Eugenie Scott: The Dover Trial and the Scientist Hat

Ted, can you expand on this? On the surface, it looks as if Gould proposed NOMA to avoid warfare between science and religion, by giving each its own territory, on the principle that “good fences make good neighbors.” There would be no fighting if each agreed to stay on its own side of the property line.

Your statement, in the bald and compact form given above, reminds me of some things that Cornelius Hunter has written about the warfare thesis, and I know (from a debate on BioLogos) that you don’t agree with Hunter’s interpretation of the warfare thesis – which makes the harmonization of faith and evolution put forward by BioLogos to be just another version of the warfare thesis. So could you distinguish between what Hunter seemed to be arguing, and what you are saying here?



I am getting really tired of assorted people moving the goal-posts hither and thither.

My original question was:

The following, even if true, was only tangentially related to my question:

But was Coyne’s beef Collins’ ‘belief in the Resurrection’? Coyne’s own words (WEIT 10-JUL-09 & WEIT 24-FEB-10) indicate that his concern was rather that Collins would use his prominent scientific status as a soapbox for promotion of his religious views. Whether those concerns are legitimate or not are a matter for argument, but an argument that does not appear to be in any way related to my original question, and only tangentially related to Davis’ claim.

Eddie stated:

Coyne said that no one who could believe a man rose from the dead should be the head of a publicly funded scientific organization. (I paraphrase.)

This does not appear to be supported by any comments by Coyne I’ve seen, or have been produced to date on this thread.

Coyne Denies He Ever Opposed Francis Collins’ Nomination to Head the NIH (blogpost title)

And the evidence (WEIT 10-JUL-09) is that he did not do so.

I have criticized the man strongly for mixing faith and science but have never called for his resignation; in fact, I have said the contrary. [Coyne PS MAR-2019]

This appears to be contradicted by WEIT 24-FEB-10:

Collins gets away with this kind of stuff only because, in America, Christianity is a socially sanctioned superstition. He’s the chief government scientist, but he won’t stop conflating science and faith. He had his chance, and he blew it. He should step down.

But this is all getting well away from my original question.

But then again, that question has been rendered moot by @ProfBravus’ gracious admission:


I do turn off my brain consciously sometimes, especially when my resident priest mentions something like Jesus turning water into wine, since that goes against many principles of chemistry I know.

Sometimes when my priest brings up the issue of the incorruptibility of dead saints, he would tout it as undeniable proof that God performs miracles, but my pesky brain would be fighting seriously for me not to ignore what its proposing as an alternative explanation; that these saints were accidentally buried under physical conditions that prevented decay.

In the end, my brain loses… Until I exit the parish premises.

Approving comments from my phone, I may have tapped a wrong button. Please check that your recent comments are all here.

1 Like


Your request is fair, and graciously worded. I’ll take your two points (Gould then Hunter) in reverse order.

You’re right, that I don’t agree with Cornelius “George” Hunter, when he says that BioLogos endorses A D White’s infamous “warfare” view of science and religion. I did indeed write a couple of columns responding to him, the current forms of which are Here’s What’s Not Going on with BioLogos | The BioLogos Forum - Blog Posts - The BioLogos Forum and Conflicts ≠ CONFLICT: My last word on Cornelius Hunter’s Misunderstanding of the History of Science and Religion | The BioLogos Forum - Blog Posts - The BioLogos Forum (the original columns with images on the main part of the site are apparently no longer available).

OK, so how is my take on the warfare thesis different from Hunter’s? I agree with Hunter, that many liberal Christians bought White (and so did Gould; see below); and I agree with Hunter that White’s narrative is historically bankrupt (I should say that Hunter agrees with me on that, since I’ve written about that before). But, he charged BioLogos with the same error, when in fact we don’t take that route at all: we don’t share White’s view that traditional theology never had a productive conversation with science, and we reject White’s fundamental belief that “religion” has a future only insofar as it casts aside “dogmatic theology,” White’s pejorative term for nearly all traditional Christian beliefs. (It’s interesting how that adjective “dogmatic” and the noun “dogma” still have negative connotations that really aren’t inherent those words. I would contend that NY State Senators like White and California US Senators like Feinstein have core beliefs of their own, not to mention scientists like Sagan or Dawkins, that function no less as “dogma” for them, than Christian doctrines function as core beliefs for Christians. But, let’s leave that aside for now…) Hunter missed that vital nuance, somewhere.

