I hate it when friends fight.
There has been a series of posts on multiple science blogs I read, which Jerry Coyne, on his Why Evolution is True blog, has compiled here. They include Coyne (author of Why Evolution is True), Chris Mooney (co-author of the upcoming Unscientific American), Ken Miller (author of one of the most widely used high school biology textbooks in the country and expert witness at the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial), PZ Myer (author of one of the most active science blogs, Pharyngula), just to name a few. I admire a lot of their work.
The questions are first, whether certain science agencies promote a particular theological view – that there is no conflict between evolution and faith – to make teaching of evolution more palatable to the general public. Second, if they are advancing that view, is it good for them to do so?
This has been frustrating to watch, because it’s obvious that the major authors agree on so much. As the saying goes, the fight is fierce because the stakes are so small.
The phrase, “[Name] is wrong,” is getting used a lot, putting the emphasis on the person and not the idea. Making something personal is a real fast way to make someone defensive.
There are a lot of very subtle shades of gray being discussed, and there seems to be a lot of people are quick to do some contrast enhancement.
For instance, does saying, “There are people who reconcile faith and evolution” mean that particular point of view is being promoted? Maybe, maybe not. On one hand, it is an empirical fact that there are such people, and there are such religious doctrines. On the other hand, if there is never any acknowledgment that some people and some religious doctrines cannot make those two things fit together, and there is never any acknowledgment that some people who support evolution are atheists... it starts to give the impression that one particular point of view is being promoted as correct.
As another for instance, does saying, “It is a tactical mistake to remove conciliatory messages to religious moderates,” mean, “Shut up, atheists”? Maybe, but then again, maybe not. Calling someone’s arguments “mistakes” could just be someone expressing an opinion. But expressed with the right tone and force, it certainly can be a way of trying to get someone to shut up.
So much in these posts depends on tone and emphasis that both sides might have a case.
Finally, the question this all revolves around. Does this proverbial olive branch of reconciliation change the opinions of a large number of Americans who consistently say they doubt, disagree with, or deny evolution?
I have about as much idea of the answer to that question as I do of how to fly the space shuttle with all the controls labeled in Chinese.
But I don’t think anyone else knows either. At least if they do, they’re not telling. Not one of these practicing empiricists has pulled out any research or evidence that supports whether telling people, “If you believe evolution happened, you can still be a Christian – just not one who interprets scripture literally,” actually wins hearts and minds for science. Instead, there are mostly anecdotes and impressions and hunches.
Disagreements over philosophy and political tactics shouldn’t detract from the main event. Evolution is beautiful, glorious science that has taken on all comers and won over and over again in the scientific arena.