For more than a decade, Rick Weiss covered science (and its politics) for the Washington Post. When he left the paper last year, the news organization lost one of the top two or three science journalists in the business and perhaps the very best at covering the intersections of biomedical research and policy.
Weiss now serves as a fellow at the Center for American Progress, contributing articles to the think tank's Science Progress site. In today's Washington Post, Weiss pens a guest op-ed weighing in on the continued culture war over evolution.
While Darwin himself never took his findings as definitive evidence against the existence of God, many people of faith have read that conclusion into his work. As a result, the man who first grasped biology's most unifying concept is today widely demonized as an enemy of the church, even as many scientists and others make a similar mistake and invoke Darwin in their rejection of everything theological...
...Darwin's humility in the face of insufficient evidence -- his willingness to say "I don't know" -- is as important a lesson as any to be found in biology texts today. This is not about "teaching the controversy" -- Darwin had a slam-dunk in his explanation of the evolution of species, including humans, and every modern test of evolutionary theory has only strengthened his conclusions. But he also knew there is plenty of room for God at the top, upstream of the business of biology.
Soldiers in today's culture wars, whether in black collars or white lab coats, could take a tip from Darwin on his birthday bicentennial. He loved the natural world, "most beautiful and most wonderful." And he knew enough to not pick fights over what he did not know.
Nisbet said earlier (about Darwin):
"If we would only stop focusing so much on the man, and more on evolutionary science, then it might boost public understanding."
Unless, of course, the focusing is done in the name of comptatibility of religion and science.
"Atheist literalists"? Framing fail. Framing epic fail.
How is it that you expect to get your point across when you've taken to the same sort of broken-mirror bomb-throwing that leads antisemites to accuse Jews of being Nazis or airheaded conservative pundits to use phrases such as "liberal fascism"?
I mean, okay, I gave up on a communications major my freshman year in college, so I'm hardly an expert, but I feel safe in saying this approach isn't going to work.
Honestly Matt, why do you keep insisting you're an atheist?
Trolling for traffic again, eh, Matt?
Why does evolution contradict the creation story of the bible? Do atheists believe the creation story is meant to be taken literally like creationists do. I have yet to read a convincing argument that evolution and the book of genesis conflict - other than if you the story of genesis is to be taken literally which only nutters do. I was brought up a catholic and although I am now a scientist and like the previous poster I am not interested in theology or for that matter antitheology. The creation myth in the bible is never seen as literal this is a post-enlightenment idea that the bible has to be the literal word of god. It is a protestant back to basics idea. The creation myth is about birth and the seperation of the female and male attributes of humans. It is also about pursuing knowledge at the detriment of life (the other tree in the garden of eden).
I would also like to point out never before have we had so much evidence for design in the universe so much so that we are inventing ideas (multiuniverses) to explain it. Now to the theist this is evidence of god to the atheist this is something to be needlessly worried about but to an agnostic it is the unfolding wonder of the universe - maybe the universe is intelligent who knows.
I am agnostic and am not an atheist or a theist. atheism and theism are beliefs. to me if there is a god then it is scientific to believe in him/her/it. if there isn't then it isn't. until we have conclusive proof god exists then having a belief stance on the issue is ludicrous it is like believing or disbelieving there will be a nuclear war.
being agnostic is not fence sitting it is to distinguish dogmatists from empiricists.
I completely disagree with the idea Huxley, Darwin, Einstein etc were really polite atheists. I don't think they were. if you read any of these peoples comments on the matter they all had broken free of theism but unlike many atheists they did not feel threatened by religion. Einstein in particular was as incredulous of atheism as he was of theism despite what you read about him. There is a certain liberation of the mind by allowing yourself not to be bothered by the existence or non-existence of god.
Unfortunately, and regardless Darwin's own opinion, understanding evolution invalidates the theologic argument of design. This is the theological risk you take when your beliefs are based on lack of evidence. Once evidence is found that disproves an aspect of your belief you find yourself more and more needing faith in vacuo.
The issue is not there is no evidence that disproves god. The issue is that there is just no evidence to suggest god exists.
Well, if Weiss was always an apologist for religion it's a good thing he's off the science section of the paper.
"But he also knew there is plenty of room for God at the top, upstream of the business of biology."
Biology and the rest of the scientific evidence collected since Darwin eliminates the need for a god, much less for one sitting at the top. A god of the gaps argument is not very rigorous.
You haven't put an opinion on this post but I'm assuming you approve of Weiss' argument? Plenty of room for some sort of deity at the top?
I have to call BS on this. Evolution theory is evidence that the biblical creation story is false. I do know that.
I'm not sure exactly to whom Mr. Weiss is offering advice to. I believe that you'll find that most atheists, the vast majority, do not empirically state that there is no god. Our position is that the likelihood of a god existing (especially a god as depicted in most religious texts) is so vanishingly remote that for all practical purposes we feel quite confident that there probably is no god. Nothing in science can be proven to absolution but that is no reason to create a supernatural explanation to cover up the fact that we don't yet know the answer.
