Jerry Coyne and P. Z. Myers, those little scamps, are kvetching about the NCSE again. It seems that the NCSE posted a link to this series of videos defending the compatibility of evolution and Christianity. Here is the NCSE’s post:
Interested in exploring the issues raised by science and faith? A free webcast series promises to assemble “thirty of today’s most inspiring Christian leaders and esteemed scientists for a groundbreaking dialogue on how an evolutionary worldview can enrich your life, deepen your faith, and bless our world.” To be broadcast throughout December 2010 and January 2011, “Evolutionary Christianity — Conversations at the Leading Edge of Faith” includes interviews with NCSE Supporter Kenneth R. Miller, discussing “Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul,” as well as Ian Barbour, John Cobb, Michael Dowd, John F. Haught, Karl W. Giberson, Owen Gingerich, Denis Lamoureux, John Polkinghorne, John Shelby Spong, Charles H. Townes, and a host of further scientists and scholars who regard their acceptance of evolution as expanding and enriching their faith.
Jerry got the ball rolling with a post entitled “NCSE Becomes BioLogos.” BioLogos, recall, is an organization that promotes the consistency of evolution with evangelical Christianity. Jerry writes:
The NCSE should stop promoting this nonsense. Clearly, the panjandrums there have made an explicit decision that they’ll best further the teaching of evolution by cozying up to Christians, even if those Christians (like Kevin Kelly) have a completely teleological and unscientific view of what evolution is. It seems as if they don’t care what kind of evolution is endorsed, just so long as it’s called “evolution.” God directed it toward certain ends? That’s okay! Evolution is “undirected” and “purposeless”? No, we can’t have that, even if it’s true: might scare the Christians!
For what is an organization profited, if it shall gain the whole world, and lose its own soul?
P. Z. posted similar thoughts:
The problem is that the NCSE is not neutral on atheism vs. religion, but has clearly taken a side in preferring one particularly fuzzy, liberal, soft version of Christianity as its ‘acceptable’ religious belief. I have a preference for it myself — it’s what I was brought up in, and I think the country would be in far better shape if there was more widespread support for a faith that quietly defers to science on material matters and supported progressive ethical values — but that does not justify exclusively endorsing it, especially since I think promoting atheism would have even better consequences for the nation. If the NCSE is to be respected as an honest broker, supporting only better science education, it can’t do so by this weird sectarian favoritism.
What raises hackles is that once again NCSE is caught promoting a cult event, a group of theologians and preachers gathering to babble incompetently about evolution. As usual, they’re being selective: Spong and Giberson and their ilk will always get a thumbs-up from the NCSE, but they don’t seem to appreciate that they are almost as great a minority as atheists, and that supporting this one slippery version of Christianity is not going to suddenly win over the majority to their side. The fact that most of the participants at this conference are generally nice people is not a reason to argue that they’re right.
Over at the Panda’s Thumb, Richard Hoppe offers a counterpoint.
I generally consider myself pretty touchy about intrusions of religion in places it doesn’t belong, but in this case I just don’t see it. It looks to me like all the NCSE did was post a link to some videos that are likely to be of interest to a large segment of their membership. For what it’s worth, I might want to watch some of those videos myself. What’s the problem? I see nothing in the brief post to suggest the NCSE is endorsing the specific views of the speakers. If the post had said something like, “Contrary to the demented ravings of certain atheist dumbasses there is no conflict between evolution and Christianity. Go watch these videos and learn the TRUTH!” then I think Jerry and P. Z. would have a point. As it is, to attack a pretty tactfully worded announcement with such vitriol seems a bit unfair.
From a strategic standpoint the bigger worry is that people will watch the videos, notice the manifest inadequacies of their arguments, and come away believing more firmly than ever that evolution and Christianity are incompatible. That, at any rate, is the effect such things usually have on me.
If we are to go looking for trouble we can pose a hypothetical. Suppose a group of atheist luminaries got together and produced a series of videos explaining precisely why evolution and Christianity are incompatible. Such a series would certainly be of interest to large segments of the NCSE membership (not just atheists, I would assume) and could be linked to in a manner similar to the above. Would they link? For myself, I’ll worry about it when it happens.
There is a real line that is sometimes crossed in these discussions, and that is where we should focus our attention. It is the line between saying, “Many Christians accept evolution,” which is true and relevant, and saying “Only religious fundamentalists and fanatical atheists think science and faith are at odds,” which is false and unserious. It is the difference between the reasonable statement that it is poor strategy to fight local political battles by sending in polarizing figures who will sidetrack the discussion, and the unreasonable statement that atheists should only express themselves in terms so tame and milquetoast that there is little danger of anyone noticing they are speaking at all.
There are times when it becomes sadly necessary to argue, perhaps heatedly, with our friends. But we should not be looking for excuses to do so.