Testament fire and brimstone scenario. Some sort of religion could well have developed some hundreds of thousands of years ago, almost from the very beginnings of speech. It would not be impossible, over this evolutionary time, for a propensity for religious conversion to get into the genes or at least survive as a meme. Religion, therefore, would be no more than a game theory strategy. Sophisticated? Yes. Benign? No.

    • Daoud
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      Well that* would be incorrect because though perhaps religion has been used in the manner you described, it would only be a slice of it. It would be false to say religion originated because of it.

      *That being “posit that religion is merely an evolutionary adaptation or a by-product of war strategies between ancient hunter/gatherer societies”

  26. jennieaoh
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Ok, totally off topic, but what is up with that picture of Genie? Why does it look like she’s not wearing pants, and has super-woman-eque boots on?
    I swear, I’m a real person, this is not a prank question.
    Form fitting pants and weird shadows?
    Am I the only one seeing this?

    • Daoud
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      That’s just the shadows on her black pants.

  27. crescente
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Yes,it was Richard Dawkins who influences me and consider myself Agnostic.And also enjoying reading your blog and your line as well.I against the idea of Genie Scott and totally agree with you.

    • Posted May 20, 2014 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      I quite like the idea of Genie Scott, it’s just some of her ideas I object to… 😏


  28. Posted May 20, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that Genie is simply trying to be practical rather than a stickler for technical exactitude. Her willingness to put up with the belief in theistic evolution in the short term in order to further encourage the abandonment of denialism is unfortunate.

    Temporarily accepting the belief that God is actively involved in evolution in the hope that more people will learn about evolution sooner is out of the question. Yet I might be persuaded to look the other way, for a time, were she to only assent to belief in God and evolution but only with His noninvolvement in the evolutionary process of all species if it would sooner halt creationists’ attempts to influence what is taught in science classes. As I see it we have a very serious crisis in America when it comes to science literacy courtesy of the politically active religious people.

  29. Jeffery
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    The big problem with “Genie’s” assertion is that, in the instances where a person of religion is able to “convert” a “non-believer” over to their faith, they always are starting from the position of having an interchange with someone whose ideas are usually diametrically opposed to theirs! Although the “ease of transmission” of an idea may be greater for some when it comes from someone they identify as a member of their “tribe”, the ultimate “tipper” that drags people away from Woo is when any individual comes to adopt the belief that rational and logical thought is the best way to solve problems and answer questions, and that facts are far more valuable than fantasy or fallacy: once this point is reached, it’s either go on, or continue, now in a constant state of cognitive dissonance, to try to live within the “confines” of your current belief system.

  30. krzysztof1
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    If theistic evolution and “atheistic” evolution agree 100% on what actually happened in the history of life on Earth, then the only “addition” to that story by the former would be “God did it [or guided the process].”

    That seems innocuous enough–allowing the religious believer to accept evolution without abandoning the idea of a God who is concerned about us. Theistic and atheistic evolutionists would then agree on or argue about anything connected with the explanation of mutation, adaptation, etc. But to accept “theistic” evolution as scientific is unsound because there’s no scientific evidence for a God to begin with. And if that’s part of the picture of theistic evolution, then it has to be unscientific.

  31. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Very good!

    Not much to say, except that this:

    an unholy mixture of science and superstition

    Is the moment where NCSE and Genie doesn’t only reject good science, or any form of science, but take theology on board. Rather than politics on education and science, it is religious politics.

    When Genie claims something like “all of these positions are compatible with science”, that “there are a huge variety of positions falling under “theistic evolution,””, she makes (unsupportable) theological ad hoc claims on behalf of her accommodationism.

    A smidgen of evidence use find us indeed observing that there is no magic agency described by the theory (or it looses predictivity and gets closer to over-determination both), and that “we have evidence against certain types of theistic evolution”. Genie has to look the other way, and fool her audience to do the same.

    I have to note for completeness that the problem is larger than just being theology, or an unsupportable mix with science. It is full blown incompatible with science. And I would think likely to be harmful to education and science in its own deceitful way.

    It is “a-science”. :-/

  32. Aaron Siek
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    The comments on this post are wide-ranging but seem to have settled mostly on a discussion regarding accommodationism (hard to tell, as new posts keep piling up!). Hardly surprising, since the original post sort of circled a few subjects before doing the same.

    But regarding one point that Genie Scott made — that people are more likely to accept a position, or to change their minds, if an idea is presented to them by someone who is an “ideological peer” — I think there has been a fair amount of work on this, not involving undergraduates only, and which has largely supported this idea. (And many related ideas, such as findings that persons who can be described as more individualistic are more willing to change their mind on various subjects through their own explorations, where as people who are more group oriented are more easily swayed by arguments made by those who are in other ways ideologically similar to them, and less often change their minds on many subjects.) I think Kahan and collaborators at Yale University have done work in this area regarding scientific, cultural, and political beliefs that largely support Scott’s statement. There’s quite a bit of research and data available on Yale’s climate change communications research website, which can be explored here, and which I think can be extended to apply to discussions of other controversial topics:

    I have had reason to spend a lot of time recently amongst people whose jobs it is to communicate climate change information, and to try to effect policy and people’s positions on climate change, and they spend considerable time trying to find reasonable people of various ideologies with whom to work, in order to reach groups of people who might be turned off when presented with data by somebody not within their ideological peer group. They also spend a lot of time working on alternative ways of presenting and framing arguments that might be more acceptable to people who are more willing to listen to arguments from the position of business, say, or conservative politics.

