Christian Creationists are accusing scientists of being defensive, ignorant, reprehensible, and troubling. They might be right.
The NAS just published the latest version of its book on Evolution and Creationism (free, by the way: Your tax dollars at work) and we are now seeing the trickle of reaction from the largely creationist Christian community turn from a trickle to a drizzle.
I myself think it is a good book, but I believe they made two very important (and closely linked) errors. First, they should not have discussed creationism at all. It should be a book about evolution, with a strong statement about the importance of teaching evolution in schools as an integral part of the life science curriculum (and other curricula). Second, if they are going to discuss creationism and/or religious beliefs, there is no reason to make the overt, rather pandering statement that evolution and religion are compatible. That’s like saying that apples and oranges are compatible. Technically they are in a kind of null sense, but what is really relevant is that the question itself: “Are they compatible?” is not a valid scientific question at all. Whether or not this (evolution, science) is a religious question is a matter of how a particular religion works, how it deals with the social, material, and political world in which it exists, and is a problem (or not) for that religion. The NAS should be busy promoting and guiding scientific research, not pandering to religious people.
Yes, of course, the NAS should be involved very strongly in defending scientific research and education from attacks from creationists. I strongly believe that. Vigorously. With teeth bared and claws extended. But I simply to not believe that every time any introductory level public document or book comes out on evolution that it needs to address the creationist issue. There are two reasons for this:
1) It is the tail wagging the dog. Creationists, in a sense, “win” whenever a text that is supposed to be about evolution also is about creationism. Yes, keep up the vigorous fight, keep up the anti-creationism rhetoric in many different ways, but do not indurate the entire scientific discourse with references to creationism.
2) You can’t use those tests or parts of texts (or videos or other media) that address creationism in a public school science classroom! What could have been a resource for teachers is not because of this added rhetoric. Why? If you need to ask why, then you must not be a science teacher in a public school. Go ahead and ask, we’ll discuss it.
In a sense, putting a reference to creationism (no matter what you say about it, no matter how wrong you say it is) into every book and article meant to teach about or promote evolutionary biology, is pretty much what the wedge strategists want you to do. In a very real way, for creationists, all publicity is good publicity. If you don’t believe that, then you have never had a conversation with a fundie. The very fact of denigration of a religious group or perspective, in the context of Judeo-Christian beliefs and probably more broadly, is a source of great strength and inspiration.
When you attack creationism, you contribute to the martyrdom of creationists. Therefore there is a positive effect for the cause of creationism with each and every attack. Therefore, the attacks must be well thought out and not shotgun-like.
And you know, the reverse is true. Think about it. What fires up the pro-evolutionist activist more than the rhetoric of creationism? With that in mind, I report below comments from a few creationists, reported in the Christian press this morning, for your delectation.
“Why are the evolutionists so defensive?” posed The Creation Museum’s Daid Menton. “If their ideas are so compelling, I would think they would welcome a challenge.”
“Unintended ignorance is excusable. Unwillingness to learn is not,” expressed Director of the Center for Scientific Creation, Dr. Walt Brown. “Preventing students from learning is reprehensible.”
Scientists who wrote the new book say that the evidence for evolution can be “fully compatible” with religion.
However, the Bible says that sin preceded death, whereas evolution implies that death preceded sin. The troubled theory claims that “prehistoric life” existed hundreds of millions of years ago – well before Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden some 6,000 to 7,000 years ago. [CBN]
So, you defensive, ignorant, reprehensible troubled evolutionists… put up your dukes!