Monday, September 29, 2014

Religion and Evolution Without Gymnastics: A Response to David P. Barash

    Keep calm, I tell myself. Keep calm.
    But illogical arguments don't sit well with me. Typically I ignore them. Okay, half the time I ignore them. And by ignore, I mean I don't rant online about them, just to my cats or my sister.
    But since this latest piece deals directly with science and religion, two things I'm pretty passionate about, I'll respond. (Also my dear twin asked me for my thoughts).
    So, last night my sister forwarded me an opinion article published in The New York Times, written by a biology professor named David P. Barash. Dr. Barash presents, once again, the argument that God and science are incompatible masked as a defense of evolution.
    I've heard this a lot, and I used to believe it. Now I don't, so I'd like to respond to Dr. Barash.
    But, first of all, I'm aware that Dr. Barash is a distinctive scientist, whereas I'm, uh, just starting a PhD program. I respect him as a scientist who knows a heck of a lot more than me about science, but I don't think that means his arguments are above critique.
    Also, I'd recommend you read the article before continuing, or I might sound (more) nonsensical.

    Okay, ready? Let's go through this.

     1. I’m not a legal expert, but I would like to know if this "Talk" violates separation of church and state. If I'm wrong, do inform me. Update: see comment below. It doesn't. It helps having friends who know legal issues. :D
     But I still find it problematic that he's saying he wants his students to choose, while telling his students "they will have to undertake some challenging mental gymnastic routines.” That’s as close to saying “your belief is wrong and as a scientist you can’t believe in it” as you can get without saying it outright. And if they’re not asking him his opinion, he has no right to give this indoctrination - I mean, talk. They signed up for biology, not philosophy. Your job as a professor is to prove evolution, not the lack of logic in religion. 
     2. Granted, he says his point is that evolution is correct and we can’t twist science. Well, yes, we can’t twist facts - including evolution (yes, I agree that evolution is true). But in his essay, he focuses more on disproving God’s compatibility with evolution than ACTUALLY proving evolution, which makes me question his true motives. But, again, I don't know him personally and it's hard to guess his motives based on one essay. So, pardon the cliché, take my opinion here with a grain of salt.
     3. Most importantly: in his essay, he engages no argument for the Bible not being a science book. He doesn’t mention Francis Collins’ work, or Peter Enns’ work, or any of the number of scientists and scholars who don't engage in “gymnastics” or “nostalgia” (which we all know are code words for “your belief is irrational”).
     Personally, as a scientist (though not a biologist) I don’t see a conflict. Now, I've heard that the Bible uses an intersex term for the first human before creating man and woman through Adam's rib, which could imply evolution. But whether you buy that interpretation or not, the Creation story reveals the truth that God put His image in us, that God intends for a good, restorative creation. Not chaos. Not evil. Not a balance of good and evil. Good. If we read the Bible to glean this message, there is no mental gymnastic - or nostalgia.
     4. Why is there no nostalgia? I could be wrong, but I’m guessing Barash views the Christianity-is-compatible-with-evolution faith as nostalgic because we don’t want to give up our Imaginary Jesus Friend. Except, we don’t read Genesis to understand Jesus; we read Jesus to understand Genesis. Jesus shows God’s ultimate act of restoration, which God started in Genesis. That’s not nostalgic, it’s a logical and reasoned interpretation of a text using Jesus as our hermeneutic.
      In essence, Dr. Barash has constructed a straw man in which He views Christians who believe in evolution as ignorantly as Young-Earth Creationists view us (in fact, if he would have his students accept his arguments based on a straw man, he is using the exact same tactic as a YEC, only his threat is “nostalgia and lack of reason” rather than “ unbeliever").      

     Unless he engages in a Christian evolutionist’s actual arguments, listens, and thoughtfully explains why he believes otherwise - and presents ALL evidence to his students - why on earth is he giving this talk? And, for the record, should he actually accommodate other views into this talk, I personally believe he should still present this in a philosophy of science class, or in office hours. Not in biology lecture. 
     All that being said, I'd like to make it clear that Dr. Barash is entitled to his opinion that evolution and religion are incompatible. I just don't think he's entitled to imply that's the only conclusion one can reach.

    *End rant.*




  1. Although the University of Washington is a public institution, he's not violating Constitutional separation of church and state. He's just speaking foolishly. The Constitution is on his side: it protects the right to say most ill-informed things.

  2. As always, I come here to support and defend the Constitution and to look at cats. And this post has no cats.

  3. Forgive my thoughtlessness. CatsGuns.225x225-75.jpg

  4. Also this:

  5. Rant away. I remember once when I was a child actually sitting down to try to work out from the Bible how old the world was (I had no idea at the time that anyone had done that before me), but even in my most literal mind, I have never understood this idea that science and religion are incompatible.