    And we of course have the recent example of work done with anti-vaccine proponents, where it was shown that the more data in support of vaccines was presented to them by pro-vaccine groups, the harder they dug in their heels. It may be that some people are just not going to be reached, at least not purely through rational argument and presentation of data.

    It may be that we will only ever be running up against that same sort of defensive wall when presenting a non-accommodationist form of evolutionary theory to some people. And since that version of evolutionary theory is the only one that I can see as actually true, I guess I have to be okay knowing that I will not be able to reach some people when talking about it, and may even further strengthen the antipathies of others.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 20, 2014 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      that people are more likely to accept a position, or to change their minds, if an idea is presented to them by someone who is an “ideological peer” — I think there has been a fair amount of work on this,

      The first paper I looked up is paywalled, but the abstract seems to claim the reverse:

      “Prior research has found that affect and affective imagery strongly influence public support for global warming. This article extends this literature by exploring the separate influence of discrete emotions. Utilizing a nationally representative survey in the United States, this study found that discrete emotions were stronger predictors of global warming policy support than cultural worldviews, negative affect, image associations, or sociodemographic variables.”

      [ Risk Anal. 2014 May;34(5):937-48. doi: 10.1111/risa.12140. Epub 2013 Nov 12.
      The role of emotion in global warming policy support and opposition.
      Smith N1, Leiserowitz A. ]

      Whenever the supposed merits of accommodationism vs the seeming lack of support for it comes up, I find Rosenhouse’s old analysis suitable:

      “Josh presents a lengthy quotation from an article published in the Journal of Risk Research. Here is a sample:

      Research informed by cultural cognition and related theories is making progress in identifying communication strategies that possess this quality. One is identity affirmation. When shown risk information (e.g., global temperatures are increasing) that they associate with a conclusion threatening to their cultural values (commerce must be constrained), individuals tend to react dismissively toward that information; however, when shown that the information in fact supports or is consistent with a conclusion that affirms their cultural values (society should rely more on nuclear power), such individuals are more likely to consider the information open-mindedly (Cohen, Aronson, and Steele 2000; Cohen et al. 2007; Kahan 2010).

      The other main paragraphs are variations on this theme. Turns out people tend to mistrust information that comes from people they don’t like. Who knew?”

      “It’s just that some of us are not directly involved in school board disputes. Some of us think that such disputes are an almost trivially small front in a much larger battle. We see the pernicious influence of excessive religious belief in almost every aspect of American public life, and we think it would be a good idea if we had a bit less of it. We are tired of being told, preposterously, that science and religion are different, but equally valid, ways of knowing. And so we try to mainstream nonreligious ways of thinking.

      Which brings me to my remark that Josh is looking at the wrong science. He wants to win people over to evolution by showing them that, at worst, they need to make only small alterations to their religious values. The paper he cites is very much in the same vein. That is, we are trying to win people over to a way of thinking about specific political issues by working within their previously held ideas. On the subject of evolution I am pessimistic about the strategy because I believe it is based on a false premise.

      But more to the point, I am far more interested in changing the religious values themselves.
      The big problem that needs fixing is not so much that people reject evolution. It is that people’s religious values are teaching them to be mistrustful of atheists.

      Josh should be looking at the science of advertising. If he did, he would discover nuggets like this:

      Other psychologists do basic research on social marketing. Curtis Haugtvedt hopes social marketers in the field will use what he’s learned about persuasion as a result of his laboratory experiments on recycling. So far, he’s found that emotional appeals–like the famous ad showing an American Indian with a tear rolling down his face as he confronts pollution–work better than cognitive ones when it comes to persuading people to recycle. Emphasizing that “everyone else is doing it” also helps. (Emphasis Added)

      And this:

      Repetition is one way to increase visual fluency and hence appeal. The more people see something, the more they like it. “Advertisers intuitively know that exposing people repetitively to the same stimulus increases liking,” says Winkielman. “That’s one of the reasons they show the same ad over and over again.

      Quite right. Obviously neither of these examples is talking about atheism specifically, but following Josh’s example I think the analogies are pretty clear, especially the part about repetition. As I see it, this is where the New Atheists are making a real contribution.”

      [ ]

      As I understand it, the sources on climate change is an updated version of Rosenau’s old analysis. And in as much as Rosenhouse’s analysis is still pertinent, it is that

      – it is the wrong science to look at re evolution vs religion.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted May 20, 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

        I forgot the blockquotes around the inner quotes. But I think it is still legible.

        Also, if you adhere to “all approaches should be tried”, then the risk analysis is of course the right science for that. On the other hand, what if climate science has missed looking at ad science and its strategies to win people over?

  33. Scott_In_OH
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    In the end, I’m of the view that all approaches should be tried. … I’m curious about readers’ own “conversions” to evolution if they were once religious creationists.

    I think you are exactly right, Jerry; it takes all kinds. If you are naturally soft-spoken and compromise-seeking, go for it. If you tend not to take any prisoners, that’s fine, too.

    This is true because (1) different people respond to different approaches in different circumstances, so no one way always works, and (2) very few people are going to change their thinking based on a single encounter, so even if they blow you off now, they might be convinced by someone else later.

  34. rick A
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Is Dr. Scott contending that in order to work with a religious delusion we must find someone sympathetic to that delusion to somehow corrode it from the inside ?

