The director of education for the Royal Society of London, Michael Reiss, resigned from his position on September 16, 2008, in the wake of a controversy occasioned by his recent remarks on creationism — even though Reiss, a biologist, accepts evolution, recognizes that creationism lacks any scientific legitimacy, and believes that students ought to be told, when the subject arises, that creationism has no scientific basis.
Reiss's remarks were apparently offered during the British Association for the Advancement of Science's Festival of Science, which took place September 6–11, 2008, in Liverpool; he subsequently posted a corresponding essay, "Science lessons should tackle creationism and intelligent design," on the Guardian's science blog on September 11, 2008. In the latter, Reiss posed the question, "What should science teachers do when faced with students who are creationists?" and answered that "when teaching evolution, there is much to be said for allowing students to raise any doubts they have (hardly a revolutionary idea in science teaching) and doing one's best to have a genuine discussion."
Reiss added, "The word 'genuine' doesn't mean that creationism or intelligent design deserve equal time." He was also careful to note that whether such a discussion would be appropriate depends "on the comfort of the teacher in dealing with such issues and the make-up of the student body," adding, "I don't believe that such teaching is easy." Nevertheless, he insisted, "I do believe in taking seriously and respectfully the concerns of students who do not accept the theory of evolution, while still introducing them to it. While it is unlikely that this will help students who have a conflict between science and their religious beliefs to resolve the conflict, good science teaching can help students to manage it — and to learn more science."
Unfortunately, the content of Reiss's message was distorted and sensationalized in the British media. For example, the story in the Times of London (2008 Sep 12) was headlined "Leading scientist urges teaching of creationism in schools," and began, "Creationism should be taught in science classes as a legitimate point of view, according to the Royal Society, putting the august science body on a collision course with the Government"; the Telegraph's story (2008 Sep 11) was similarly headlined "Creationism should be taught in science classes, says expert," and subheaded, "The theory of creationism should be taught alongside evolution in school science lessons, a leading biologist and education expert has said."
The Royal Society observed in a September 12, 2008, press release that "The Royal Society is opposed to creationism being taught as science," citing the 2006 Interacademy Panel statement (see RNCSE 2006 Jul/Aug; 26 : 13–6) on the teaching of evolution, to which the Royal Society is a signatory. It also quoted a clarification from Reiss: "Creationism has no scientific basis. However, when young people ask questions about creationism in science classes, teachers need to be able to explain to them why evolution and the Big Bang are scientific theories but they should also take the time to explain how science works and why creationism has no scientific basis."
Nevertheless, there was a quick outcry from a number of British scientists. Richard Roberts, a member of the Royal Society and a Nobel Prize winner, was quoted in the Guardian (2008 Sep 14) as saying, "I think it is outrageous that this man is suggesting that creationism should be discussed in a science classroom. It is an incredible idea and I am drafting a letter to other Nobel laureates — which would be sent to the Royal Society — to ask that Reiss be made to stand down." And Roberts indeed sent a letter endorsed by his fellow laureates Harold Kroto and John Sulston to the Royal Society, complaining about Reiss's remarks as reported.
Part of the outcry centered on the fact that, in addition to being a biologist and professor of science education, Reiss is also a clergyman, ordained in the Church of England. Richard Dawkins told the Guardian (2008 Sep 14), "A clergyman in charge of education for the country's leading scientific organisation — it's a Monty Python sketch," and Roberts's letter to the Royal Society commented, "We gather Professor Reiss is a clergyman, which in itself is very worrisome. Who on earth thought that he would be an appropriate Director of Education, who could be expected to answer questions about the differences between science and religion in a scientific, reasoned way?"
Subsequently, in a September 16, 2008, letter to New Scientist, Dawkins distanced himself from the call for Reiss's ouster, describing Roberts's letter's complaint about Reiss's clerical status as "a little too close to a witch-hunt for my squeamish taste," characterizing his Monty Python comparison as "a little uncharitable," and commenting, "Although I disagree with him, what he actually said at the British Association is not obviously silly like creationism itself, nor is it a self-evidently inappropriate stance for the Royal Society to take." (He also mentioned "Eugenie Scott, whose National Center for Science Education is doing splendid work in fighting the creationist wingnuts in America.")
Dawkins's limited defense notwithstanding, the Royal Society announced Reiss's resignation on September 16, 2008. According to a press release, "Some of Professor Michael Reiss's recent comments, on the issue of creationism in schools, while speaking as the Royal Society's Director of Education, were open to misinterpretation. While it was not his intention, this has led to damage to the Society's reputation. As a result, Professor Reiss and the Royal Society have agreed that, in the best interests of the Society, he will step down immediately as Director of Education."
It wasn't only scientists who were critical of Reiss's remarks as reported. After Reiss's resignation, Phil Willis, a Member of Parliament who chairs the Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, expressed satisfaction with the result, telling the Times of London (2008 Sep 17), "I hope the society will now stop burying its head and start taking on creationism." Previously Wills told the Times (2008 Sep 16), "I was horrified to hear these views and I reject them totally. They are a step too far and they fly in the face of what science is about. I think if his [Professor Reiss's] views are as mentioned they may be incompatible with his position."
Not all members of the British scientific community were critical of Reiss. After his resignation, Roland Jackson, chief executive of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, told BBC News (2008 Sep 16) that his departure was a "real loss," adding, "I was at the actual discussion and what I heard him say, however it has been reported, was essentially the position advocated by the Royal Society." Robert Winston, professor of science and society at Imperial College London and a distinguished medical scientist and science popularizer, lamented, "This is not a good day for the reputation of science or scientists."
Paul Nurse, a member of the Royal Society and Nobel laureate who did not sign the Roberts letter, took a somewhat intermediate position, telling Nature (in a piece published on-line under the dreadful headline "Creationism stir fries Reiss"; 2008 Sep 17), "It does not matter what someone's religious beliefs are as long as he does the job properly. The issue for me here is his competency in the job. I only saw the media coverage of his speech, but it does not look as though he handled it well. Because creationism in the classroom is such a sensitive subject, you have to be very careful and very clear about what you say."
Across the Atlantic, Leslie S Jones of Valdosta State University, who coedited a recent anthology, Teaching about Scientific Origins: Taking Account of Creationism (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2007; reviewed in RNCSE 2008 May/Jun; 28 : 23–5), with Reiss, expressed shock at the events. She told Nature (on-line; 2008 Sep 17), "Michael has a rare blend of transdisciplinary credentials that give him critical insight into the social controversy surrounding the teaching of evolution. He has never advocated the teaching of creationism."
A subsequent editorial in Nature (2008; 445: 431–2) argued:
Those who argue that allowing discussion of creationism in a science class gives it legitimacy, and that students who ask about it should be firmly directed to take their questions elsewhere, are misguided.
Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California, and a long-time advocate for the teaching of evolution, points out that in the real world, any such shut-up-and-take-it-elsewhere response from the teacher will inevitably be perceived by the student (and his or her classmates) as a humiliating personal putdown. It will obstruct rather than encourage enquiry and understanding. It will also invite complaints from outraged parents.
What is more, it will squander what experienced educators like to call "a teachable moment". All too often, that moment is the one opportunity that a school has to engage resistant students and introduce them to what science has to say.
Reiss is returning to his position of Professor of Science Education at the Institute of Education at the University of London.
First, I want to endorse enthusiastically Daryl Domning's plea to those in the scientific community who are theists, and especially to those of us who are members of the Christian community. It is essential to the advancement of the public's understanding and acceptance of modern science (particularly evolutionary science) that we articulate that science to the faith communities of which we are a part. The presumption of "warfare" between science and religious faith perpetuates erroneous understandings of the nature and content of science. Such misconceptions erect completely unnecessary barriers to the embrace of science by a substantial portion of the population, and turn public science education into a forum for cultural warfare. When people of faith reject the central theories of modern science because of a false perception that those theories conflict with their faith, they not only deprive science of vital public support, but also deprive it of many bright enquiring minds in the future.
In many cases, people reject evolution (and other unifying theories within the historical natural sciences) as much because of popularly held misconceptions about the nature of science itself as because of any perceived theological conflict. The roots of the science/ faith conflict are often embedded in false notions that are widely held within our culture and impact general public science literacy. It is these very misconceptions that are exploited by anti-evolution advocates. For example, theories are often viewed as merely unsubstantiated guesses, rather than as the unifying concepts that give our observations coherence and meaning. Theories within the historical sciences, in particular, are seen as being inherently untestable. Many people conceive of science as simply an encyclopedic accumulation of unchanging observational "facts". Thus, the dynamic nature of science with the continual revision of theoretical constructs becomes for them evidence of the fleeting validity of scientific "truth". The claim that modern science is based on an atheistic philosophy that denies the existence of anything beyond the material is commonly built upon the background of these other false notions of science. The result is both predictable and preventable.
As Domning states, being public advocates for the compatibility of evolutionary science and religious faith is not about injecting religion into science. Far from it! It is simply presenting the true face of science, which is practiced by individuals representing a very wide range of theistic and non-theistic views. The methods of the natural sciences are limited to understanding the natural world and its history in terms of natural cause-and-effect processes, a limitation frequently described by the term "methodological naturalism". Science, as a method of inquiry about the natural world, can make no claims about the existence or non-existence of God, or of any supernatural entity. Atheism is neither an assumption nor a conclusion of science. Scientific investigation is a trans-cultural and religiously neutral enterprise, and is therefore universally accessible. However, while science as a discipline is religiously neutral, individual scientists are not. We each live out our scientific vocations within a broader context.
A view of science that recognizes its interaction with the values and beliefs of the broader culture need not be left at the public school door. Presenting the historical development of scientific theories in the classroom is a very effective way of communicating to students why certain theories have come to be widely accepted by the scientific community. Such historical accounts will of necessity display the roles (both positive and negative) played by culture, religious faith, philosophy, and even individual personalities in the shaping of modern science. History also reveals how new powerful explanatory theories arise and displace previously strongly held views. It reveals the interesting, dynamic, and very human processes involved in advancing our understanding of the natural world. Such an approach to teaching science also provides a legitimate context in which teachers and students can address the ethical and social dimensions of the application of scientific knowledge.
Science is not learned and applied in some culturally and religiously sterile environment. The motivations that drive us to understand the natural world and to apply that knowledge for the good of others and the world are part and parcel of our most deeply held philosophical and religious commitments. Why should those commitments be hidden when we communicate our passion for science to others? People will more easily recognize that science has something valuable for them when they see it embodied in those who share their deeply held faith commitments. A consequence of this more human face to science may just be a reinvigoration of scientific interest in our schools and in our nation.
I discuss these various public misunderstandings at length in my "Countering public misconceptions about the nature of evolutionary science" (Southeastern Biology 2005; 52: 415–27).
Brunswick County is a largely rural county of about 75 000 people in the southern tip of North Carolina, but it drew national attention in the fall of 2008 when its school board considered adding creationism to the science curriculum. (For a brief report, see RNCSE 2008 Sep–Dec; 28 [5–6]: 4–8.)
According to the Wilmington Star-News (2008 Sep 16), the controversy began at the September 16, 2008, board meeting, when Joel Fanti, a chemical engineer and local parent, condemned the teaching of evolution as "fact" rather than "theory". Fanti also made a curious argument: "I wasn't here 2 million years ago ... If evolution is so slow, why don't we see anything evolving now?" He volunteered to teach creationism himself, to audience applause.
Board chair Shirley Babson responded that evolution was a required subject, although she personally rejected it. She was uncertain whether creationism could legally be added to the science curriculum, but said, "if we can do it, I think we ought to do it." All other board members present also voiced their support for teaching creationism, and superintendent Katie McGee agreed to research the question of its legality. The board's attorney suggested that it might be possible to add creationism to the curriculum as long as evolution was still taught.
The board's receptiveness to the idea of explicitly mandating creationism may seem surprising to longtime observers of the anti-evolutionist movement. Since 1987's Edwards v Aguillard decision prohibited exactly this sort of policy as unconstitutional, most creationism activists have chosen more indirect tactics, such as "intelligent design" or — since Kitzmiller v Dover — "teaching the controversy" or "strengths and weaknesses".
But several members of Brunswick County's school board — in particular Babson, Jimmy Hobbs, and Ray Gilbert — have consistently supported the promotion of particular religious viewpoints on school grounds. For instance, in 2006, Hobbs, Babson, and Gilbert proposed to let Gideons International distribute Bibles in county high schools. (State Port Pilot 2006 March 21) When it was pointed out that Wiccans, Pastafarians, and other religious groups would also have to be permitted to distribute their literature, the proposition was tabled indefinitely (Star-News 2006 May 5).
