The struggle between creationism and evolution is something that I, personally, am passionate about. I've shared time and again how I attended a small Christian private school for two years, and how the information that we were presented about evolution was so flawed and biased that it was impossible, under those circumstances, to make an accurate choice. The only choice was to believe in a biblically literal creationist account.
For me, personally, the struggle between belief and science in our society is frightening. Even when I remained a Christian, towards the end, it was clear that the Bible is a mix of moral and historical allegory that doesn't need to be placed at odds with scientific thought.
As I further explore atheism, starting with Doubt: A History by Jenifer Michelle Hecht, I find this belief reinforced. Science and faith can reside side by side. While I, personally, choose nonbelief, I don't automatically consider that those that choose to remain religious are wrong for that choice. What I do find distasteful is when people attempt to force those beliefs on the population at large.
This is the central struggle in the debate between evolution and creationism.
In this light, it's easy for people to get the impression that I (and others who are so passionate about it) believe that all Christians are on the "opposing team". Nothing could be further from the truth. I've been saving up a few great pieces recently that show that Christianity and evolution aren't necessarily at odds whatsoever.
First, I'd like to define who the "enemy" is.
Many Christian traditions--including Catholicism--support evolution. They have found ways to reconcile it with their own belief system. Who, then, is causing such a ruckus?
The truth is, the real opposition isn't Christianity--it's Christian fundamentalism and biblical literalism.
In a letter to the editor in the New-Review, the following points were made:
In the May 25 issue of The News-Review, a letter writer proposed that evolution and creationism should be taught side by side as electives. “There is just as much scientific evidence,” he claimed, “that creation occurred [as] there is that evolution [and the Big Bang] occurred.”The people such as this letter writer are the ones that we have to watch out for, and they are increasingly loud in their assertions.
They also tend to believe, like the original letter writer referenced in the quote above, that they are equally familiar with both concepts. From Charles M. Blow's "Religious Constriction" Op-Ed in the New York Times:
Even among people who said that they were “very familiar” with the theory of evolution, a third still believed that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago.
These aren't the only Christians out there, though.There are those Christians that disagree, and they made their voices heard in response to Blow's piece.
One argued that:
At the heart of traditional Christianity is the belief that faith is reasonable and that scientific facts and religious belief are not at intractable loggerheads. With regard to creationism versus evolution, there is no longer a debate.There was also arguments that the failure to honor that rationalist tradition was "heresy":
Galileo supposedly said, “The Bible tells you not how the heavens go, but how to go to Heaven.”
Christianity is not opposed to reason. Fundamentalism, however, is. It is the new Christian heresy.And then there are those that actually believe that those that stand complacent are also wrong:
Why are there not more loud voices championing the causes Mr. Blow champions: respecting the integrity of fact and evidence and valuing science’s place in moving us forward as a country and a global civilization?
It’s unfortunate that even so many who aren’t indoctrinated into fact-denying dogma are still pretty complacent when it comes to this phenomenon, not seeming to appreciate the breadth of its potentially dire implications (environmental and other).
This isn't to say that religious belief in public life doesn't cause issues.
Blow points out that those who believe have a responsibility:
Americans, particularly political leaders, who choose religious piety must also create an intellectual framework in which things of faith that exist without proof can make space for truths for which there is proof.
This is especially important, because of the strength of religion in America. Today, 8 in 10 Americans still identify as religious, and the strength of our religious nature actually runs contrary to our economic strength. Usually, such strength is found in developing or even third world nations. To quote a Gallup report from 2010:
The United States is one of the rich countries that bucks the trend. About two-thirds of Americans — 65 percent — say religion is important in their daily lives. Among high-income countries, only Italians, Greeks, Singaporeans and residents of the oil-rich Persian Gulf states are more likely to say religion is important. Most high-income countries are further down the religiosity spectrum.
The author of the letter to editor for the News-Review, however, points out that there is a real cause and effect relationship within our inability to do just that:
Although it is a world leader in science, the U.S. is in the embarrassing position of being the only developed nation in which scientific policy decisions are routinely made based on the opinions of laypeople — politicians and religious fundamentalists — even when they are in opposition to overwhelming scientific consensus. It is difficult for me to comprehend the arrogance that leads creationists, who have no training in science, to believe they understand scientific issues better than experts who spend their lives studying them.So there are very real consequences to these oppositional attitudes.
We just can't forget that there are distinctions.
I really hate it when I encounter someone that paints all atheists with the same brush. We're all individuals. I think we are quick to do this with the religious too.
This is rather a long quote from "Why Atheists Aren't Jerks" on Relevant Magazine, but it's worth a read:
Consider the relationship of G.K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw, the former a Catholic and the latter described as an “involuntary atheist.” Their relationship was distinguished on the one hand by scathing written criticism and intense public debate. On the other hand, their mutual respect for the intellect of the other was plain to see and begot genuine friendship.
Chesterton once quipped, “It is necessary to disagree with him as much as I do in order to admire him as much as I do." Shaw characterized Chesterton as “friendly, easy-going, unaffected, gentle, magnanimous, and genuinely democratic.” Indeed, Shaw’s affection for Chesterton was on full display in a mournful letter written to his widow Frances the day after his death, calling it “ridiculous that I, 18 years older than Gilbert, should be heartlessly surviving him.” He offered to help her in any way possible before closing, “the trumpets are sounding for him,” alluding to Heaven as described in The Pilgrim’s Progress.
The late Christopher Hitchens, inarguably a man of staggering intellect and arguably the finest journalist and critic of our time, was a champion of New Atheism. But his public persona belied the incredible love he had for those he debated, notably evangelical apologist Larry Taunton. After Hitchens’ death, Taunton fondly remembered their meals together, frequent phone calls and visits, and a “civilized, rational discussion” about the Gospel of John, which they’d read together.
When asked his opinion of Taunton before a public debate, Hitchens said, “If everyone in the United States had the same qualities of loyalty and care and concern for others that Larry Taunton had, we'd be living in a much better society than we do.” Later that evening, Hitchens complimented Taunton’s performance. When Taunton dismissed Hitchens as having been gentle with him, Hitchens merely replied, “Oh, I held nothing back,” and then asked if they were still on for dinner.
Interfaith dialogue is far from impossible. In each of these instances, atheists and Christians had public debate and intellectual discourse while maintaining their own respect of each other as individuals.
These are, in fact, instances where we are all on the same team--fighting for the right to believe (or not believe) in the way that is best for us.