So–I have recently reread Jerry Coyne’s lengthy New Republic piece, which is at the source of some of our debates; and let me say, it is a very good, extensive, thoughtful article. I have not read Coyne’s book, although time willing, I would like to. However, I also feel myself pretty conversant with the many persuasive reasons why evolution is true, and I know I am in full agreement with Coyne about this.
Still, for those who like good reads in defense of science, let me say that everyone ought to buy a copy of Coyne’s book if you haven’t already–I am quite sure, based on the strength of the New Republic piece, that it will be worth it.
In the arena of throat clearing, I also want to add something else. And that is that in my experience, the science blogosphere is a hard place to really debate matters relating to science and religion, due to the polemicism that tends to occur. So let me also say to Coyne at the outset that I would challenge him to a public debate about how, as two atheists and supporters of evolution, we ought to approach the crucial and also highly divisive subject of religion. A debate in person would be the most thoughtful format, and one in which I suspect we could achieve real progress. Read More
Since Chris and Jerry are back to religion, I’m reminded of my first foray into into the blogosphere in early 2007 when I discussed the topic. A subsequent storm of comments raged on for weeks over several posts. Initial argument persisted over terminology, but ultimately the conversation eroded into an inquisition over what I personally believe instead of a productive dialogue on science and religion. These days I don’t typically explore the relationship here because it mainly serves as sport and spectacle on the blogs. Still, Chris’ post today inspired me to look back at the words I wrote during my first week at The Intersection–re-posted after the fold. Upon reading again, I see that though my writing style has changed over the years, the point is just as relevant now…
I will be responding in some detail to this post by Jerry Coyne, which is itself a response to my recent arguments on the subject of science and religion (a major topic, and developed in considerably more detail, in Unscientific America). But for now I just want to clear one point out of the way, concerning my previous writings on this subject.
At the intro to his post, Coyne notes that way back when I had a Slate article–a review of the 2001 PBS series Evolution–which pretty much argued that it’s bogus to pretend that evolution is not corrosive to religious belief. The piece (as I read it today) really only had one paragraph that substantively makes this argument, but here it is:
Evolution’s attempt to divorce Darwinian science from atheism, though well intentioned, is finally naive. Darwinism presents an explanation for life’s origins that lacks any supernatural element and emphasizes a cruel and violent process of natural selection that is tough to square with the notion of a benevolent God. Because of this, many students who study evolution will find themselves questioning the religions they have grown up with. What’s insidious is that Evolution allows fundamentalists to say this, but not evolutionists. The miniseries interviews several experts who could be expected to oppose the reconciliation outlook, notably Daniel Dennett, author of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, and the Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, who has written, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” But neither Dennett nor Dawkins gets much of a say on the topic of religion.
I don’t entirely disagree with this–especially the observation that “Many students who study evolution will find themselves questioning the religions they have grown up with.” I think that’s very true, and all to the good. Still, I would not have written the Slate piece today….