Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Stifling Intellectual Inquiry

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Stifling Intellectual Inquiry

Article excerpt

"In fact, the breadth and extent of the anti-evolutionary movement that has spread almost unnoticed across the country should force American politicians to think twice about how their public expressions of religious belief are beginning to affect education and science. The deeply religious nature of the United States should not be allowed to stand in the way of the thirst for knowledge or the pursuit of science. Once it does, it won't be long before the American scientific community-which already has trouble finding enough young Americans to fill its graduate schools-ceases to lead the world." That is the editorial voice of the Washington Post which, on this subject as well as most others, is temperate compared with many others in the liberal establishment.

The alarm is prompted, of course, by the efforts of school districts to teach students that evolution is a theory. That evolution is a theory is a fact, unless somebody has changed the definition of theory without notifying the makers of dictionaries. The "search for knowledge" and "the pursuit of science," one might suggest, will suffer grievously if we no longer respect the distinction between theory and fact. To argue that skepticism about the theory of evolution is inadmissible if it is motivated by religion is simply a form of antireligious bigotry. It is a fact that many devout Christians, many of whom are engaged in the relevant sciences, subscribe to the theory of evolution. It is also a fact that some scientists who reject religion also reject evolution, or think the theory highly dubious. That is the way it is with theories.

Theories are proposed principles or narratives that are both arrived at and tested by their explanatory force relative to what are taken to be known facts. To simply equate evolutionary theory with science is a form of dogmatism that has no place in the pursuit of truth. The problems with that approach are multiplied by the fact that there are such starkly conflicting versions of what is meant by evolution. The resistance to the theory is almost inevitable when it is propounded, as it often is, in an atheistic and materialistic form. Atheism and materialism are not science but ideologies that most people of all times and places, not just "red state" Americans, deem to be false. Proponents of "intelligent design" and other approaches, who are frequently well-certified scientists, contend that their theories possess greater explanatory power.

If someone claims the theory of evolution is false because it contradicts their understanding of what the Bible says, that is not a scientific argument in the ordinary meaning of science. It is an argument from the authority of the Bible, or at least from a certain interpretation of the Bible. …

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