AAAS = The American Association for the Advancement of Science.
First, look at this:
Evangelicals, Science, and Policy: Toward a Constructive Engagement
Evangelical Christians constitute approximately 30 percent of the U.S. population, and their influence on public policy is considerable. As a community with major concerns regarding science, ethics, and national priorities, its impact on science policy has been particularly significant, as in the case of stem cell research. Around such controversial issues, communication between science and evangelical Christianity has been hampered by limited appreciation of both the scientific facts and each others’ concerns. On the other hand, new models of positive engagement between these communities around global issues such as climate change is encouraging awareness and leading to science policies that benefit both science and society as a whole. As science progresses in other disciplines, evangelicals will continue to play a significant role, but their positions on many of these issues have not yet been fully formed. The opportunity thus exists to anticipate concerns and to develop a positive understanding that will benefit scientific advancement. One example is neuroscience, which has implications for both policy-making and religious understanding. Speakers will discuss their experiences with stem cell and climate change policy and explore how these experiences can inform engagement between the scientific and evangelical communities to benefit policies relating both to neuroscience and to science more generally.
Do you see ANYTHING there that attacks atheism or says that atheists have no business doing science?
Responses to this by atheist fanatics have been less than rational. Here is Jerry Coyne’s take on it:
No—here are the real losers: abortion doctors who are shot by evangelical Christians, women forced to bear unwanted babies because abortion is seen as sinful, gays who are either marginalized or demonized because evangelicals consider their thoughts and behaviors as sinful, children who are terrorized—and infused with lifelong guilt—by the concepts of sin and hell, women who must accept their status as a second-class gender. Even believers like Francis Collins, surely on the liberal end of the evangelical Christian spectrum, hold profoundly antiscientific beliefs. Collins, for example, can’t see how morality could have either evolved or developed in society unless it was a creation of God, and considers the “Moral Law” as profound evidence for the existence of God. To anyone working in anthropology or neuroscience, that claim is simply embarrassing!
The sooner that religion goes away, the sooner these ills will abate. “Dialoguing” with evangelical Christians (and granted, not all of them hold the beliefs I’ve just mentioned) only enables superstition—a superstition that, one would think, would be resolutely opposed by a scientific organization like the AAAS. Remember that Leshner is the CEO of that organization and the executive publisher of one of the world’s two most prestigious scientific journals.
It is not evangelical Christianity that causes anyone to shoot abortion doctors, but the worst form of hypocrisy. That sort of hyperbole from Coyne is prejudicial and disturbing. Couldn’t it be possible that rather than corrupting science, the purpose of the conference is to inform evangelicals about how science can persuade them to moderate extreme positions they otherwise might have taken?
P Z Myers seems to be playing good cop to Jerry Coyle’s bad cop.
I don’t think Nick Matzke can even imagine what a group of secularists would find useful at AAAS — he’s projecting quite a bit, and presuming that such a session would be as one-sided and blinkered as these sessions the evangelical Christians are running. They wouldn’t. I’m as antagonistic to religion as Coyne is, maybe more so (hey, there’s another session possibility: “Atheists Roast Christianity,” where we all vie with each other to insult religion the most), but unlike what the Matzkes of the world assume, we are actually aware of the political situation.
If I were in charge of organizing such a beast, here’s what I’d look for. I’d want to have an honest religionist or philosopher/historian of religion there to give a talk on key doctrinal conflicts: what are they? How do modern Christians and Muslims and Jews resolve them? They are there, of course: there are major points like teleology in the universe and mind-body dualism that are unsupported or even contradicted by science. He wouldn’t have to endorse or oppose any of those points, but simply, clearly, explain where the conflicts lie.
I’d want someone to discuss secular approaches to school and public education. These do NOT involve teaching atheism in the schools. I’m a big fat noisy atheist myself, but when I get into the classroom to teach one of those controversial topics like evolution, my atheism is not an issue, and I don’t tell the students they have to abandon their gods to be a scientist. What the attendees at AAAS do not need is someone telling them how wonderful Christianity is; what would be useful is someone explaining how to teach honest, evidence-based science without compromising their principles, no matter what they are.
I’d want someone with political and legal expertise to discuss what the law actually says about science education. The perfect person would be someone like Barry Lynn, or Sean Faircloth, or Eddie Tabash — a person who could lay out exactly what kind of political tack scientists should take with legislators to keep the taint of religious bias out of support for science.
Actually, the atheist-run version of such a session would be what a science organization should want: instead of some half-assed stab at rapprochement with clearly unscientific, irrational, traditional metaphysics, and instead of the tribal war council the accommodationists imagine, it would be a rational discussion of how secular scientists (which would include religious scientists who are committed to keeping their beliefs out of the lab and classroom) can get their jobs done in a crazily religious country. As long as these pious zealots are left in charge, though, that’s not what we’re getting.
I can go to atheist meetings to get my rah-rah on for godlessness; people like Leshner, the organizer of the currently planned come-to-Jebus meeting, can go to church and get their idiot-ology affirmed there. An AAAS symposium ought to be actually accomplishing something for all of the members of the organization, not just the atheists and especially not just the deluded apologists under loyalty oaths who want to Christianize science.
It would seem that the only thing atheists like Coyne and Myers want with the AAAS is for religion to be mentioned only to highlight its flaws. But that’s not what science is about! Science, in its pure form, ignores all religions and their beliefs. The problem is that scientists do not practice science in its pure form and indeed, no one does…..because they are human. A person who does science and nothing else wouldn’t be human at all, but a robot with no emotions or sense of appreciation for anything non-scientific.
Religion is non-scientific, but only some expressions of religion are anti-scientific. That Coyne and Myers do not seem to understand that distinction and paint anything non-scientific as unworthy of serious discussion in major science organizations only shows their prejudice. I’d hate to see them in an art museum.
It seems this writer has never heard of Unitarian Universalism, or if she has, she is unaware that UU churches actually welcome atheists into their membership.