Eugenie Scott – Evolution vs. Religious Belief?

April 28, 2006

Eugenie Scott, a physical anthropologist, has been the director of the National Center for Science Education for nearly 20 years. A former president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, and a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, she is one of the nation’s leading defenders of the theory of evolution, and a vocal critic of creationism and Intelligent Design theory. She is the author of the widely used and comprehensive textbook Evolution Vs. Creationism.

In this interview with DJ Grothe, Dr. Scott discusses evolution, its implications for religious belief, and the history of the Creation Science/Intelligent Design movement.

Also in this episode, Sarah Jordan asks why the teaching of evolution matters.

This is point of inquiry for Friday, April 28, 2006. 

Welcome to Point of Inquiry, I’m DJ Grothe key point of inquiry is the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank collaborating with the State University of New York at Buffalo on the new science and the public master’s degree. CFI also has branches in Manhattan, Tampa and Hollywood and 11 cities around the world. Each week on point of inquiry, we try to look at some of the central beliefs of our culture, and we focus mostly on three research areas. First, we look at pseudoscience and the paranormal. Second, on alternative medicine. And third, we look at secularism and religion. We explore these areas with some of the leading minds of the day, including Nobel Prize winning scientists, public intellectuals, social critics and thinkers and renowned entertainers. On today’s episode of Point of Inquiry, I talk with Dr. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education. We talk about evolution and its implications for religious belief. We also talk about the creation science, intelligent design movement and its history. But first, Sarah Jordan opines why evolution matters. 

Why does the teaching of evolution matter among scientists and science advocates? There’s a great deal of concern about the scientific illiteracy of the public, particularly as it concerns evolution. Americans lag behind other countries in science education, in science literacy. And we’re falling behind in terms of patents and research as well. In the United States alone, among first world countries, almost half of the public believes that the earth humans and many, if not all other forms of life were created in their present form. Less than 10000 years ago, an additional 37 percent of the public believes in some variety of theistic evolution that God intervenes in some way to modify life or guide evolution. But neither of these views is supported by any evidence whatsoever. But why is this important? Why are scientists so worried and even angry with creationists and intelligent design advocates? It’s because evolution is the unifying theory of biology. It allows us to understand the dynamic interrelationships of organisms, ecosystems, genes, development, the environment and the history of life on our planet. It opens new avenues of research in biomedicine and offers warnings about how we should be managing agriculture, pollution and land use. We confront biological issues every day from the food we eat to the medications we take. How does a vaccine work? Is genetically modified food safe? Evolution should be informing us in issues of public policy as well. What are the environmental impacts of so much drilling or farming, such a large percentage of the world’s airable land? What does global warming mean for the ecosystem? These are all evolutionary issues. Trying to understand these phenomena without evolution is like asking a six year old to operate a wrecking ball. For example, consider antibiotics. Many Americans do not regularly take their entire prescription or they use antibiotics when they shouldn’t. But this type of misuse only kills some pathogenic bacteria, which means that it selects in favor of those that are most resistant to treatment. And it breeds drug resistant strains of pathogens. This should not happen. Antibiotics are generally very safe. But if they’re going to continue to work, their use must be targeted. Across the country, there are challenges to evolution or attempts to introduce intelligent design into school curricula. A report in 2000 from the Fordham Institute indicated that evolution is not included in state science curricula at all in 13 states. An additional 13 states get C’s or D in teaching evolution. We’re in the position now where a large majority of the public misunderstands evolution as something approximating chance, rather than as a dynamic process stemming from the interaction of heredity, variation and natural selection that impacts all of life on our planet. We are not talking about some abstract, theoretical understanding of esoteric scientific concepts. This is life and how we live it. This is about the whole world and our place in it. To put it simply, we are unprepared to understand these issues and incompetent to make these decisions. If the majority of the public does not understand the most basic principles of how life works, nor can we keep up economically with other countries in biotech and other fields if we continue to churn out graduates who don’t understand the fundamental concepts of biology. If we fail to teach evolution, we are taking a chance on our futures and we’re denying our children an opportunity to understand the wonder, the beauty, the diversity and the dangers of life. There are very, very few biologists who do not accept naturalistic evolution. The discoveries and observations of the natural world accord with the expectations of evolutionary biology and our understanding of life is growing every day. Evolution has opened our eyes to the wonders of the organic world and given us extraordinary depth and clarity of vision. It has also opened our eyes to the dangers and the innumerable reasons. We have to be mindful of the ways in which we change the very world we depend on to take care of ourselves and to take care of our planet. We must understand evolution. Students should learn it in science classes. And they should know that if you want to understand how life works, the best place to start is by examining life itself. 

