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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

National Center for Science Education really getting hell now

Richard Hoppe, who originally wrote a Panda's Thumb article completely defending the National Center for Science Education against the charges of Jerry Coyne, has now backed off and now only partially defends NCSE against those charges. Hoppe now says,

Coyne is right in one respect, and I withdraw my wholesale rejection of his argument. I think (writing now as a Life Member) that NCSE has recently made a mistake in going beyond simply pointing to individuals and organizations who have somehow reconciled their science and religious beliefs to counter the creationist equation of evolution with atheism. In the essays by Peter M. J. Hess that apparently are the basis of the NCSE Faith Project, there is an endorsement of a particular view of the relationship, an adaptation of Gould’s Nonoverlapping magisteria with a dose of complementarian thinking . . . .
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Hess has here argued for a complementarian view of the relation between religious belief and evolution that is very similar to Gould’s NOMA, which is also a view that is clearly visible in the writings of people like Denis Lamoureax, a self-identified evangelical Christian and “evolutionary creationist.” . . .

In its Faith Project, then, I think that NCSE has gone beyond its remit and past where it can be effective. I now think – in agreement with Coyne, PZ, and others – that it should back off from describing particular ways of reconciling science and religion. Pointing to religious people and organizations who have made their peace with science and evolution is appropriate, but going past that to describing particular ways of making that peace is a mistake. NCSE ought not wade into theological swamps.

So yeah, I was wrong to overstate my case. Sorry, folks.

Hoppe previously said in the same article,

The creationist assault on public education has two main prongs. One is to attack, misrepresent, and distort the science, and NCSE has a wealth of resources for blunting that attack. . . . .

The second main prong of the creationist assault is to equate evolution with atheism. That is a ubiquitous theme from the whole range of creationists, from Kent Hovind’s ravings to the Disco ‘Tute’s anti-naturalism Wedge document. I hear it, every one of us working with local and state boards of education hears it. It’s in the creationist mailers, it’s in their pamphlets, and it’s in their public statements to school boards.

"A ubiquitous theme from the whole range of creationists"? I don't always hear creationists equating evolution with atheism. Certainly creationists have other arguments against evolution -- including scientific (pseudoscientific to some) arguments -- and hence do not necessarily need to equate evolution and atheism. The website of Answers-in-Genesis, for example, has many articles that do not equate evolution with atheism. Hoppe himself said that the first main prong of the creationist assault on public education is to attack the science. And saying that there is a conflict between evolution and religion is not necessarily the same as equating evolution with atheism.

Hoppe says,

And NCSE completely appropriately provides information to “parents and concerned citizens” about that issue. It completely appropriately points out that there are believers – self identified Christians – who accept that evolution has occurred (it’s a fact) and that the modern theory of evolution is the best available naturalistic explanation of that fact. Moreover, NCSE completely appropriately points to religious organizations that have stated that they accept that.

One cannot argue that pointing to the existence of people and organizations that contradict a main prong of the creationist attack on public school education constitutes an “endorsement.” It’s merely pointing to a fact.

What does constitute an "endorsement" is NCSE's pretending that people who see a conflict between evolution and religion — whether they are bible-pounding holy-rolling fundies or godless blasphemous sacrilegious atheists, or something in-between — don’t even exist. For example, as I pointed out before, NCSE has a collection of religious organizations' statements regarding the compatibility of evolution and religion, and all of those statements see no conflict between evolution and religion. [link] NCSE is not the place to go for a broad overview of the various views on the compatibility of evolution and religion.

Panda's Thumb now has several articles about the controversy over the National Center for Science Education. [link] [link] [link] [link] Jerry Coyne's articles are here, here, and here.
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