Maybe we can’t all get along

Jacob Weisberg at Slate takes a hard line on the recent battles over Intelligent Design in: Evolution vs. Religion – Quit pretending they’re compatible. It’s especially relevant given President Bush’s recent remarks about the alleged “debate” over evolution.

The president seems to view the conflict between evolutionary theory and intelligent design as something like the debate over Social Security reform. But this is not a disagreement with two reasonable points of view, let alone two equally valid ones.

If Bush had said schools should give equal time to the view that the Sun revolves around the Earth, or that smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer, he’d have been laughed out of his office. The difference with evolution is that a large majority of Americans reject [evolution]. According to the most recent Gallup poll on the subject (2004), 45 percent of Americans believe God created human beings in their present form 10,000 years ago, while another 38 percent believe that God directed the process of evolution. Only 13 percent accept the prevailing scientific view of evolution as an unguided, random process.

I don’t know about you, but I find those statistics pretty depressing. Americans still don’t believe in evolution, the guiding principle of modern biology, after 140 years of unambiguous confirmations. So how can we hope to have reasonable discussions of more subtle issues – like global warming or stem cell research?

Weisberg takes issue with the response of some scientists, such as Steven J. Gould, that science and religion address different questions, and can peacefully co-exist. The group Kansas Citizens for Science, which opposes the teaching of ID, has said: “Science denies neither God nor creation. Science merely looks for natural evidence of how the universe got to its current state.”

Hogwash, replies Weisberg. Religious groups worry that teaching evolution in schools will erode religious belief – because it does. In most western countries, acceptance of the scientific principles evolution correlates negatively with religious belief.

The acceptance of evolution diminishes religious belief in aggregate for a simple reason: It provides a better answer to the question of how we got here than religion does. Not a different answer, a better answer: more plausible, more logical, and supported by an enormous body of evidence.

The Catholic church seems to recognize this, given the current debate within the Vatican about whether the theory of evolution is compatible with the Christian faith. While Pope John Paul accepted evolution as the mechanism of a divine creator, the influential Cardinal Schonborn has opposed that view.

If others follow this reasoning, then religious groups will only try harder to oppose any ideas that they find threatening. And this discussion, like so many others in American politics, will devolve into partisanship and polarization, with no chance of a reasonable dialogue.

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