  35. Posted May 20, 2014 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    I was raised a Christian and given a lot of Creationist propaganda as a youth. I would definitely say that the position of “Theistic evolution” and Christian advocates of it helped keep me from being thoroughly brainwashed and primed me for the naturalistic evolution position that I ultimately adopted. Would reading Dawkins have convinced me without the middle ground? Hard to say. (It was The Selfish Gene not The God Delusion that did the damage, and long before the latter.)

    I think it depends on the flavour of theistic evolution as to whether it is scientifically viable. Is there evidence for divine intervention? No. But there is potentially philosophical wiggle room and space to keep god, if you want to FOR OTHER REASONS? I think so. Saying that theistic evolution is not inconsistent with the evidence, and is therefore scientifically acceptable, is not the same as saying that theistic evolution is supported by the evidence and therefore the strongest scientific position.

    Theistic evolution is important for the children of the religious to be able to cling onto a thread of reality amongst all the brainwashing. As adults, at best they will think more about it and embrace naturalistic evolution (as I did); at worst they will not support teaching Creationism as science, and will be embarrassed by it. (As my theistic evolutionist academic colleague was.)

    • Posted May 20, 2014 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      I think the biggest death blow to theistic evolution when applied in a Christian context is that it indubitably tries to reconcile evolution with the idea that humans are special; i.e., that God designed evolution with us in mind as the goal. The big issue here is that there is no evidence that we have stopped evolving, and worse for the theistic evolution camp, there’s evidence that we still are actively evolving.

      Suppose there comes a time when a descendant of current humans cannot mate with another descendent and there’s a new species that has humans in the middle of the chain. I suppose one could go through the usual mental contortions to make this fit, but being in the middle of an evolutionary chain hardly seems to designate us as specially created.

      At best, one could push the gap back to the beginning and say God launched the whole thing. It would be a valid and testable hypothesis. Show God did this (and that there is a God). Where theistic evolution fails in a big way again is that it refuses to accept the null hypothesis when God continously doesn’t turn up. This is not science.

      • Posted May 20, 2014 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

        I forgot to add that none of this in anyway proves that you are wrong about theistic evolution providing a way out. We just shouldn’t call it science. A generous stance would be pointing out by way of example that there are people who accept empirical evidence but still hold other views not necessary to explain anything. Let the chips fall where they may at that point.

        • Posted May 21, 2014 at 1:13 am | Permalink

          I agree with you. Theistic evolution is NOT science. You would never start with the scientific evidence and conclude theistic evolution. It’s just not (necessarily) incompatible with science, so if people want to believe it then it’s up to them. It’s an unnecessary faith bolt-on.

          Personally, I think that the problems with theistic evolution (as I subscribed to it, which was fairly hands-off) are theological rather than scientific. Ultimately, that resulted in me rejecting Christianity. So, for me, theistic evolution was a definite stepping stone from fundamentalist religion to atheism. In the fight against Creationism, attacking theistic evolution is counter-productive because it removes that stepping stone. In the fight against religion, it is fair game.

  36. JohnnieCanuck
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    I can’t have been the only Christian to realise on my own that if Evolution was where the evidence was, then there was no Adam & Eve, no Fall, no Original Sin and no need for Jesus and His Substitutionary Atonement. If I had chosen to reject Evolution because Jesus, then I would have been insulted to have been lied to like NCSE does because it would have felt like I had been condescended to.

    • Posted May 21, 2014 at 1:37 am | Permalink

      What is the lie? Surely it is the NCSE’s job to comment on science, not on religion. So it does not matter if theistic evolution does not work for a particular religious doctrine. It only matters that (a) the theistic evolution they promote as an alternative to Creationism is consistent with scientific evidence, and (b) they do NOT promote theistic evolution as an alternative to naturalistic evolution.

      I agree about the incompatibility problem, by the way. Most theistic evolutionists I know have either had a less fixed notion of Original Sin and Jesus’ mission on Earth, or have been struggling with these things but are not prepared to abandon their faith for other reasons. Some people are prepared to believe that there is a way for it to work even if they cannot (yet) understand it. Others, myself included, are not. I don’t think it’s condescending to let people decide for themselves which camp they are in. I know some Christians who would probably find in condescending to assume that the Ken Ham theology of Original Sin etc. is the only one.

      • JohnnieCanuck
        Posted May 21, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

        The lie is that evolution doesn’t conflict with the Christian creation myth.

        (a) Theistic Evolution is inconsistent with science. There is no reason to postulate supernatural intervention when natural explanations are sufficient. Alex Rosenberg covers this in more detail in the video at comment #22.

        (b) What else would claiming Theistic Evolution is the way to go if you’re Christian and wanting evolution taught in public schools be, except promoting it?

        • Posted May 21, 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

          (a) Science seeks the truth by ruling out the impossible. Everything else is probabilities and potentially fair game. The scientific position is to go with the highest probabilities but that does not make something with a lower probability automatically wrong. Science is our best understanding of the world – not the only one that could be true. (If it were, we would never have any new discoveries and science would be static.)

          (b) I think that accepting something and promoting it are not the same. The NCSE is not saying that we should all be Theistic Evolutionists and Theist Evolution is the scientific conclusion. That would be promotion. They are saying (I think) that some forms of Theistic Evolution are compatible with the evidence and that for religious kids this can actually be a good and “safe” way for them to be introduced to the scientific evidence. Ultimately, it is scientific evidence that makes someone a theistic evolutionist rather than Young Earth Creationist, after all. No one reads Genesis and thinks: “evolution”!

