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quinta-feira, julho 16, 2009

Defenders of the Faith

Scientists who blast religion are hurting their own cause.

By Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Jul 14, 2009

As soon as Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian geneticist who headed up the pioneering Human Genome Project during the 1990s, was floated as the possible new director of the National Institutes of Health—he was officially named to the post on Wednesday—the criticisms began flying. Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago, for one, said Collins is too public with his faith. Collins wrote a book called The Language of God, frequently talks about his religious conversion during medical school, and recently launched the BioLogos Foundation, which declares, "We believe that faith and science both lead to truth about God and creation."

The critics, though, have it exactly backward: the United States needs more scientists like Collins—researchers who show by their prominence and their example that a good scientist can still retain religious beliefs. The stunning irony in the longstanding tension between science and religion in America is that many scientists who merely claim to be defending rationality from religious fundamentalism may actually be turning Americans off to science, doing more harm to their cause than good.

The poster boy for the so-called New Atheist movement today is biologist Richard Dawkins, author of the bestselling book, The God Delusion. He and other New Atheists attack faith without quarter, and insist that science and religion are fundamentally irreconcilable. In the process, they are helping to keep U.S. society polarized over science and likely helping to make it still harder for many religious believers to accept scientific findings in areas like evolution.

Although the New Atheists are not so numerous, and much younger as a movement than their polar opposite—the Christian right—they've amassed a powerful following, especially online, and have sold millions of books by prosecuting a culture war in precisely the opposite direction from the one waged by Christian conservatives. Science is their watchword, but it has always been about much more than that. The New Atheist science blogger PZ Myers, for instance, has publicly desecrated a consecrated communion wafer, presumably taken from a Catholic mass, and put a picture of it, pierced by a rusty nail and thrown in the trash, on the Internet.


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