I am very car executive director of Psych up here at the Center for Inquiry. We’re celebrating our 30th anniversary this year, making the world safe for science and skepticism and dealing with fringe science and paranormal claims. We publish what I think is an essential magazine, The Skeptical Inquirer. This is the magazine for Science and Reason and can be ordered online at w w w psych up. That CSICOP dot org. Or by calling our toll free number one 800 six three four one six one zero subscribing to the Skeptical Inquirer helps us continue to advance science and reason in our society. And I’m so sure that you love this magazine. They don’t want you to have a complementary issue to see what we’re all about. To get your sample copy the skeptical inquiry. Just call one 800 six three four one six one zero. You mentioned the point of inquiry podcast and ask us for your free copy. We’ll get it right out to you. And you can begin enjoying the Skeptical Inquirer. Thank you. 

This week, I’m pleased to have as a guest on point of inquiry again, Dr. Eugenie Scott, who is a physical anthropologist. She’s been the executive director of the National Center for Science Education for almost 20 years. A former president of the American Association of Fiscal Anthropologists and a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She’s one of the nation’s leading defenders of the theory of evolution and a vocal critic of creationism and intelligent design theory. She was involved, as was her organization in the Dover, Pennsylvania case last December 2005. And she’s the author of the textbook Evolution and Creationism, which I’d like to remind our listeners is available at a discount on our Web site point of inquiry dot org. Welcome again to the show, Dr. Scott. 

Thank you very much. 

You’ve said that intelligent design is just creationism. Why don’t you begin by telling us what creationism is and how intelligent design is just another version of it? 

Well, I guess what I should really say is in the beginning, I’m sorry, it’s an obvious laugh line. 

But anyway, if you look at the history of of creationism and evolution in the United States, first of all, you’ll find back in the early 20th century the advocacy that students should be balancing the teaching of evolution with the Bible. I mean, good old fashioned William Jennings Bryan type creationism of special creation. God created all the kinds of organisms at one time and so forth. Well, the courts eventually dealt with that. And and that obviously is is not legal to do. And so then emerged something called creation science, which was an argument that you could take the special creation theology, pretty much biblical literalism, and dressed up as science and therefore justify teaching it in the public schools. So this way you would balance the teaching of evolution with creation science. Well, eventually the court struck that down, too. In a 1987 Supreme Court case and an earlier case in Arkansas claimed versus Arkansas, the courts decided that creation science really was just a disguise, a biblical literalist creationism. And even though claimed to be scientific, the science was bogus. And it simply was it was inappropriate for a teacher in the public schools. It was religious advocacy. Well, out of the ashes of creation science emerged a new form of anti evolution ism called intelligent design theory. And Intelligent Design theory in content is a subset of creation science. And this is something I think many people don’t appreciate. If I’ve been a student of this controversy for longer than 20 years that I’ve been at NCOIC, alas, but spent more time on this than any sane person should, I think. But it’s clear that if you look at what the creation science people were saying and are saying and what the intelligent design people are saying, it’s the same thing in the sense that everything in intelligent design is also found in creation science, although creation science does include a lot of other stuff that the intelligent design people skip over. 

You’re telling me intelligent design theory isn’t a better argument than the old creationism? 

No, it is just a subset of that same argument. What the intelligent design people decided to do when they were getting organized in the mid 1980s and early 1990s is they would leave out the more obviously religious aspects of creation science, such as the Earth only being 10000 years old, and geological features like the Grand Canyon being produced by Noah’s flood and stuff like that, but clearly, clearly could be tied back to biblical literalism. There’s nothing in intelligent design about Age of the Earth. Nothing in there about floods or or you know, they don’t talk about kinds of organisms and stuff like that. But what they did retain from creation science is the core of the idea that God created. 