  37. Filippo
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 5:25 pm | Permalink


  38. Leigh Jackson
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn’t say that theistic evolution is a science stopper. Adding stuff on to what is known to science is different from filling in for what is unknown. That was the function of God before Darwin in “explaining” design in biology.

    God could be making mutations appear indifferent with respect to their usefulness. A supernatural hidden variable. There is no question for science to answer here though. There is no evidence of teleological mutation. The evidence says no teleology in evolution, just like the rest of natural science, because natural selection can explain the appearance of design in biology. Natural “design”.

    Saying that God is the explanation for the origin of life is a science stopper – for those who want to believe it. But as God-did-it is not a scientific answer it won’t stop science. How could God be an explanation? God is the ultimate explanation of everything, if there is a God. Otherwise not. Those who believe God created everything have first to show that God exists, if they are going to claim that God is the answer to a scientific question. And they can’t. So God can not be a science stopper until it is demonstrated that God exists.

    Theistic evolution doesn’t add anything to our scientific understanding of evolutionary biology; it presents a problem. A paradox even. God acts in such a way as to lead science to the opposite of the real truth; acts in such a way that only committed faith could find credible. An intelligence lies concealed behind the evidence. Scientific evolution and TE can only be held together by religious faith. TE is not scientific. TE is the very antithesis of a purely scientific account of the facts. Eugenie Scott should know this.

    • Posted May 21, 2014 at 1:22 am | Permalink

      It all depends what you mean by “explanation”. The theistic evolutionists I have known (and was for a while) have generally taken it for granted that God “did it” in the sense that it was part of God’s plan. HOW God did it was still up for grabs, though. This does not necessarily stop science as, in this mindset, science is discovering how God did in. You then need your Sophisticated Theology to try and fit your religion to what science discovers. I’m not convinced it really works – it didn’t for me – but if others want to do this then that’s their choice and certainly less harmful than rejecting science because it doesn’t comport with religious pre-conceptions.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      But once you mid in religion, it becomes doctrine or revelation, not science. In this way theistic add ons are always science stoppers.

      If Catholics say evolution happens in a way it does not, their followers cannot disagree and present alternative hypotheses. Doing so is heretical.

      • Posted May 21, 2014 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

        That is a not very representative view of how religious scientists think, in my experience. Catholicism may be a science stopper (although many Catholics I’ve met seem much more happy with “heresy” than you might think) but there are definitely religious people out there who will bend their religion to the science, not the other way round. Ultimately, perhaps they will all become atheists and it does not make their religion “scientific” but it does prevent it being a “science stopper”. I had an academic colleague in my old department who fell into this category and I never once saw any sign in his research or teaching that his faith stopped or adversely affected his science – and he was a very vocal anti-Creationist, appearing on debates on Christian radio etc.

        Ultimately, every religious person has to choose whether they want to let their study of science define their worldview. The majority are quite happy not studying science and just believing what they are told. As long as they are not telling lies about the evidence, I am not convinced that it is our job as scientists to keep hammering them with “this is not the most parsimonious explanation of the data”. As rationalists who want to live in a rational world, we have another agenda – but the NCSE is not a rationalist organisation and I do not teach undergrads science as a rationalist, I do so as a scientist. I therefore keep religion out of the classroom and destroy Creationism on scientific and not philosophical grounds.

        • gbjames
          Posted May 21, 2014 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

          Rich, you seem to think that religion and science are compatible because there are scientists who are religious. But this fact (one that none of us disputes) does not lead to the conclusion you think it does. It only points to the fact that people can partition their intellectual worlds and keep their day jobs separate from their Sunday activities. Such partitioning is relatively easy in sciences that religion doesn’t fear… say Chemistry. It becomes progressively more difficult in biology because the delta between reality and Sunday School stories is so stark. But some people (Francis Collins, of course) manage to pull off this little trick, at least they claim to. Such is human psychology.

          As long as someone maintains beliefs in magic, one is maintaining belief that is incompatible with science.

          • Posted May 21, 2014 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

            I’m sorry but you are defining religion as magic to make it incompatible. You are making the mistake that just because some religion is not compatible with science, it follows that all religion is not compatible with science. (And by “compatible” I mean “consistent with the observed evidence” rather than “supported by the observed evidence”.)

            All the time there is room for extra dimensions that we cannot detect but may interact sometimes with our own, there remain religious positions that are compatible with scientific evidence, even if incompatible with (current) scientific conclusions.

            The way I see (some) theistic evolution is like a variation on Schrodinger’s cat. Imagine that the cat has been in the box for several half-lives of the radioactive atom. According to probability, it is most likely dead. The realistic would conclude that. The scientist would conclude that with a certain probability. But we cannot know it until we open (or probe) the box. An ailurophilic optimistic – the owner of the cat, say – may fear that the cat is dead but choose to believe that the cat is still alive despite of the odds because to do otherwise is too distressing. This a non-scientific but legitimate stance to take and compatible with the evidence, albeit at a much lower probability than the realist stance. Yes, it’s motivated by psychology but we are emotional, phycological beings, not robots. It is not our place to tell others how to be motivated.

            It’s “God in the gaps” rather than “God of the gaps”. All evidence so far suggests that once those gaps disappear there will be no God in them but until they are gone, the possibility remains.

            • gbjames
              Posted May 21, 2014 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

              Come on, Rich. Now you’re going to go all “ground-of-being” on us?

              Here in the real world, religion is full of prayers offered to get invisible beings to do things nice. (i.e. “magic”).

