Mental gymnastics is pretty easy

David Barash asserts that you need “mental gymnastics” to reconcile science and faith:

I CONCLUDE The Talk by saying that, although they don’t have to discard their religion in order to inform themselves about biology (or even to pass my course), if they insist on retaining and respecting both, they will have to undertake some challenging mental gymnastic routines.

Given that many people can retain and respect both quite easily, perhaps the gymnastics is not that challenging. It might actually be pretty easy. I would think that a scientist would at least try to wrestle with the evidence on that question. But since this essay is a series of evidence-free assertions, it would have been out of place. Why, for example, is it “irresponsible” to teach biology without evolution? Is the president of Yale Medical School irresponsible for believing evolution is largely irrelevant to practicing medicine? As happens so often with this issue, mainstream scientists are given a pass on sloppy arguments.


  1. I think I’m beginning to understand this viewpoint. One doesn’t need to know or care about evolution in order to administer a penicillin shot, for instance. Thus, I suppose teaching medicine (or other sciences) without evolution would be like teaching a modern programming language like Python without first going through Basic or C++. The latter girds the former, in a sense, but isn’t necessary to applying it?

    1. Great point. Yes, that’s what I’m getting at. Great analogy. But in the case of evolution I think it’s an even stronger claim.

      You don’t need Basic/C++ to learn Python. But having that experience would surely be beneficial because you’ve been introduced to programming concepts already. I’m not sure you can make even this limited claim with evolution.

      When it comes to medicine, evolution may be more than just unnecessary. It *might* be a distraction and have no benefits at all. From a pedagogical standpoint, it may even be harmful.

      I would ultimately defer to medical doctors here…but I wonder how much teaching evolution would be similar to teaching electronics or electromagnetics by referencing quantum field theory.

      There are definitely instances you want to derive E&M from QFT. But it’s definitely overkill and counterproductive if your goal is to *apply* E&M to practical problems. I suspect evolution (and a lot of basic science) plays a similar role in medicine.

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