But what they did was they recast this basic creationist idea to a a rather rather clever, if not necessarily unique approach to creationism of looking at the design argument itself, the idea that there are some things there in nature that are just so incredibly complex and and well put together and highly functional and cool that they couldn’t possibly be the result of chance. 

So therefore, they had to be the result of intelligent agents. And of course, we know the intelligent agent is God, although they try not not to ever say. Yeah, that’s something that they kind of have a have a tough time keeping a straight face about, though. Yes. In order to avoid the First Amendment’s requirement of neutrality in the public schools, the intelligent design proponents have to be agnostic about the identity of the designer. But look, it’s got to be God. It can’t be. No. They’re not really serious about space aliens or time traveling biochemists or any of the other possibilities. This is not a material agents. 

This is a transcendent agent. This is an agent that is capable of doing things that no other intelligence is capable of, like creating complicated structures like bacteria flagellum or the vertebrate eye or the blood clotting cascade or whatever. So clearly we’re talking about God here. But what the intelligent design folks did was take this core idea that of complexity, requiring design. It involves some real misunderstandings of science, like science is equated with random processes and chance. Whereas obviously you’ve got such really neat things in nature, like bacteria, flagella. It’s a really quite a quite a nifty little little machine there that that clearly perchance could certainly not produce. And since chance and nature are equated, they assume there’s no natural process that could bring these complex things. But of course, that seriously misunderstands what natural selection, which was Darwin’s great insight to the mechanism of evolution. It really misunderstands when natural selection is all about because natural selection is a natural process. That is not chance. It is the fact that you can explain the origin of complex structure like the eye or conceivably the bacterial flagellum or the blood clotting cascade or whatever, through natural selection means that there is a natural explanation you don’t have to resort to. 

But if there’s a natural explanation that lets you not have to resort to God, isn’t that not only being neutral, but actually exercising any discussion of other possible origins from the curriculum? 

Well, we’re talking about here is what do you teach in a science class? Now, if you want to talk about a variety of explanations for how the universe came to be and how living things came to be, that that is great. And I think that comparative religion is a wonderful study. And I wish we know more about religion and this can be done in a comparative religion class. But that’s not really what the intelligent design people are talking about. They’re not really they don’t want their views presented in a comparative religion class. They want their views presented in science class as a scientific alternative to evolution. But of course, they have not yet convinced the scientific community that they have a valid alternative. And until and if that ever happens, then they’ve got no business arguing they have a place in high school. 

Right. But let me ask you just on that point, do you think that religious students views their their theory of the origins of our species or life in the universe? Fundamentalist religious students views are attacked by the teaching the theory of evolution. 

I think that many conservative Christian students are shocked when they are faced with a scientific class as they talk about, for example, an ancient age of the earth or about common ancestry of living things, because these ideas do, in fact, directly contradict the views they’ve been taught in their religious faith. 

And you’re saying that direct contradiction is still being neutral about religion, even though the implications of that science is to call in question some of their most, you know, some of the most cherished, some of the most important closely held religious beliefs. 

One of the Supreme Court cases that has dealt with the creation and evolution issue, which is the Everson’s vs. Arkansas case back in the 1960s, made the point that it’s not the job of the of the school to consider the religious views of of the students when determining curriculum. The fact that some students may find that their religious views are being challenged is not a reason to stop teaching challenging ideas. And of course, I think you have to realize also that the students who who find that evolution conflicts with their religious views are not being asked to give up their religious views. They are being asked to learn the material in order to be an educated person. You have to understand evolution. You have to learn evolution. Whether you accept to reject it is the students own business and the student is certainly free to say. 

Here’s the evidence for evolution. Here’s mechanisms of evolution. I understand evolution, but I don’t accept it. That’s right. As long as you learn the material, then you are an educated person, you first class. 

OK. So you’re you’re saying that you can be neutral about religion even if the implications of science are really challenging to your beliefs? OK, I hear that. But America’s a democracy. What’s wrong with teaching multiple viewpoints, especially considering that most people believe in some form or another of creationism of intelligent design? Don’t scientists like dissenting positions to be aired? 