              Do you know many Christians who don’t believe in divinities being sacrificed and coming back from the dead? (that’s called “magic”)

              Give me an example of some of your religious friends who DON’T believe in magic. Maybe there’s a sophisticated theologian among them who yammers deistically about grounds-of-being, but if he calls himself a Christian then there is going to be magic involved somewhere in the mix.

              • Posted May 21, 2014 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

                Yes, they believe in things for which there is no evidence – something I cannot do, myself. But lack of evidence for any “magic” does not 100% categorically and emphatically rule out the possibility that such a thing exists but has been so far beyond our detection. Perhaps God only intervenes sporadically via mechanisms we have never encountered and in a way that leaves no obvious trace? I don’t know. It’s all nonsense to me but that does not mean that it’s not theoretically consistent with our observations of the Universe.

                We don’t yet know everything. Do you have to go through tremendous mental/theological gymnastics to make such a position fit the data? Yes! But are such gymnastics possible? Yes. Does that make them right? No. Likely? No. Rational? No. But that’s not the issue.

                I agree that faith in general is the opposite of science. That’s my position as a atheist and a rationalist. However, as a scientist I have to admit that there are many things we don’t understand and that adding extra non-scientific bells and whistles does not necessarily threaten or contradict past evidence. Data is sacred. Conclusions are open to interpretation.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted May 21, 2014 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

              The possibility remains only if you choose to believe in the absence of evidence. Choosing to believe something in the absence of evidence is faith. Faith is not science but its opposite. That is different than assigning confidence intervals to data or probability based on statistical evidence, which is science. Believers are not doing the science and saying that there is x likelihood that there is a god. They are asserting it based on faith.

              • Posted May 21, 2014 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

                Exactly. Their assertions about god are not science. Theistic evolution is a position of faith, not science. The question is whether it is a position that necessarily damages science education. When considering the evidence for evolution, I don’t think it does, so long as the theistic part is left out and/or it is clear that part is an assumption, not a conclusion.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted May 21, 2014 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

                Believers will never grant the god did evolution premise is an assumption. To them, it is truth. In this way, it harms how one understands science and how science works.

              • Posted May 21, 2014 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

                You are wrong there. When I believed in theistic evolution, I was very aware that I had started with an assumption (on faith based on personal history) that God existed. I also assumed that God was not deceitful and therefore scientific evidence (and any conclusions that definitively followed) could be trusted. My current atheism (about 6.9 on the Dawkins scale) is because I could not force myself to believe something on the basis of no evidence, not because there was evidence that actively contradicted what I believed – indeed, I altered what I believed in the face of contradictory evidence. Absence of evidence is evidence for absence but not proof of absence.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted May 21, 2014 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

                And your personal way of contorting science was consistent with church doctrine? This isn’t about people choosing what they want to believe, it is about institutions misrepresenting science.

              • Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

                I went to what would probably be described as a “Free Church”. We were all trying to find our way and make sense of things. I have actually met very few Christians, even in very organised religions like Catholicism, who strictly adhere to all the official doctrines. By the end, I had definitely diverged from the church but then so had a number of other Christians I knew. Did that stop me being a Christian? Who gets to decide? Maybe I wasn’t. I was still a
                “theistic evolutionist”, though, which is the point.

                I think this thread is about both “people choosing what they want to believe” and “institutions misrepresenting science”. Claiming that theistic evolution is a natural conclusion of science is definitely the latter – and would be bad/wrong. Acknowledging that theistic evolutionists exist who place scientific integrity above religious doctrine is the former – and not something for science itself to worry about.

              • gbjames
                Posted May 21, 2014 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

                So, Rich, when you were a theist… What did you believe about god/Jesus/etc.?

              • Posted May 21, 2014 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

                It’s a good question and hard to remember the exact timeline of belief but in essence, something like this: the mission of Jesus on Earth was more about showing us how to live and relate to God then about atoning for original sin. I was never a big fan of the teachings of Paul (despite this being the bedrock of the Christianity that I grew up with) and so was probably quite heretical from the point of view of organised religion. There was no literal Adam and Eve, so no literal Fall, so teachings on those matters were figurative for something else and/or people getting it wrong – I had long abandoned the concept that the Bible and those that wrote it were inerrant.

                Christianity for me at the time was about trying to have a relationship with God and perceive the best way to live one’s life – if following divine guidance, you would have the best possible life. Prayers were clearly not answered, though, and the randomness of suffering/salvation/belief indicated to me that it was not ultimately important. If God existed and was just/fair, it would all somehow come out in the wash at the end, even if I did not know how.

                Whilst I had religious experiences, I never had any that I could not attribute to psychology/physiology. However, I can believe that others have had experiences that they are unwilling to attribute to natural causes even though these are explanations that work. Just because an explanation is plausible, it doesn’t necessarily make it right and people have other motivations beyond detached rational objective analysis of the evidence when choosing which (theoretically) plausible explanation that they favour. (Scientists do this too when favouring their pet theories in the absence of definitive evidence.)

                So, I was pretty sure that miracles did not happen in the modern age. Perhaps it would have made belief too easy, though I never really came to terms with possible reasons why God would actively want belief to be entirely faith-based. (Hence my ultimate atheism, I guess.) As to miracles allegedly performed by Jesus, including the resurrection? It was plausible that God chose to intervene in very rare occasions for very specific reasons. Or it was plausible that Jesus was onto something but had his message horribly corrupted and hijacked by people obsessed with Messiahs and second comings. The problem with the Bible (and/or the reason for its longevity) is that whilst there is only one way to interpret it 100% literally and inerrantly (i.e. Ken Ham), as soon as you accept that it contains mistakes and metaphors – but you don’t know which bits are right or literal – there is an almost infinite possibility of how it can be interpreted.

