Ed Brayton has an interesting post on one of my favorite subjects. It is based on remarks made by two of Ed’s commenters. Let’s have a look.
Commenter Sastra begins with the following:
I suspect that ID advocates haven’t bothered to condemn Stein’s statement because they have all intuitively translated it into what Stein actually meant. They translate everything into their own idiom, because they are fighting a different war. It’s not about the science.
“Science leads to killing people” doesn’t really mean what it appears to say. Instead, it means:
“If you base your world view only on science — and leave out God — then you are an atheist. Atheism leads to killing people. Atheism is the real enemy. We’re going after atheism.”
Darwinism = atheism. Flat out. That’s why even educated cdesign proponentists don’t feel strange confusing evolution with abiogenesis. It’s why they can ask how “Darwinism” explains how the planets got here, or where the universe comes from, with a straight face, and get nods of approval from their listeners.
I think there is a lot of truth to this. The Young-Earthers, in particular, are quite unambiguous that this is how they see the matter. I don’t have a reference handy, but I recall one creationist book bluntly saying that it is a mistake to think that evolution was a scientific theory pioneered by Charles Darwin. Actually it is an idea that has always been with us in the form of nonbelief, according to this charming fellow.
But we ought to go a bit further. The fact that creationists so casually link evolution to atheism, and ask stupid questions like, “How does evolution explain abiogenesis?” is indicative of a pathology that afflicts many people in American society. Specifically, the unwillingness to do even a tiny bit of homework to understand the arguments made by people on the other side. The people I meet at creationist conferences are completely uncritical in accepting what their preachers tell them about evolution. The idea that they should read some books by scientists to learn about evolution never seems to enter their minds. They seem to have no interest at all in learning what scientists really think, or what evolution really says.
That is what leads to that blend of ignorance and arrogance that is so typical of creationist thought and writing. They know nothing about modern science, but pretend to know a great deal.
I think this is why those who defend the theory of evolution are somewhat polarized on this issue. The obvious rebuttal is to point out that evolution does NOT mean atheism. You need not follow it strictly all the way down: there are many theists who feel comfortable incorporating any and all scientific findings into their faith. Make this clear, and the ID tactic will fail. And you don’t get into the quagmire of defending atheism.
BUT — because the ID issue has been framed by its advocates as a full-scale attack on atheism — atheists feel required to fight back. What group wouldn’t, under the same circumstances? Otherwise, it feels as if the evolutionary side is conceding that yes, atheism is immoral, and atheism leads to immorality — but evolutionists aren’t all atheists, so that makes it okay.
Henry Neufeld then replies to Sastra, beginning with:
The problem I’ve found is that it is very easy to be misunderstood when defending evolution by making it clear that it is not atheism, which of course it isn’t. But it can easily sound like, “The ToE would be bad if it was atheism or fit well with atheism, but it isn’t, it doesn’t, so it’s OK.”
This might describe the way some atheists view the matter, but it certainly does not describe the way I view it. In listening to theistic evolutionists I have never had the feeling they were arguing that if evolution really did imply atheism, then it would be acceptable to reject it on that basis. I have always taken the arguments of theistic evolutionists at face value. In thier view there is no contradiction between evolution and a meaningful Christian faith.
My only beef with theistic evolution is that the arguments made on its behalf are very, very bad. I have yet to see a remotely plausible answer to the question of why a God of love and justice creates through four billion years of evolution by bloodsport. And there is no question that evolution makes it seem very unlikely that human beings are the purpose of creation. There is also the fact that evolution kills the argument from design in biology, thereby kicking the legs out from under the best argument ever devised for God’s existence.
Sure, if you are only interested in what is logically possible you can get around these points. But the fact remains that traditional theism becomes much harder to defend in the face of evolution than it was before evolution arrived on the scene.
More generally, I argue against the claims of ID folks not because of how they have framed the issue, but simply because I believe their claims are false and would be damaging to society were they included in science curricula. These are points that anyone who cares about science and science education ought to be able to agree on, regardless of their individual religious views.
I also argue on behalf of atheism first because I believe it to be true, and second because I don’t believe there can be any long-term solution to the evolution wars until the hold of religion on American culture is weakened. Science and religion are flatly at odds, the heroic efforts of theistic evolutionists to argue otherwise notwithstanding, and these battles will not cease until a significant number of people come to understand that learning your science from preachers and holy books is not a reasonable way of approaching things.
Replying to Ed’s post, commenter Brandon writes:
I’ve always felt that when angry atheists say that science leads to atheism, they’re playing right into the fundies’ hands.
It is not “angry atheists” who are playing into the hands of the fundamentalists, it is the facts that are doing that. I wouldn’t say science leads to atheism, but it is certainly true that atheism is vastly more popular among scientists than it is among the population at large. It’s not hard to figure out why that would be the case.
In the interests of ending this post on a point of agreement, let me note one more statement from Neufeld:
The only reason the theory of evolution is OK is that it is good science, and correct insofar as we know to date. Whether it helps me as a theist fill out my theological system, or whether it helps one be a fulfilled atheist as Dawkins noted is irrelevant.
Quite right. Well said!