I just returned from the Darwin's Reach conference held at Hofstra University where I gave a talk on my recently published book The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption. Overall, the conference contained some interesting talks albeit one of the sessions struck me as highly problematic. The title of the session was Religion Responds to Evolution. I was very excited to attend the talks as I thought that the session might address ways by which evolutionists have tackled the study of religion. Alas, this was hardly the focus of the session. Rather, at least two of the speakers seemed to display an ideological/religious agenda. Specifically, they were each desirous to demonstrate that evolutionary theory was consistent with Evangelical Christianity and Islam respectively. Actually, one of the Islamist scholars provided the audience with "proofs" that Islamic scholars had identified the mechanisms of evolutionary theory long before Darwin! He also explained that the Qur'an did not possess a Young Earth Creationism account, and as such Islam accepts the evolutionary timeline (deep time). Hence, this consisted of a mélange of identity politics ("our group is great and accordingly we shall usurp the credit for the greatest scientific idea in the history of human thought") and religious dogma ("Our religion is great as some evolutionary tenets are not contradicted by our Holy book.") Lest the reader think that I might be picking on any one religion, I was recently "instructed" by a Rabbi to read about some pronouncement of a Rebbe regarding the elements of evolutionary theory that are congruent with Judaism (of course, I should reject those that are incongruent with Judaism).
Stephen Jay Gould, the late paleontologist from Harvard University, coined the acronym NOMA, which stands for non-overlapping magesteria, in reference to the fact that science and religion operate on different spheres. This is a feel-good and conciliatory stance but a perfectly erroneous one. The reality is that science can be used to explain religious belief whereas religion cannot explain scientific phenomena. Hence, the two spheres do overlap albeit unidirectionally so.
In the 21st century, scientists should neither be wasting their time nor that of a scientific audience preaching about how evolutionary theory is consistent with a specific imaginary religious narrative. Most scientists could not care one bit about the pronouncements of the Grand Rebbe of the Lubavitch, the Pope, the High Priest of Scientology (Tom Cruise?), the Grand Ayatollahs and Muftis, Rael, the Dalai Lama, the Reverend Moon, or Gurudeva, on scientific matters (let alone evolutionary theory). There are 10,000 documented religions in the world (Barrett, 2001). Should scientists seek the "conciliatory" pronouncements of the leaders of each of these religions in order to have their work "validated"? Forget about scientific data. This is too earthly and vulgar a pursuit. Let's search through sacred texts to determine whether evolutionary theory is veridical. Nice!
If people wish to hold private religious beliefs then they are perfectly allowed to do so. However, to the small number of scientists who wish to "convince" us that their religious dogma is wonderful as it accepts evolution, I say thanks but no thanks. Keep your proselytizing for Friday, Saturday, or Sunday services (depending on your religious bent).
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