-Dr. John G. West
If what West said is true, it would seem to expose a startling hypocrisy on the part of evolution proponents. After all, it is normally the supporters of evolution who accuse their opposition of seeking to promote a specific religious view. Such an accusation requires serious consideration and a close examination of the evidence.
Unfortunately, West's lecture was full of insinuations but empty when it came to concrete evidence.
In his talk, West repeatedly claimed that Dr. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), encourages science teachers to promote one religious view over others. To support his accusation, West cited an article written by Scott entitled "Dealing with Antievolutionism."
According to West,
Not surprisingly, in order to make this point, West had to completely ignore the context provided in the article. It turns out that Scott offered the above activity as an example of how one teacher makes students aware of the diversity of religious attitudes towards evolution.
Here is what Scott actually wrote:
After one such initial brainstorming session, one teacher presented students with a short quiz wherein they were asked, "Which statement was made by the Pope?" or "Which statement was made by an Episcopal Bishop?" and given an "a, b, c" multiple choice selection. All the statements from theologians, of course, stressed the compatibility of theology with the science of evolution. This generated discussion about what evolution was versus what students thought it was. By making the students aware of the diversity of opinion towards evolution extant in Christian theology, the teacher helped them understand that they didn't have to make a choice between evolution and religious faith.
So instead of promoting a particular religious view, as West contends, the purpose of the activity was to make students aware of the wide range of religious views concerning evolution, including some views that are compatible with it.
Not content to stop there, West continued:
Again, West misleadingly distorted what Scott actually wrote:
As should now be evident, West consistently failed to acknowledge the stated purpose of the activities and, in so doing, managed to make it seem as though Scott is encouraging teachers to promote one particular religious view over others. In reality, the instructional activities described by Scott were intended to address a common misconception: the notion that religious people must reject evolution in order to hold on to their faith.
So, upon closer examination, West's accusations against Eugenie Scott turn out to be egregiously false. Scott does not encourage the promotion of religious views in the science classroom. She merely offers her help to science teachers who are looking to defuse the religious objections to evolution that originate outside of the classroom so that authentic learning can take place inside of it.
Pointing out that the diversity of viewpoints among religious people does not equate to promoting one viewpoint over another. That is a simple fact, one that West tried hard to obfuscate.
Representatives of the Discovery Institute claim that they really want students to learn more, not less, about evolution. If they really meant that, they would be supporting such attempts to defuse the religion issue because students are much more likely to learn about evolution when they can approach it without the fear that doing so will automatically lead them to reject their religious beliefs.
Unfortunately, this was not the only misleading part of West's lecture. He also used a quote from Dr. Kenneth Miller's book, Finding Darwin's God, to blatantly misrepresent Miller's viewpoint concerning evolution and the development of human beings:
I happen to own a copy of Finding Darwin's God, and the text quoted by West is not reflective of Miller's view. Miller does not believe that intelligent beings capable of knowing their Creator are an "afterthought" or a "minor detail" in evolution.
The following long excerpt provides a clearer view of Miller's beliefs:
No question about it. Rewind that tape, let it run again, and events might come out differently at every turn. Surely this means that mankind's appearance on this planet was not preordained, that we are here not as the products of an inevitable procession of evolutionary success, but as an afterthought, a minor detail, a happenstance in a history that might as well have left us out. I agree.
What follows from this, for skeptic and true believer alike, is a conclusion the logic of which is rarely challenged--that no God would ever have used such a process to fashion His prize creatures. He couldn't have. Because He couldn't have been sure that leaving the job to evolution would have allowed things to work out the "right" way. If it was God's will to produce us, then by showing that we are the products of evolution, we would rule Him out as our Creator. Therein lies the value or the danger of evolution. Case closed?
Not so fast. The biological account of lucky historical contingencies leading to our own appearance on this planet is surely accurate. What does not follow is that a perceived lack of inevitability translates into something that we should regard as incompatible with a divine will. To do so shows no lack of scientific understanding, but it seriously underestimates God, even as He is understood by the most conventional of Western religions.
Finding Darwin's God, p. 272-273
Miller summarizes his position on the following page:
Finding Darwin's God, p. 274
Clearly, Miller's theological views are more nuanced than West would have his audience believe. While Miller does not believe that human beings were the inevitable outcome of evolution, he does believe that God intended to create beings that were worthy of a soul. It is therefore false to claim that Miller's views are "less friendly to traditional religion than one might think."
Ironically, after maligning Eugenie Scott for encouraging instructional activities that defuse the religion issue, John West demonstrated exactly why such activities are necessary.
People like him are working hard to make sure that the fuse stays lit.