The next year, Hobbs and Babson pushed for more parental control over the contents of school libraries, expressing concern that Harry Potter's inclusion in school libraries promoted Wiccanism and would lead children to practice witchcraft and animal sacrifice (Star-News 2007 Sep 21). It does not appear that they were successful in changing library policy.
Presumably Hobbs was referring to this history of failed attempts to promote particular religious viewpoints in the Brunswick County schools when he said at the September meeting, "It's really a disgrace for the state school board to impose evolution on our students without teaching creationism. The law says we can't have Bibles in schools, but we can have evolution, of the atheists" (Star-News 2008 Sep 16).
When state education officials were interviewed in the days following the meeting, they were clear on the law. North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said that schools are not allowed to teach creationism as science, and that those that did so are liable to be sued. Edd Dunlap and Tracey Greggs, the chiefs of the science and social studies sections in the state department of public instruction, agreed. Referencing both Edwards v Aguillard and Kitzmiller v Dover, Dunlap explained that creationism and "intelligent design"could be covered in an elective course in religion or philosophy, but could not be taught in science or any other required course, nor could it be taught as fact. Greggs added that creationism could also be included in history class, but would have to be presented alongside other religious perspectives and not specifically promoted (Star-News 2008 Sep 29).
Opinion within the local community was predictably divided. Pro-evolution sentiment was strong; concerned citizens contacted the district, wrote letters to local newspapers, and contacted both NCSE and the Evolution Learning Community at the University of North Carolina's campus in nearby Wilmington, where by coincidence, Richard Leakey was giving a talk on human evolution. Phillip Johnson arrived a week later, at the invitation of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, to discuss "intelligent design".
Local church officials, such as Mary Hart and Father Hector La Chappelle of St Brendan the Navigator Roman Catholic Church in Shallotte, vocally opposed the board's plans (Star-News 2008 Sep 22), while other religious figures supported it just as staunchly. At a forum a month before the November 2008 election, school board candidates were quizzed on their opinions on the issue. The district received letters from as far away as the state of Washington, according to Babson, and the proposal was discussed on numerous national blogs. The high level of nationwide interest in the affair is due largely to the diligent coverage of the Star-News in nearby Wilmington. One of its reporters, Ana Ribeiro, wrote half a dozen articles on the board's proposal, the opinions of board members and candidates, reactions from the community, and the relevant educational laws and policies of North Carolina. (The latest of these, from November 6, 2008, and containing links to the newspaper's previous coverage, is available on-line at http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/20081106/ARTICLES/81106023.)
Perhaps concerned by the attention, the board canceled its monthly meeting for October 2008. Around that time, Babson noted to reporters that, given the critical response and legal advice the board had received, it would probably not try to teach creationism after all — although, she indicated, she would still like to see that happen someday (Star-News 2008 Sep 29).
The next meeting took place on November 6, 2008, shortly after the election. (Pro-creationist Ray Gilbert, incidentally, was unseated in that election by Bud Thorsen, a challenger who was opposed to teaching creationism in science class.) Addressing the board, Fanti said he recognized that creationism could not be added to the science curriculum and suggested that it be taught in a social studies class such as world history instead, alongside other religious belief systems such as the Indian and the Egyptian. At the same time, he argued, the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolutionary theory should be discussed in science class. The "weaknesses" Fanti raised were standard creationist fare; he invoked the standard microevolution/ macroevolution distinction and also asked, "how does evolution propose that mankind came into being when the [sic] particles to human beings has never been observed nor can it be proven?"(North Brunswick Pilot 2008 Nov 12).
The board was unwilling to comment on the issue this time around; the standing members said they needed more information before discussing it again. Shirley Babson requested a written copy of Fanti's suggestions, but also said after the meeting that she knew of no curricula that challenged evolution; however, she did not rule out the possibility of teaching about creationism in social science classes.
On the whole, recent developments in Brunswick have been positive. The board's enthusiasm for teaching creationism has apparently cooled significantly; to judge by their previous activities, tabling discussion of an issue "until more information is available" is generally a prelude to discarding it entirely. With one of the board's strongest supporters of creationism on his way out, and a strong pro-science message provided by local citizens, state officials, and the board's own legal advisors, it is to be hoped that good science education in Brunswick will no longer be threatened by the very body in charge of ensuring its provision.
On January 15, 2009, Louisiana's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted a policy about what types of supplementary classroom materials will, and will not, be allowable under the Louisiana Science Education Act. While the policy echoes the LSEA's requirement that such materials "not promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion," a provision that "materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science class" was deleted, according to a report from the Associated Press (2009 Jan 15).
Enacted in June 2008 over the protests of scientists and educators across the state and around the country, the LSEA (enacted as Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1) provides:
A teacher shall teach the material presented in the standard textbook supplied by the school system and thereafter may use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, as permitted by the city, parish, or other local public school board unless otherwise prohibited by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The new policy governs the way in which BESE will consider such supplementary material.
It was clear from the outset that evolution was in the LSEA's sights. The original draft of the law specifically identified "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning" as controversial subjects, and called on state and local education administrators to "endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies." In its final version, these topics are no longer described as controversial, but they are still specifically mentioned. And the Baton Rouge Advocate (2008 Apr 19) editorially recognized, "it seems clear that the supporters of this legislation are seeking a way to get creationism ... into science classrooms." (For background, see RNCSE 2008 Mar/Apr; 28 : 8–11; 2008 Jul/Aug; 28 : 4–10.)
A committee of veteran educators and scientists assembled by the state department of education began drafting the policy to implement the LSEA in fall 2008 which was submitted to the BESE's Student/School Performance Support Committee on December 2, 2008. The Associated Press (2009 Jan 8) reported, "Proposed for discussion at the December meeting were requirements that any information in the supplemental material be 'supported by empirical evidence.' The proposed language also said religious beliefs 'shall not be advanced under the guise of encouraging critical thinking' and that materials 'that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited in science classes.'"
Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University, coauthor with Paul R Gross of Creationism's Trojan Horse (revised edition, New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), and a member of NCSE's board of directors, praised the December version of the policy for ensuring that religion would not be taught in the public schools. But Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum, a religious right organization that vociferously supported the LSEA, was unhappy with it, telling the Associated Press, "I would think that it left religious neutrality and took a tone of religious hostility. Or at least it could be interpreted by some to have done that." Action on the policy was not taken immediately, but instead deferred until January 2009.
On January 8, 2009, a revised draft was posted in advance of the committee's January 13 meeting. The provision that "religious beliefs shall not be advanced under the guise of encouraging critical thinking" was removed, and a provision forbidding consideration of the "religious or non-religious beliefs and affiliations" of the authors of supplementary material was added. The procedure for challenging supplementary material also became more complicated. Complaints would need to cite the problems with the material, school districts would be notified of challenges, and a hearing would need to be held at which the district, the complainant, and "any interested parties" would have "adequate time to present their arguments and information and to offer rebuttals."
Forrest decried these revisions in a January 12, 2009, letter to the BESE, objecting that the policy was "altered in ways that are detrimental to the education of Louisiana students" (see p 6). She called for the provision regarding religious beliefs under the guise of critical thinking to be restored, explained that "[t]o determine quality, acceptability, and bias, scientists and teachers customarily and quite appropriately examine the source of instructional material," and described the new procedures for challenging supplementary material as "unclear, ill-conceived, and onerous," adding, "The instructions are vague and confusing, and they unnecessarily complicate what should be a straightforward decision based on the professional expertise of [Louisiana Department of Education] staff."
At the committee's meeting on January 13, 2009, the LSEA's chief sponsor, Ben Nevers (D–District 12), and Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum successfully lobbied for the removal of the section of the policy that provided, "Materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science classes." The provision forbidding consideration of the beliefs and affiliations of the authors of supplementary material was also removed, according to a report from the Associated Press (2009 Jan 13).
With the adoption of the policy by the BESE on January 15, 2009, it is still unclear what will happen. Steve Monaghan, the president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, told WAFB television (2009 Jan 13) in Baton Rouge, "The time spent on this issue may be in total excess of what the problem was because we don't believe there was a problem in the science classroom anyway": teachers in his organization have not complained about the science education materials at their disposals and presumably would not seek to add supplementary materials. Civil liberties organizations have already expressed their readiness to challenge attempts to teach religion in the guise of science in Louisiana's public schools.
In the meantime, the Lafayette Independent Weekly (2009 Jan 12) worried about the effect of the LSEA and the policy on Louisiana's reputation. "For many of us interested and active in economic development and hopeful in a newly resurgent Louisiana ... this is not good news," Steve May wrote. "This attempt to pollute the teaching of science in our public schools with religious dogma does more longterm damage to ourselves than all the painful headlines about Edwin Edwards, David Duke or 'Dollar' Bill Jefferson combined, because the damage is far more lasting. Is this the message of educational ignorance that we want to send prospective employers considering locating or relocating to Louisiana?"
Significantly, creationists revealed their understanding of the policy as adopted in letters to the editors of their local newspapers. The Baton Rouge Advocate, for example, printed a letter commending the BESE for "their efforts to bring God back into the public schools with promoting creationism as an alternative to the hoax of evolution currently taught" (2009 Jan 28), while the Monroe News-Star printed a similar letter thanking "our legislators and governor for taking a stand for God. Our teachers will be able to teach evolution is only a theory. By teaching the option of creationism, I pray our children will realize God created them" (2009 Jan 20).
The Associated Press (2009 Jan 25) analyzed the situation, concluding, "There are disagreements on what exactly will result from policy language the state education board recently adopted for teaching science in Louisiana public schools, but one thing looks pretty clear: sooner or later Louisiana is going back to court in a case that will look like a descendant of the 1987 argument over 'scientific creationism.'" As always, NCSE is working with its allies — including the ACLU of Louisiana and the Louisiana Coalition for Science, a grassroots group recently founded by Barbara Forrest — to prepare for whatever action may be necessary.
While Domning raises many interesting points, the one he referred to as the "Global War on Theism" resonated with a concern I have had for some time. Specifically, how can we teach students and the general public that science (and the field of evolution in particular) is not religiously motivated, when many of today's most prominent evolutionary biologists actively intertwine the two in order to promote their theological worldview, and, as discussed later, when many educators share that mindset?
At a fundamental philosophical level, the fact that the opinions expressed by those exemplified by Dawkins are in opposition to the majority is immaterial. Let us remind ourselves that science is a systematic study of the natural world and the methodology used to do so. So, science is a study of nature, and theology deals primarily with the supernatural. Therefore, science cannot address theological concerns such as the existence or nonexistence of any supernatural being. As Domning writes, "one of our central arguments [is] the theological neutrality of good science." This precludes the use of science to promote any theological worldview, from wherever along the spectrum one finds oneself.
However, it would be naïve to stop here, as if the issue may be put to rest simply by invoking Gould's concept of non-overlapping magisteria. The public is not generally concerned with making the distinction between scientific evidence and religious belief. In practice, then, the nature of the theological opinions that are commonly associated with evolutionary biology is important, as they can end up driving a false wedge between religion and science in general. Thus, evolution education (and religion?) suffers as atheism and evolutionism become synonymous in the public mind.
We can all think of examples of theologically inflammatory behavior by scientists in the spotlight. Consider the cover of David Sloan Wilson's Evolution for Everyone, which puts a halo over the old Darwin monkey–man caricature. While this makes for light humor, it can also come across as subtle mockery of those who do not understand evolution, particularly those who doubt evolution based on a perceived conflict with religious belief.
At the Evolution 2008 conference in Minneapolis, I attended many productive discussions and presentations about teaching evolution in the classroom. However, the content of one discussion was particularly worrisome. The topic it attempted to address was "When religion and science clash in the mind of a student, how should the instructor respond?" In other words, if a student refuses to learn in any subject based on personal beliefs, regardless of whether or not they accept the validity of the material, what then are the instructor's responsibilities and/or restrictions toward addressing the student outside the classroom?
The problem in this discussion arose in the wording of the dialog and by extension the attitudes of the discussants. The initial question very quickly deteriorated from being one of ethics and pedagogy into asking if a student refuses to accept evolution, "... can I say no, you're wrong?" and "How can I get them to believe?" I found this shift in thought to be highly disturbing. Education is not about forcing a belief, and antagonism is not an effective educational tool. It serves only to alienate students, and by putting them on the defensive perpetuates their distrust of science, which, in turn, is counterproductive in improving scientific literacy. As another discussant pointed out, the goal is not for all students to accept evolution by the end of their first semester in college — developing understanding often takes time.
