A week or so ago, John West pimped a new Disco. Inst. website on faith and religion in the Washington Post’s On Faith blog. His claims were as mendacious as you would expect from looking at the site, most bizarrely inventing a movement of “new theistic evolutionists,” when the folks he names are simply repeating a position on the compatibility of faith and science which has been part of Christian theology since the time of Augustine of Hippo. You don’t need to know more about West’s piece.

NCSE Faith Project Director Peter Hess responded in On Faith today. His brief reaction to West: “He is wrong.” In particular:

West’s question [“Is evolution compatible with God?”] is valid, his dichotomy is a sham. Consider the humble grapefruit. You can say it’s yellow and it’s roughly spherical. Asking, “Is this fruit yellow or spherical?” has no meaning. Yellowness and sphericity are not contradictory; likewise, “religion” and “evolution” can be complementary ways of looking at the same universe.

He adds:

West’s views are a skewed Cliff Notes version of the serious academic work surrounding faith and evolution–mostly wrong, mostly missing the important points, a repackaging of old ideas and a parroting of discredited arguments. I have taught graduate classes in theology, and if a student turned in something like West’s essay on the issue of faith and evolution, it would merit him a D-.

But Hess doesn’t focus only on West.

Too often, debates over the public perception of evolution are dominated by the fringes, by fundamentalist Christians and others who reject basic science due to their literal reading of the Bible and by ardent atheists who reject religion because they’ve embraced metaphysical naturalism ? that nature is all that exists. But the silent majority ? that spans the spectrum from theism to atheism ? have no problem reconciling their religious beliefs with established sciences such as evolution, or with new sciences such as stem cell research. My work at the National Center for Science Education brings me into contact with voices across that spectrum and I’ve found that honest, open, and inclusive dialog is not only possible, but vital for our children’s education, for the credibility of religious traditions, and for the continued role of the United States as a scientific and moral leader in our increasingly interconnected world.

Anyway, the whole piece is worth reading. Enjoy.


  1. #1 GregB
    June 17, 2009

    It may be worthy ready, but they’re both completly wrong. Science, evolution, and, let’s just call it “Reality” is, well, REAL. Religion is made up bronze age dogma.

    The dichotomy isn’t “The grapefruit is both yellow and round” because both of those things are true about the grapefruit. The real dichotomy is more like “Should proper dentistry include the concept of the tooth fairy?”

    He’s making the assumption that religion and the supernatural is just as valid an real as the fact that grapefruits exist. But as Carl Sagan once said “Extrodinary claims require extrodinary proof”. What the religious people seem to be incapable of understanding is that they are the ones making the extrodinary claim and yet they want everyone to accept that claim with no proof whatsoever. We’re expected to simply believe that an invisible god exist and that there is some sort of second invisible universe where we all go to when we die and that these aren’t just the myths of a bronze age society.

    And then he pulls out the “metaphysical naturalism” bullshit. When religious apologist use this tactic what they’re really saying is “If I can pretend that science and reality is just another opinion, just another religion, then we can throw the same doubt on it as they throw upon religion” they’re admitting that religion is unprovable superstition. They’re just trying to say that science is also unprovable beliefs (which is totally wrong) and that they both deserve equal respect since they’re both just belief systems.

    But once again, the religious apologist is lying. Science is not a belief system. Science is a way of learning the truth. Religion is a way of rationalizing fear. There’s no truth there. There’s no proof and no evidence. It’s nothing more than bronze age superstition.

    Is that comnpatble with science? It’s no more compatible than destistry and the tooth fairy.

  2. #2 abb3w
    June 17, 2009

    Durn; the headline made me hope for a moment that Hess had found enough copyright violations to get a DMCA notice against the whole site. Ah, well.

  3. #3 ponderingfool
    June 24, 2009

    Silent majority? Don’t most Americans believe in some variant of special creation with regards to human origins? The scientific evidence favors humans evolved just like every other species on the planet. Special creation of humans and evolution are not really compatible.

    My major problem with groups like NCSE and NAS advocating science and religion being compatible is that they are really advocating for certain religions over others. Not all religious faiths are compatible with science. The role of the NCSE and NAS should not be to promote certain religions or lack thereof. They should advocate science education and science.

  4. #4 Josh Rosenau
    June 24, 2009

    First, NCSE isn’t saying science and religion are compatible (nor do I think NAS has done so, but I may have missed something). NCSE and NAS point out the empirical fact that many people see no conflict, while taking no position on the merits of those people’s claims.

    Second, surveys on creation/evolution are notoriously sketchy. Small changes in questions yield big shifts in responses. Yes, people want to think that humans are special in some way, and that God was involved somehow. But there are ways to get that without invoking “special creation.” It’s nearly impossible to poll those subtle theological distinctions, because most people simply haven’t spent a lot of time working through those details.

    Is it really a majority? Hard to say. Surely a plurality, and with effort, it could be made into a

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