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Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D.

Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D.

Posted: April 5, 2010 10:40 AM

Without intending to be hypocritical, I'm going to recommend an action about which I have mixed feelings! On the whole, however, I believe that the positives outweigh the negatives and thus I hope you will follow my recommendation.

My recommendation? Go to Facebook and become a fan of the page entitled "We can find 1,000,000 people who DO believe in Evolution before June."

Let me explain my two main reservations.

The best place to begin is by saying simply that the concept of "belief" in science makes little sense. Scientists, and I hope the general public, accept scientific ideas because experimentation and observation have provided a wealth of data in support of their claims. Belief, or a conviction that something is true regardless of evidence, should play no role in science.

The National Academy of Sciences addresses this point clearly while differentiating religion from science. The Academy writes, "Many religious beliefs do not rely on evidence gathered from the natural world. On the contrary, an important component of religious belief is faith, which implies acceptance of a truth regardless of the presence of empirical evidence for or against that truth. Scientists cannot accept scientific conclusions on faith alone because all such conclusions must be subject to testing against observations. Thus, scientists do not 'believe' in evolution in the same way that someone believes in God."

My second concern is that the validity of a scientific idea is absolutely independent of its popularity in the general population. Even if the vast majority of non-scientists attested that they did not believe in evolution, it would have no impact on the scientific legitimacy of evolutionary theory. Again, scientific advances proceed on the basis of experimental and observational evidence rather than on popular opinion. Collecting signatures in support of a scientific concept is thus an utterly meaningless action from a scientific standpoint.

And yet, I'm encouraging you to join with me in signing on to this Facebook page! And I'm doing so for political rather than scientific reasons.

The page itself began as a political response to a creationist ploy. Earlier this year, creationists began a Facebook page designed to sign up 1,000,000 people who did NOT believe in evolution and while this page is every bit as meaningless from a scientific perspective as is the pro-evolution page, it is possible that it will generate significant media attention. So, the pro-evolution page was created to provide balance and to demonstrate that lots of people support evolution.

This is important stuff because the evolution/creation controversy, after all, is all about politics. It's clearly not about science since the world's scientific community has spoken out regularly about the centrality of evolution, the power evolutionary ideas have to explain much about the natural world, and the overwhelming data from a host of biological subfields supporting evolutionary theory.

And the evolution/creation controversy is clearly not about a conflict between religion and science since more than 13,000 clergy members have joined The Clergy Letter Project and said that evolutionary theory is fully compatible with their religion. It's also well worth noting that Christian religious denominations in the United States representing a majority of Christians are comfortable with the teaching of evolutionary theory.

No, the evolution/creation controversy is solely about people with one particular religious belief wanting to impose that religious belief on the rest of the world. Political outlets, from school boards to state legislatures, have regularly been used to promote this narrow religious perspective. This has been the case regardless what the creationists have called their ideas, from creationism through "scientific creationism" to "intelligent design." The Discovery Institute, the world's foremost proponent of the non-science of "intelligent design," has made this point more clearly than I ever could when it wrote that "Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

I'm not in the least interested in "a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions" and I suspect that neither are the vast majority of people. Rather, I'm interested in a science that helps us understand the natural world. Religion, whatever you may think of it, exists for a different purpose.

So, for the political statement it will make, I urge you to go to Facebook and become a fan of "We can find 1,000,000 people who DO believe in Evolution before June." Even though this page was started after its creationist counterpart, as of this writing it has exceeded the creationist version by more than 200,000 fans. Spread the word and increase the margin!

(I want to conclude with an aside to deflect a criticism that I'm certain some will level against me and The Clergy Letter Project. I've made it clear that I don't believe that the validity of evolutionary theory is enhanced by petitions and yet, some will surely say, "isn't that exactly what The Clergy Letter Project is all about?" The answer is a simple and unqualified NO! The purpose of The Clergy Letter Project is to demonstrate that thousands of religious leaders see no conflict with their religion and evolution. These people are uniquely qualified to make this statement, a powerful statement that is both theologically and politically based.)

 
 
 

Follow Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mzclergyletter