Francisco Ayala on the Confusing New Atheist Message
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
As I wrote yesterday, one of the emotional strategies employed in Expelled is to paint atheist pundits as the stand-ins for "big science," in the process selectively avoiding interviews with any of the many prominent scientists who have emphasized the compatibility between evolution and religious perspectives.
And as I noted in this earlier post, the claim by Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, and other atheist hardliners that science undermines the validity of religion, even respect for religion, is at odds with the consensus view in the scientific community as represented by organizations such as the National Academies or the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
While Dawkins and Myers are to be commended for their tireless work to counter the pseudoscientific claims of the ID movement, their equally tireless commitment to ridiculing religion presents the public with mixed messages about the important differences between science, atheism, and faith.
As Dawkins even admits, he is a strategic liability to what he sometimes condescendingly refers to as the evolution defense lobby. Indeed, the association in the public's mind between evolution and atheism is only likely to grow stronger with the media campaign to promote Dawkins' next book, Only a Theory, for which he reportedly received a $3.5 million advance.
In today's NY Times, Cornelia Dean profiles Francisco Ayala, one of the scientists that Stein conveniently avoids interviewing in Expelled. Ayala is past president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is a former Catholic priest, and is author of Darwin's Gift to Science and Religion. In the article, here's what Ayala has to say about the confusing message of the New Atheist movement:
He said he was saddened when he saw the embrace of evolution identified with, as he put it, "explicit atheism," as in the books of the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins or other writers on science and faith.
Neither the existence nor nonexistence of God is susceptible to scientific proof, Dr. Ayala said, and equating science with the abandonment of religion "fits the prejudices" of advocates of intelligent design and other creationist ideas.
"Science and religion concern nonoverlapping realms of knowledge," he writes in the new book. "It is only when assertions are made beyond their legitimate boundaries that evolutionary theory and religious belief appear to be antithetical."
It is important that Dr. Ayala "is not a religion-basher," Dr. Scott said, "because creationists always showcase the religion-bashers in science as if they speak for all scientists. They clearly do not speak for Francisco and many others."
Nevertheless, Dr. Ayala will not say whether he remains a religious believer.
"I don't want to be tagged," he said. "By one side or the other."
Hat tip to Greg Laden.
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