I develop further the notion that many liberal Christians swallowed White’s warfare thesis whole in a separate column for BL that is no longer anywhere I can find, not even in the dialogue area that went with it: How Liberal Protestants Bought White's Conflict Thesis and Lost Their Faith - Blog Posts - The BioLogos Forum. I’ve asked someone there for help, and I’ll add the link below if they can find it.

What about Gould? He wrote about White in Rocks of Ages (1999) and maybe earlier in Natural History columns that I haven’t searched for right now. He deserves praise for properly understanding White’s intentions, at a time when nearly all Christian authors failed to understand it. Before I saw Gould’s book (which was already published), I wrote an essay about this very idea for Zygon: The missing BL column takes it much further. Here’s what Gould says in Rocks of Ages pp. 99-104):

Gould correctly states that White saw theology as an obscurantist force in the history of science. Only if theology “cedes this disputed ground to the rightful occupants of science [will] the river of progress flow gently on …” Furthermore, Gould understood better than most other authors that “White did not formulate his [warfare thesis] primarily to advance the cause of science, but rather to save religion from its own internal enemies.” Then, he goes on to say, “While we can only applaud White’s intentions, his influential model of warfare between two inexorably opposed forces vying for the same turf … has generated unfortunate consequences for the perennial discussion of relationships between science and religion. Although White meant only to castigate dogmatic theology … his thesis has usually been read in a superficial and self-serving manner as a claim that human progress requires a victory of science over the entire institution of religion.”

Gould was on target with all this analysis. Since then, however, historians have come to realize the degree to which White’s massive book was driven by his own type of liberal religion, what amounts to the religion of Mathew Arnold and many other 19th-century people who held a type of vague theism that was only loosely tied to the Bible, a type of theism that wholly rejected core Christian “dogmas” like the Deity of Jesus, the Incarnation, and the bodily Resurrection. White and others enlisted “science” (as they presented and interpreted it) as an ally in their battles against traditional Christians. White’s almost wholly fictitious picture of the history of science and theology in “Christendom” is simply the most famous example of that much larger effort.

Gould’s NOMA is about religious values, not theological beliefs. He and White shared the view that religious values need not conflict with science, but theology does; and Gould famously argued that science itself can’t give us those values but religion can. Hence, NOMA.

So—I don’t really care for Gould’s NOMA, although I fully agree with his emphasis on the importance of a separate magisterium for values. I think he bought White’s historical picture more than he should have. Usually his historical instincts were very reliable, such as when he helped debunk the stupid “flat earth” myth. But, in this instance, I just think he was constitutionally incapable of granting that theology (as vs values) could also be an independent magisterium, or that theology has often motivated the practice of excellent science or even contributed directly do it—as with people like Kepler, Cantor, or Faraday (to cite just a few examples). If I am missing something, please help me see what I’ve missed.

I won’t have another spare hour soon to respond to each and every comment, but I’ll try to follow the thread if there are any such.


Thanks for this helpful answer, Ted. I reviewed the old discussion on BioLogos, via your link, and that was helpful as well.

Of the many good things you say above, I found this the most helpful:

“Gould’s NOMA is about religious values, not theological beliefs. He and White shared the view that religious values need not conflict with science, but theology does; and Gould famously argued that science itself can’t give us those values but religion can. Hence, NOMA.”

I had not previously put my thoughts about Gould’s NOMA in this way, but now that you have done so, I see that your account of Gould is not in conflict with my own understanding of Gould, but rather refines it. It is therefore helpful.

Regarding Hunter, I thank you for clarifying where you agree and disagree with him. I think you put the matter well in your final comment on BioLogos, before Brad Kramer closed the comments: if we are going to use the term “Warfare Thesis”, we should use it the way historians use the term. A big part of the problem was that Hunter was using the term “Warfare Thesis” with a special twist of his own. Under that twist, BioLogos was guilty of holding the Warfare Thesis, but as historians normally use the term, BioLogos was not guilty of this.


This was fascinating. @NLENTS I was very fascinated to hear you agree with deconstructive evolution or devolution at a population level and then you said something about when you “study speciation that’s quite rare” and referred to evolutionary forces at different scales. I haven’t seen anyone on the forum argue this way. I like reading both sides. :slightly_smiling_face: And since I’m starting on this topic now… Do you have a reading recommendation on those specifics, so I can understand how this is evidentially argued?

What was that? Did you post in the wrong thread?

It was from the video. Do you need the time stamp? I thought it was an argument that sounded more sensible than others I’ve heard here, which are not credible origin theories IMO. Just curious on the details since I’m in the middle of reading on this subject.


