By way of (very high level) background, Jerry Coyne recently wrote a review for The New Republic of a couple of books - Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution by Karl W. Giberson, and Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soulby Kenneth R. Miller. (ObDisclosure1: I've read Miller's book, and generally liked it, and I've read Coyne's Why Evolution is True, and found it to be an excellent presentation.) Chris Mooney at The Intersection took issue with some of Coyne's comments, and then Jason Rosenhouse at Evolutionblog took exception to Mooney's issues, at which point James took umbrage to Rosenhouse's exception to Mooney's issues with Coyne. Whew. (ObDisclosure2: I also read Chris's and Jason's blogs fairly regularly, and usually find them to be of very high quality.)
The comments at James' place have shifted to some interesting discussion on what early Christians would have believed, and in particular on the distinction between their beliefs qua articles of faith vice their beliefs qua social norms. (For example, Paul believed that consciousness and reasoning was in the heart, vice the brain, but that's an Aristotelian concept which would have been a commonly held view at the time, and not an article of faith that seems key to Paul's christology and theology.)
But, the topic that got everything started was, at the core, Coyne's apparent opinion that science and religion, specifically evolution and Christianity, are incompatible. (The books that Coyne reviewed both take the position that science and religion can and should coexist. This position is called Accommodationism, and it seems to generate opinions almost as strong as the subject of evolution does.)
I consider myself to be an accommodationist, with some caveats. The first should be almost trivial: All religions fall along a continuum with respect to how literally they consider their scriptures to be.1 There are groups that consider the Bible to be word-for-word literally true and inerrant, and at the other end of the spectrum are groups that view the Bible to be an extended metaphor interspersed with some historically accurate sections. It's naive to assume that all denominations of Christians are interchangeable.2 The second caveat is that "coexist" doesn't imply "seamless integration". Science tends to be very good at answering questions of what or how, and religions tend to focus more on questions of why. The late Stephen Jay Gould used the term Non-overlapping Magisteria to capture this idea.3 The third caveat is that someone who seeks to reconcile science4 and religion needs to be willing to learn accurate information about both. This may mean moving outside a comfort zone and finding out that things you've previously been taught are incomplete or wrong.5 The net result of all this is that I think that it's more constructive to explore the ways that science and religion can complement each other than to spend time building hard walls between the two realms. Our human experience is a composite of our tangible experiences and our emotional experiences, and I'm not sure it's possible to completely separate them.
Does this mean that I advocate teaching Creationism or Intelligent Design in public school biology classrooms? Of course not. Attempts to do this have been struck down in the courts numerous times, most recently in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover in 2005, with the important finding that Creationism and ID are not science, but rather attempts to introduce religion into science classrooms.6 What I do advocate is offering comparative religion classes at the High School level. As a practical matter I think that would be difficult (but not impossible) to do in a way that doesn't violate the Establishment Clause, because here in the U.S. people are overwhelmingly Christian, and it would be natural to teach a comparative religion class in a way that presents (the teacher's brand of) Christianity as true and everything else as false.7
It's a difficult course to navigate. On the one side, the evidence supporting evolution is overwhelming - perhaps moreso than for any other scientific theory - and the insights it has provided have improved the lives of millions, if not billions.8 On the other, religion can be an extremely powerful thing, inspiring unparalleled acts of creativity and beauty. I think it's possible to strike a balance that both acknowledges and respects both.
1I'm going to use Christianity as the example going forward, because that's what I'm most familiar with.
2There is a huge number of Christian denominations. The Wikipedia listing shows hundreds.
3NOMA is not a perfect concept, largely because some religions do attempt to explain the what and the how, and some scientists attempt to get into the why.
4When I say science, I'm talking mostly about modern evolutionary theory. Very few people have a problem with the germ theory of disease, or the atomic theory, Newtonian physics, or even Einstein's theory of relativity. Evolution is personal, though, because it ultimately deals with how we got here. Consequently lots of people have a very strong emotional reaction to the subject, maybe even a physical aversion. But stop and think about it for a minute. The physics that people have no problem with underlies the chemistry. The chemistry, in turn, underlies the biology. I've never seen a court case grow out of a school board trying to get a physics text thrown out.
5This is usually neither easy nor pleasant. And it cuts both ways. I can say with a fair degree of confidence that if your concept of evolutionary theory comes from materials published by the Discovery Insititute, Answers In Genesis, Ray Comfort, or any of the conservative Christian textbook publishing houses, you've been taught something that is evolutionary theory in name only. The distortions and misunderstandings in sources like these culminate in a version of evolution that no working biologist would agree with. (Honestly, I'm not convinced that secular texts, at the Middle and High School level anyway, do much better - reducing discussion of evolution makes books more palatable to textbook adoption committees, and improves book sales for the publishers.) The flip side is that most people aren't familiar with faith traditions beyond that in which they grew up. I grew up Catholic, and even though I went to public schools, I just assumed everyone else was Catholic too. It was only when I was about 8 that I realized that there were people that weren't Catholic, and I was older still when I began to appreciate the breadth and depth of the differences among different Christian denominations. I know a lot more now than I did then, which only reinforces in my mind how much more there is to learn, and how dangerous broad-brush generalizations can be.
6I personally think that if a court were to find that Creationism or ID were appropriate topics for a science classroom, the logical extension of this would be that all Creation stories were appropriate, and I suspect that isn't the goal.
7And such preference of one religion over others is precisely the sort of thing that the Establishment Clause seeks to prevent.
8The next time you get a flu shot or a Z-pack for an infection, think about how those medicines are developed.