Although framing the evolution debate as “God vs. Science” is a savvy rhetorical move by atheists in the short term, it’s a long-term strategic blunder. Making faith and science incompatible ensures that Christians will continue to distrust and oppose real science, threatening the well-being of our entire country.
Pitting faith in God against science is a pretty popular, and, judging by the ex-Christians I’m familiar with, pretty effective argument for converting Christians or theists into atheists. Basically, the argument goes, because science provides an understanding of the world that’s testable and demonstrable, it is far superior to, or flatly contradicts, any religious explanation. Therefore, modern scientific knowledge has completely ruled out religion as a valid category for explaining reality. In Internet parlance, “Religion is false, because science.”
Moreover, simply phrasing the issue in these terms also plays to the growing majority of agnostic or apathetic Americans who are more sympathetic to science than to religious exclusivity. However, this argument has a nasty side-effect: it often simply produces Christians who accept the dichotomy, distrust science, and retain their faith in God, which, as we will see, does no one any good at all.
If the issue at stake is “Which is right, God or science?”, it leaves us with only two options: trust in the scientific process or an anti-scientific faith in God. If your only goal is producing atheists, then this may work for you. But (de)conversion is not the only positive outcome. It is in atheists’ best interests to promote belief in evolution among Christians alongside their efforts to convert people from Christianity. Christians who believe in evolution are potential allies for secular Americans on issues such as whether evolution or creationism should be taught it schools. Instead of a “two-party” system made of up the God and Science “parties,” we have the opportunity to nurture a “third party” of Christian evolutionists who can swing the balance in favor of real science, at least on this issue. Framing the issue as “God vs. Science” precludes this possibility.
In addition, while the “God vs. Science” debate usually focuses on evolution, framing the issue in this way will lead to Christians distrusting science in other dangerous ways. If atheists discourage Christians from rejecting the scientific consensus on evolution thanks to this false dichotomy, then those Christians will be more likely to be suspicious of science in general. This could lead them to reject other scientific consensuses, like those about the role of humans in global climate change or the effectiveness and safety of vaccinations. Evolution is, in the end, a mostly “academic” issue, but climate change and vaccinations can have very dire “real world” consequences if Christians reject their scientific basis, as some have already begun to do. If people aren’t prepared to abandon their faith in God, we don’t want them also abandoning their trust in science, but a “God vs. Science” mentality makes this their only option.
“God vs. science” is a terrible, terrible frame for a very complex issue. It does play well with the non-religious public, and as a tool for “un-evangelizing” Christians it may be effective. But in the arena of public discourse, it’s a false dichotomy which will only serve to further polarize American culture. Allowing space for a spectrum of beliefs is essential for the future health of our nation.