This can be extended to say that the goal in the forum of public opinion is not for people to abandon their religious beliefs in favor of evolution (or any other scientific theory), but to promote a better understanding of science. Perpetuating the false dichotomy of science or religion — but not both — can exacerbate the problem and lead to the opposite of the effect we desire.
Should theistic evolutionists take the lead in publicly defending evolution? Shelly Gottlieb gets to the heart of the matter when he says that the answer depends on "what one is trying to accomplish". However, I do not fully agree with the choices he offers. One possibility he proposes is "to demonstrate to the public at large that it is possible to be a 'believer' and still 'believe in' (as opposed to accept based on evidence) evolution"; the other is "educating the 'undecided' group to the importance and power of natural explanations of natural phenomena."
Instead, what I would like to demonstrate to the public is that one can be a religious believer and still accept evolution based on evidence (as opposed to "belief"). Now, if that somehow helps convince them of the power of natural explanations, fine; but that's not my main goal, nor is it necessarily very relevant to the creation-evolution dispute. As Erik Pietrowicz correctly notes, "The public is not generally concerned with making the distinction between scientific evidence and religious belief." Generally, they want to make sense of their existence and find meaning in their lives. Fundamentalists offer them explanations that cannot be reconciled with modern science, and rubbing that fact in just makes them more uncomfortable. If we see our job (especially outside the classroom) as only being to "educate" the public about the ways of science, we are ignoring what our audience sees as important. That is what I would call self-defeating. Evolutionists have been doing that in debates with creationists for forty years and more — and look where it has gotten us.
Gottlieb argues that theistic evolution "opens science to the criticism that science is not really free of the supernatural but that it tolerates (respects) supernaturalism." Actually, this should not describe science, but rather scientists (except for the openly intolerant ones). As Keith Miller says, "while science as a discipline is religiously neutral, individual scientists are not. We each live out our scientific vocations within a broader context." We were all born human before we were trained in science, and we did not check our humanity at the door of the laboratory.We did not forfeit our right to believe in the supernatural, or our civic duty to respect those who do. If we had done so, we would be less than fully human, and even more alienated from our non-scientist fellow citizens. (We Catholics used to have a saying: "Error has no rights." Fortunately, it was abandoned as church policy almost half a century ago, when a different view prevailed: "People have rights, even people who are in error!")
If, on the contrary, we want to communicate with the public and persuade them (and we have to do this to make our schools safe for science), then we need to use that non-scientist part of ourselves, along with our scientific training. We who are believers need to be role models who prove the theological neutrality of science, by showing that believers can be just as comfortable with Darwinism as atheists are. And when fundamentalists question the quality of our belief, we have to be able to defend it, along with our approach to interpreting the Bible and our overall worldview.
Pietrowicz poses the related question: If and when religion and science clash in the minds of students, how should the instructor respond? Certainly not by demanding that they "believe in" evolution in order to pass (though they can be required to learn the evidence presented even if they do not buy the interpretation). But I see nothing wrong with also saying something like "Hey, I'm a Christian too, but I don't have a problem with evolution. If you want, we can discuss that sometime outside of class." In many cases, that would pique the curiosity of students on both sides of the issue, and might lead to a fruitful, even enjoyable off-campus bull session. The key is to avoid pugnacity, defensiveness, or putting students down: respect really pays off and is part of what we should be teaching, in addition to the science.
In such a conversation about beliefs (with questioning students or committed fundamentalists), most scientists who are not believers will quickly find themselves tongue-tied, reduced to sputtering impotence or insufferable arrogance — neither response will be very persuasive. Not all fundamentalists are ignorant, or intellectual pushovers. The sincere ones have serious concerns that deserve serious responses. Explaining how science differs from religion may be a good start, but it does not get us all the way to explaining the meaning of life. Scientists who are unwilling or unable to go beyond science in order to defend science must face the fact that they cannot reach many of the people who need to be reached.
Committed atheists, in particular, have to decide which they care about more: making our schools safe for evolution, or ridding the world of religion. The latter, whether desirable or not, is emphatically not a prerequisite to achieving the former; and in any case, trying to do both at once just inflames the controversy and alienates religionists who are the atheists' potential allies in supporting good science. This does not help the cause of science education.
In the religiously created, artificial creationism/evolution controversy, as in every social political conflict, there are basically three groups: the hard-core pro (non-theistic and theistic evolutionists), the hard-core con, and those in the middle consisting of the undecided and the apathetic — those who do not really care one way or the other. To convince people to side with a specific point of a view, arguments are framed by debaters not for the hard core but for the middle. One extreme will use information presented to support conclusions it already held while the other extreme tends to disregard proffered arguments.
When issues involve religion problems arise because one enters the world of belief — a world in which empirical data have little to no meaning when they conflict with beliefs — unsubstantiated beliefs substitute for facts and are considered to be facts. For this discussion, “religion” will refer primarily to Christianity (with a few changes reflecting other traditions, it could also refer to Judaism and Islam).
There can be no questioning of the axioms of the fundamentalists — there is a God and the Bible is the inerrant word of that God. Those opposed to science and evolution make certain declarations of the supremacy of belief and biblical inerrancy. This position is clearly stated in Biology for Christian Schools, second edition, a high-school level textbook by William S Pinkston Jr (Greenville [SC]: Bob Jones University Press,1991):
Christians who try to accept evolutionary theory when the Bible clearly teaches Creationism are saying that a section of the Bible is not true. The question of whether the Bible or human speculation is true then becomes a matter of choice, open for debate. Dr Bob Jones, Sr has rightly said: “Whatever the Bible says is so. Whatever man says may or may not be so.” This is the only consistent Christian position. All scientific facts and interpretation of those facts, therefore, must fit into the model prescribed by the Word of God. A scientific “fact” that does not fit into the model outlined in the Bible is either in error (and therefore not really a fact) or is being misinterpreted.
The above quote demonstrates that fundamentalist theists have successfully framed all science-versus-religion (SvR) discussions in such a way that they are in a no-lose situation; empirical data and reason are meaningless. Thus, speaking to a fundamentalist theist could (would) be futile.
Atheistic scientists claiming that God does not exist and who use science and/or evolution to buttress their arguments may well be absolutely correct, but those arguments cannot penetrate the unsubstantiated reality of fundamentalist religionists. Further, such arguments tend to confuse those who occupy the broad middle, who tend to be scientifically uneducated and who retain some ties, irrespective of how loose, to a concept of a supernatural being and world. Thus, fundamentalist religionists have an inherent advantage in SvR debates in that they frame the bounds of the debate and they speak with an absolute certainty while scientists speak in tentative terms. In fact, using evolutionary data for disproving the existence of God — rather than just for showing there is an alternative explanation for life on earth based on natural laws that does not require the concept of a God — may be going beyond the boundaries of the data and, among other things, serves the function of enhancing the inherent resistance of fundamentalists — even many non-fundamentalist believers — to scientific and evolutionary thought. Atheistic arguments and individuals may move some people but they could alienate others. This is especially true in the US where there is an additional level of complexity: the involvement of unconscionable pandering politicians and media figures — irrespective of their degree of scientific knowledge — who cater to a society historically dedicated to anti-intellectualism.
Thus, Domning’s interesting concept that theistic evolutionists are the people who, because of a common base of belief and common language, are the most capable of communicating with this large, possibly religiously oriented, scientifically unlearned, middle group has a certain deceptive truth. Of course, it is always desirable to have theistic or non-theistic evolutionists speak to the “undecided” and even to the believing fundamentalists. But is it desirable to have theistic evolutionists take the lead in speaking to the general public about SvR and the artificial, creationism/evolution controversy? The answer may not be a simple yes or no but more nuanced. The answer may lie within the philosophical framework of what one is trying to accomplish.
If the sole purpose of talking to the “undecided” group is political in nature, that is, to demonstrate to the public at large that it is possible to be a “believer” and still “believe in” (as opposed to accept based on evidence) evolution, thereby decreasing public opposition to evolution, then, I suppose, there is much merit in Domning’s proposal. However, if the purpose also consists of educating the “undecided” group to the importance and power of natural explanations of natural phenomena and into the ways of science, then Domning’s approach is self-defeating. Why?
One of the essences of science is hypothesis testing. Theistic evolutionists, similar to fundamentalist theists, hold to an unsubstantiated belief in a supernatural being. The basic difference between the two groups pertains to the use of a certain book — the Bible — which both groups consider sacred but interpret differently. There is no way to formulate a hypothesis that would permit the testing of supernatural beliefs. Thus, the underlying basis of theistic evolution, like fundamentalism, is not completely science-based. It opens science to the criticism that science is not really free of the supernatural but that it tolerates (respects) supernaturalism. This is a view which scientists should neither support nor want to promulgate. In the realm of belief, one could make the case that the fundamentalist theists are better situated than are the theistic evolutionists.
Fundamentalists are absolutists. Once believers interpret the Bible, they raise important theological questions. What part of the Bible is literal? What part allegorical? What part metaphorical? Who makes these decisions? How does a believer know whether those making such decision(s) are right? Under such conditions, how does a believer — or anyone — know what is what or which is which with any certainty? There is the danger that one can conclude that biblical interpreters have preconceived positions and they interpret the Bible so as to support those positions: an origin of different religious sects. If such becomes the case, then why should the book still be considered holy? If humans interpret the Bible according to their personal dictates, then perhaps the Bible is not the word of God but the word of humans. If the Bible is not the word of God, then why is there a need for theistic evolution or theistic evolutionists?
Considering the complexities introduced by religion, any evolutionist, therefore could lead in the discussion on SvR and evolution–creation with one proviso: there is no need for atheistic evolutionists to be strident about the non-existence of God, despite the fact that fundamentalists have inextricably bound the two. The emphasis should be placed on explaining what is science, what is religion, and the differences between them, and framing all SvR creationism/evolution discussions from a scientific perspective (natural explanations of natural phenomena) and not a theistic perspective (untestable and unlimited imagination about the supernatural).
"Michael Dowd illustrates in Thank God for Evolution! that there are many ways to be a spiritual person, and that all of them are enriched by an understanding of modern science, especially evolution. This is a creative, provocative book that sheds light on just about any spiritual path one might be on. Many will find their faith revolutionized." — Eugenie C Scott, Executive Director, National Center for Science Education
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to Clay Farris Naff's review of my book, Thank God for Evolution! (RNCSE 2007 Jan–Apr; 27 [1–2]: 52–3). Naff is a gifted writer with a well-honed, wry sense of humor. I found myself laughing even while thinking that he largely missed the purpose of my book. Of course, I realize that the responsibility lies with me, the author, to communicate effectively. That is why I appreciate the opportunity to clarify the nature and purpose of Thank God for Evolution! (TGFE) for RNCSE readers, and to correct one important misrepresentation of my book in Naff's review.
I wrote Thank God for Evolution! mostly to help religious believers from different traditions move toward an evidential worldview without having to abandon their tradition and join the atheist/humanist camp to do so. The book itself emerged out of field-testing the ideas contained within TGFE with religious and non-religious audiences across the theological and philosophical spectrum. Since April 2002, my wife, Connie Barlow (an acclaimed science writer), and I have delivered Sunday sermons, evening programs, and multi-day workshops in more than 550 churches,convents, monasteries, and spiritual centers across the continent, including liberal and conservative Roman Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Unitarian Universalist, Unity, Religious Science, Quaker, Mennonite, and Buddhist groups. We have also presented audience-appropriate versions of this message in nearly a hundred secular settings, including colleges, high schools, grade schools, nature centers, and public libraries.
Few things are more important, it seems to us, at least here in America, than for tens of millions of religious believers, over the next few decades, to come to embrace a science-based understanding of the world. Why? Because it matters — politically, theologically, personally — what we think about evolution. Trying to understand reality without an evolutionary worldview is like trying to understand infection without microscopes or the structure of the universe without telescopes. It's not merely difficult; it's impossible.
Until churches in America preach evolution enthusiastically, sacredly, in ways that expand and enrich faith, the battle over teaching evolutionary science in public schools will never end. Thus, the primary purpose of TGFE is to assist religious believers in letting go of literal interpretations of their otherworldly, supernatural myths and to wholeheartedly embrace an evidential, empirical worldview. Surely, this turn needs to happen in order for radically diverse religious people to cooperate in service of a just and sustainable future.
