Joshua Rosenau blogs at Thoughts from Kansas but don't be confused by the geography. He actually lives in California and works at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE).
His most recent posting concerns an issue that is often raised when we discuss the compatibility of science and religion [see On cracks]. The issue is outlined in a quotation from Kevin Padian, who is a strong supporter of NCSE and a vocal opponent of creationism.
The two kinds people who believe that religion and evolution can not coexist are extreme atheists and extreme religious fundamentalists. Everyone else doesn't really have a problem. [A majority] of Americans believe that a belief in god is compatible with evolution.Many atheists interpret this kind of statement as an insult and Jerry Coyne called it "an anti-atheist crack." This prompted Joshua Rosenau to respond like this.
First, note that Kevin Padian is a fairly open atheist, so if this line were "anti-atheist" it would have to be a sort of self-hating atheism. Second, how is it factually wrong? Some atheists (but not all) think science and religion are incompatible. Some religious fundamentalists also think this. There are also a bunch of people in the middle of the spectrum of belief who do not think that. Whether these represent a majority of Americans depends how you ask the question and what you do with undecided responses, but it is absolutely the case that most Americans belong to religious groups whose governing bodies have asserted the compatibility of science (including evolution) and their brand of religion.Yes, Josh, there's a reason why some atheists are annoyed at remarks like that. Here's a list ....
What, then, makes Padian's factually correct statement about the beliefs of some atheists a "crack"? Is there any method at all to Coyne's outrage
- Padian disagrees with those of us who argue that religion and science are almost always incompatible. By labeling his opponents as "extreme atheists" he is trying to marginalize us. That's insulting.
- He insults us by associating us with our worst enemies (religious fundamentalists) and suggesting that we think alike.
- He uses the argument of popularity to support his position. Imagine that he lived in a country where a majority of citizens were atheists and believed that religion was incompatible with science. Would that change his opinion? Why should non-Americans, like Richard Dawkins for example, form an opinion based on whether or not it agrees with a majority of Americans? It's a silly argument. Either religion and science are compatible or they aren't. Since when did the opinion of the average American become relevant in debates like that?
On the other hand, if your primary objective is accommodationism—creating a comfortable place for theistic evolutionists—then Padian's statements make a lot of sense. It's a political argument, not a philosophical one. It's called "framing" and it's the official position of NCSE.
Kevin Padian is the President of the National Center for Science Education so it's not surprising that Josh defends him and the official NCSE position. Unfortunately, that defense involves alienating many former allies who happen to disagree with NCSE on the accommodationist issue. Those of us who disagree think that NCSE should be adopting a neutral position with respect to the overall compatibility of science and religion.
NCSE should continue to opposes the more obvious examples of incompatibility as manifest by the creationist attacks on evolution but it should not be in the business of defining those other areas where science is supposed to be perfectly compatible with religious beliefs.1
UPDATE: Jason Rosenhouse weighs in: Who Rejects Evolution?
1. What are those areas? I wonder if Josh or Kevin has a list?