                The truth is clearly not obtainable from scripture. However, perhaps it was obtainable by seeking God with an open heart/mind? Or perhaps it is the search itself that is important and that is why the answers are so elusive? If you start from an assumption of God, there are many possibilities that can work. If you drop that assumption, as I did, I think that there is only one place you are likely to end up. Perhaps by seeking God with an open mind, I did find the truth: there is no God. Or, perhaps, there is something hidden. Perhaps God is an evil bastard who likes to play games with his creations and make it look like he doesn’t exist. Not a god that I would want to worship but it’s compatible with the evidence.

                A long, rambly answer to a short question! Is that what you meant?

                Bottom line: I can sympathise with Genie Scott’s position and agree with Jerry’s suggestion that multiple approaches by multiple different types of people is probably the best way to combat scientific illiteracy.

              • gbjames
                Posted May 22, 2014 at 6:16 am | Permalink

                Long, yes. And not quite to the point of my question.

                Did you believe that Jesus died and was resurrected? Was his mom a virgin? Did wise men visit? Did you believe any of the stories in the bible to be true?

                Did you believe whatever you believed because you had evidence for it being so or when you were a christian did you take it on faith?

                In religion, faith is a virtue. In science the opposite holds. And so the two are incompatible despite human brains being capable of maintaining both at once.

              • Posted May 22, 2014 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

                I covered Jesus, miracles and the resurrection above.

                Science determined what was possible, regardless of how improbable. Theology hashed out the rest on the basis of the foundation premise “If there is a God then…”. Faith and personal experience caused me to favour that foundation premise until I didn’t.

                For me, even as a Christian, science and observations of the natural world were a higher authority than scriptures or priests – with the caveat that absence of evidence is not proof of absence and some things deemed unlikely at one time point (e.g. long non-coding RNA) turn out to exist when we look a different way.

                So… impossibility trumped faith trumped probability. (Although probability was also considered when constructing my theology.) I’m not going to argue that the result made perfect sense (because I don’t now believe it) and there were a lot of unknowns but that’s a problem for theology, not science.

                So… compatible for me, yes. In conflict? Also yes. But not as much as you might think if you are looking for that conflict, as many here are. Remember, I was looking to remove that conflict, and prepared to readjust either my theology or my understanding of the evidence (up to a point) to do so.

              • gbjames
                Posted May 23, 2014 at 5:28 am | Permalink

                Well, Rich, you haven’t convinced me but you have exhausted me. I missed the bit about resurrection in the earlier comment because it was, as you said, “long and rambly”.

                Your case for compatibility relies on subjective make-believe of the faithful: “compatible for me…”, etc. This is not, as I’ve repeatedly said, the same as religion and science and religion being compatible any more than arboreal living and domestic pigs are compatible just because I believe there are some living in the neighbor’s lovely maple tree.

              • Posted May 23, 2014 at 5:57 am | Permalink

                Well, that’s OK. You’ve not convinced me either! Particularly with your not-really-analogous analogy, I’m afraid. A theoretical god is nothing like a domestic pig or arboreal living, both of which we can examine, know something about and have evidence for. I think you have missed the point, so I’m clearly not doing a good enough job making it and I don’t think additional comments will help. Maybe it just comes down to a different understanding of what it means for two things to be “compatible”. (I mean it in a fairly weak non-contradictory sense, rather than a strong mutually supporting sense.)

              • gbjames
                Posted May 23, 2014 at 6:28 am | Permalink

                A deity is exactly like the kind of swine that makes its living in the trees. Both are imaginary beings. And the fact that someone believes that they exist doesn’t make them real. My profound belief in the maple-tree pigs makes them “real to me”, which seems to be sufficient in your mind to say that swine and arboreal living are compatible.

              • Posted May 23, 2014 at 7:44 am | Permalink

                Well, arboreal living is compatible with a kind of pig that could make its living in trees, by definition. But that would not be the domestic pig, which we know cannot. Sorry but your analogy is false and your speculation on what I think is sufficient is wrong. The fact that you think it isn’t simply shows that you do not understand the point I am making. Furthermore, such a flippant attempt at an analogy cheapens your argument and comes across as “I think your view is stupid and I’m not paying attention”. So, I give up. I think it’s covered adequately in other comments anyway.

              • GBJames
                Posted May 23, 2014 at 7:54 am | Permalink

                You don’t seem to understand, Rich. These domestic pigs ARE capable of arboreal life! IT IS REAL TO ME so these things must be compatible!

                Your continued insistence that my tree-swine are impossible makes my point, I think.

              • Posted May 23, 2014 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

                I think I do understand you, GB. You make a very valid critique of a certain kind of religious belief – just not the kind of religious belief that I am suggesting is compatible (non-contradictory) with science.

                There is an important distinction between irrational belief in things that are proposed to exist within our current understanding/technology and thus should have been observed versus things that are proposed to exist outside of our current understanding/technology and thus would not have been expected to have been observed.

                It’s a different between religion telling science where it should (not) go and science telling religion where it cannot go. I see the latter as compatible with science, for science is still the ultimate authority on what is not permitted. (I’m not advocating it as a belief system and you can find many criticisms of it but directly contradicting science is not one of them.)

            • Posted May 21, 2014 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

              * All the time there is room for extra dimensions that we cannot detect but may interact sometimes with our own *

              Ah, but post-LHC, post-Planck we know that that is not the case (at everyday energy scales).


