Apples and Oranges?
The question about evolution posed to contestants at the recent Miss USA Pageant has generated a lot of discussion on the internet. Much of this has, of course, focused on the sad state of scientific education in schools, but perhaps more noticeably on the apparent ongoing clash between science and religion.
Yesterday, my friend Julius Csotonyi posted a link to an article about whether an acceptance of evolution should be described as “believing in evolution.” Julius stated eloquently that,
“there is a popular misconception that the thumbs-up that all serious scientists give the theory of evolution depends on a measure of blind faith in the same way that religious views depend on faith. It does not. If one were to examine the mountain of evidence that supports evolution …, I contend that they would find it impossible to conclude that there is any weakness in the theory as a whole, even though there is some disagreement over some of the fine details (as is the case with any healthily and actively researched field of science). Therefore, similar to how this article points out, I avoid the use of the ‘believe’ when talking about verifiable scientific theories such as evolution.”
As a scientist working in this field, I have also long thought that we should avoid using “belief” when talking about evolution, since it is far too easy to muddy the differences between two things that are, in fact, quite distinct. Science endeavours to understand the natural world through research and experiment, while a religion involves a set of beliefs which, at their core, provide a value system by which people should live. Given the lack of overlap in critical components, evolution and religion do not really speak the same language, so we should choose our words carefully, avoiding the temptation to uncritically transfer terms from one field to another.
We should not try to to compare religion and science as though they are apples and oranges. They are really about as alike as pineapples and hand grenades: the gross and general similarities break down the minute you put your glasses on, as the underlying structures and purposes are so entirely different. Unfortunately, many people have been myopic about this basic distinction, or in some cases they have chosen to promote some sort of anti-objective glaucoma.
There is often personal advantage in choosing to lob explosives in a random manner, and society as a whole should recognize this behaviour for what it is: self-interest (I am speaking about individuals on both sides of the “debate” here). The hand grenade approach results only in “often explosive animosity”.* I would propose that we instead embrace the pineapple, encouraging calm conversation while sipping delicious tropical beverages.
*This was Julius’ term for it. To see his superb artistic work, check out csotonyi.com
© Graham Young, 2011