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Evolution, Religion and Free Will


The following was sent as an unpublished letter to the editor in June, 2007:

In "Evolution, Religion and Free Will" by Gregory W. Graffin, and
William B. Provine, (Macroscope, July - August), the authors are
surprised by the amazing single-mindedness of a diverse group of
149 “eminent evolutionary scientists”. In fact, most respondents to this study would appear to be poured from the same mold! There is a suspicious lack of diverse opinion. The authors’ hint at a simple explanation in the story of Darwin and Asa Gray; i.e. there is a big “career payoff” for evolutionary scientists when, like Darwin, they distance themselves from religion. Any “religious scientists” risk the implication that their research might be influenced by their religious
views. So those who wish to join a group of “eminent” evolutionary
scientists can eliminate this risk by simply distancing themselves from religion.

This “career payoff” hypothesis can also explain the author's
observation that their eminent scientists had no better knowledge about the meaning of free will than students in an introductory evolution class. There is no career payoff in pursuing knowledge of theological
issues. Studying religious issues would counter ones efforts to distance oneself from religion. This may apply to the 1998 study of NAS scientists as well.

Likewise, the authors observe
"the commonly held view among [eminent] evolutionists is that religion is subsumed under socio-biological evolution." If one must distance oneself from religion in order to be
credible, then one cannot hold that evolution is subsumed by religion! In fact, Leuba’s 1916 conjecture simply recognizes the “career payoff” hypothesis. Leuba’s statement: “…belief in a personal God and in immortality would continue to drop in greater scientists", becomes a warning:
“If you mix God and science, your chances of scientific
recognition will diminish.” This warning could be the mold that has formed successful careers in evolutionary science since Darwin.

Scientists cannot claim any credibility in questions of religious belief if, in order to attain scientific credibility, they removed religion from their area of expertise. Such a disclaimer might significantly reduce the number of respondents to this study, but I would not be surprised if it revealed a much more diverse set of views
in the results.

D.H. Stevans

posted by D Stevans
September 2, 2008


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