Those who might initially be put off by the religious language in my book should know that my wife, Connie Barlow, an evolutionary humanist/atheist science writer, worked with me very closely throughout the writing and editing process. She ghostwrote the science chapters, as I mention in my Acknowledgments.
Richard Dawkins graciously allowed me to include a letter he wrote to his daughter Juliet as an appendix in my book. That letter was previously published as the last chapter in his A Devil's Chaplain. There, Dawkins highlights the difference between believing something based on measurable evidence versus believing something based on private revelation, scripture, authority, or tradition. That religious people might, likewise, come to value this distinction is a central theme of my book.
In re-reading Naff's review, other than the half dozen or so minor things he didn't like about my book (too many exclamation points, for example, which he was certainly correct about; we removed nearly three dozen of them before the hardcover was printed), his only really substantive criticism related to the question of teleology. He writes, "Dowd has embraced a species of natural theology, and that biases his worldview toward a benevolent teleology that science cannot support."
This is demonstrably incorrect, however. Nowhere in my book do I suggest, or even imply, that there is a force or intelligence outside the universe (or within it) that is pulling strings or making evolution go in a benevolent direction. With respect to "the arrow of evolution," what I do say is this: When we look back over the course of billions of years of biological and human evolution, we see interdependence and cooperation at increasing scale of size and complexity. This is an empirical fact, not a statement of belief. Three or four billion years ago, the peak of earth's evolved complexity was expressed in carbon-based molecules maintained by processes cooperating at the scale of a millionth of a meter. Today, mutual support in the maintenance of peak (cultural) complexity occurs across distances measured in the millions of meters. It is true that I interpret this trajectory in a way that many find religiously inspiring. I also, however, acknowledge that it is just as legitimate to interpret the same facts in a non-inspiring way.
Similarly, Naff wrongly suggests that in my making the case for chaos and "bad news" catalyzing evolutionary creativity, I must therefore believe that some force or intelligence is intending favorable outcomes. Not at all. Rather, I am simply pointing out that how we choose to interpret reality and life's events profoundly affects the quality of our existence — and this is just as true collectively as it is individually. In my book I mention that many, including myself, have found the mantra "the universe is conspiring on my behalf" to be an exceedingly useful outlook in most situations. That is, when I act as if this were true, I love my life. I do not, however, suggest that this interpretation is "the Truth".
In his final paragraph, Naff writes, "a commitment to science requires an unflinching acceptance of the evidence, good or bad." I could not agree more. There is no guarantee that our species will survive into the future. But it does seems to me that we are far more likely to do so if religious people around the world are offered a way of thinking about science in general, and evolution specifically, that they can enthusiastically embrace. I am certain that one of the reasons TGFE has been endorsed by five Nobel laureates and 120 other leading scientists, ministers, and theologians, from Baptists to Buddhists, is that it is an important step in this direction. As David Sloan Wilson, author of Darwin's Cathedral and Evolution for Everyone, offered:
An itinerant preacher who teaches evolution in the evangelical style? I was skeptical at first, but Dowd remains true to both science and the spirit of religion. He understands that what most people need to accept evolution is not more facts, but an appreciation of what evolution means for our value systems and everyday lives.
Those who have no use for religious language may nonetheless appreciate my book for how it can help the religiously minded to comprehend and value the worldview of science. Time and again, in speaking across North America, I have found that roughly 70% of Americans, including most humanists and virtually all moderate and liberal Christians (and even some evangelicals) find the integration of faith and reason that TGFE offers to be an exciting and radically fresh third way beyond the chronic debate between the "New Atheists" and those espousing "intelligent design". For public school teachers trying to teach the science of evolution to increasingly resistant students from religious backgrounds, TGFE may be just the bridge they've been looking for. That, at least, is my hope.
Thank God for Evolution! is available as a free PDF download via http://ThankGodforEvolution.com.
As 2008 drew to a close, the good news for the producers of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed was that their creationist propaganda movie was getting a bit of press again. The bad news is that it was in the lists of the worst movies of 2008, as well as in a fierce, detailed, and incisive review by the popular film critic Roger Ebert.
The Onion's AV Club (2008 Dec 16), was quickest out of the gate, commenting:
There are terrible movies, and then there are terrible movies that cause harm to society by feeding into its ignorance. Nathan Frankowski's odious antievolution documentary belongs in the latter category. ... Few moments in cinema in 2008 were as shameless and disgusting as the Expelled sequence where Stein solemnly visits a Nazi death camp and unsubtly links "survival of the fittest" theory to the Holocaust.
John Serba of the Grand Rapids Press (2008 Dec 26) wrote, "Ben Stein hosts this pro-Intelligent Design documentary that forgets to include a compelling argument for this viewpoint, and instead chooses to equate Darwinism and its legions of rational scientist followers with Nazis and the Holocaust. Facts rooted in reality are at a premium in this insidious, crassly manipulative dreck." Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel (2008 Dec 26) commented, "Ben Stein's documentary was a cynical attempt to sucker Christian conservatives into thinking they're losing the 'intelligent design' debate because of academic 'prejudice.'"
Stephen Whitty of the Newark Star-Ledger (2008 Dec 27) described Expelled as lifting "its nonsensical knowledge of early man from an Alley Oop comic and its sense of honest inquiry from a snake-handling preacher." In the LA City Beat (2008 Dec 30), Andy Klein wrote:
Stein's "intelligent design" documentary has all the red flags — inadequate or misleading identification of interviewees, aggressively manipulative editing, extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence, and extreme leaps of logic ... particularly suggesting guilt by association, even to he point of laying blame for the Holocaust on Darwin.
And Ken Hanke of the Ashville, North Carolina, Mountain Xpress (2008 Dec 31) said that Expelled was "as corrupt a piece of work as you'll ever encounter."
Expelled fared no better north of the border. Jay Stone of the Canwest News Service (2008 Dec 26) described Expelled as "a masterwork of intellectual dishonesty." And Richard Crouse of Canada AM (2008 Dec 30) commented:
Wrapping his thesis in good old American jingoistic rhetoric — remember this guy used to write speeches for Nixon — Stein repeatedly compares Darwinist scientists to communists ... and even makes the outrageous connection between Darwin's theory and Nazism.
Crouse added, "Perhaps it isn't just a coincidence that the host's initials are BS."
Roger Ebert reviewed Expelled in a December 3, 2008, post entitled "Win Ben Stein's mind" on his blog on the Chicago Sun-Times website (available on-line at http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2008/12/win_ben_steins_mind.html) — and he pulled no punches. "The more you know about evolution, or simple logic, the more you are likely to be appalled by the film. No one with an ability for critical thinking could watch more than three minutes without becoming aware of its tactics," he wrote. And he added:
This film is cheerfully ignorant, manipulative, slanted, cherry-picks quotations, draws unwarranted conclusions, makes outrageous juxtapositions (Soviet marching troops representing opponents of ID), pussy-foots around religion (not a single identified believer among the ID people), segues between quotes that are not about the same thing, tells bald-faced lies, and makes a completely baseless association between freedom of speech and freedom to teach religion in a university class that is not about religion.
"And there is worse, much worse," Ebert continued, taking special offense at Expelled's claim that the acceptance of evolution resulted in the Holocaust — "It fills me with contempt." Previously, the Anti-Defamation League said that the movie's claim "is outrageous and trivializes the complex factors that led to the mass extermination of European Jewry." Expelled's lead, Ben Stein, responded, "It's none of their f—ing business," according to Peter McKnight, writing in the Vancouver Sun (2008 Jun 21).
For a thorough critique of Expelled, including a collection of links to reviews of the movie, visit NCSE's Expelled Exposed website. Additionally, a recent issue of Reports of the NCSE (2008 Sep–Dec; 28 [5–6]) is a special issue devoted to debunking Expelled, containing reports on its reception, a summary of the ways in which organizations with a stake in the creationism/evolution controversy reacted, a summary of the various controversies over its use of copyrighted material, and a detailed explanation of its unsuitability for the classroom.
The Serapeum is a structure better known to scientists as the Temple of Serapis, named for an Egyptian deity worshiped by Romans. It stands along the coast just north of Pozzuoli, Italy. Stone used by Romans to build the temple had originally formed as limestone sediment at the bottom of the sea, where it metamorphosed into marble, and millions of years later was raised as land. Approximately 2000 years ago, the marble was quarried, carved into pillars, and set into the temple, which originally was a marketplace and spa for wealthy Romans. Since that time, sea levels changed several times and in the process the temple was repeatedly submerged and exposed. The volcanic features around the Temple of Serapis helped inspire Virgil's account of the entry into the underworld in the Aeneid.
For most geologists,the Temple of Serapis is more than a monument of ancient art. For example, John Playfair — in a chapter titled "Changes in the Apparent Level of the Sea" — discussed the temple in his Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of Earth (1802). The temple was also visited by Charles Babbage, Emma Darwin, and several other people associated with the creationism/ evolution controversy. However, the scientist most closely associated with the temple is geologist Charles Lyell, who made it an icon of uniformitarianism when he used a drawing of the temple's columns as the frontispiece of his monumental Principles of Geology: Being an Attempt to Explain the Former Changes of the Earth's Surface by Reference to Causes now in Operation (Figure 1),a book that the late Stephen Jay Gould described as "the most famous geological book ever written." Lyell, who wanted to "free the science [of geology] from Moses,"emphasized that the geological changes that have been shaping earth for millennia are observable today. Lyell's ideas about the Temple of Serapis prompted Richard Fortney (author of Earth: An Intimate History) to describe the ruins as a "holy place for rationalists." What makes the temple such an important place for geologists?
When Lyell visited the temple's ruins in 1828, its three remaining marble pillars — each some 40-feet high — were still standing (the fourth column lies in pieces on the temple's floor). In Principles of Geology, after describing the columns as "smooth and uninjured to the height of about twelve feet above their pedestals," Lyell made his most important point: "Above this is a zone, about nine feet in height, where the marble has been pierced by a species of marine perforating bivalve, Lithodomus." (Lithodomus is a genus of clams that burrow into piers and boatmoorings.) Since these clams cannot live above the low-tide line,Lyell concluded that the columns had at one time been underwater (many of the columns' holes still have shells of Lithodomus in them). The original temple had been built above sea level, but the presence of the mollusks on the columns meant that the columns had been partially submerged and were standing upright in the ocean. The columns had then been raised to their present level by the volcanic eruption that produced Monte Nuovo just northwest of Pozzuoli.
Because the lowest parts of the Temple's columns were not bored by bivalves, Lyell suspected that these parts of the columns had been buried in volcanic sediments. He was right; these sediments had been excavated in 1749 — almost 80 years before his visit. While at Pozzuoli, Lyell also noted that two other temples were submerged just offshore northwest of the Temple of Serapis. Since these changes had occurred during recorded history, Lyell concluded that the same geological processes — over the expanse of geological history — could build mountains, valleys, and all the other geological features we see today.
Lyell had a dramatic and immediate impact on Charles Darwin; as Darwin noted,"I never forgot that almost everything which I have done in science I owe to the study of [Lyell's] great works." However, Lyell was reluctant to accept Darwin's ideas about evolution, especially as they related to humans. Darwin's On the Origin of Species, which to many was an inevitable sequel to Lyell's advocacy of uniformitarianism, troubled Lyell, who did not initially accept the same degree of continuity of life as he claimed for the physical features of the earth's surface. However, Lyell finally admitted that Darwin's On the Origin of Species was "a splendid case of close reasoning" and that "I have been looking down the wrong road."
Today, the Temple's pillars — which remain standing (Figure 2) — are pictured on the reverse of the prestigious Lyell Medal, which is awarded by the Geological Society of London.
In a close vote on January 23, 2009, the Texas state board of education approved a revision of the state's science standards lacking the controversial "strengths and weaknesses" language, which in 2003 was selectively applied by members of the board attempting to dilute the treatment of evolution in the biology textbooks then under consideration. The stakes are high: the standards will determine what is taught in Texas's public school science classrooms and the content of the biology textbooks approved for use in the state for the next ten years. And the threat is real: seven members of the fifteen- member board, including its chair, avowed creationist Don McLeroy, are regarded as in favor of attempts to undermine the teaching of evolution in Texas schools. The removal of the "strengths and weaknesses" language therefore represented a tremendous victory for science education in Texas, with the Dallas Morning News (200 Jan 23) describing the failure of a proposed amendment to reintroduce it as "a major defeat for social conservatives." But the struggle is not over, for a number of scientifically indefensible revisions to the biology and earth and space science standards were adopted at the last minute. Defenders of the integrity of science education in Texas plan to expose the flaws in these revisions and hope for a reversal when the board takes its final vote on the standards at its March 26–27, 2009, meeting.