In addition to that, I think you'll find that most atheists would be quite willing to change their position if sufficient evidence were to be brought forth for the existence of a god. I seriously doubt that you'll here a similar claim from the other side.
Darwinian evolution is just one small piece in the vast collection of evidence disproving the existence of god. It is a tremendous piece of work, but taken against the whole, it factors very little in my decision to be an atheist. It seems to me that the ones making the most strident assertions that Darwin == atheism are the theists who feel threatened by the analysis of the natural world that Darwin did and his discovery of a natural explanation for a process that formerly had only been described by supernatural stories.
As far as picking fights over what he did not know, the only ones I see doing that are the theists.
What does that even mean?
"there is plenty of room for God at the top, upstream of the business of biology."
... and the business of chemistry, physics, mathematics, logic, morality, etc etc. The god who makes no difference.
Most biologists I know say more along the lines that evolutionary theory is not targeted for or against religion, but it does happen to conflict with some religious positions some people have chosen (e.g. creationism). Most working scientists I know (I'm one too) simply aren't interested in "anti-theological" discussions, largely because they are simply not interested in theology either. Nothing negative, just not something that interests them.
"But he also knew there is plenty of room for God at the top, upstream of the business of biology."
I think in writing this, he is going too far in the other direction. Personally, if you are asking for neutrality and fairness, I wouldn't be saying that. I'd stop at saying evolutionary theory is not directed at theological positions or debates and leave it at that.
If people choose to take up a religious position that happens to conflict with something else, whatever it might be, realistically they should accept that's something they have chosen rather than "hitting on" what conflicts with their view. Ditto for the other way around.
BTW, it's not especially important and I know this is a slow-paced blog, but is my post under moderation in the 'On His Birthday, A Call to End Darwin Worship' thread going to be cleared one of these days? (It's been almost a week now!)
A wonderful read. Certainly given Darwin's context, it was about the most logical thing he could have done and the metaphor, punting, is wonderfully apt.
Humility is under appreciated in all spheres of knowledge. I kind of wish all scientists (I know some already are) were more like the guys who do Car Talk. They offer hypotheses and ways to test those hypotheses without attachment. You never get the feeling that they're staking their egos on their diagnoses. If they're right all the better, if they're wrong, they did the best with the knowledge they had.
I have posted a long response to this blog column and Rick Weiss's original op-ed at http://www.freeinquiry.com/weiss-nisbet.htm. My response is too long to post as a comment here. I strongly disagree with the argument of both Matt and Rick that Darwin serves as an example of how good atheists should behave. Darwin was different in style and personality from the New Atheists of today, but his beliefs were identical.
...Darwin's humility in the face of insufficient evidence -- his willingness to say "I don't know" -- is as important a lesson as any to be found in biology texts today. (...) But he also knew there is plenty of room for God at the top
I thought we were supposed to 'kill Darwin', not revere him as a prophet?
Darwin's humility in the face of insufficient evidence -- his willingness to say "I don't know" -- is as important a lesson as any to be found in biology texts today. This is not about "teaching the controversy" -- Darwin had a slam-dunk in his explanation of the evolution of species, including humans, and every modern test of evolutionary theory has only strengthened his conclusions. But he also knew there is plenty of room for God at the top, upstream of the business of biology.
But saying "I don't know" is precisely what religions refuse to do, because they claim they do know. Is there "plenty of room for God" in the gaps in our knowledge? Certainly, just as there is room for ghosts, djinns, leprechauns, orbiting teapots, and flying pasta monsters. No "new atheist" denies this. We're just opposed to treating any of these assertions from ignorance with any more intellectual respect than they merit, which is to say none.
One day, Nisbet, you might write something that demonstrates you actually understand the motives and arguments of the new atheists you love to criticize, but it isn't this day.
This post that you quote so lovingly is complete rubbish. OK, I exaggerate, it's 90% rubbish. Let's look at 3 of the biggest fibs:
While Darwin himself never took his findings as definitive evidence against the existence of God, many people of faith have read that conclusion into his work.
Darwin was fully confident there was no Christian God; this is clear. What "people of faith" read into it is usually irrelevant as few actually lift their lazy fingers to read anything that Darwin actually wrote, apart from odd bits of mined quotes.
But he also knew there is plenty of room for God at the top, upstream of the business of biology.
Now that, is simply untrue. This sort of mendacity is hardly to be praised. Or have I misunderstood, is "framing" a nice word for what I know as "lying"?
And he knew enough to not pick fights over what he did not know.
While that is true, in this context it is misleading as it suggests that that was the only reason he didn't pick fights. Darwin was deeply loving of his family and reluctant to hurt the feelings of those dear to him in bitter fights, even if he knew himself to be right.
All in all, this is contrarian bollocks.