Absolutely. And we do it all the time. But the issue here is. What do we teach in high school biology and what we teach in high school biology is the consensus view of science, and that is that evolution happened. And here are the mechanisms for it. Here’s the Tree of Life. And we argue about the details that we don’t argue about whether evolution happens to to say, well, why don’t we bring in these alternate religious views into the science classes. Kind of missing the point here, because even if America isn’t democracy, science is not a democracy. And what we teach in science class is the pre college level is the consensus view of scientists. Now, I think it’s absolutely appropriate to teach about religious views in the high schools. And I think it would be a fascinating class to talk about the variety of views on origins that you find within Christianity, between Christianity and other religious faiths. You could bring in Native American beliefs and tribal beliefs of Africa, Australia, whoever and students could, I think, learn a great deal about the human condition by studying peoples religions. That’s not the same thing as advocating a specific sectarian view like creationism in a scientific context in which the student would be led to believe that these views are true. So you don’t teach these views in science class because they’re not science. 

They have not been accepted by scientists as science. However, that happens and we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. But thus far, they haven’t made the sale. 

So where if you want to talk about them in a comparative sense, you do that in some other class. But the important thing is that you don’t advocate religious views as being correct in the public schools, whether that’s in a science class or in a social studies class. 

Do you advocate a scientific view? 

Well, you can advocate a scientific view in the sense that you present the evidence for it and you inform the students that this is the scientific consensus. Students can accept or reject any views that you present in in school, but they do have to learn them in order to pass the tests and in order to be educated. Nobody is saying in a high school curriculum that you have to accept what your teachers tell you. If you want to believe that these cells won the civil war, you can do that. But you better learn what your history teacher is telling you about Lee surrendering to Grant rather than the other way around. And you need to let the teacher know that you understand that material. If you’re going to pass this now in a biology class, if you don’t want to accept that living things that Pelman ancestors, that’s your right. But you do have to learn the material. And what I think we have to be very careful about is giving the impression that a religious student is going to be mocked or is going to be in some sense discriminated against or is going to be belittled for holding religious views in the face of what many of us would consider and many other religious people would consider very solid scientific evidence. The important thing is that good science be taught and students can accept it or reject it as they see fit. But what what is very unfortunate is when teachers decide, oh, well, I’ve got some conservative Christian kids in the class and they’re going to be upset if I teach evolution. So I’ll just skip it that way. All the students suffer. 

You said that intelligent design isn’t being taught because it doesn’t rise to the level of science or used a phrase like that. Is it being censored because scientists don’t find it supportable? 

Not at all. Intelligent design proponents, some of whom are trained as scientists, can certainly go to the professional meetings of their scientific associations and try to build their theory among their colleagues or to persuade their colleagues that they’re bad, good science. Anybody can do this. Science is open in that sense. But that doesn’t mean that you get your views taught in high school. What you have to do is get your ideas into the scientific consensus and then they trickle down in the textbooks and then they trickle down into high school. But first of all, you have to convince the scientific community that you’ve got a useful way of understanding nature. And this, of course, is a big problem with intelligent design, which is that it doesn’t take any place worthless as far as understanding of nature. 

You hear a lot of Christian activists talk about, well, maybe if you don’t want to teach creation science or intelligent design, at least do what they call teach the controversy. There are a lot of disagreements about evolution. They say there are a lot of scientists who are openly critical of evolution. Shouldn’t this controversy at least be made known to students? If the students want the best education possible, I yes. 

The the well. Known and familiar, teach the controversy approach, teach the controversy is a wonderful slogan and a compliment. The public relations person who came up with it. But as far as a science is concerned, that’s rubbish. There is not a controversy going on within mainstream science about whether evolution took place. You can find a couple of scientists who are peripheral to the mainstream who doubt that evolution took place. And in fact, if you go to the Discovery Institute’s Web site, you’ll find a list of things. They’re up to 400 scientists doubting Darwin. 

Well, that sounds like a lot. Yes. 

Well, considering how many tens of thousands of scientists there are in the United States, it’s a drop in the bucket. We thought it was very silly for scientists to sign a petition against evolution. So we did a parody of this, 100 scientists doubting Darwin, which was the first manifestation of this petition that you can find in the Discovery Center Web site. They had 100 scientists doubting Darwin. So we got 200 scientists signing a simple statement accepting evolution. 

