Religion, evolution, and morality
Mark Kleiman argues that members of the reality-based community (believers and atheists alike) should be a little more indulgent towards our opposite numbers in the culture war who insist on the literal truth of creationism:
The red team is, I am convinced, wrong to think that believing the account of human origins in Genesis is a necessary condition for behaving well. But red-teamers aren't wrong to think of that account as providing a potentially powerful prop to moral behavior, and can't, therefore, justly be faulted as unreasonable or superstitious for objecting to attempts to kick that prop out from under their children, and other children who are their future fellow-citizens.
The blue team shouldn't back off on its insistence that children be taught accurate biology in biology class, but we should acknowledge that the larger argument isn't really about biology, and cut the folks on the other side some slack rather than dismissing them as ignorant rustics.
I have to side with PZ Myers on this one.
Mark is correct to point out that many people fear Darwinism and the naturalistic worldview because they assume that morality must be a sham unless there's some religious underpinning to it. Or else, because they worry that everyone else will give up on morality if naturalism becomes widely accepted, regardless of whether naturalism actually justifies moral skepticism.
But it's not respectful to play along with those delusions because we think that the red team thinks that the world could only be any good if the Genesis account of creation is true (and/or if it is widely believed to be true).
Real respect requires us to call each other out on wishful thinking and bad reasoning. The members of the red team who cling to the literal story of Genesis are embracing a terrible theory for indefensible reasons.
First, as most modern people of faith affirm, there's no empirical evidence to support any Genesis-based account of the origins of life or the descent of humans. If man really is created in God's image, surely our rational faculties are among our most Godlike attributes. Surely it's a form of self-abuse, and therefore a form of God-abuse to subordinate our intellect to dogma. Mark's a proud member of the skeptical tradition, so I think he might be sympathetic to this line of argument.
As an atheist, I can't say what reality-based believers should tell "red team" creationists, but if it were my God, I wouldn't be very sympathetic to intellectual blasphemy through willful ignorance. (Deists are just too polite, IMO.)
Even if the red team thinks it would be morally better to perpetuate the creation myth at the expense of evolution, they don't deserve much slack for their good intentions. They're just wrong to think that the truth of the story of Genesis must figure in our moral reasoning one way or the other. If all humans were created in God's image, that might be a reason not to torture them. On the other hand, if we also take the rest of Genesis seriously, we have to accept that women were created as accessories for men, that moral knowledge separated us from God and Eden, that humans know that our bodies are shameful despite having been created in God's image, and that God Himself so despised the creatures he created in his image that he killed them all off, except for Noah and his family, that the God of Genesis is a pretty harsh racist, and so on.
Simple Darwinism* tells me that every single human is literally family to me. Darwinism tells me that racism is crazy. Pace Genesis, Darwinism also reminds me that I'm not so different from a lot of other animals who are capable of feelings and therefore shouldn't be tortured, regardless of what any deities have to say about our respective statuses. I'm not saying that Darwinism is the only road to those conclusions, just that these Darwinian-inspired tenets are at least as good prima facie reasons for tolerance as anything in Genesis.
Note that I'm only criticizing the red teammates who have had ample opportunity to compare the scientific and Biblical accounts of creation. There is a lot of non-culpable ignorance out there. Some people simply haven't been taught the biological facts. They are ignorant in the purely descriptive sense and they have been kept in that deplorable state by a few despicable members of the red team who would prefer to deceive themselves and/or lie to their own children and everyone else about the biological facts.
I don't think the blue team should be ridiculing or belittling anyone. On the other hand, I don't consider it respectful to coddle people just because they might be well-intentioned.
Update: *Just a clarificaiton. For rhetorical purposes, I'm borrowing Mark's phrase "middle-school Darwinism," as it appears in his original post:
Insofar as middle-school Darwinism asserts that each of us is merely an animal of a particular species, fundamentally like animals of other species, it undercuts both halves of that double-barreled moral proposition. If I'm merely an animal, why shouldn't I act like one if I feel like it? And, if you're merely an animal, why shouldn't I beat you up, if I'm so inclined and bigger than you are?
As several commenters have rightly pointed out, "Darwinism" is vague and possibly anachronistic in its connotations. Moreover, strictly speaking, no naturalistic theory logically implies any moral conclusions. Well, a least not without a huge and contentious fight that I'm more than happy to beg off of the time being... Sorry, moral realists, I'm just not going there today.
All I'm trying to show is that the broad metaphorical implications of naturalism are at least as favorable to humanistic values as any reading of Genesis. I don't see where the red team gets off arguing that their Creation myth is inherently more ennobling than our scientific account of the origins of life. At any rate, Mike the Mad Biologist puts these points much better than I did.
Also, Eli has a good post on the rather flimsy theological implications of the claim that something is created in Jahweh's image.