Letters to the editor

Response to Jordan Lee


Jordan Lee, in her recent Daily Trojan column “Science and faith are not exclusive” (4/13/11), contributes to what she describes as “the false dilemma — faith in religion or faith in science.”

She quotes a recent speaker, Dr. Peter Atkins, as saying that “a scientist who believes in God is only half a scientist.” Ms. Lee goes on to accuse all academia of sharing this combative viewpoint.

This is unfortunate. While it is true many scientists are not believers, many others have active faith lives, which are fully consistent with robust and rigorous scientific inquiry. This has been explored in some detail, for example, in Prof. Elaine Howard Ecklund’s work examining religious faith in academic scientists.

More unfortunate is that Ms. Lee credits the Discovery Institute for using science to “prove” that Intelligent Design explains evolution. ID is a religious idea based on creationism, although its proponents try to cloak it in the language of science. This was soundly shown in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case in Pennsylvania.

Importantly, ID comes from just one religious viewpoint. Many faith groups find the scientific theory of evolution to be perfectly compatible with their religious beliefs. Ms. Lee might find a particularly interesting discussion of this at the site Evolutionary Christianity. Even the Vatican finds Darwin’s theory compatible with Roman Catholic religious doctrine. There are many comparable examples from other faiths.

Indeed, there is nothing about a scientific understanding of evolution that precludes one from belief in a God, if one is so inclined. But a crucial distinction from ID is that a belief in God is not necessary to explain evolution.

A biologist can have a sense of wonder as she uncovers the mechanisms of life, and whether she credits God or not does not influence the facts she discovers. Religion and science are generally not interested in the same thing. Ms. Lee is correct that it is a false dilemma to set them up in opposition. It would be regrettable, however, if her column contributed to this misunderstanding.


Don Arnold, biology

Norman Arnheim, biology

Oscar Aparicio, biology

Michel Baudry, biology

David J. Bottjer, earth sciences

Sarah W. Bottjer, biology

Samantha Butler, biology

Douglas G. Capone, biology

Lin Chen, biology

Xiaojiang Chen, biology

Kelvin J. A. Davies, gerontology

Matthew Dean, biology

Suzanne Edmands, biology

Katrina Edwards, biology

Steven Finkel, biology

Susan L. Forsburg, biology

Steven D. Goodman, dentistry

Joe Hacia, medicine

Juliette Finzi Hart, biology

Dennis Hedgecock, biology

Albert Herrera, biology

Dale Kiefer, biology

Emily Liman, biology

John A. Long, research and collections

Valter Longo, gerontology

David McKemy, biology

Matthew W. Michael, biology

Kenneth Nealson environmental sciences

Sergey Nuzhdin, biology

Matthew Pratt, chemistry and biology

Peter Z. Qin, chemistry

Andrew Smith, biology

Craig Stanford, biology

Fengzhu Sun, biology

Simon Tavaré, biology

Alan G. Watts, biology

7 replies
  1. Emily
    Emily says:

    What I find most troubling is the lack of careful analysis of the specific arguments advanced by Ms. Lee herself. Having read her article, and the commentary presented by the USC faculty, I cannot help but sense that Ms. Lee’s points were unfairly interpreted. She pointed out that many scientists in academia, though certainly not all, hold the view that people of faith can be only “half a scientist.” The wording of the faculty response reflects such a position: “ID is a religious idea based on creationism, although its proponents try to cloak it in the language of science.” This choice of language clearly communicates the belief that an understanding of the origins of the universe which includes “religious ideas” inconsistent with the current evolutionary consensus cannot be scientifically sound. The authors of the letter to the editor are willing to accept the religious positions that concur with evolutionary theory–all others merely pretend to scientific reasoning. This claim is not supported with evidence and ignores the logical warrants Ms. Lee presents in her article.

    Ms. Lee’s most prominant point, the point most noticably neglected by the faculty response, is the unavoidable reality that intelligent men and women have examined the evidence and found the evolutionary explanation lacking. She takes care to explain the manner in which ID scientists challenge the explanatory value of Evolutionary Theory. To question the sufficiency of a particular model of the facts is not religious, it is the essence of the scientific method. It is not a valid argument to simply accuse them of cloaking religion in a scientic garb. Rather, the opponents of ID are obligated by the parameters of rational, scientific inquiry to demonstrate an error in reasoning. Ms. Lee is calling for a return to the scientific method, a method that does not inherently preclude religious and philosophic committments. Science merely asks “what is?” not “why?” or “to what end?” One must already hold an epistemological position before proceeding with a scientific investigation. The scientific community cannot eliminate the possibility of the divine by definition. Any attempt to define science as materialistic and evolutionary as a means of disproving the argument of ID scientists is mere intellectual bullying, not a logical argument. I am sure that Ms. Lee welcomes disagreement. Excluding a view by definition does not constitute thoughtful dissent.

  2. JP
    JP says:

    @Diane — The principle of evolution has volumes of DATA to support it’s validity. While it can never be proven to be true (as you say) it is the best TESTABLE model for the origin of life. Eliminate the variable of “believer bias” — the blind acceptable that every word of the Bible is true — then show how any other explanation presented by that text can be tested. Ancient texts by the Greeks tell vast stories about gods in the heavens. We can’t disprove that either. Hindu writings tell of an entirely different realm of the supernatural. We can’t disprove that. If you think that scientists are arrogant, please check yourself in the mirror.

  3. O
    O says:

    Intelligent Design and Evolution aren’t the only theories of how things got started. To be quite honest, ID is kind of silly in itself, the belief in a literal 6 days of creation even though the bible doesn’t create that. There is a big difference between the theory of ID and actually believing that God created life, the universe and everything. What the bible says is substantiated by science, what ID says is not…

    Just thought I’d clear that up.

  4. Diane
    Diane says:

    Oh, the brave faculty of USC’s biology department come out to denounce the very IDEA that Intelligent Design might actually be a superior theory to evolution. I find this show of force to be most amusing. What are you people so afraid of? By the way, professors, evolution is every bit as much an article of faith as is creationism, with a plethora of troubling aspects that you all seem most reluctant to explore. For all your talk of a “scientific understanding of evolution,” it’s just a theory, and you can’t prove it. What’s more, many non-believers (including those at your feared and hated Discovery Institute) are unafraid to ask the hard questions that have you running like a pack of scared little sheep to publish this response.

    By the way, you are entirely mistaken. Religion and science are indeed looking for the same thing. Answers to what life is all about.

    • Lab Slave
      Lab Slave says:

      Diane, what are your credentials for challenging our esteemed faculty in such a self-indulgent and aggressive comment? Where did you get your advanced training? At what institution did you earn your PhD. Evolution is not a theory. We are way past that concept. Evolution is a model, which can be tested. That is how the scientific method works. We use data to construct the best explanation we can, then we do experiments to try to disprove the model. It typically works pretty well. If you have doubts about the validity and strength of the scientific method, please consider carefully the medical treatments you receive.

    • Tim
      Tim says:

      Diane: You will notice one strength in the faculties statement that your comment lacks: support. As responsible scientists, they provide evidence and real cases for their clames. You just babble.

  5. marshall
    marshall says:

    OK. So religion might agree with some parts of science, that doesn’t mean that religion is just a fairy tale. God does not exist, there is no reason to think he does. If you want to be a good person, be a good person, you don’t need the fear that an unforgiving god will send you to hell just to be a good person.

    Open you eyes.

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