But all of our scientists were named the Wright and Project’s Steve has been a ton of fun. 

I mean, they were it was fun and it was a joke and it was amusing and whimsical. But it also had a had a serious message. And that was that since Steve’s and Stefanie’s are one percent of American names, every Steve or Stephanie on our list represented 100 scientists. Right. So when we had 200 scientists named Steve, that represented a heck of a lot more than those 100 scientists doubting Darwin. Now, the Discovery Institute’s list of scientists doubting Darwin is all the way up to 400 and something. And we’re not recruiting thieves anymore, but they keep coming in over the transom. 

We can’t keep these people away. 

Whenever there’s a news out now, I will probably get more Steves coming in as a result of this. Right. Radio show here. But every time there’s a news article, we get more thieves. And so we’re up to over 700. Stephen presents, what, 70000 scientists accepting evolution versus 400 doubting it. OK. 

So when when you when you do these kinds of silly numbers, it’s clear that it’s just a tiny percentage of scientists who are doubting evolution. I can I can give you the name, the Web site of APHC who thinks that the sun goes around the earth. 

Greatest booo of the Biblical Astronomy Institute is a geo centrists. Now, does this mean here’s a APHC who doubts heliocentrism? Does this mean heliocentrism is an area of controversy in astronomy? Let’s teach the controversy about heliocentric. No, I mean, that’s laughable. But similarly, there is no controversy over whether evolution took place. 

So where’s the controversy then? 

The controversy is over the details of the evolution of the mechanisms of evolution and how the tree of life has branched in time. What lineages our ancestral to what other ones. 

But if there are controversies over the mechanisms of evolution, doesn’t that mean there are holes in the theory? 

No more than there would be holes in the theory of gravitation, because there are controversies over some of the details of the basic theory of gravitation. A gap is not a weakness. We always have more to learn about science. The more we learn, the more new doors are open for future further exploration. There’s nothing clearer about science than this. And especially with the opening when the last 30 years of molecular biology and these new genetic techniques, we’re finding more and more things that we don’t yet know. Now, does that mean that biochemistry is a weak science because there are gaps? No knowledge, of course. But the job of scientists is to close those gaps with more knowledge. But nobody feels that evolution. The idea that living things had common ancestors is a weak theory because we don’t know everything about it. 

I’d like to remind our listeners that you can receive a discounted copy of Dr. Scott’s really definitive book on evolution, creationism, controversy entitled Evolution versus Creationism on our Web site Point of inquiry, dot org. Dr. Scott, how do we know that evolution is the best supported theory? You’re talking about controversies, not about whether evolution happened, but controversies about mechanism. How do we know that it’s the best supported theory? Can you give me some examples of the lines of evidence? 

The reason. Why mainstream scientists accept evolution, accept the idea of common ancestry. Is that it explains so much of biology. Living things had common ancestors. You would expect to find certain things you would expect to find. For example, if vertebrates had a common ancestor, that there would be similarities and differences in anatomy that reflected how recently these groups shared a common ancestor. So, for example, bears and dogs shared a common ancestor relatively recently. So you would expect there to be more similarities between the anatomy of bears and dogs than between the anatomy’s of Fabares and dogs and primates with whom they shared a common ancestor much longer ago. And time bears and dogs are both members of the group kind of carnivorous. The carnivores and primates are much more distantly related to them, but primates and carnivores are more closely related and they’re going to have more anatomical similarities to each other than they will to salamanders because primates and carnivores shared a common ancestor more recently with each other than they shared a common ancestor with carnivores. It’s sort of like you and your brother are more similar to each other than you are to cousin, because you and your brother have your dad in common, where if you have to go back to grandpa to share a common ancestor with your cousins, but you, your brother and your cousin are all more similar to each other than you are to people on the other side of town. You live in a very inbred community because you shared a common ancestor with each other more recently than a general common ancestor with other people in your community. So you have to think of of evolution as this big genealogical tree of species through time. And if this is true, then you would expect greater or lesser degrees of similarity and difference in these kind of nested hierarchies, which is exactly what you find. Now, you can check that by looking at another system other than, say, anatomy. You could look at biochemistry saying there are biochemical similarities and differences nested in the same way our bears and dogs are more similar in their biochemistry to each other than they are to primates. The answer is yes. Are they more similar there and in their embryology? Another completely different system. And the answer is yes. 

