Conflict between religion and evolution? Not according to the Papal Conference on Evolution ...

Not to beat a dead horse here, but some people out there still think there is a absolute conflict between religious beliefs and believing that evolution occurs.  And if you still think that, you might want to check out the schedule for the Vatican Conference on Evolution (and related topics) that is going on right now (see here for the PDF and here for an outline).  

Held at the Vatican from Oct 31 - Nov 4 and sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences is a conference on "Scientific Insights into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life."  Among the speakers: Takashi Gojobori, Werner Arber, H.Em. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Martin Rees, Stephen Hawking, David Baltimore, Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Christian de Duve, Francis Collins (who is the only one of the speakers with God in the title of his talk) and Maxine Singer.  Sounds like a pretty good conference and I really wish I had been invited.  But suffice it to say that (1) the Pope has strong religious beliefs and (2) that the Pope and the Vatican are enthusiastic about evolution as a science.  

Too bad one of our VP candidates seems still stuck on the notion that we need to teach "the controversy" about evolution.  Just what controversy is that?

13 comments:

  1. The conflict is not between evolution and religious belief -- the conflict is between scientific reasoning and method (of which evolution is only one example) and religious belief. Both attempt to be overall frameworks that explain the world around us, and are fundamentally incompatible in the way they work, or the kinds of beliefs/attitudes/behaviors they license.

    I always find it odd that people point out that evolution is compatible with religious belief -- usually citing some nonsense like, "Oh, evolution could totally be true and scientific, but it is god that got it going."

    This shouldn't be surprising, since religious belief can be made compatible with *anything*! It is sufficiently vague, non-falsifiable and variable (from person to person and religion to religion) that it couldn't possibly be incompatible with anything. (I even know religious people who are atheists.)

    It's like having very squishy modeling clay, you can turn it into any shape you'd like. In other words, with so many degrees of freedom, religion can fit anything.

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  2. Fine, anonymous, fair points and I agree with many of them. But in this day and age, where a huge fraction of this country has very strongly held religious beliefs, I find it very useful to point out that many with strongly held religious beliefs do not feel there is a conflict between religion and evolution.

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  3. ... I find it very useful to point out that many with strongly held religious beliefs do not feel there is a conflict between religion and evolution.

    In fairness, I suppose we should also point out that many astrologers do not feel that there is a conflict between astrology and evolution.

    Not only that, there are many people who believe in the efficacy of homeopathic medicine who feel that it is perfectly compatible with science and evolution.

    Now, what was your point again?

    Oh yes, it's The Doctrin of Joint Belief, right? The Pope accepts evolution, therefore there can't be any conflict between Roman Catholicism and science.

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  4. Not really the point Larry. Many with very strong religious convictions have a lot of power in this country and there are many religion based groups that also have a lot of power. The same is simply not true for astrology and homeopathy. So if you want to stick to your guns and give your opinion about religion that is fine. But I have decided that it is OK to engage those who have strong religious beliefs and try and convince them there is no need to attack science and evolution. I am not compromising my science by doing this - I am simply engaging in a discussion which I think will benefit how science related policies are decided throughout this country. In fact, I feel every little bit helps. Sure the Constitution says there should be separation of church and state, and I support that 100%, but in practice this is simply not what happens. So when possible I try to point out that there is no need for a fight. Science and (non fundamentalist) religions can be compatible.

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  5. Oh and to Larry and anonymous - in retrospect - the Pontifical Academy Conference on Evolution seems pretty silly to me. And the whole issue of religion and evolution being compatible is a bit silly too in a way. But I still think there is no need for a direct fight ...

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  6. I agree that there's no need for a direct fight. I admire your patience and cool with the religious side on this. All in all, it's better for science probably (at least in the U.S.), if people point out that the two are not in conflict like you did. This can help eliminate some of the attacks on evolution being taught in schools that come from religious groups, for example.

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  7. So when possible I try to point out that there is no need for a fight. Science and (non fundamentalist) religions can be compatible.

    You are, of course, perfectly free to point this out whenever you like.

    The question is whether you are correct. Is it true that science and religion are compatible?

    The only evidence you offered to support your point of view was ..

    Not to beat a dead horse here, but some people out there still think there is a absolute conflict between religious beliefs and believing that evolution occurs. And if you still think that, you might want to check out the schedule for the Vatican Conference on Evolution (and related topics) that is going on right now (see here for the PDF and here for an outline).

    In other words, science and religion are compatible because there are religious people who say that science and religion are compatible.

    That's not a very logical argument, is it? You apparently agree that when it's used to justify astrology or homeopahty, the argument looks silly.

    Fact is, it looks silly no matter how it's used.

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  8. Sorry Larry - you may have missed my follow up where I sort of agreed with you ... see my previous comment above

    the Pontifical Academy Conference on Evolution seems pretty silly to me. And the whole issue of religion and evolution being compatible is a bit silly too in a way. But I still think there is no need for a direct fight .

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  9. I would put it this way. For theists to believe that evolution is compatible with their particular religious doctrines is no more illogical and irrational than many of their other beliefs. Scientists, however, should at least try to be rational and disinterested.

    Thus, I think it's fine for scientists to point out that some religious people see no conflict between evolution and religion. That's a statement of fact.

    However, that's as far as scientists should go.

    To say that this viewpoint is correct or to be encouraged - as your post implies and as some explicitly claim - is, in my view, intellectually dishonest.

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  10. Michael

    I do not buy your argument. I am a scientist. I have repeatedly stated that I do think there is a conflict between fundamentalist religions and science as well as evolution. I stated however, that I do not think there is an "absolute conflict between religious beliefs and believing that evolution occurs". How exactly is it intellectually dishonest to state that? Are you saying that because I am a scientists I therefore have to believe that science is the only way of thinking about the world around us? Are you saying that because you believe that science is in direct conflict with all religious belief that therefore it is dishonest for another scientist to say otherwise? Are you saying that encouraging religious people to not go out of their way to fight science is dishonest? What exactly do you mean?

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  11. What I mean is that this approach is a bit like the lies parents sometimes tell their kids to get a bit of peace and quiet.

    It's one thing for scientists who genuinely hold such beliefs to advocate them. It's quite another for scientists who are not religious.

    It may be the easiest way to avoid conflict - and perhaps even the lesser of two evils in some circumstances - but hardly 100% honest.

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  12. in other words, science and religion are compatible because there are religious people who say that science and religion are compatible.

    what else does "compatible" mean? It doesn't mean "obligatory" -- obviously many scientists get along just fine without any religion.

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  13. very well said!

    unfortunately, among catholic laymen there are still many who think that evolution is a myth...

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