The "strengths and weaknesses" language occurs in the old Texas state science standards, which include a requirement that reads, "The student is expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information." The first draft of the revised standards replaced the "strengths and weaknesses" language with "The student is expected to analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing." The change was hailed by the Texas Freedom Network, Texas Citizens for Science, and the 21st Century Science Coalition, as well as by the editorial boards of the Austin American-Statesman (2008 Oct 6) and the Corpus Christi Call-Times (2008 Nov 20). Additionally, a survey conducted by Raymond Eve and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund demonstrated that the vast majority of biologists at universities in Texas rejected the idea of teaching the supposed weaknesses of evolution (see RNCSE 2009 Jan/Feb; 29 : 7).
Nevertheless, as previously reported (RNCSE 2009 Jan/Feb; 29 : 4–7), when the Texas board of education began to hear testimony about the new standards on November 19, 2008, it was presented not with the first draft but with a second draft, in which the "strengths and weaknesses" language was replaced with a variant: "The student is expected to analyze and evaluate strengths and limitations of scientific explanations including those based on accepted scientific data, and evidence from students' observations, experiments, models, and logical statements." At the meeting, defenders of the integrity of science education strongly argued that "strengths and limitations" was no improvement over "strengths and weaknesses." Indeed, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (2008 Nov 20) observed, "With few exceptions, the speakers — scientists, teachers, clergy and grassroots activists — took the side of evolution," a situation that evidently vexed the chair of the board, Don McLeroy, who complained, "This is all being ginned up by the evolution side."
Subsequently, a third draft of the standards appeared in late December 2008, reverting to the first draft's "analyze and evaluate" language. In its discussion of the nature of science, the third draft is similar but not identical to the first draft. According to the first draft, "Science uses observational evidence to make predictions of natural phenomena and to construct testable explanations. If ideas are based upon purported forces outside of nature, they cannot be tested using scientific methods." The third draft reads, "Science, as defined by the National Academy of Sciences, is the 'use of evidence to construct testable explanations and predictions of natural phenomena, as well as the knowledge generated through this process.' ... Students should know that some questions are outside the realm of science because they deal with phenomena that are not scientifically testable." It was the third draft that was under consideration at the January 2009 meeting of the state board of education.
On January 21, 2009, the first day of the board's January meeting, the board heard testimony about the science standards from dozens of witnesses, including NCSE's executive director Eugenie C Scott, who urged the board to heed the advice of the scientific and educational experts who revised the standards and omitted the "strengths and weaknesses" language. The New York Times (2009 Jan 22) quoted her as explaining, "The phrase 'strengths and weaknesses' has been spread nationally as a slogan to bring creationism in through the back door." And the Dallas Morning News (2009 Jan 21) added, "Scott warned the board that if it adopts the requirement, it will lead to textbooks that contain pseudoscience and inaccuracies as publishers try to appease the state and get their books sold in Texas. 'If you require textbook publishers to include bad science, you're going to have problems,' she said, asserting that Texas students will suffer as a result."
Kevin Fisher, a past president of the Science Teachers Association of Texas, told the Times that the attempt to retain the "strengths and weaknesses" language is "an attempt to bring false weaknesses into the classroom in an attempt to get students to reject evolution." And David M Hillis, a distinguished professor of biology at the University of Texas, Austin, concurred, adding, "Every single thing they are representing as a weakness is a misrepresentation of science ... These are science skeptics. These are people with religious and political agendas." Ryan Valentine of the Texas Freedom Network worried about the consequence for Texas's image: "A misguided crusade to include phony weaknesses in the theory of evolution in our science curriculum will send a message to the rest of the nation that science takes a back seat to politics in Texas," the Morning News reported him as saying.
Also testifying were people who supported the "strengths and weaknesses" language, including a representative of the Discovery Institute, often betraying the connection between the language and creationism. A teacher quoted by the Morning News, for example, said, "As a creationist, I don't want creationism taught in science classes, but this proposal [to drop the strengths and weaknesses rule] smacks of censorship." A mechanical engineer quoted by the Times said, echoing a rhetorical theme prominent in creationist circles since the Scopes era, "Textbooks today treat it as more than a theory, even though its evidence has been found to be stained with halftruths, deception and hoaxes." (As NCSE's Glenn Branch and Louise S Mead recently wrote in Evolution: Education and Outreach [2008; 1 (3): 287–9], "[William Jennings Bryan's] position — that it is okay to teach about evolution but only as something conjectural or speculative, as 'just a theory' and not as a fact — continues to resonate.")
The crucial vote not to restore the "strengths and weaknesses" language took place on January 22, 2009, the second day of the board's meeting. Board members who opposed the amendment cited the need to respect the work of the experts, according to the Morning News, with Mary Helen Berlanga commenting, "We're not talking about faith. We're not talking about religion. ... We're talking about science. We need to stay with our experts and respect what they have requested us to do," and Geraldine Miller similarly commenting, "We need to respect what our teachers have recommended to us." Rick Agosto, widely considered to be a swing voter, was quoted in the San Antonio Express-News (2009 Jan 23) as saying, "I have to consider the experts," and Bob Craig was quoted in the Austin American-Statesman (2009 Jan 23) as saying, "We appointed individuals, educators — good solid people — to review the (standards) in science. They made a recommendation, and, again, we are taking away from what the educators have indicated to us is the best wording."
Members of the board who favored the amendment seemed, however, to consider themselves to be experts. Ken Mercer — who is on record as claiming that evolution is falsified by the absence of any transitional forms between cats and dogs — was reported by the Express-News as saying that he was not going to rubber-stamp the recommendations of the experts who revised the standards. And he was also quoted by the Morning News as complaining, "The other side has a history of fraud. Those arguing against us have a bad history of lies." Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science, who was blogging from the meeting (see sidebar), reported that Mercer cited "the bogus and misleading examples of Piltdown Man, Haeckel's vertebrate embryo drawings, the peppered moths that were glued to tree trunks, and the half-bird, half-dinosaur that were all 'evolutionary frauds'" — all of which are familiar staples of creationist literature attempting to discredit evolution.
Ultimately, as the Morning News reported, "The amendment failed to pass on a 7–7 vote, with four Democrats and three Republicans voting no. Another Democrat — who would have opposed the amendment — was absent." The significance of the vote was apparent to the Texas media: for example, the headline of the story in the Morning News was "Texas Board of Education votes against teaching evolution weaknesses"; the San Antonio Express-News began its story with the sentence, "A 20-year-old Texas tradition allowing public schools to teach 'both the strengths and weaknesses' of evolution succumbed to science Thursday when the State Board of Education voted to abolish the wording from its curriculum standards"; and the headline of the story in the Austin American-Statesman was "State board shuns disputed language on evolution." And the momentousness of the vote was not lost on NCSE's executive director Eugenie C Scott, who explained in a January 23, 2009, press release (available on-line at http://ncse.com/news/2009/01/weaknesses-removed-from-texas-science-standards-004231): "The misleading language [in the original science standards] has been a creationist loophole in the science TEKS [Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills] for decades. Its removal is a huge step forward."
The victory was not complete, however. A flurry of amendments introduced by creationist members of the board sought to compromise the treatment of evolution in the biology standards. Terri Leo successfully proposed a revision to the standards to replace verbs such as "identify," "recognize," and "describe" in section 7 of the high school biology standards with "analyze and evaluate" — no other section of the standards was treated similarly. Worse, Don McLeroy successfully proposed a revision to section 7 to require that students "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record." It is significant that "sudden appearance" is a creationist catchphrase, associated in particular with young-earth creationist Wendell Bird. During oral arguments in Edwards v Aguillard, for example, Jay Topkis observed, "those buzzwords come right out of Mr Bird's lexicon. ... They're his."
Just as worrying were the amendments introduced by creationist members of the board that sought to compromise the treatment of evolution and related concepts in the earth and space science standards. Barbara Cargill successfully proposed revisions to the standards to add, in her words, "humility and tentativeness"; in the view of Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science, however," All five of the changes ... are not needed and were proposed to weaken and damage the ESS TEKS." The worst change was to a requirement that students "evaluate a variety of fossil types, transitional fossils, fossil lineages, and significant fossil deposits with regard to their appearance, completeness, and rate and diversity of evolution," which now reads, "evaluate a variety of fossil types, proposed transitional fossils, fossil lineages, and significant fossil deposits and assess the arguments for and against universal common descent in light of this fossil evidence."
NCSE's Eugenie C Scott, who was at the meeting and observed the board's confusion over these amendments, commented in NCSE's January 23, 2009, press release, "They didn't ... have time to talk to scientists about the creationistinspired amendments made at the last minute. Once they do, I believe these inaccurate amendments will be removed." The Texas Freedom Network concurred, observing on its blog (see sidebar):
Board members — none of whom are research scientists, much less biologists — appeared confused when they were asked to consider amendments with changes to specific passages of the standards. That's why it's foolish to let dentists and insurance salesmen play-pretend that they're scientists. The result is that the standards draft includes language that is more tentative. Not good, but not necessarily disastrous overall.
With respect to McLeroy's revision, TFN added, "What we saw is what happens when a dentist pretends that he knows more about science than scientists do."
All of the action — the vote not to restore the "strengths and weaknesses" language and the flurry of amendments from creationist members of the board apparently eager to salvage a small victory from the defeat — occurred on the second day of the board's meeting. On the third day, January 23, 2009, there was virtually no discussion as the board voted unanimously to adopt the science standards as revised on the previous day, without hearing any further comments from those in attendance. The vote, again, is only a preliminary vote, with a final vote on the standards expected at the board's March 26–27, 2009, meeting. The Houston Chronicle (2009 Jan 23) reported, "Scientists vowed to fight the plan before the board takes final action in March"; since the survey conducted by Raymond Eve and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund demonstrated that the vast majority of biologists at universities in Texas rejected the idea of teaching the supposed weaknesses of evolution, there ought to be no shortage of scientifically competent advice for the board to heed.
Reports in the press recognized that the overall result was a qualified victory for science, with the Houston Chronicle (2009 Jan 23), for example, reporting, "Texas schools won't have to teach the weaknesses of evolution theories anymore, but the State Board of Education ushered in other proposed changes Friday that some scientists say still undermine evolution instruction and subject the state to ridicule," and reporting Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science as concerned that McLeroy's revision, if not reversed, would make the standards a laughingstock. David Hillis, a distinguished biology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, added, "This new proposed language is absurd. It shows very clearly why the board should not be rewriting the science standards, especially when they introduce new language that has not even been reviewed by a single science expert. He also told The New York Times (2009 Jan 24), "It's a clear indication that the chairman of the state school board doesn't understand the science."
In the same vein, editorials in Texas and nationally have praised the omission of the "strengths and weaknesses" language but lamented the creationist revisions. The Austin American-Statesman (2009 Jan 24) seemed pleased if not excited about what it termed "an incremental step away from dogma-driven curriculum decision-making," while the Waco Tribune (2009 Jan 26) was happy about the omission of a phrase that "was meant to open the door to the undermining of evolution theory" but dismayed by McLeroy's revision, which it described as "a fall-back attempt by the right wing of the board to hang tough in its effort to undermine evolution theory." The New York Times (2009 Jan 26), which earlier (2009 Jan 22) acknowledged that "[t]he debate here has far-reaching consequences; Texas is one of the nation's biggest buyers of textbooks, and publishers are reluctant to produce different versions of the same material," editorialized, "The lesson we draw from these shenanigans is that scientifically illiterate boards of education should leave the curriculum to educators and scientists who know what constitutes a sound education."
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Glenn Branch is NCSE's deputy director.
FOR FURTHER READING
In addition to the newspaper reports cited, a variety of on-line sources provided detailed, candid, and often uninhibited running commentary on the proceedings. Texas Citizens for Science's Steven Schafersman blogged, and posted photographs, on the Houston Chronicle's Evo.Sphere blog: http://www.chron.com/commons/readerblogs/evosphere.html; the Texas Freedom Network was blogging on its TFN Insider blog: http://tfnblog.wordpress.com/; NCSE's Joshua Rosenau was blogging on his personal blog, Thoughts from Kansas (hosted by ScienceBlogs): http://www.scienceblogs.com/tfk; and the Houston Press blogged the first day of the meeting: http://blogs.houstonpress.com/hairballs/political_animals. For those wanting to get their information from the horse's mouth, minutes and audio recordings of the board meeting will be available on the Texas Education Agency's website via http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index4.aspx?id=5173 and http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index4.aspx?id=4473. NCSE's previous reports on events in Texas are available on-line at http://ncse.com/news/texas.
