Not surprisingly given the results of the presidential election, the supposed war between religion and science has just heated up. The most important facet of the last sentence isn't the fact that there's a new battle in that "war" but rather that the war isn't a real one, even in a metaphorical sense. In other words, there's no meaningful struggle between religion and science going on and there never really has been.
I'll expand and explain after describing the latest, absurd initiative. A petition directed toward Vice President Elect Mike Pence has just been posted on the Web. That petition calls for the banning of the teaching of evolution nationally: "We object to the teaching of the very controversial theory of evolution as part of the K-12 science curriculum which we regard to be unnecessary and unhelpful. It is obvious to us that Evolutionism-Darwinism is an anti-Christian atheistic dogma masquerading as science."
The petition goes on to implore "President Trump to issue an executive order imposing a nationwide indefinite moratorium on the teaching of evolution in public schools."
(The petition is directed at Pence because he's on record as being opposed to the teaching of evolution in the manner recommended by scientists and educators.)
Let's leave aside the unbridled hypocrisy of those who are aghast by the federal government playing any role in local educational policy asking that same federal government to get involved in determining this one aspect of the science curriculum nationally. Instead, let's focus on the claim that evolution is an anti-Christian doctrine, one that undermines religious belief.
The simplest and politest response to such a claim is to say that it is utter nonsense. Indeed, the mere existence of The Clergy Letter Project, an organization I founded and currently lead, offers incontrovertible proof of the absurdity of this claim. The Clergy Letter Project consists of more than 14,000 members of the clergy from all corners of the United States representing a wide array of religions and denominations. Members are liberal and conservative, male and female, young and old, and represent every race and ethnicity imaginable. They have only one thing in common: they know that religion and science can be compatible and that the latter poses no threat to the former.
The Clergy Letter Project was founded to support the teaching of evolution in public school science classrooms and laboratories because the clergy members involved are well aware of the centrality of evolution to biology and hence to advances in medicine, agriculture, genomics and a host of other critical subjects. The clergy members comprising the organization understand that there is absolutely no controversy within the scientific community about the importance of evolution. Those clergy members also are well aware of the damage that is being done to education and society when facts are denied solely because they make some people uncomfortable. Whether scientific investigation points to evolution, anthropogenic climate change, or any other conclusion, the members of The Clergy Letter Project recognize that it makes no sense to hide from scientific conclusions.
Why would thousands upon thousands of clergy members have banded together to promote the teaching of evolution if "evolution is an anti-Christian doctrine, one that undermines religious belief?" The simple answer is that they wouldn't!
Which takes me back to my original point. This petition and other actions like it should not be seen as evidence that there is a war between religion and science. Yes, it is true that some people who hold extreme religious views are opposed to evolution. But it is also true that many more religious leaders are fully comfortable with evolution and with all that it entails. They are fully supportive of the work that scientists are doing and want that science to be taught in our schools.
So, the supposed war between religion and science is actually something very different. Since the vast majority of religious leaders are fully aligned with scientists and opposed to the view of others who are attacking science in the name of a narrowly conceived version of religion, the war is actually between two different religious world views. One view represents modernism, asserts that scientific knowledge is different than religious faith, and values what both have to offer. The other perspective demands that its fundamentalist religious viewpoint be imposed on all citizens of the United States and that secular knowledge must take a backseat to religious dogma.
Of course, the US Supreme Court and numerous federal district courts have weighed in on this controversy. They've repeatedly determined that promoting one religious perspective by limiting the teaching of evolution or by requiring that religious doctrine be taught in addition to evolution is illegal.
Make no mistake about it. I fully understand that the petition to ban the teaching of evolution is an amateurish publicity stunt - one without any chance of becoming law. At the same time, I'm convinced that it is absolutely critical to point out acts like this one if we are ever to put to rest the erroneous belief that religion and science are at war with one another.