A new book produced by scientific advisers to the government in support of evolution says science and religion, as two separate ways of human understanding, can be compatible and it is possible for one person to embrace both.
"Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience," reads "Science, Evolution and Creationism," published by the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine.
The former is empirical and the latter is not, acccording to the 70-page book released on Thursday.
"Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist," states the book, asserting that one does not have to abandon belief in God to accept evolution.
It is the third pro-evolution book put forth by the scientific organization but the first where the panel of authors addressed the religion question for an intended lay public audience.
According to Alan Leshner, CEO of American Association for the Advancement of Science, the scientific community is "working more and more with religious communities so that we can talk about ways that people can have this co-existing understanding (of science and religion)," he said Monday on The Diane Rehm Show.
"This really doesn't have to be a debate. We don't pitch science against religion," said Leshner. "Over and over, religions that see the Bible as an allegory, as a description of an overall process that isn't tied to literal day by day, those religions seem to understand better how science can co-exist with a religious belief or even a biblical belief. It's the literalist point that has tremendous problems."
Barbara A. Schaal, NAS vice president and evolutionary biologist at Washington University, noted, "We wanted to produce a report that would be valuable and accessible to school board members and teachers and clergy," according to the New York Times.
She is also a member of the panel – led by Francisco Ayala, a biologist at the University of California, Irvine and a former Dominican priest – that produced the book and that has agreed evidence was growing for evolution.
One piece of evidence referred to in the book is the 2004 fossil discovery in Canada of fish displaying "intermediate" features, such as four finlike legs, which was believed to play a role in helping the creature pull itself through shallow water onto land.
At four chapters long, the report devotes one entire chapter to "Creationism" – the Biblical view that God created the universe – describing a creationist as one who rejects scientific findings "in favor of a special creation by a supernatural entity." In this chapter, the book states that one can believe in God, not reject science – or in other words, accept evolution – and not be called a "creationist."
A 2006 Pew Research Center poll showed that while 51 percent of American adults embrace evolution, nearly half (21 percent) of them said evolution was guided by a supreme being. Only 26 percent said they believe in Darwinian evolution while 42 percent rejected evolution altogether, saying humans and other living things have existed in present form only.
The book also doesn't end without muddying the concept of intelligent design – the teaching that features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause as opposed to an indirect process – much to the dismay of its proponents.
Many pro-evolution reports, including the latest book, often mistakenly portray intelligent design as a sister concept to creationism, injecting a religious element where none exists.
"NAS manages to celebrate evolution as an unassailable truth, completely misrepresent intelligent design," argues a Jan. 3 report by Discovery Institute, an intelligent design think tank, in response to the book.
Intelligent design is unlike creationism because it doesn't rely on religious text but rather on empirical evidence, according to Discovery Institute's briefing packet for educators entitled "The Theory of Intelligent Design."
The group and other supporters also criticized NAS for failing to address challenges to the theory of evolution and for instead "rehashing" the same arguments.
"What's lacking is the true scientific debate about the merits and weaknesses of evolutionary theory as presented by Darwin," said Peter Sprigg, vice president for policy at Family Research Council (FRC), in his Jan. 3 appearance on NBC Nightly News.
The book ignores "peer-reviewed articles on the concept and the credentials of 700 doctoral-level scientists who have publicly questioned Darwinism," argues FRC President Tony Perkins.
Despite the usual buzz surrounding the evolution-related controversies, the book's publication has garnered attention as science curriculums in several states like Florida and Texas undergo scrutiny or reevaluation.
Evolution critics, meanwhile, have urged the schools to re-tune the teachings on evolutionary theory by providing alternate views.
"Students should learn about the evidence for and against evolution," Casey Luskin, program officer for the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, told the Associated Press.
Christian Post reporter Nathan Black contributed to this report.