You get all of these different lines of evidence that all point to this inference that we make that living things had common ancestors, an inference that Darwin made when he didn’t have those fields of inquiry. 

That’s right. Although actually Darwin did talk about comparative anatomy. Right. He didn’t know anything about the molecular and biochemical levels of biology that were so much more familiar with today. And Darwin also did not know anything about their did not know very much about the fossil record. We now have so many more fossils for so many more different groups of organisms that we see the same sort of pattern of this sort of nested hierarchy of of species branching through time. And the whole picture just points to a much more reasonable inference that living things shared common ancestors than they than any other view, such as they all were produced in their present form by a special breed. 

So some version of creationism. In fact, you spoke of the beginning of the interview about how creationist views have evolved over time. You just told me some specific lines of evidence to support the theory of evolution. Can you give me some examples of why you think creationism and intelligent design and all the variations of those kinds of arguments aren’t supported by the evidence? 

The basic idea of creation, science or intelligent design is the Christian theological view of special creation that God creates stuff in their present form with the creation science. Who gets the most extreme view of this, which is that God creates whole species in their present form or a whole groups in their present form that God creates. Dog from God creates bears. And these are special kinds. And you don’t get that bear bear kind in the dog kind. Don’t ever come together in common ancestry because they’re separate creations. The creationists have a view of life as a lawn rather than a tree with with separate, you know, separate created blades of grass, so to speak, as opposed to the banyan tree, so to speak. That’s that evolution of excess. So an intelligent design is basically the same idea, except that you have to look a lot harder to find them admitting this sort of thing, because what they tend to talk about are these little molecular structures like blood cladding or bacteria flagella, which in are created in their present form. I mean, they’re not saying bacteria flagellum was assembled piecemeal. They’re saying that it is. Into existence. It had to be a separate creation. 

That’s what until it’s because no component of it could have existed without the other components. 

That’s right. The idea of irreducible complexity, like Michael B. He talks about. So basically you’re talking about special creation, but you’re in the intelligent design them follow a position called progressive creationism, where God creates not all at one time, like in creation science, but God created through time. First he creates DNA because that’s irreducibly complex and then he creates the first cell because that’s irreducibly complex, creates the bacteria flagellum, because that’s where this LTA complex and so on and so on. 

Every time you see an irreducibly complex structure, that’s when God has specially created. You know, this is the interesting thing. I’ve been trying to get these until it is designed people to be clear about what what are you really talking about? Because in many of them will say, well, but I accept evolution, of course, of evolution took place. But when you really back them down and ask them specifically what they’re talking about, they’re talking about the same thing creation science talks about, which is evolution within the time, like dog breeding or something. 

So you’ve got a dog kind. And the bear kind. And you have evolution of bears and two polar bears and black bears and grizzly bears and like that, whatever the various groups bears are. 

But you don’t have dogs turning into elephants or you don’t have bears and dogs sharing a common ancestor. The idea of common ancestry is not something that you find between the created kind. Of course, they’re never fit the concept of kind as worthless as a biological concept because they never can define it. They have no idea what it is. So your question, the reason why we got on this big digression was you asked about what you know, what is the evidence against intelligent design or creationism? Why would how would they explain these same phenomena? And do these arguments have any any way? Well, the problem with the special creation as a scientific argument is that no one you observe in nature is compatible with that explanation. So if bears and dogs turn out to have really, really similar biochemistry, you can just say, well, OK. The created kind is the bear dog. And bears and dogs are just an example of variation within the time or if bears and dogs prove to have be really more different in their biochemistry or different in some others. Comparative feature, you can say there’s two separate types. Any observation you find is compatible with the idea that God created because God is a supernatural, omnipotent force who can do anything you want. So there’s no way to test explanations involving that may be true. 

It may be false, but it’s not science because it’s an untestable hypothesis. 

