To the editor:
As readers rightly criticize the state board of education's new science standards, it is good to remember that creationists don't cause all the conflicts between science and religion. In an editorial in the journal, Science, Stephen Jay Gould has inappropriately attacked a significant Christian belief. Gould, holder of the Agassiz Chair in Zoology at Harvard, displays the arrogance for which he criticizes opponents of evolution (vol. 284, 6/25/99). Using emotive language unsuitable to scientific inquiry, he attacks the belief that human beings are created in the image of God. This belief is not limited to creationists, and you don't have to be a literalist to believe it. It is widely held among Christians and Jews. Gould ridicules this belief as a "false comfort," a "crutch," and an example of "false projections of our needs." He goes on to call this belief a "pretty or parochial comfort ... conjured by our swollen neurology to obscure the source of our physical being...."
Speaking more as a Freudian that a zoologist, then, Gould holds that the idea of creation in God's image is a purely human creation, the projection of a human need to feel important and secure. In other words, the editorial does something worse than use emotive language; it refuses to show simple respect for Christianity. Scientists rightly object when creationists refuse to take science on its own terms by bringing to it religious assumptions which don't belong there. But how can there be fruitful dialogue between science and religion when a leading exponent of evolution expresses disdain for important Christian beliefs, alienating even Christians who oppose creationism?
Fortunately, such fruitful dialogue is taking place anyway. For instance, John Polkinghorne and Arthur Peacocke, each of whom combines the vocations of scientist and priest, argue effectively that science and religion may be partners rather than opponents. Neither of these scholars, however, has the visibility and audience of Dr. Gould. Fundamentalists and creationists, misguided in their approach to science, will find in his editorial a confirmation of their suspicions that science is anti-religious. A true religion-science dialogue will have to be based on respect and tolerance unfortunately missing from the editorial. The fact that the creationist minority of Christians behaves intolerantly does not justify intolerance in those who oppose their ideas.