The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.
Odds are: Not bloody likely. Shout out to Phil at Bad Astronomy for alerting me to a ridiculous, recent op-ed from The Boston Globe. Conservative columnist Jeff Jacoby puts forward a little thought experiment where he evaluates the chances of a long-deceased, young-Earth creationist, who happened to possess possibly the greatest scientific mind of all-time, getting employment as a professor in a scientific discipline at a modern university. "Hire somebody with such views to teach physics?" he writes. "At a Baptist junior college deep in the Bible Belt, maybe, but the faculty would erupt if you tried it just about anywhere else." Then comes the punchline to a four-paragraph-long setup. Cambridge--Jacoby seems to imply they went way out on a limb here--took on this "Bible-drenched" individual and his bountiful brain. And bully for that esteemed institution, as that young mind where science and religion coexisted belonged to Isaac Newton. I am not going to go too far into explaining the pointlessness of this exercise. Bad Astronomy Phil gets it just right when he says: "Newton was indeed one of if not the finest mind of his time but he was of his time. You can't simply pluck Newton out of the historical timeline and then mock Universities today for not accepting someone of his beliefs." Interestingly, this reminds me of a documentary I saw a month ago when I was on a biking trip in Lancaster, Penn. Around 11 pm at night, the local CW affiliate ran "Evolution vs. Creation", a piece of anti-evolution propaganda plagued by poor production values and a particularly petulant host, Janet Folger. (Oh yeah, and a bevy of lies.) Still, I watched the last 45 minutes of the show mesmerized. While my blood boiled, I texted fellow science journalists to tell them what was on TV (and unsuccessfully tried to rouse my trip companion from her biking-induced slumber). To give you a flavor, here's a quote from Folger's introductory monologue: "We've gotten so used to just taking the word of any intelligent man in a lab coat with a Dr. in front of his name, that we've forgotten how to think for ourselves." Or, hell, if you're feeling adventurous, watch the whole thing on YouTube yourself. Start here. Toward the end of the show (or at the beginning of YouTube installment #11) Folger introduces a list of 31 or so accomplished scientists, many of whom are believed to be the fathers of the disciplines they studied. "Every last one," she says, "was a Bible-believing Christians." This list includes such luminaries as Leonardo da Vinci, Newton, Lord Kelvin, Gregor Mendel, Louis Pasteur, Michael Faraday, Humphry Davy and Blaise Pascal. I remember at that moment calling bulls$%& as that list zoomed up the screen at warp speed. (See for yourself--it comes up around 1:20 into the clip--it's almost unreadable it's moving so fast.) For one thing, several of these scientists were dead long before Darwin's theory was published! Further, once again, the rather grandiose assumption that a person who lived at a very different time would preserve their behaviors and their beliefs if they lived today is fundamentally flawed. (Remember how difficult it was for Napoleon to fit in to the modern world in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure?) Customs and beliefs rarely hold consistent between cultures, much less eras. Would Thomas Jefferson, the architect of many of our suddenly eroding, unalienable rights, keep slaves if he were living in the 21st century? No. (It would cripple his approval rating.) In regards to Newton living in 2007, Bad Astronomy Phil had this to say: "If Newton were born today, he wouldn't be a creationist. He'd be a cosmologist." (I say that would make him a pretty precocious newborn, but you get the point.) However, to Jacoby's greater point of whether religion and science can coexist, ask Francis Collins. Or, better yet--for page view purposes--read this.