If you think it’s sensible, I suspect you didn’t understand it, because to you “sensible” means “can be interpreted to support young-earth creationism”. Also, where are you reading up on the subject?


Yes but sadly, what sounds credible to you seems to have nothing to do with evidence at all, and only has to do with conforming to your religious views.

Of course we also have to keep in mind that your religious views, which you apparently take to be credible, is that the contents of the entire cosmos was wished into existence over the course of 6 days, 6000 years ago. That people can speak in demonic ways, that snakes can talk, and that a God killed himself to save others from what he’s going to do to them if they don’t let his self-sacrifice save them.

1 Like

@Rumraket that isn’t at all helpful to conflate foundational beliefs of Christians with YEC.


This is how “mainstream” religion contributes to the acceptance of absurd fundamentalism by, in effect, making it okay to believe in absolutely fatuous and ridiculous things simply because “it’s my religion”.

1 Like

You guys are way too quick to criticize. The assumptions you made about what I wrote (based on what I believe about origins) aren’t true. The time stamp is 51:30 - 52:00. I merely wanted to know what these different scales of evolution are and how they act. Another relevant section where Nathan speaks is 32:30 to 33:15.

@swamidass then mentions that you can get arbitrarily irreducibly complex systems by devolution and ID may not understand what it’s arguing. I actually agree that creationist scientist have a heads up over ID here because they’re actually arguing for a particular model and narrative that incorporates something like this (and I appreciate Eugenie and Nathan described teaching really is done through a narrative). In my understanding, Genetic Entropy is that you begin with tons of diversity and information - those systems devolve into other systems. Natural selection acts, but it isn’t that powerful.

@John_Harshman You asked what I’m reading. GE what I’m reading right now. Still only at the beginning.

I’m merely asking for another book suggestion from a different point of view. I’m interested to see how much overlap there is or not, as well. Isn’t that what I’m supposed to be doing?

You forget that we have extensive experience with you.

Does he actually use the word “devolution”? It’s not a term used in evolutionary biology.

I doubt you are agreeing with anyone in the video.

On what subject? There are no books that argue against GE. Nobody sees the need. What sort of book would you read and credit? So far you believe only creationist publications or a few others that you can re-imagine to support your creationism.

1 Like

I checked again. He does, but mainly because they’re criticizing how ID uses the term, so it’s not an endorsement of the term by any means.

I did agree with them in some cases.

But I didn’t word my statement above well. I meant that ID doesn’t have a very compelling argument for being taught because it has no specific model or narrative. The three don’t refer to creationism at all really except at the end.

I’m just seeing this now, so I’m glad that @John_Harshman was quick to catch this. “Devolution” is not just not a proper term, it is seriously misguided. Before I address your other question, please read this article to understand why the ID use of this pseudoscientific term reveals their near-complete misunderstanding of evolutionary theory itself:


I agree that they’re saying you don’t understand evolutionary theory, and you’re saying they don’t understand it

I’d love to see you review Genetic Entropy by Sanford if you haven’t. I’m only on Chapter 4 but Sanford is absolutely thrashing 20th century population geneticists’ understanding of natural selection and “pools of genes.” His ideas about genetics actually have a narrative and a model. Forget ID - he’s the one you have to prove wrong.

However, “Muller’s two-step” received a powerful update in 2012, which we now call “Innovation, Amplification, and Divergence,” In this study, Andersson and colleagues showed that, under the right conditions, bacteria would naturally evolve to get over a metabolic hurdle through gene duplication and diversification, all in under 2000 generations.

Is it possible that bacteria and/or viruses can evolve in ways that other systems can’t?

If so, maybe genetic entropy doesn’t require the natural reservoir argument for viruses that others here said made his model impossible. Or there’s some kind of combination of events going on.

Thanks for responding! I’d be interested to see what book you recommend.

Uhh… in this matter, there really IS a solidly right and wrong position, not in the validity of the theory, but in terms of whether someone understands what the theory holds, regardless of whether its right or wrong. They definitely don’t understand it if they think that “devolution” is a valid concept within that framework. It’s not. As for my own understanding of evolutionary theory, they have hurled all kinds of insults at me, but as far as I know they haven’t ever accused me of not understanding evolutionary theory. They think I am mistaken in affirming it, but they haven’t said that I don’t understand it, as far as I know.


If I remember right, he does. I will pull up the time stamp from Behe’s conversation with @swamidass for you, but it will have to wait until tonight so I can go through it.