Book reviews in recent issues of RNCSE have showcased a growing number of authors and reviewers who advocate some form of theistic evolution. However, other recent books by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and other militant atheist advocates of evolution have attracted much more media attention — naturally, since extreme views always sell more newspapers than moderate ones.
Moderate views on creation-vs-evolution are not in short supply. Yet despite the Gallup polls consistently showing 35–40% of Americans somewhere between the poles of special creationism and strictly materialist evolutionism (with only 9–15% for the latter view), this reality is studiously ignored both by creationists and by materialists like Dawkins (and others). This not only polarizes the debate unnecessarily, but fundamentally misrepresents it. To break this impasse and move toward defusing evolution as an explosive social and educational issue, I propose the perhaps shocking idea that it is time for theistic evolutionists to take over from atheists as the public face of evolution advocacy.
The stalemated conflict between creationists and evolutionists here in the US (and now spreading abroad) reminds me a bit of conditions in a certain Middle Eastern country where religious passions have also contributed to a dangerous degree of political polarization. At one extreme, we have religious fundamentalists whose worldview is deeply threatened by what they see as a corrupting secular culture and ideology and who resist this at all costs, sometimes by (intellectually) unscrupulous means. At the other pole, with scant understanding of and less sympathy for the thinking, culture, language, and concerns of their religious adversaries, are militant evangelical atheists, waging a heavy-handed, ill-advised Global War on Theism that needlessly provokes their opponents and only inflames the situation. Having seized the mantle of spokespersons for evolution, and the spotlight of the media, they drown out the voices of fellow evolutionists who would pursue a less arrogant and abrasive policy.
Secular critics like these tend to rest secure in the Green Zones of college campuses and major cities. Many scientists, in fact, declared "Mission Accomplished" years ago and dismissed the creationists as just a few diehards whose time has passed. But the sectarians who dominate much of the countryside, and have the hearts and minds of much of the population, are actively targeting their IEDs (intelligent educational designs) at school boards and state legislatures across the country. Meanwhile the noncombatant population, caught in the crossfire and not necessarily committed to any extremist faction, wants nothing more from them than answers to the great questions of human existence: the meaning of life, the reasons for suffering, and whether there is a God, an afterlife, and ultimate justice (Pennock 1997).
In this asymmetrical warfare, the secularists make easy, static targets. They fruitlessly deploy ponderous scientific artillery against the lightweight arguments of "scientific creationist" guerrillas, and wonder at how the latter always blithely dance aside to fight again another day. But the creationist leaders and their lay followers are clearly motivated by those existential and theological concerns and not by science, so the scientific arguments do not lay a glove on them.
As long as the secularists insist on prosecuting the war unilaterally in this way, they will not prevail. The only hope for a successful outcome lies with a coalition: the secularists must ally themselves with — indeed, yield leadership to — theistic evolutionists, who understand the creationists’ religious culture, speak their religious language, and can engage them on their home turf.
Anyone who pays close attention to creationists’ rhetoric will see that they ignore whenever possible the inconvenient existence of the large segment of Christianity that accepts evolution (Matsumura 1995: 22). Since most of their philosophical and moral arguments are aimed at atheists, these arguments fall flat when they are confronted with opponents who share many of their theological presuppositions. Such opponents can cut to the chase, posing to creationists the key question, "What is it about evolution that really bothers you? Because if it is a fear that life in the Darwinian view has no meaning and no room for God, then I am here to testify that you can be both a Darwinian and a Christian — in fact, a better, more intellectually consistent Christian!" In other words, Christian extremism is best left to other Christians to handle in-house.
Fundamentalists with an unshakable commitment to biblical literalism, of course, will not be open to this approach. But many people cling to a literal reading of Genesis only because no one has ever shown them acceptable answers to their existential questions that do not conflict with science. By agreeing with the creationists that such answers are impossible, the extreme materialists self-defeatingly drive such folks into the creationist camp.
What I am proposing is simply that those who embrace theistic evolution, Christians especially, shed whatever shyness they have about saying so, in public and in private, and actively engage family, friends, colleagues, clergy, elected officials, news reporters, and anyone else who evinces doubt about the compatibility of evolution and religious belief. Lack of knowledge is no longer an excuse, given the rich resources recently provided by writers such as Beatrice Bruteau, Denis Edwards, Stephen Godfrey, John Haught, Kenneth Miller, Michael Ruse, Patricia Williams, and many others — most of them reviewed or otherwise represented in these pages. Fill the silence that these authors have begun to dispel. We need not agree on all the theological details; the goal is simply to make it unmistakably clear that the atheists have no monopoly on Darwinism. Speak about it, write about it, publish your own insights; but in and out of season, bear witness that you and many like you see ways to reconcile faith and science without compromising either.
Objections to this proposal are foreseeable. The militant atheists will say that it publicly divides the evolution camp; that it is an intellectually dishonest tactical sellout to theism; and that it inappropriately drags religion into a scientific debate just as the creationists do.
However, it is disingenuous to pretend that all evolutionists see eye-to-eye on philosophical or theological matters. We rightly criticize creationists who obscure the divisions among anti-evolutionists, as is done at the new Creation Museum in Kentucky (Heaton 2007). In fact, both extremes downplay their divisions, which they see as weaknesses. For the creationists, it really is a weakness, because they feel the need for science to buttress weak theology, and therefore they must make the science point unambiguously in their direction.
But the diversity of theological views among evolutionists is potentially a strength for us in this conflict, because it corroborates one of our central arguments: the theological neutrality of good science. It shows that a variety of religious views is compatible with the facts of science — and some of those views may be acceptable to many who have hitherto counted themselves as anti-evolutionists. It humanizes what is now seen by many, and held up by our adversaries, as evolutionists’ rigid hostility to religion and contempt for the deepest concerns of most human beings. That kind of religious rigidity is something we associate with fundamentalist religious groups. Think: if we are all about good science, then how did we get maneuvered into being known by a huge public mainly for an extreme religious viewpoint (and one that many of us do not even share)? Who are the real fundamentalists in this fight?
Religionists are hardly unaware that various churches and their members have theological differences. They will not be scandalized to learn that scientists also disagree on these matters that are outside of science. The point is to build a bridge across the divide, by showing them that (surprise!) many evolutionists can and do agree with them on many points of religious doctrine.
Furthermore, this is not a false irenicism, smoothing over fundamental differences between creationists and evolutionists just to quiet the controversy. In truth, many (perhaps most!) evolutionists are theists of one sort or another. Their views are as sincerely and validly held as those of the atheists and have as much (perhaps more!) claim to be representative of evolutionist thinking. Atheists have every right to believe that theists are woefully misguided in failing to see the obsolescence of religion after Darwin; but that is their philosophical opinion, not an infallibly proven proposition of science or logic. No one is expecting them to shut up or sign on to theistic evolution for the sake of a united front; but the theists are justifiably tired of having the folks on both ends of the spectrum pretend they don’t exist — presumed to be atheists by the creationists, and presumptuously spoken for by the real atheists.
Does my proposal drag religion into a scientific debate? Let’s get real: this has not been a merely scientific debate for a hundred years. The atheists themselves, like the rest of us, proclaim this from the rooftops: the scientific community accepted evolution generations ago, and creationism today has none but religious motives. Yet we keep acting as though the creationists’ phony scientific arguments can be laid to rest by piling on more and more layers of new scientific data. Maybe that will persuade a few folks on the fence who are genuinely perplexed by scientific questions; but it is assuredly irrelevant to most people who disbelieve evolution — because they are scientific laypeople and do not lose sleep over the Second Law of Thermodynamics or whether paleontologists have a correct understanding of punctuated equilibrium. What they do care about are those eternal existential questions, and whether belief in evolution is a threat to civilized society as we know it. Until we start addressing those concerns, the two sides of the debate will continue talking past each other, just as they have for the last 40 years and more.
Finally, is my proposal basically a tactical one? Of course it is — because the old tactics have failed to achieve more than a courtroom stalemate, while the soul of creationism is marching on in churches, classrooms, political campaigns, and the rest of society. We have been fighting the wrong war with the wrong weapons. If we are content to rest on our courtroom victories, as the winners of every stand-up fight, we will end up as we did in Vietnam: or as Sitting Bull supposedly said after the Little Bighorn, we will have "won a great battle, but lost a great war."
To really protect education from creationism’s inroads, it has to be marginalized not just scientifically and legally but theologically; and the atheists among us cannot do that. The voices of other evolutionists need to be heard. There are many such voices out there; let’s start putting them front and center.
Back to Darwin: A Richer Account of Evolution consists of a collection of two dozen papers presented at an academic conference on evolution and religion organized by the Center for Process Studies at Claremont, California, in October 2004. The volume consists of an editor’s introduction, four topical sections containing four to nine essays each, plus an appendix. Most of the essays are contributed by authors whose names will be familiar to anyone who has browsed the literature in what might be called “the reconciliatory genre of science and religion writing,” especially as it concerns evolution. The editor makes no bones about the fact that whereas he has attempted to honor the integrity of each author’s contribution(s), he has also selected, organized, and contextualized this material in order to highlight how a “process perspective” can remedy some of the defects of current neo-Darwinian thinking. (“Process thought” is an elaboration and application of ideas developed by Alfred North Whitehead in the 1920s that takes events, processes, and integration rather than materialistic and dualistic ways of thinking as metaphysically basic.)
Section I consists of “Background Materials. ”The essays in this section seek to convey a history of the problem of science and religion, to provide the basics of contemporary evolutionary theorizing, and to survey some of the tensions between Darwinian ideas and religious belief. Section II aims “To Broaden and Diversify Evolutionary Theory” by integrating scientific ideas from thermodynamics, quantum physics, and chemistry into evolutionary thinking, as well as by promoting the underappreciated biological ideas of neo-Lamarckism, symbiogenesis, Gaia, and the Baldwin effect. Section III takes up “The Philosophical Challenge to Neo- Darwinism.” The inclusion of the term “Neo-Darwinism” in the title of this section alerts the reader to expect a critique, as this term is seldom used by contemporary biologists in describing their work, but occasionally crops up in the writings of authors providing an historical account of the synthesis of Darwin’s theory of natural selection with Mendelian genetics, or by those about to launch into a critique of Darwinian ideas and who therefore need to fix in their sights the intended target. In this case it is the latter. The main theme of the essays in this section is that Darwinism, as currently conceived, needlessly narrows and limits the nature of evolution in a way that excludes all consideration of subjectivity, emergence, and purpose. The final section, Section IV, addresses the issue of “Evolution and God” by posing the question, “Can a scientific account of the world be incorporated into a theistic one?”The essays in this section tend to answer that question in the affirmative by seeking to modify both theology and science in order to integrate them into a unified vision of reality.
It would be impossible to summarize each of the individual essays here. But certain recurring themes stand out. Unlike books by outspoken atheists (such as by Richard Dawkins) that attempt to use Darwin to demolish religious belief, the contributors to this volume seek to find a rapprochement between an affirmation of Darwin’s fundamental ideas and religious belief. Its spirit is fundamentally reconciliatory rather than antagonistic — seeking integration rather than opposition. What unites the essays (and accounts for the volume’s title) is the contributors’ affirmation of Darwin’s demonstration of the fact of biological evolution conjoined with a concern to correct certain assumptions and overstatements in the development of evolutionary theory after Darwin. Of particular concern are certain “extreme” statements of evolution according to which genes are conceived as being unaffected by their environments, and in which more inclusive life-forms (for example, organisms) essentially disappear from explanations of evolutionary change. Hence the authors propose to “go back” to re-affirm Darwin’s major, distinctive ideas without necessarily embracing subsequent restrictive extensions and elaborations of Darwin’s ideas that underwrite (or presuppose) atheistic views.
