By their fruits you shall know them

Jerry Coyne is being berated once again for daring to speak out against the folly of religion. This time, it’s a complaint by Michael Zimmerman, instigator of the clergy letter project, claiming that all those positive atheists are driving away the religious people who would support the teaching of evolution.

Like religious fundamentalists, Coyne is arguing that people must choose between religion and science, that they can’t accept both. There are, I believe, two problems with this position. First, pragmatically, studies have clearly suggested that in the United States, when people are given this choice, they will more often than not opt for religion. Now, I’m not suggesting that Coyne, or any of us who care deeply about science, should pervert our understanding of the discipline simply to make converts. No, I’m arguing that there is a way to promote the principles of scientific inquiry fully while not alienating many who are likely to be supporters by belittling their sincerely held beliefs

Coyne addresses it well, better than I would, because I’d hit that first phrase comparing us to religious fundamentalists and have to whip out the cyberpistol and switch on the agonizer. I’ll refrain from repeating the familiar arguments that you can find on Jerry’s post and cut to the chase.

The clergy letter project isn’t helping. This refusal to tell people they’re wrong when they are isn’t helping. This craven surrender to nonsense out of fear isn’t helping.

How do I know? I’ve read the goddamned sermons. They’re uniformly awful. The entire enterprise isn’t about encouraging people to think thoughtfully about the science, it’s about allowing priests to babble on about creationism and intelligent design and make their pious lies with the pretense of promoting science.

I haven’t read them all, because I can’t get through more than 2 or 3 at a sitting before I have to puke, so maybe there are a few gems in there where they actually promote, you know, reason, critical thinking, and science, but I haven’t found them yet and am disinclined to dig further.

So Susan Andrews preaches on evolution Sunday, and what does she promote? Intelligent Design.

I have come to believe, in my own journey of faith, that God lives in the questions. I believe that seeking understanding with my mind is the preparation I need to trust with my heart. I believe that faith is the frontier beyond the limits of knowledge. I have started looking for portents – in the sky, in the newspaper, in the textbook, in the science lab, in the hospital room, in the darkness as well as the light. Yes, I have started looking for those signs of a God who is trying to do a new thing. And I have discovered that it is in the process, and in the journey, and in the questions that new knowledge and new understanding is usually found. Specifically in this peculiar American controversy about intelligent design, I have come to believe that evolution is intelligent design. And that the Intelligent Designer is the One whom I call God.

Rabbi Friedland preaches on the Sabbath, and what does he promote? Biblical creationism.

After billions of years chemicals were combined to create the first stirrings of life. This developed into human life. What impetus brought those first living cells together? The Torah teaches us it was the Divine Force or Will of God. The sustaining force we call God is what brought it all about.

Life continues as a pattern. The Torah’s version is first earth and sky and water and planets and eventually life forms. Less to more, simple forms to more complex forms. plants to animals to humans. Humans most complex created b’tzelem Elokim.

Hub Nelson preaches on evolution Sunday, and what does he promote? Well, first he praises Rick Warren and The Purpose Driven Life, then he bashes Richard Dawkins and The God Delusion, and he wraps it all up by telling us his god provides meaning and beauty.

Unsurprisingly, everything in those sermons pushes a pro-religious agenda and wraps the science of evolution in a gushy, goofy package used to endorse religion, not science. I’d be more impressed with Michael Zimmerman’s claim that Coyne was undermining efforts to educate the faithful in good science if Zimmerman’s project was actually doing that. But it’s not. The Clergy Letter project is actually encouraging more fuzzy, sloppy thinking and reinforcing religious authority. And if Coyne is making his job harder, more power to Jerry.