              • Posted May 21, 2014 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

                Under those conditions. I’m not saying it’s a strong position – it’s not. I’m just playing Devil’s advocate. I don’t think that Physics has a complete working model of the Universe yet, though. If people want to imagine things in the unknown, be they aliens or gods, that is their choice – as long as they don’t claim that it what the evidence supports or make claims that are empirically and demonstrably false.

              • Posted May 22, 2014 at 12:09 am | Permalink

                Well, they can imagine what they like … but such beings can’t touch us, since Seriously.


              • Posted May 22, 2014 at 1:04 am | Permalink

                Interesting and great article. (URL slightly wrong. Should be: But to quotemine, a little (my bold):

                Of course we can’t be sure, but that’s not the point. We can’t be sure that the motion of the planets isn’t governed by hard-working angels keeping them on their orbits, in the metaphysical-certitude sense of being “sure.” That’s not a criterion that is useful in science. Rather, in the face of admittedly incomplete understanding, we evaluate the relative merits of competing hypotheses…’

                Except that in this context, that is exactly the point. We are not talking about a scientific position but a religious one. They do not need to consider competing hypotheses to avoid contradicting the evidence for their goal is not to find the scientifically most plausible explanation. They just need to avoid directly contradicting data. Again: absence of evidence is not proof of absence.

                I completely agree with the article, I just don’t think it makes a case that theistic evolution is necessarily in conflict with observed data – you just need to rationalise away why we have failed to see any evidence of “new physics”, i.e. it is kept hidden and/or does not affect the things we have measured so far.

              • Posted May 22, 2014 at 1:17 am | Permalink

                Sure, we cannot be sure. There is no *reason* not to believe anything you like that science doesn’t proscribe. But we don’t need proof to understand that such belief is *irrational* (that is, not proportional to the evidence).

                (If you don’t accept that, I’ve got a boxful of philosophical China to sell you!)

                Theistic evolution thus becomes a *god of the gaps* argument, deprecated by prudent religionists: “We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, /Letters and Papers from Prison/ (1997, p. 311)


                PS. My correct but malformed link was to Sean’s earlier article. And the Discovery magazine article is a *reprint* of the *Seriously* one from Sean’s personal blog.

              • Posted May 22, 2014 at 1:28 am | Permalink

                I am not claiming that theistic evolution is rational. It’s not. I am claiming that it is not necessarily at odds with scientific evidence and can therefore be ignored in science classes. As I said, it is (or can be) “God in the gaps” not “God of the gaps”. God’s existence is assumed and God gets shoe-horned into what is unknown because there is no positive evidence in the known; as opposed to God’s existence being concluded because there is stuff we don’t know so God did it. It’s a subtle but important distinction. (In both cases, God will hopefully disappear once we understand everything!)

              • Posted May 22, 2014 at 1:54 am | Permalink

                Well, I think you’re making distinctions without differences. it’s still sneaking God in without evidence and still a-scientific.

                “Just ‘cos science doesn’t know everything doesn’t mean you can fill in the gaps with whatever fairy-tale most appeals to you!” — Dara O Briain


              • Posted May 22, 2014 at 4:28 am | Permalink

                Well, you can. (And some do.) You just shouldn’t!

                Of course, that also over-simplifies things. (Much as I love Dara O’Briain and personally agree with him!) Most people in that position are filling in the gaps with whatever they have been brought up to believe, which is not quite so irrational and stupid as picking an appealing fairy tale. Unless you have been in the grip of such ingrained belief, and had your whole life built around it, it might be hard to appreciate just how difficult it can be to give it up, whether rational or not. Clinging onto it as long as possible until really sure it is wrong is actually quite a rational thing to do.

                Although I got over religion, I still have a similar problem with football teams. I have been a Man Utd supporter since childhood and despite having no rational basis for not switching as an adult, I find myself unable to change allegiance!

              • Posted May 22, 2014 at 4:59 am | Permalink

                & now you are splitting hairs over different senses of *can*! 😉

                * Clinging onto it as long as possible until really sure it is wrong is actually quite a rational thing to do. *

                Not rational, really. Psychologically valid in some sense, maybe.

                Man Utd … not a kabaddi team?


              • Posted May 22, 2014 at 5:31 am | Permalink

                Of course I’m splitting hairs! I’m a scientist! Precision is everything. :op

                You’ll have to explain the kabaddi comment, I’m afraid. (I’m a white Anglo-Saxon Englishman and have never lived in India or Bangladesh.)

              • Posted May 22, 2014 at 5:45 am | Permalink

                I was. I’m now an IT consultant, of sorts. I leave it to you to decide it that means precision is as important to me now or not…

                Re kabbadi: It was a riff on my comment elsewhere about the World Cup, when soccer was not specifically mentioned.


              • Posted May 22, 2014 at 1:09 am | Permalink

                Sorry. Replied to the other comment via the email button before seeing the HTML correction.

              • Posted May 22, 2014 at 1:18 am | Permalink

                OK! 😉

            • Daniel Wilcox
              Posted May 21, 2014 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

              I have a question. When you became an atheist, how did you deal with the loss of ethics, allegedly, having an objective basis?

              I’ve lived in the Middle East and seen the consequences of wrong ethics. I do think many basic ethical choices are objectively true–not killing innocent people–who aren’t your kin, not being intolerant, not torturing, etc.