This is why I argue that creationists can’t claim that creationism as science because, of course, they’re involving a an omnipotent creator and any observation, any result of a test would would be compatible with with the actions of this creator. But it’s also the case that atheists can’t say that science proves God doesn’t exist for the same reason. I mean, once you postulate a and omnipotent creator, you can’t test your statements. 

You’re outside of science. 

That leads me to the last question, Dr. Scott. Do you have an ax to grind, you’re talking about the theory of evolution, which a lot of people fight against in our society. Do you have a certain reason you’re all into this? 

You know, if you I mean, I’m not recommending this because it’s really boring. But if you ever Google Eugenie Scott on the on the Internet, you’ll find that I am the talk topic of quite a bit of conversation that I am creationists sites and religious right sites. And I’m sometimes I think that my first name is really atheist because they seem to always right. The atheist Eugenia’s got atheistic humanist. 

I’ve seen you described best and worst Jim Underdown right. 

Or better, I guess depending on your point, creationists have a tough time with me and actually so atheists, because both groups think that I should be an anti believer. But I think it’s important that people realize that it’s possible to be non-religious without being anti religious right and doesn’t speak to me. It speaks to most human beings. I’m the oddball, not them. 

And as an anthropologist, it just doesn’t make any sense for me to be anti religious. No, I mean, religion is part and parcel of the human condition. It’s from the standpoint of science, I guess you would say it’s a very easily learned behavior is a human universal. It doesn’t mean that religion is truth, that there really is a reality other than the material reality that we all experience in my book. I’ve got a chapter on religion in which I define religion in an anthropological sense of the rituals and beliefs and behaviors and ideas that have to do with the human relationship to a a non material universe, non material reality. 

Now this can be heaven. This can be hell. This can be the ancestor spirit. This can be a variety of things intending on what culture you come from. But most human cultures do have views about a nonmaterial universe that that they can interact with as an unbeliever. I don’t accept there is, but I don’t claim that this is that I can prove this ethically. 

This is just something that makes sense to me. 

So for you, the theory of evolution doesn’t prove that God doesn’t exist and the theory of evolution hasn’t made you wage a crusade against religion? 

Oh, absolutely not. I believe that that evolution and science in general can I can neither prove or disprove the existence of God. I think that’s really a first principle. Either do or do not accept the idea that there is there is a God, there is some reality other than the material reality. And if you do accept that reality, that doesn’t mean anything goes, because the acceptance of that reality is, let’s say you are a person who believes in God. There. There are different theological views would shape what you think about that. If you think about the nature of God and think about the relationship of God to humans and frankly, when I spend a lot of time for an unbeliever talking with him and hanging out with Christian theologians, because this is part of my job and I find it very, very fascinating. But one thing that I have learned is the tremendous amount of variation within, let’s just say, Christian theology about the nature of God and the relationship of humans to God. And it’s not a one size fits all. And in my view, there are some Christian theological views that are far more internally coherent and consistent than others. And frankly, a a defendable theology has to be consonant with the natural world, which is why a biblical literalism is considered a failure not just by people like me who are not people of faith, but also by thoughtful people who are believers, but who believe that their religion should be should take into consideration what empirical reality is really like. 

Dr. Scott, thank you very much for joining us again on point of Inquiry. Thank you for inviting me. 

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Thanks for listening to this week’s point of inquiry. We get a lot of feedback from people all over the world saying that they’re listening to us every week. That gratifies us tons. And we’re going to keep bringing you these shows if you keep listening. Join us next week for a discussion with Eddie to bash a civil rights attorney from Southern California. Some consider him the modern day Robert Green. Ingersoll, if you don’t know who Robert Green Ingersoll is. Tune in next week. We’re going to be talking about the real meaning of separation of church and state to get involved with an online conversation about today’s episode. Go to w w w dot CFI dash forums dot org. Views expressed on point of inquiry don’t necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry dot org or by visiting our Web site at point of inquiry dot org. 

Point of inquiry is produced by Thomas Donnelly and recorded at the Center for Inquiry here in Amherst, New York. Executive producer is Paul Kurtz. Point of Inquiries. Music is written and composed for us by Emmy Award winning Michael Quailing. Contributors to today’s show include Sarah Jordan Tom Flynn and Lauren Becker. I’m your host, DJ Grothe. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.