The volume will be of interest to anyone concerned to explore alternatives to the science–religion debate as framed by the most uncompromising proponents of godless evolution, on the one hand, and by advocates of “creation science” or “intelligent design”, on the other. Perhaps of particular interest for readers of this journal are the views of the volume’s editor concerning the teaching of evolution in public schools. While agreeing with the vast majority of biologists that “creation science” and “intelligent design” have no place in public school science education, and affirming that schools should avoid teaching that evolution shows signs of being directed or guided by an intelligent agent, he nonetheless maintains that the teaching of evolution in public schools should also avoid saying or implying that the evolutionary process is wholly purposeless and devoid of values. Yet rather than leave it at that, as many educators might be inclined to do, Cobb explicitly harnesses the essays in the book to show how such a stance can be underwritten by a theistically-friendly- yet-neutral metaphysics (process philosophy) that gives each side in the evolution-creation/ design debate something (but not everything) it wants: naturalism (of a sort) without dogmatic atheism; purpose and values without fundamentalism or refurbished natural theology.
Of course, precisely because this approach attempts to chart a middle course between the polarized extremes in the evolution-creation dispute, it will seem satisfactory to neither side. More generally, as an attempt at a philosophical via media it is bound to suffer from the fate of nearly every such attempt; or as I explain to my students, it will be yet another confirmation of what I like to call “Shanahan’s Law”: For any fundamental philosophical problem, there will be solutions that lie at either extreme that are admirably clear but which lead to enormous difficulties and hence will be hard to justify; and there will be a range of intermediate positions with greater but varying degrees of plausibility, but burdened by corresponding unclarity sometimes bordering on outright obscurity. The philosophical dilemma of clarity versus plausibility is hardly unique to the science-religion dispute, or to the project of this book, and therefore should not dissuade readers from plunging in. Indeed, to the extent that this volume encourages readers to consider intriguing alternatives to the most vocally defended poles of the debate about the teaching of evolution in public schools, this volume deserves a wide readership.
Michael Ruse’s most recent book, like his Darwinism and its Discontents (2006; reviewed in RNCSE 2007 Jan–Apr; 27 [1–2]: 50–2), is a general work on Darwinism, including chapters on Darwin’s biography, the history of Darwinian evolution, evidence for his theory, and chapters on religion and morality. This time, however, he is contributing to the Blackwell Great Minds series, which includes such titles as Kant, Descartes, and Sartre. So, as one might expect, there is more attention paid here to philosophical issues, and the general tone is also more philosophical than the earlier text. Still, the style is informal and should be both accessible to readers of various backgrounds and useful for readers at various levels of expertise in evolutionary (and philosophical) matters.
Most of the topics included here have been canvassed before, and Ruse has not changed positions on controversial topics such as the relationship(s) between Darwinism and religion or morality, or the status of neo-Darwinism (including the centrality of population genetics). The novelty here is (again) the concentration on Darwin’s contributions to issues of primary concern to philosophers. In order to provide a sense of this approach, I will concentrate on one issue, evolution and morality.
The general importance of the relation between Darwinian evolution and ethics has increased recently, with texts such as Richard Weikart’s From Darwin to Hitler and Ben Stein’s recent movie Expelled painting Darwinism red with innocent blood. The Discovery Institute (among others) is using these sources to push the moral bankruptcy and culpability of evolutionary science to anyone who will listen and is sending copies of Expelled to “key policy makers” throughout the country (as reported in a recent fundraising letter from NCSE).
Even if justified, of course, such a claim does not affect the scientific status of Darwinian evolution. Concern with the Naturalistic Fallacy (attempting to derive an “ought” from an “is’” or to defend a course of action ethically because it is deemed natural, and so on) has led more than a few philosophers and scientists (from Thomas Henry Huxley to Stephen Jay Gould) to refrain from finding any clues about morality in nature. The flip side of the Naturalistic Fallacy, however, is the Moralistic Fallacy (trying to derive “is not” from “ought not”, or attacking the scientific status of a theory based on its allegedly unpalatable moral consequences). None of the evidence supporting evolutionary biology is changed one iota by attacking social policies allegedly based upon it. Still, such political attacks push evolutionists to investigate seriously what, if any, implications evolutionary biology may have for moral theory. This blending of philosophical and biological perspectives has been a concern of Ruse’s for some time — his position on evolution and morality has been greatly influenced by Edward O Wilson, with whom he coauthored two articles in the mid- 80s (Ruse and Wilson 1985, 1986) — and is addressed again in chapter 9 of Charles Darwin.
Basically, Ruse holds that human social behavior is largely under biological influence, often masked behind psychological predispositions (“epigenetic rules”) to behave as we ought to. These predispositions are perceived as being based on objective moral rules, applicable to all rational beings (p 239–40). Our innate moral intuitions allow for quick and dirty judgments about social challenges where actual calculations of costs and benefits (and/or duties) would take far too long to be useful in most day-to-day affairs (p 236). The biological mechanisms fueling the psychological motivations are kin selection and reciprocal altruism, well-known to evolutionary biologists and more than adequate for mapping onto our actual (as opposed to idealized) moral behavior (p 232, 237). Objective, transcendent moral rules are an illusion on this view, due to our objectifying (or reifying) strong moral sentiments (p 240). They are, however, “noble lies”, since they provide motivational teeth for altruistic behavior and hold some of our other more selfish motivations in check for the sake of social intercourse. So Ruse promotes a skepticism about the objectivity of morality (there are no species-independent moral facts), while arguing for the possibility of (limited) altruism being a successful evolutionary adaptation (that is, evolution does not invariably favor selfishness or nature red in tooth and claw).
This represents one among many recent attempts to unpack the relationship between evolutionary theory and human morality, and the evolutionary models used (kin selection and reciprocal altruism) are accepted by the majority of interpretations (which eschew any use of group selection). With more sophisticated models of group selection (Sober and Wilson 1998) on the table, however, serious investigations of evolutionary morality may need to expand the usual armaments available to individual-level selection. In fact, another recent work interpreting Darwin and Darwinism from a more philosophical perspective (Lewens 2007) takes just this path. Lewens shows that group-level selection is both closer to Darwin’s own views concerning evolution and morality, and also has better evidential support than many biologists acknowledge.
Another consideration involves the meaning of “objective moral facts.” If moral realism is committed to the view that legitimate “ought” statements refer to species-independent moral truths or moral rules that all rational creatures (human or not) must acknowledge, then Ruse and Wilson are right to disavow such moral facts. But if moral realism instead (as a counterpoint to relativism and subjectivism) need only be committed to species-wide moral facts, contingent on human evolutionary and cultural history, but independent of individual (or even individual cultures’) beliefs, then it is not so clear that objective morality need be an illusion. If our sentiments are structured by evolutionary history and our basic moral intuitions are grounded on strong emotional sentiments that include sympathy (and empathy) and motivate altruism, then it is possible that, at some level(s), moral claims can correspond with human truths, and in that sense, be factual.
This, too, would be controversial. But it is not clear that faith-based or other so-called absolutist moral codes can do any better at justifying objective, non-relative moral claims. There are at least as many disagreements within and across such views as there are among non-absolutist approaches. In the end, whether one accepts a position like Ruse’s, or prefers one that utilizes some notion of group selection, Darwinists will have no more difficulty supporting the grounds for moral behavior than will the faith-based approaches that blame Darwinism for the Holocaust. After all, anti-Semitism has rich roots in the history of Christianity, and this history includes at least as much intolerance and immoral behavior as does Darwinism (even when the latter is construed most broadly, and inaccurately).
Lewens T. 2007. Darwin. London: Routledge.
Ruse M. 1984. The morality of the gene. The Monist 67: 167–99.
Ruse M. 1986. Evolutionary ethics: A phoenix arisen. Zygon 21: 95–112.
Ruse M. 1999. Evolutionary ethics: What can we learn from the past? Zygon 34: 435–51.
Ruse M. 2006. Darwinism and its Discontents. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ruse M, Wilson EO. 1985. The evolution of ethics. New Scientist 17: 50–2.
Ruse M, Wilson EO. 1986. Moral philosophy as applied science. Philosophy 61: 173– 92.
Sober E, Wilson DS. 1998. Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press.
Wilson EO. 1998. The biological basis of morality. The Atlantic Monthly 281: 53–70.
As indicated by its title, this primarily theological work is aimed at the Christian anti-evolution audience and at Christians who accept evolution but want to think further about how that acceptance comports, or can be made to comport, with their faith. Denis Lamoureux (who holds doctorates in both theology and biology) is to be thanked for this attempt to persuade young-earth creationists (YECs), by a close examination of the Bible, science, and history, that the expectations they have of the first eleven chapters of the Bible are simply wrong. Furthermore, he contends that their widely held beliefs are also detrimental to Christianity because their mistakes throw up stumbling blocks in the way of the scientifically literate who might have an interest in this faith. His “in” with this audience is that he is a passionate Evangelical Christian and makes no apologies for boldly affirming his faith in Jesus. His intimate familiarity with the audience he wants so desperately to move in the direction of accepting the reality of evolution will certainly help.
My optimism, however, about how influential this work will be is tempered by how seemingly ineffective other similar attempts have been. Lamoureux is asking his intended YEC audience to swallow a very large pill. From having been a YEC, I know that most will choke on Lamoureux’s central argument, which is that the science and history in Genesis Chapters 1–11 represent only the “science and history of the day.” They are not factual but rather only “incidental vessels”, which nevertheless deliver divinely inspired eternal spiritual truths. But for many Christians, the Bible, divinely inspired, is historically and scientifically accurate on any subject on which it speaks. They consider anathema the notion that the Genesis accounts of creation, the origin of humans, the Flood, and the origin of languages are all wrong. Young-earth creationists do not take kindly to the notion that what they believe to be literally true and scientifically accurate are no more than incidental vessels. Although the original Hebrew audience had no reason not to believe the science and history of their day, Lamoureux is asking YECs not to believe this intuitive and originally intended interpretation of Genesis; he is to be commended for doing his best to fight an uphill battle.
YECs will be quick to ask: If the Genesis stories are only incidental vessels, what is our guarantee that the faith and spiritual components of these stories are true? For the vast majority of young-earth creationists, if the tangible scientific and historic elements of Genesis 1–11 are shown not to be true, then they no longer prove the trustworthiness and accuracy of the parts of the story that are not scientifically testable. In their mind, if the Bible gets its science and history wrong, then there is no reason to place any confidence in those parts of the Bible that demand faith (they possess a conditional faith). But to a YEC it is even more devastating than this, because if all ancient Biblical stories related to Creation and the Flood are wrong, those errors suggest that the divinely inspired eternal spiritual truths are also not true. If this is the case, then the burden of proof in the trustworthiness of the Bible as having had a divine origin increases to an uncomfortable level. This terrifying thought is accompanied by a dreaded realization that the hand of atheists and skeptics might just have been strengthened.
What Lamoureux is asking YECs to do with Genesis would be akin to also asking them to believe that none of the miracles that Jesus did were done as they are recorded in the Gospels. The miracles are the guarantor that Jesus was who he claimed to be, God incarnate, and that his spiritual and intangible claims are also to be taken seriously. Consider the New Testament account of when John the Baptist was imprisoned and he sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus if he was “…the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:18–23). At the time this narrative took place it is evident that John was struggling to reconcile his mission with his imprisonment. The important point here is that Jesus confirmed his authenticity and credentials as the “one who was to come” (that is, their Messiah) through the miracles that he performed. The witnessed and verifiable miracles guaranteed that Jesus was the Messiah.
But what if Jesus had simply said to John’s disciples: “Sorry, no miraculous signs; absolutely nothing out of the ordinary here. John is simply going to have to believe that I am the ‘one who was to come.’” What would John have done with that news, and would we know about Jesus today? But it is this very lack of tangible proof (both scientific and historic) in Genesis that Lamoureux is expecting YECs to overlook and yet still accept the spiritual truths as having had a divine origin. Instead of making the paradigm shift, many YECs will prefer to continue to retreat into denial and refuse to relinquish their anti-evolutionary mindset.
I agree with Lamoureux that Genesis represents the science and history of the day, but he should have emphasized more forcefully that it also reflects the religious and spiritual level of understanding of the day. Genesis does not present all there is to know about God. The Bible itself documents a progressive (an evolutionary-like) revelation of God, as that understanding continues to grow and change even today.
As valuable as this book would be to conservative Christian students, it will not likely darken the door of any American public school. Lamoureux’s bold profession of faith in and love for Jesus will ensure that it is kept at bay. Nevertheless, I will be recommending this book to anyone who might have even the slightest interest in moving from an anti-evolutionary world view.