              I was a Christian for 58 years, but finally gave up the ghost;-) because the evidence just wasn’t there for many of the doctrinal and miracle claims; and Christians in the U.S. are believing weirder and weirder stuff.

              But unlike many atheists,(Dawkins’ infamous statement,the denial of free will, Harris, etc.),I find plenty of evidence that ethics are objectively based. That human rights do exist, not in nature but objective existence, I suppose like mathematics exists. I don’t think slavery, female genital mutilation, torture are cultural/social constructs).

              Heck, scientists can’t even do work if behavior isn’t honest. A few scientific frauds come to mind, (not nearly the horrible record of religion).

              Any suggestions or a good book you would recommend?

              • Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

                Actually, I did not find that my ethics changed much. Even as a Christian, one picks and chooses from the smorgasbord of rules and regulations that are available. Jesus himself did not seem to be a big fan of draconian objective morality. I largely adhered to the “Golden Rule” and still do. That is not unique to Jesus/Christianity but provides a pretty solid guide. It always seemed apparent to me that morality and ethics can never be objective black-and-white rules, and should also change as society and technology changes. For me, atheist ethics are driven by a combination of empathy and the desire/responsibility to generate a fair and functioning society. (I’m one of those liberal socialist types.)

                I can’t recommend any books because I think I abandoned the idea of objective ethics before I abandoned my faith. Sorry.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted May 21, 2014 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

          But it isn’t science. Science, bent towards faith is not science. It is faith. The decision that god did it wasn’t through scientific methods; it was revelation. It becomes doctrine. Therefore it is a science stopper as all religion is.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 22, 2014 at 3:39 am | Permalink

      I find it very confusing to try to grok a comment discussing science when it is diluted by magical claims. (“God could” et cetera.)

      Some of the problematic claims:

      – “A supernatural hidden variable.” Which is rejected by quantum physics re chemistry.

      – “God is the ultimate explanation of everything”. Dawkins notes, correctly, that a magic agent can’t be the cause of the universe – too complex.

      – “Scientific evolution and TE can only be held together”. They can’t, as Jerry notes. They can be compartmentalized in the same organism, observably, but that is completely different.

      I’m quite sure you didn’t meant to make those claims, but maybe you can understand how it makes a response difficult for some readers?

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 22, 2014 at 6:08 am | Permalink


  39. Tyle
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    I have talked with probably ~10 religious people about whether evolution is true. I have taken a very hard line approach in each case. That is, I have advocated unapologetically for physicalism – for example, I try to help them imagine that they are ‘simply’ a collection of jiggling atoms, and insist that the science is definitive.

    This has been successful between 0 and 2 times. Abysmal, maybe, but much better than I think I’d have done with accomodationism (which is more a statement about me than about my interlocutors – I simply don’t think I could be very passionate or engaging while pulling those punches). As a consolation prize, several more of these people came to at least understand the naturalistic position, despite not being willing or able to accept it. I think that this has some value in itself.

  40. Posted May 23, 2014 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    Although I agree that it is not the best approach to construct a worldview, I am surprised that so many people seem to struggle with the concept that religious scientists might actually adopt a scientific approach to their religion. Just as theology is philosophy plus one extra (unnecessary) assumption that God exists, many religious scientists have just inserted an extra assumption regarding the (possible) existence of God, but otherwise use the same approaches to assess the evidence. This evidence includes history (including the existence of religions and scriptures) and their own personal experiences. That does not mean that they are not amenable to reason and do not change their theology/beliefs in the light of fresh evidence/arguments. Some of them even become atheists eventually! :op

    The essence of Science is a philosophy of humility. It is the ultimate recognition that everything we believe might actually be wrong and needs to tested against the evidence. It is also explicitly a method that eliminates unnecessary variables/assumptions. However, sometimes things appear unnecessary but still exist – or only become necessary when a different or more complex scenario is examined. I am slightly dismayed by the arrogance of belief that some people display in their current scientific understanding of the world. Yes, you might have the belief system that best fits the current evidence but that does not mean that you have the only one that works nor that your beliefs are future-proof. If you fail to recognise this, you risk becoming as unreasonable and dogmatic as that which you despise.

    When wearing a scientist hat, I think that we have to be very careful about attacking an assumed nature of someone’s beliefs, and stick to attacking specific unscientific claims (such as a literal Adam and Eve). Furthermore, these should be attacked on scientific grounds, not because they are bad religion. When wearing our atheist hat, bad theology is of course fair game. There is definitely a place for strident atheism in the fight to make a better world (and I actually err towards stridency myself) but that place is not the science classroom.

    I think I am in danger of a roolz violation by continuing to respond to questions/criticisms, so I will shut up now. Feel free to email me (cabbagesofdoom at gmail) if you want to thrash it out some more. (I might be wrong!)

  41. johndhynes
    Posted May 25, 2014 at 12:43 am | Permalink

    I was taught Genesis in a public school in the Bible Belt. Then I went to a religious school and was taught evolution by my pastor.

    I think that theistic evolution just delayed my rejection of religion. If I had had to choose only between naturalistic evolution and Biblical literalism, I would have rejected religion along that obvious stupidity. Instead, while I continued to doubt, I remained with religion for a few more years. However, the controversy inspired a life-long fascination with the subject. The more I learned, the smaller room I saw for God’s role, from dramatic and miraculous interventions, to imperceptible nudges through opportune mutations and environment, to setting initial conditions that would deterministically result in us.

    Growing up, I never talked to anyone who was openly atheist, which made it difficult to completely break free of the indoctrination and go against my church, family and friends.

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