Don't blame science teachers for religious debates

25 Apr 2011
Charles Darwin

Martin Rees, master of Trinity College in Cambridge, UK Astronomer Royal, non-theist (but cultural Christian), and recent winner of the £1 million Templeton Prize, told the Guardian:

Campaigning against religion can be socially counter-productive. If teachers take the uncompromising line that God and Darwinism are irreconcilable, many young people raised in a faith-based culture will stick with their religion and be lost to science.

PZ Myers takes Rees to task, as he has the Templeton Prize itself many times, for intentionally blurring the lines between fact-based science and faith-based supernatural beliefs. PZ's writings on such accommodation of religion are voluminous and insightful; I can add nothing here on that topic.

Rather, I'll poke at one bit that PZ left unpoked:

If teachers take the uncompromising line that God and Darwinism are irreconcilable...

Ahem. Mr Rees, it's not teachers who take that "uncompromising line". It's religious people that do. 

Scientists and science teachers present evolution as the explanation for life's variety that best fits our observations of nature. There's no mention of God in the theory of evolution, one way or the other; it's not a theory of, or about, God. (Or gods, for that matter. Or ghosts, or demons, or unicorns, or leprechauns. It has nothing to say about any of these.)

Any dispute, clash, or claim of "irreconcilable" is brought up, in its entirety, by religious followers: "Wait! We already have our own supernatural explanation for life's variety!" Fine; the believers are free to think as they like. But let's be very clear on one point: The scientists and teachers are only relating the facts and the theory that fit observations, which is exactly what they should do. Any claim of theological disagreement is the business, and problem, of the believers making the claim. Don't blame the science teachers! 

Isn't Rees aware that hundreds of millions of religious believers do accept the theory of evolution (at least in general terms)? To no one's surprise, we have these believers saying "sure, our God's compatible with evolution", and those believers saying "no, our God's not compatible with evolution" – which means we have a theological debate, of the same sort as arguments over Trinities and true prophets and transubstantiation and how many angels can dance on a pinhead. Don't blame the science teachers for interfaith religious disputes!

The same applies to Rees' further comment:

We should all oppose – as Darwin did – views manifestly in conflict with the evidence, such as creationism … But we shouldn't set up this debate as 'religion v science'...

Setting aside the problem that those are two rather contradictory exhortations, I have to note: "We" (the non-theists) aren't setting up a "religion vs science" debate. "We" just lay out the facts as revealed by observation and experiment. It's the believers who cry fowl at random junctures and set up a "religion vs science" debate. Not us.

Stop blaming the teachers!

Comments

There is a different viewpoint from islamic side ,that it states clearly of humans being created in Stages,

What is the matter with you, that [you fear not Allah (His punishment), and] you hope not for reward (from Allah or you believe not in His Oneness).While He has created you in (different) stages" (The Quran, 71:14)

defaithed's picture

Well, I don't see a direct connection to the content of the post, but I'll take your comment as an educational note regarding content in the Quran. Thanks! 

There is a different viewpoint from islamic side ,that it states clearly of humans being created in Stages,What is the matter with you, that [you fear not Allah (His punishment), and] you hope not for reward (from Allah or you believe not in His Oneness).While He has created you in (different) stages" (The Quran, 71:14)

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alon sobates from www.capsulescafe.net

defaithed's picture

Ah, now I see: The second identical comment makes clear that this is some form of automated spam comment. I'll be sure to delete future occurrences. Thanks, machine!

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