Philosopher of science James H Fetzer argues that creationism, both in its fundamentalist young-earth form and in the guise of allegedly more sophisticated “intelligent design”, fails to qualify as science, and therefore is not a respectable theoretical alternative to evolutionary science. As the book’s subtitle implies, Fetzer holds that the attack on evolution is part of a comprehensive effort by the religious and political right to undermine scientific rationality and the authority of science. He further identifies the right’s attack on science as a single battle of a multi-front offensive by political and religious extremists.
Fetzer, of course, is not the first professional philosopher of science to criticize creationism (see Kitcher 1982, 2007; Ruse 1982; Pennock 1999; Shanks 2004; Sarkar 2007), and his critique is decidedly less effective than those previous ones. What made Philip Kitcher’s books, for instance, so effective was that he offered trenchant, detailed, point-by-point critiques of creationist claims, based upon a close reading of creationist texts, and informed by a deep understanding of the scientific issues. Fetzer’s treatment of leading “intelligent design” proponents Michael Behe and William Dembski is cursory at best. Fetzer apparently does not feel that it is necessary to delve into a detailed critique because he thinks that creationism blatantly violates the criteria that demarcate science from nonscience, and that creationist claims can therefore be dismissed without much ado.
In recent years professional philosophers of science have largely shied away from the attempt to formulate criteria to demarcate science from nonscience, for the simple reason that past such efforts have come to grief. Many attempts have been made to spell out the distinctive virtues of scientific theories, such as falsifiability, progressiveness, predictiveness, and so on, that are supposed to distinguish genuinely scientific theories from less worthy ones. Such proposals do not hold up under careful scrutiny. Larry Laudan seems to speak for the majority of philosophers of science when he warns of “the probable futility of seeking an epistemic version of a demarcation criterion” (Laudan 1988: 348). In other words, “science” has historically comprised a set of practices and beliefs so varied that they defy neat categorization by a one-size-fits-all set of demarcation criteria.
It is not, of course, that we do not value scientific theories that, among other things, are falsifiable, progressive, and accurate. Of course we do. The problem is that it is one thing to list some of the various virtues of good theories, but it is another to try to base strict demarcation standards on our descriptions of such desiderata. Consider Sir Karl Popper’s famous falsifiability criterion. Popper held that a theory is scientific only if it is falsifiable, that is, if and only if some observation, measurement, experiment, or other empirical procedure can discredit the theory. The falsifiability criterion is intuitively appealing, and, indeed, we do not accept a theory as scientific if it is compatible with all conceivable observations or data; scientific theories must have empirical content.
But as a candidate for a criterion of demarcation, falsifiability is fraught with problems (see Gale 1979: 199–205 and Chalmers 1999: 87–103), among others, that it seems far too permissive. If creationists and other pseudoscientists are willing to name any possible observation, however improbable, as incompatible with their claims, then the criterion of falsifiability cannot be invoked to rule these claims out of science.
To argue in the manner that Fetzer does that creationism is not science, we first have to say what science is. Fetzer says that the aim of science is to discover laws of nature (p 38). Further, scientific knowledge is expected to meet standards of conditionality, testability, and tentativeness:
Scientific knowledge assumes forms that are conditional, testable, and tentative. The conditionality of scientific hypotheses and theories arises from characterizing what properties or events will occur in a world as permanent properties or causal effects of the presence of other properties or the occurrence of other events. Such knowledge has to be testable, where it must be possible to detect the presence or absence of reference properties or events-as-effects in order to subject those hypotheses and theories to empirical test. Moreover, scientific knowledge is tentative insofar as it is always subject to revision due to technological innovations, the acquisition of additional evidence, or the discovery of alternative hypotheses. (p 38)
Fetzer then considers some typical creationist claims — such as the sudden and recent appearance of the earth and life, including humans, in essentially their current form — and concludes that such claims cannot count as scientific hypotheses since they are asserted unconditionally, are untestable, and are held absolutely and not tentatively (p 38–9).
Surely, though, it is too narrow to say that the aim of science is to discover laws of nature. Much progress in science occurs when scientists produce detailed, well-confirmed explanations of singular phenomena, or localized clusters of phenomena, rather than the discovery of new general laws. For instance, geologists offer detailed explanations of the structure of the Swiss Alps in terms of complex processes of thrusting and folding. This thrusting and folding is further explained in terms of tectonic processes such as the relative movements of lithospheric plates. Of course, such explanations presume that, at considerable explanatory distance, the basic laws of chemistry and physics are operating as the ultimate explanations of geological processes. But the proximate explanations of geological events, such as the Alpine orogeny, neither invoke such laws nor reveal the existence of new ones.
What about Fetzer’s claim that central creationist claims are not made conditionally, that is, they do not specify particular conditions under which such events should be expected to occur? Some unquestionably scientific hypotheses seem to have been asserted unconditionally. Standard big bang cosmology postulates the initial singularity as an ultimate, unconditioned fact. The initial singularity is unconditioned because there are, by hypothesis, no conditions prior to the big bang.
As for testability, are creationist claims testable? If, contrary to fact, the fossil record contained trilobites, dinosaurs, mastodons, rabbits, eurypterids, and coelacanths all mixed together in no discernable order, and if all sedimentary rocks bore evidence of having been deposited in a single, recent, cataclysmic event, and if remains of a large wooden ship were found on top of Mount Ararat, then, surely, young-earth creationism could claim to be not only testable but confirmed. The problem with creationism (besides simple dishonesty) is not that it is untestable, but that it has an egregious record of failure.
Finally, tentativeness does not seem to be a virtue of science but of scientists, that is, it is not a virtue of theories themselves, but how they are held. Scientists are rightly expected to hold on to theories only so long as the evidence warrants, or at least permits, and not to cling to them dogmatically, come what may. Therefore, to say that creationist tenets are not held tentatively may be an accurate ad hominem against creationists, but is not an objection to creationism itself.
It is not that Fetzer is a bad philosopher; he is a very good philosopher. The problem is with philosophy, at least as it is still too often practiced. Philosophers like Kitcher are effective critics of creationism because they are willing to get down from philosophy’s high horse and get down into the trenches with creationists. Philosophy’s self-image, which Richard Rorty mocked as “the tribunal of pure reason,” has too often permitted philosophers, as would-be justices of the high court of pure reason, to refuse to soil their hands with the messy factual details. Too often they have theorized with vague, stereotypical, and ahistorical images of scientific practice, and this fed the illusion that science, and its practices of explanation and confirmation, admitted of neat packaging into simple, rigorous accounts. More historically sensitive studies of science, initiated by Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (which, of course, brought its own distinct problems), were supposed to change all this and prompt philosophers to adopt a far more nuanced, complex, and historically aware understanding of science, its history, and its practice. Fetzer’s book shows that there is still a long ways to go in this regard.
Though Fetzer misfires against creationism, his book contains a number of very interesting and enlightening discussions of questions in the philosophy of biology, such as whether evolution optimizes and whether species should be regarded as individuals, as a number of leading philosophers and evolutionary biologists have maintained. The book can be recommended just for its discussion of these points. Also, some readers may appreciate the fact that Fetzer ties creationism to larger political and ideological forces that provide the impetus for creationism as a social movement and prompt wealthy sympathizers to bankroll its organizations. Others may regard these sections as a distracting diatribe, and view Fetzer’s unabashed characterization of the Bush administration and corporate miscreants as “fascists” as irresponsible agitprop. (I personally hold that some elements of the religious right, especially defenders of so-called “dominion theology,” are quite accurately and appropriately described as “fascist.” See Hedges 2006 and Goldberg 2007).
In summary, then, far better critiques of creationism are available. The main lesson that Fetzer’s book teaches is that philosophy’s attempt to legislate rationality by deploying its admittedly awesome logical weaponry, is an enterprise that should have gone out with Duns Scotus. Logical acuity is not enough; you have to know what you are talking about.
Karl Giberson is a prominent figure in the modern dialog between science and religion. He is a professor of physics at Eastern Nazarene College and the director of the Forum on Faith and Science at Gordon College. Giberson was also the founding editor of Science and Theology News and the editor-in-chief of Science and Spirit. His recent book Saving Darwin will enjoy a wide readership, and it will certainly challenge many, raising important questions about how science and Christianity are to be related. The book features a lively and witty writing style, and in particular, it is very personal. A lasting image I have is of Giberson telling his story of leaving home to attend college and bringing along his copies of Henry Morris’s The Genesis Flood and Many Infallible Proofs. I can relate completely with his "teenage fundamentalist" (p 3) phase of life, because I have traveled a nearly identical route (I offer my personal story in Lamoureux 2008: 332–66).
One of the best parts of the book is a summary of the history of the "Darwin wars" in America. Numerous longer and more detailed accounts exist of these encounters, but Giberson offers an accessible distillation of the 1925 Scopes "monkey" trial, the 1981 Arkansas trial challenging a law calling for equal treatment of evolution and creation science in schools, and the recent Dover trial dealing with the teaching of "intelligent design". The book is also a historical examination of Darwin’s personal religious beliefs, revealing without any question that the famed naturalist wrestled mightily with the theological implications of his theory of evolution. Giberson correctly points out that the vicious character of nature (as seen with the Ichneumonidae) and personal tragedies (like the death of his beloved ten-year-old daughter Annie) were powerful factors leading Darwin away from theism and Christianity. However, and this is a minor quibble, Giberson understates the spiritual impact of nature upon Darwin. The "wondrous universe" and "wonderful contrivances for certain purposes in nature" led Darwin to fluctuate from his agnosticism late in life back to deistic, and maybe even theistic, moments (Barlow 1958: 92–3; Darwin 1888: 1: 304, 316).
In order to assist his Christian readers in coming to terms with evolution, Giberson offers an excellent description of evolution’s metaphysical status. He writes:
Biological evolution, in its pure form at least, is purely descriptive. It tells us, as best it can, what happened, like a video of an event. It does not pass judgment on whether the history it describes was good or bad, just as a video passes no judgment on the event it captures. (p 64)
In addition, throughout the book, Giberson respectfully decouples evolutionary theory from the dysteleological metaphysics and personal philosophical commitments of Carl Sagan, EO Wilson, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and other like-minded skeptics. As far as I am concerned, this categorical differentiation is absolutely essential in moving beyond the so-called evolution versus creationism debate. Evolution is a magnificent and fruitful scientific paradigm, but it is dead silent with regard to its metaphysical status, and caution is necessary to avoid conflating one’s personal beliefs, whether religious or antireligious, with this scientific theory.
As much as I enjoyed Giberson’s book, I do have one serious concern. The subtitle, "How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution," is regrettably inaccurate (it was the publisher’s subtitle, not that of the author). Let’s be frank: the anti-evolutionism in America is rooted in evangelical Christianity, and if anyone is going to assist this religious tradition (which by the way is my tradition; I’m a Baptist), then he or she must deal directly with the opening chapters of the Bible. Giberson points to a survey that reveals "over half the population of the United States accepts the biblical creation story," and then attempts to deal with this problem by stating that "this position is thoroughly at odds with almost all relevant scholarship of the past century" (p 6, his emphasis). An argument from authority will never be effective with evangelicals. In the study cited by Giberson, it was shown that 87% of evangelicals believe that the accounts of a six-day creation and Noah’s flood are "literally true, meaning it happened that way word-for-word." Solving the problem of anti-evolutionism in the nation requires dealing with the evangelical belief in concordism, the notion that the Bible reveals accurate scientific and historical facts in its opening chapters. And Giberson falls quite short on this issue. I doubt that many full-blooded, Bible-verse–memorizing, and Gospel-witnessing evangelicals will step away from their anti-evolutionism after reading Saving Darwin.
But Giberson’s book is an important one. Its personal story is courageous and honest. As a Christian, he is even willing to confess, "[M]y belief in God is tinged with doubts, and in my more reflective moments, I sometimes wonder if I am perhaps simply continuing along the trajectory of a childhood faith that should be abandoned" (p 155). Yet, as a physicist, Giberson is drawn back to faith by the universe. In a section entitled "A Brief History of Everything," he outlines surprising characteristics in cosmological evolution, and seven times he states that there is something remarkably "interesting" about these that eventually leads him to believe that "the universe is more than particles and their interactions" (p 220). And in his yearly pilgrimage to the Canadian wilderness, Giberson feels the spiritual impact of nature upon him. He asks, "If the evolution of our species was driven entirely by survival considerations, then where did we get our rich sense of natural aesthetics?" (p 209). Indeed, in many ways, Karl Giberson is Charles Darwin. Both are scientists grappling with faith and in awe of the "endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful [that] have been, and are being, evolved." (Darwin 1964: 490).