Jerry Coyne vs. Michael Zimmerman

Jerry Coyne’s Blog “Why Evolution is True”  

Recently I’ve been reading Jerry Coyne’s blog page “Why Evolution is True” (It’s also the title of his sensational book that every evolution believing person should own). He and his supporters seem to have a legitimate complaint about Michael Zimmerman and The Templeton Foundation who believe there should be an accommodation between religion and science.

Professor Zimmerman is an evolutionary biologist who apparently believes in God, similar to Dr. Francis Collins. His “Clergy Letter” enlists religious congregations to sign up and attest that they can simultaneously be religious and support science and evolution. So far he seems to have been successful, 39 congregations have signed up and have received a donation from the Templeton Foundation for doing so. Prof. Zimmerman and his supporters encourage the teaching of evolution in the classroom, (I assume they mean all classrooms, of religious, private, and public schools). At my first read, Zimmerman’s point of view seemed reasonable, and even commendable. After all, would it not be great if evolution were taught to all students including those from religious backgrounds? Kids would acquire an accurate science education to prepare them for college, graduate school, and careers in science if they so chose. It all sounds good to me. I believe that once taught and understood, evolution would eventually win the day and supplant the belief in a supernatural deity. How could this not occur? Evolution, once understood cannot be denied by superstition (or am I a dreamer).

Prof. Jerry Coyne, on the other hand, seems to be a purist. He and his supporters are convinced that Zimmerman’s accommodationist philosophy dilutes science and evolution because it does not totally deny supernaturalism. Coyne believes you can’t have it both ways. One cannot believe in science and supernaturalism at the same time. It’s nonsensical, it’s contradictory, it’s logically impossible, it weakens science, and finally, it provides Intelligent Designers a scientific voice in the battle of philosophies.

Prof. Zimmerman is a well-known and effective spokesman for evolution who stands against hard line creationists and their policies. He believes you can have it both ways; you can believe in God, along with a minimum of miracles, and still be a scientist and believe in evolution. He claims to be living proof. Prof. Zimmerman is promoting a science accommodation with religion; he claims it is the best way to convince the faithful to back off their crusade to replace evolution with creationism in the classroom. He even encourages Pastors to acknowledge the truth of evolution from the pulpit. Prof. Zimmerman believes the “so called war between religion and science is really a manufactured conflict” created by religious fundamentalists and atheists. He claims the war is over and “peace has broken out.”

Prof. Coyne and supporters vehemently deny peace has broken out. I also deny it. They believe the war is escalating into more classrooms and into government. I agree, everywhere I look I see the evangelical conservatives winning elections, challenging the teaching of evolution, and attacking both science and atheists themselves. Atheists are the most hated and mistrusted minority in the nation according to a Pew poll. When asked: “Would you vote for an atheist or approve of your daughter or son marrying one?” the answer was startling. Of all the minorities, including Muslims, Jews, African Americans and Hispanics, Atheists got the most negative responses. Radical Christians openly attack atheists.

It seems to me that, far from being over, the war between science and religion is definitely escalating. Lower court battles are raging and will soon culminate in the highest court, which is loaded with conservatives. I can understand why Prof. Coyne doesn’t want to concede any ground or give succor to the enemy.

Prof. Zimmerman has some good points. He is aware that often emotion and ignorance suddenly gel and create a born again experience for a needy person. On the other hand, science works slowly, usually very slowly. I believe that Prof. Zimmerman hopes to get the foot of science into the proverbial religious doorway before the door is closed and locked. It makes sense to plant the seed of science in an evangelical field, water it faithfully and watch it slowly grow. Fast born-again conversions from non-religion to religion are common, but there are few, if any, fast conversions the other way. More likely it is a slow progression until one day someone realizes, “Hey, I can’t believe this nonsense anymore, I guess I an atheist.” Slow conversion from superstition to science is usually accomplished by small doses of facts over an extended period. I believe this is what Prof. Zimmerman is trying to do. I’ll even go so far as to guess that Michael Zimmerman may be a closeted atheist himself, but cannot forsake religious friends and family. He, like Francis Collins, has inflatraited the enemy camp and is preaching science to the faithful, a great accomplishment when you think about it. It is something we atheists have not been able to do successfully.

At the risk of raising the ire of my fellow atheists, I believe we should not protest too loudly against the accomodationists. We science-minded people need to attack superstition at all levels. Strategy is vital in warfare; frontal attack may not be as effective as gorilla warfare. Why not eat away at the enemy however and whenever we find an opening and enlist whatever allies we need.

In conclusion, I ask fellow atheists to cut Prof. Zimmerman some slack. He’s on our side. Although his position believing in both a supernatural God and Science is illogical, even impossible, he is helping our cause. Like evolution, small changes eventually add up and, almost imperceptibly, a new species appears.

Do I understand the conflict correctly? What’s your take on this issue? Please let me know. Thanks for reading.

Here is a poem about those who struggle with truth, who know there is something that makes sense out there just beyond their reach, who struggle to find the courage to change their beliefs in the light of new and convincing evidence.

Coming Out 

The curtain hung unnoticed since intellect was born,

thick with dust from ages past, faded and forlorn.

It covered the only window of a house that had no doors

and sifted the meager light that managed to the floor.

It trembled in the turbulent storm of ideas spawned of science

but continued to hide the truth in opaque defiance.

What atrocities of the past paced the moldy floor?

What poor souls inside searched for absent doors?

Who hung the curtain in the ancient past?

How long was it there, how long would it last?

Would some poor soul, driven by despair,

finally gather the courage and boldly take the dare,

perhaps to peer out cautiously at the world of reason?

Perhaps to see, at last, a new and glorious season.

If only they could find their way through the dark morass,

truth itself is the door through which they all may pass.

Will there be a time when doors appear and curtains will be slashed,

when prejudice and superstition will be resolutely trashed?

The story of the house with one window and no doors

should become a fable of the past and reality no more.

But still, we empathize with those who dwell within,

and have not escaped the fundamental spin.

We hope they will be courageous and reject dogmatic din

and make the world a better place for humans and their kin.


About cgosling

I am a retired medical/scientific illustrator and creator of patient teaching simulators, who has given up illustration to write about science, superstition, and secular humanism. I consider myself all of the following: atheist, agnostic, secular humanist, freethinker, skeptic, and nature lover. I have several published books but the mass of my writing is unpublished. I write children's fiction, poetry, essays, and several plays and radio theater shows, that are available as free downloads to be used on secular podcasts and meetings. They can be heard on Indy Freethought Radio or on YouTube “secularradiotheater”. I hope some of my writings will be of interest to like minded freethinkers who I cordially invite to respond. I am also a Darwin impersonator. I invite readers to listen to and use the Darwin script for secular purposes.
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