Former New York Times reporter John Phillips's column on the punditocracy's contempt for evangelicals is sure to set the righty blogosphere atwitter with "I-told-you-so's" and "even NY Times reporter John Phillips said!" But while they march off to the fight the good fight against fact checkers, it's worth a moment to figure out what Phillips is really arguing here.
His column has three concrete complaints. First, that the evangelical attempt to wrest control of the government is being compared to a jihad when it's not one. Second, that many historical men of science were men of faith, and the current divide posited between the two is bunk. And third, that religion should not be wholly booted from the public sphere.
Okay, one by one: He's right that evangelicals aren't armed and ready for a jihad as such. Like the good reporter he is, Phillips has unearthed a moment of rhetorical hyperbole from within his readings and realized that it overstates the situation. Congrats. But while no holy war lies on the horizon, it's hard to deny that skirmishes are being fought. Terry Schiavo, the campaign against an independent judiciary, the enormous and obvious power the Christian Right exerts on Republican legislation, and so forth. So John will have to excuse the hyperbole of his colleagues; there's no jihad occurring, but they can be forgiven for mistaking the unarmed war raging in the public sphere and perverting the government's ability to legislate effectively for something more than it is, as it's already reached a level much worse than it should.
Number two, religion was not historically separate from science, and many top scientists today are indeed believers (i.e., the head of the project that decoded the human genome). That said, contemporary public interactions between religion and science are characterized by faith's remarkable hostility to theories and findings that don't support a theological worldview. I'd imagine that the average biologist finds it hard to be neutral towards the onslaught of lies and confusion religious groups like The Discovery Institute have unleashed against the theory of evolution. So too would a climatologist find himself negatively disposed towards the crackpot, industry-funded science that attempts flush global warming down the memory hole in order to wrench a few more decades of profit from unfettered fossil coal usage at the cost of atmospheric havoc. So while religion may not have been separate years ago, and while scientists of faith certainly roam the earth (much like dinosaurs did, by the way), the institutional and public intersections of science and religion are wholly characterized by the former attempting to discredit the latter, making enmity between the two wholly understandable.