Michael Egnor, that neurosurgeon whose tenuous grip on rationality makes him so popular with the creationists, thinks he has a gotcha moment with some notorious atheist. That rude godless fellow, who is me, said this, which is accurate:
…greater science literacy, which is going to lead to the erosion of religion, and then we’ll get this nice positive feedback mechanism going where as religion slowly fades away we’ll get more and more science to replace it and that will displace more and more religion which will allow more and more science in and we’ll eventually get to the point where religion has taken that appropriate place as a side dish rather than the main course. And if you separate out the ethical message from religion — what have you got left — you got — you got a bunch of fairy tales, right?
Here’s Egnor’s foolish interpretation of that comment — and I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of dogmatic Christians interpret it the same way.
In the midst of a furious national debate about intelligent design, Darwinism, and metaphysical bias and indoctrination in science education, one has to wonder why Dr. Myers would state plainly that the agenda of Darwinists is to advance atheism in the classroom. Why would Dr. Myers state unequivocally on film that a fundamental goal of science education is the suppression of religious belief?
The most parsimonious explanation is that he means it.
What nonsense. I did not “state unequivocally on film that a fundamental goal of science education is the suppression of religious belief.” I do not peddle atheism in the classroom, and am actually very careful, since I am a vocal atheist in the blogosphere, to reassure my students that apostasy is not required to get an “A” in my classes, and that they are free to hold whatever religious beliefs they want — the biology classroom is about evidence, not belief, and explanations supported by logic, not revelation.
I do think science erodes faith, but not because I hammer students with doctrinaire atheism; I don’t need to. Here’s a little anecdote I’ve told a few people that illustrates my attitude.
I was once in an argument with a staunch creationist (a not uncommon experience) in which he berated me, among a multitude of godless liberal college professors, for atheist indoctrination in the classroom…just like Michael Egnor. He was upset because, not unreasonably, people with his beliefs fear to send their children to those reputable colleges because they’ll come home changed and in doubt, and questioning the faith that they work so hard to instill. He thought the same thing, that our classes were places where we actively suppress religion.
I told him that I never criticize his religion in the classroom, nor do I push atheism. Instead, it’s like this: what he does with his religion is the equivalent of telling his kids that the sky is green, and worse, assuring them that this is a fundamental tenet of their religion and that the whole structure comes crashing down if they question it. They get in my classroom, and I don’t tell them their religion is wrong — I tell them to open their eyes and look up.*
That’s where science hurts religion. We have ideals of skepticism and empiricism that do conflict with most religions — I know, a bunch of you will tell me that your religion allows for those values, too, and I’ll argue with you a different time — and that’s where the antagonism arises. I don’t claim the fundamental goal of science education is the suppression of religious belief — the fundamental goal of science education is to question everything. It’s merely a side effect and their own damn fault that religion fares poorly when subjected to criticism.
*I wish I could claim that my crushing reply silenced my opponent and he rethought everything he claimed about science, but of course it didn’t — intransigent creationists never think. Instead, he tried to argue, “well, what if the sky is green, and your unspiritual eyes simply can’t see it?” Etc., etc., etc. And so it goes.