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British Center for Science Education Admits Alliance with Religious Believers Is Strictly to Gain “Tactical Advantage”

It’s recently been reported that in the United Kingdom certain “Free Schools” (sort of like charter schools in the U.S.) now risk losing their funding if they “teach creationism,” which in the minds of Darwin lobbyists means they can’t learn about anything that might challenge Darwinian evolution — whether it’s creationism or not. According to Religion Clause:

Now, after pressure by the Royal Society as well as secular and humanist groups, the Department for Education has taken the next step. Free Schools also may not omit evolution from their science curriculum. Instead, according to Thursday’s Guardian, a new clause has now been placed in funding agreements with Free Schools requiring them to “make provision for the teaching of evolution as a comprehensive, coherent and extensively evidenced theory.”

Now there’s nothing wrong with teaching evolution. But it’s unfortunate if students at Free Schools have to learn it in a dogmatic manner where they won’t also learn about the many scientific challenges that exist to the standard neo-Darwinian model that is taught as fact in textbooks. But just who are these British “secular and humanist groups” that are pushing for the teaching of evolution? Well, one is the British Center for Science Education (BCSE), a would-be counterpart to the U.S.-based Darwin-lobbying National Center for Science Education.

Officially, the BCSE is neutral on religion. But it just so happens that the spokesmen for the group on the BCSE blog are atheists. In a November 30 post at the BCSE’s blog, “Anti-Creationists Need to Think About Tactics,” Paul Braterman and Mark Edon call themselves “non-believers in support of the ‘accommodationist’ position” because “there are over-riding tactical and strategic reasons for this position.” They state that they ally with religious folks in the “fight” to teach evolution strictly to gain a “tactical advantage”:

In summary, the reasons for even the most dedicated opponents of religion to adopt accommodationism in the political fight against Creationism are twofold.

  • Tactical advantage gained by appealing to a huge majority support by including the religious non-Creationists.
  • Strategic advantage as the Creationists are denied one of their main recruitment and retention tactics and we give ourselves the best chance of reducing their hardcore support.

Anti-theist groups need no permission from us to continue their own wider campaigns and agendas but they should seriously consider working with an accommodationist umbrella group like the BCSE to maximise their political effectiveness in this particular fight.

Note that not one of their reasons listed is that they actually believe that Darwinian evolution and religion are compatible. As I discussed in my chapter in the book God and Evolution, you will often find that many of the most vocal advocates of compatibility between Darwinian evolution and religion are in fact atheists. Two noteworthy examples (Michael Ruse and Chris Mooney) are discussed here, and here’s another one from God and Evolution:

Francisco J. Ayala is a leading scholar who disavows any challenge to religion from Darwinism, yet was driven toward Darwinism by the very natural evil that drove him away from his Catholic faith. Called “the Renaissance man of evolutionary biology” by the New York Times, Ayala served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and was the founding chair of the AAAS Dialogues on Science, Ethics, and Religion. From that platform, he’s become one of the most outspoken defenders of the compatibility between God and evolution.

A darling of the New York Times and recent recipient of the Templeton Prize, since 1999 Ayala has argued in various interviews that evolution “is more consistent with belief in a personal god than intelligent design,” and that that evolution “is not only NOT anti-Christian, but the idea of special design … might be … blasphemous.” His stature within the evolution lobby is seen in his co-authorship of the preface to the aforementioned NAS booklet which asserts that God and evolution are “fully compatible.” Ayala’s 2007 book Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion likewise declares that “Christians need not see evolution as a threat to their beliefs.”

But is Ayala even a Christian? When speaking at the “Beyond Belief” atheism conference in 2006, Ayala stated to a largely atheist audience, “I know how Richard [Dawkins] feels on matters of religion. I could agree with you on many things which I will not make explicit here.” The following year Ayala was deposed as an expert witness in a lawsuit over the use of creationist textbooks in private schools where he affirmed it is “fairly-accurate” to say he “spent five years in the priesthood until he said his intellectual side could no longer rationalize evil and human tragedy under the auspices of a supposedly loving God. As a result he not only left the priesthood, he left the Roman Catholic Church never to return.” When questioned further, Ayala refused to answer specific questions about his personal religious views. This is not unusual for Ayala. A 2008 New York Times interview reported he “will not say whether he remains a religious believer,” because, in Ayala’s words, “I don’t want to be tagged . . . by one side or the other.”

Ayala represents perhaps the most eminent proponent of the view that evolution poses no threat whatsoever to religion, and yet he categorically refuses to publicly answer simple questions about whether he is a religious believer.

(Casey Luskin, “Smelling Blood in the Water: Why Theistic Evolution Won’t Appease the New Atheists,” pp. 73-74 in God and Evolution: Protestants, Catholics, and Jews Explore Darwin’s Challenge to Faith, edited by Jay Wesley Richards (Discovery Institute Press, 2010).)

Perhaps God and Darwinism are compatible. Perhaps they aren’t. Perhaps they are, but only if you’re willing to tolerate some serious tensions and logical paradoxes. (The website Faith and Evolution is a great place to explore these questions.) Whatever the truth may be, don’t look for enlightenment from Darwinian atheists who preach to religious people in favor of ideas that they themselves espouse for merely “tactical” reasons.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



BCSEBritish Center for Science Education