Today we continue Ch. 4. If you didn’t read Part 1 on Saturday here’s a link to the post.

Science and religion in CONFLICT

The first interaction described by Barbour is the one that is most commonly observed in the media: conflict. A glimpse of the New York Times bestseller list, perusal of websites and blogs such as Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True or Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis, political debates, etc., provides continual (and often loud) reminders that the science and religion “dialogue” is an ideological conflict that demands a victor, no matter the collateral damage associated with it. Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist turned science popularizer is as strong a writer as he is an atheist and his poetic polemics argue that science must overcome religion. His juicy quotes about the Enlightenment, science, and reason being under attack from “organized ignorance” make for inspirational war cries,[1] which is adorable given this is coming from an Oxford professor. As in any other debate, winning occurs not just by promoting your own side, but also slamming that of your opponent while making sure that your reader is convinced of the life and death-level importance of the struggle.[2]

For “team science” (also known as the scientific materialists), the battle is won by disarming religion or claiming religion’s territories for its own. Sam Harris illuminates the inverse relationship between science and religion and ways in which science can address religious questions when he writes: “The conflict between religion and science is inherent and (very nearly) zero-sum. The success of science often comes at the expense of religious dogma; the maintenance of religious dogma always comes at the expense of science.”[3] Since science works so well, religion must wither away and if you still want morals in a non-religious world, well science provides a better alternative anyway.[4]

You can’t have a war unless both armies are willing to fight. Never fear, there is a “team religion” that is happy to battle. If Richard Dawkins were the captain of “team science,” then the late Henry Morris, engineer and founding father of scientific creationism, would be captain emeritus of “team religion.” Here he is inspiring his troops with a quote that seems too delicious to be true, “The very first evolutionist was not Charles Darwin or Lucretius or Thales or Nimrod, but Satan himself. He has not only deceived the whole world with the monstrous lie of evolution but has deceived himself most of all. He still thinks he can defeat God because, like modern “scientific” evolutionists, he refuses to believe that God is really God.”[5],[6] Take up thy sword and battle, good Christian soldiers.

Ken Ham has taken over where Morris left off, fighting the good fight against evolution with dinosaurs as his Gettysburg for some reason. “Evolutionary Darwinists need to understand we are taking the dinosaurs back. This is a battle cry to recognize the science in the revealed truth of God.”[7] Similar quotes from Ham, Morris, and other young-earth creationists abound but the two presented here are sufficient to illustrate the point. It should also be noted that it’s not just young-earth creationists, old-earth creationists (rarer) and intelligent design proponents suit up for team religion as well. Philip Johnson, father of the intelligent design movement, believes vehemently that “naturalistic” science is displacing religion and is concerned of what’s left for God. “Make no mistake about it. In the Darwinist view, which is the official view of mainstream science, God had nothing to do with evolution.”[8] And later in the same chapter, “A God who can never do anything that makes a difference, and of whom we have no reliable knowledge, is of no importance to us.”[9] Science must decrease so that religion can increase.

Specifically chosen quotes aside, although the conflict can be one of science and began as such, at its core today it is driven by differences in philosophical bedrocks, most clearly seen in the clash between young-earth creationists (Biblical literalism) and scientific materialists (ontological naturalism).[10] To the scientific materialist, matter is all there is and all questions of importance can be answered by the scientific method, reducing the problem to the lowest level or smallest unit with physics serving as the ultimate layer of reality.

Does it sound like the scientific materialist is against religion? Yes, (s)he is. There’s no doubt about it. But as we will see the story is more interesting.

To the Biblical literalist, the Bible is to be read in a straightforward and literal manner which promotes a worldview of creation, sin, fall, and redemption, a worldview that is clearly irreconcilable with that of the philosophical naturalist and one that many believe requires modification or even dismissal in light of evolution. Creation occurred over six days, humans and other animals were designed and spoken into existence by the word of God, and all science that does not support this is false and the work of fallen men and women, some of whom may be doing the work of the Devil. (If you think I’m constructing a straw man, I am, in a sense, but also take a look at Karl Giberson’s Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution in which he talks about some of the later writings of Henry Morris, where this Devil and evolution talk arose.)

Does it sound like the Biblical literalist is against science? Yes, (s)he is. Not so fast.[11] What the Biblical literalist is against is not science, in general, but science that doesn’t support a literal interpretation of the Bible. This distinction is important and we will revisit it again later.

The warfare model gets the most airplay and generates the most buzz-worthy quotes, although it’s important to remember that it’s founded on an oversimplification of science, philosophy, and religion. Furthermore, the common refrain that science and religion have always been at war is misleading and patently false.[12] Proponents of this model, whether one believes it is right or wrong, would do well to at least admit the faults of their framework (in light of the strengths they see and promote loudly), but they rarely do. When you are committed to the foundationalist view of knowledge and see religion and science as cognitive-propositional, however, you will argue to your blue in the face that your foundation is the right one and the competitor’s is necessarily the wrong one.

Am I against this model? Most definitely. But it doesn’t matter how I feel since this book is an exploration of the creation-evolution conflict. Importantly, as we will see in the next two chapters, I greatly appreciate the motivations of those who apply it because I realize they believe it is the only option before them. Perhaps most importantly, I know this because I used to be a soldier.

[to be continued on Friday]

[1] For example, see the quote that opened this chapter and the following quote. There is a library of quotes like these by the way. “On the contrary, if the universe were just electrons and selfish genes, meaningless tragedies like the crashing of this bus are exactly what we should expect, along with equally good meaningless good fortune. Such a universe would be neither evil nor good in intention. It would manifest no intentions of any kind. In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden (BasicBooks, 1995), pp. 132-133.

[2] There is absolutely no parallel with the 2016 election. There is absolutely no parallel with the 2016 election. There is absolutely no parallel with the 2016 election…

[3] Sam Harris, Science Must Destroy Religion, The Huffington Post (January 2, 2006).

[4] See for example, the following quote: “Science has long been in the value business. Despite a widespread belief to the contrary, scientific validity is not the result of scientists abstaining from making value judgments; rather, scientific validity is the result of scientists making their best efforts to value principles of reasoning that link their beliefs to reality, through reliable chains of evidence and argument. This is how norms of rational thought are made effective… The answer to the question “What should I believe, and why should I believe it?” is generally a scientific one.” Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values (Free Press, 2011) pp. 143–144.

[5] Henry Morris, The Long War Against God: The History and Impact of the Creation/Evolution Controversy (Master Books, 2000), p. 260. As quoted in Karl Giberson, Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution (HarperOne, 2008), p. 20.

[6] I forgive the reader for not already knowing that Satan got a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Johns Hopkins University immediately after promoting the eviction of garden tenants Adam and Eve, but just before tempting Jesus in the wilderness with beakers and test tubes.

[7] This Ken Ham quote is from the following article: Michael Powell, In Evolution Debate, Creationists Are Breaking New Ground; Museum Dedicated to Biblical Interpretation Of the World Is Being Built Near Cincinnati, The Washington Post (September 25, 2005). Italics are my emphasis.

[8] Philip Johnson, Darwin on Trial (Intervarsity Press, 1993), p. 116-117.

[9] Philip Johnson, Darwin on Trial (Intervarsity Press, 1993), p. 117.

[10] We could add intelligent design to this clash also. They’re philosophical bedrock is their abhorrence of ontological naturalism. That they are conflating methodological naturalism (how science works) with ontological naturalism (a materialist philosophy) is unfortunate and a huge mistake but not surprising because their combatants Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris do the same.

[11] Shout out to Lee Corso.

[12] See Ronald Numbers, Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion (Harvard University Press, 2010).