05/05/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Fighting Science in the Name of God

The tradition of people positioning themselves against science, in the name of religion, is very old. But it feels like things are getting worse in that regard. In fact, it's as if each time we seem to hit bottom on this issue, some group comes along to prove that we have not yet begun to plumb the depths to which people will go in the name fighting science in the name of God.

The New York Times featured a front page story under the headline: Darwin Foes Add Warming to Targets. The story details increasing efforts by people hostile to teaching evolution as science, to broaden their campaign and include in it fighting against teaching about global warming and cloning.

Whatever one thinks about each of these issues individually, the people who link them together and campaign against them all at once demonstrate that they are animated primarily by hostility to scientific inquiry rather than an anything else. Such people fail to distinguish between evolution, which is an explanatory theory, global warming, which is a hypothesis, and cloning which is a technological procedure. The only thin thread that links them together is that they are all part of the world of science.

It's quite sad to see people marshaling their faith in order to provide window dressing for a set of fears and hostilities which are about something altogether separate from faith. It's sad to see people use God as a prop in those arguments. In fact, that actually strikes me as the opposite of faith.

There is room for debate about evolution, global warming and cloning. By which I mean that each of these issues evoke real questions, and that we need to get beyond a culture of simply hurling competing texts at each other as a means of addressing these questions. But the debates are not the same because the status of the science which supports them is not the same, nor are the ethical challenges presented by them.

Those who lump them all together demonstrate that what really scares them is novelty, inquiry and human empowerment. Is their faith so weak or their contempt for human beings so great that they find new human questions and new human capacity to be so dangerously threatening?

If so, then they should work on themselves, not rage at others. If not, then they should ask how their faith can contribute to the asking of better questions and the creation of greater ethical awareness relevant to the scientific information and technological capacities which we have developed at a far quicker pace than the consciousness which would help us to use them best.

Religionists are right to point out the limits of what science can and should teach us. But so too are there limits on what religion can and should teach us. How ironic that those who are most sensitive about the first principle are so often unaware, and even hostile to, the second.