In a recent blog post titled “Truckling to the Faithful: A Spoonful of Jesus Helps Darwin Go Down,” University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne firmly and publicly rejects the attempts by Darwin-lobbying organizations like the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) to convince the American public that Darwinism and Christian faith are compatible. In case these organizations really want to know my opinion, I’m on Jerry’s side.
Except that I’m only mostly on his side. You see Jerry is spot on when he writes
But any injection of teleology into evolutionary biology violates precisely the great advance of Darwin’s theory: to explain the appearance of design by a purely materialistic process — no deity required. In a letter to his mentor Charles Lyell, Darwin explicitly decried the idea of divine intervention in evolution:
I entirely reject, as in my judgment quite unnecessary, any subsequent addition ‘of new powers and attributes and forces,’ or of any ‘principle of improvement’, except in so far as every character which is naturally selected or preserved is in some way an advantage or improvement, otherwise it would not have been selected. If I were convinced that I required such additions to the theory of natural selection, I would reject it as rubbish. . . I would give absolutely nothing for the theory of Natural Selection, if it requires miraculous additions at any one stage of descent.
But his other over-generalizations about Science and Religion being incompatible are, of course, extremely over-simplified. If only Science (capital S) and Religion (capital R) actually existed as such abstractions, Jerry would have the beginnings of an argument.
In all this, I am left ambivalent. On one hand, Coyne seems to refuse to mislead the public simply to advance a cause that he cares about. And this is a rather virtuous thing. On the other hand, one gets the sense Coyne doesn’t want to mislead the public not so much because he loves science but because he wants to see materialism thrive in America. And this keeps people like me from getting too excited about the virtuous stance of Dr. Coyne.