Catering To The Faithful

Must we always cater to the faithful when teaching science?
Jerry Coyne, Edge 279

In this short essay Jerry A. Coyne, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, argues that scientific institutions in government and academia should stop kowtowing to religionists. I agree (was there any doubt?).

This comes from the idea that many religious people who would otherwise accept evolution won’t do so if they think it undermines their faith, promoting atheism or immoral behavior. Thus various organizations promoting the teaching of evolution, including the National Academy of Sciences and the National Center for Science Education, have published booklets or websites that explicitly say that faith and science are compatible.

From UC Berkeley’s site, Understanding Science 101:

In fact, people of many different faiths and levels of scientific expertise see no contradiction at all between science and religion. Many simply acknowledge that the two institutions deal with different realms of human experience. Science investigates the natural world, while religion deals with the spiritual and supernatural—hence, the two can be complementary.

How unfortunate. I wish religions would limit their claims to morality and speculations about meaning and the hereafter. They do not. Religions make falsifiable claims about the natural world and are, therefore, subject to scientific scrutiny.

Theists–by definition–believe god acts in the world today. Are prayers effective? Do miracles occur? Is the earth old or young? Do humans and modern apes have a common ancestor? All of these questions are answered differently by science and religion. They contradict, not compliment.

In 25 years of effort, these organizations don’t seem to have much effect on influencing public opinion about evolution. I think that this may mean that the USA will have to become a lot less religious before acceptance of evolution increases appreciably.

Religion is a poison to our minds. This poison makes it difficult for otherwise intelligent people to see what is so obvious.

It seems to me that some of the claims of many faiths are similar to those of astrology–the four ideas given above. Religion focuses on the natural world (at least some of the time), purports to explain it, uses testable ideas (e.g., efficacy of prayer), and relies on evidence (Scripture, archaeological findings, etc.) Like astrology, religion fails all of these tests.

I’m not trying to say anything portentous, except that scientists are really keen to denigrate astrology while at the same time bending over backwards to respect religion, even though there is the same amount of evidence supporting each.

For horoscope fans, the burden of proof is entirely on them, the poor gullible gits; while for the multitudes who believe that, in one way or another, a divine intelligence guides the path of every leaping lepton, there is no demand for evidence, no skepticism to surmount, no need to worry.

Stop the madness. Science educators should not attempt to reconcile the unreconcilable so evolution and the Big Bang will be more palatable to religionists.

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