Last week, Jerry Coyne gave a talk at my university, UC Davis. Coyne is one of the "new atheists," people who believe that "religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises" (Simon Hooper). In his talk, he argued that science and religion were incompatible, focusing on evolution and religion in particular. When pressed afterward, however, he seemed to grant that not all forms of supernatural-believing religions are incompatible with science; deism, for example, is not incompatible with science. However, he then wanted to know why those of us who were pressing him – people who think that the theory of evolution is well-supported and are not ourselves religious – were giving religion a "pass." We would not, he suggested, give a similar pass to beliefs in UFOs or fairies or tarot cards. And that is probably true. So is there a difference?
Now, admittedly, part of my reasons are pragmatic. I happen to think that religious believers who accept the theory of evolution are our best allies in the fight to keep good science education in public schools. That's because they show people that they don't have to give up their deeply held beliefs in order to accept views about common descent and evolutionary processes like natural selection and random drift. They don't force a choice, a choice that religion would most likely win most of the time.