by the theory of evolution; 77% of Americans insist that Jesus was born to a virgin. … If evolution is real, can that be possible? From what we know of mammalian genetics, can that bepossible? I guess we could think of ways it could happen. I mean, maybe she started foolingaround with someone, but didn't have intercourse with them and some of the sperm got upinto her vaginal tract, and she got pregnant. Yes, we could say that. Could she have done it bysome act of spiritual parthenogenesis? The answer is no, but nobody says that. They tell me,talk about evolution, but all this other stuff we're not going to mention; we're going to put itaside and try to ignore it. And then what happens is that we have a lot of problems with lack of scientific understanding, with this constant battle over creationism being taught in theschools, with people not believing science, people thinking it's all just a matter of opinion.I was very interested—and I also cover this in my article—in the different ways that scientiststalk about certain things. They're willing to go on the attack when it comes to creationism orspoon-bending. But when it comes to the miracles of conventional religion … no … we don'ttouch that; we don't deal with it. And I'm considered rude and insulting, just willfullyprovocative to bring it up.I went to the Cornell website and came up with this example of how two different questions were treated. On the "Ask an Astronomer" website, to the query, "do most astronomers believein God based on the available evidence?" astronomer Dave Chernoff replied that, in his opinion,modern science leaves plenty of room for the existence of God. People who believe in God canfit their beliefs in the scientific framework without creating any contradictions. He cited the BigBang as offering solace to those who want to believe in a Genesis equivalent. The probabilisticrealms of quantum mechanics raise the possibility of "God intervening every time ameasurement occurs." He concluded that, ultimately, science can never prove or disprove theexistence of God and religious belief doesn't, and shouldn't, have anything to do with scientificreasoning.Notice how much less kind was the response to a reader asking whether astronomers believe inastrology: "No, astronomers do not believe in astrology," said Dave Chernoff. "It is considered tobe a ludicrous scam. There is no evidence that it works, and plenty of evidence to thecontrary." He ended his dismissal with the assertion that in science "one does not need areason not to believe in something. Skepticism is the default position and one requires proof if one is to be convinced of something's existence." In other words, for horoscope fans, the burdenof proof is entirely on them—poor gullible gits. But for the multitude to believe that, in one wayor another, religious divine intelligence guides the path of every leaping lepton …that's OK.I see some fundamental contradiction here. Everybody criticizes Richard Dawkins and SamHarris. But at least they're talking about how ludicrous some of these belief systems are. Iknow that David Sloan Wilson doesn't take issue with the way I've framed these questions, butto see religion as having a positive influence does not get at the fundamental question of whatit means to have faith. What is so good about having faith when you don't have evidence? Whatis the real advantage to that? Why is this something that we want to encourage? Why not say,as I do with my daughter, "Let's see some proof." She asked her friend, who believes in Jesus, if she could wait up one night and see Him for herself, and it didn't happen. Why is that OK?Why is it OK for scientists to say that skepticism is the default position, except when it comesto mainstream religion?
David Sloan Wilson
: I want to begin by clarifying my approach to religion. Since I'm ascientist, I have one goal and one goal only, which is to explain things as natural phenomena,and that includes religion. This is not a new enterprise. People have been interested in religiousstudies for a long time. You go back to folks like Durkheim, and whether they call themselvessociologists or psychologists or students of religious studies, they are attempting to explainreligion as a natural phenomenon. The amount of scholarship on this is huge. One of my