It has been my observation that, more than any other precept, it is Darwin that is the most intractable issue for a sizable portion of the God-believing public. Of course, I understand (as should everyone) that the broader concept of Evolution by Natural Selection (ENS) goes far beyond the seminal thesis of Charles Darwin. ENS is really a superset of scientific fields that all point to precisely the same conclusion…that humans, hawks and hydrangeas are all evolved from a common ancestor. What Darwin observed and documented is merely one portion of the evidences for ENS. Moreover; Darwin's work has been corroborated and refined in ways that he could not have even dreamed of.
I couldn't begin to relate all the evidence for ENS here…and that is not my intent. The 150th anniversary of On The Origin of Species has seen a number of new books (i.e. Coyne and Dawkins) that attempt to lay out all the evidence for ENS…and that evidence is suffocating. In my opinion; anybody that had the aptitude to understand the evidence (it is not really that complex) and is not so impaired by ideology would have to conclude that there is no reason to dispute ENS as, hands down, the single best explanation for the diversity of life on this planet (and probably any other planet).
There are many believers who do recognize ENS as the best explanation for the diversity of life. In fact; the Catholic church's official position is that ENS is, indeed, the better explanation over the creation story of Genesis [ref] (albeit that God started the process with the express intent that ENS would result in us humans…after several billion years…and several hundred thousand years of untold suffering…when he would finally reveal himself to an illiterate desert tribe…but I digress.)
My trouble (and, I believe, your trouble also) is that 40% of the US population deny ENS its due as the most successful theory on biological diversity (with only fundamentalist Islamic Turkey being worse) [ref]. I have to assume that there is a portion of that 40% that, were they exposed to the broad body of evidence, would move from their divine creation beliefs to the well recognized process of ENS. The most troubling aspect is how those theists disbelieve in ENS. Instead of saying they don't understand ENS or they have trouble with some aspect of the science, ENS is portrayed variously as crazy, bulls**t, a fraud, fantasy, a failed hypothesis, and (the ever-popular chestnut) "only a theory" (the latter being another blatant display of ignorance).
It seems obvious that our educational system does a poor job of informing our youth on the importance and breadth of what we know in this area. I believe in evolution because I am familiar with the breadth of evidence. Yet I recognize that my academic exposure to the subject (that I can remember anyway) was a grade-school or junior-high science text that showed the ubiquitous example of the giraffe exploiting the food source high in the trees. It seemed reasonable, but hardly a comprehensive overview of ENS. This trifling exposure would be at a notable disadvantage when competing with the theistic creation story hammered home each Sunday morning. It is important that our youth be exposed to ENS in a broad and comprehensive way.
The most troubling aspect of the ENS deniers well demonstrates just how much damage religion and ignorance can do to the human mind. Those that angrily dismiss ENS as bulls**t are effectively making the argument that every biologist and physical scientist in the world is wrong or in on some anti-God conspiracy. I do not have words to describe the pitiable nature of such a position. It is tin foil hat territory to think so many thousands of unaffiliated scientists could maintain such a front and speak with such a consistent voice. Never mind that, for those scientists that want notoriety in their field, they would benefit immensely from discovering and documenting the thing that is not common knowledge. Were a scientist to offer something compelling to supplant ENS, they would be showered with awards and medals and notoriety and research grants. They would achieve a place in the pantheon of the great minds of history alongside the likes of Copernicus, Gallieo, da Vinci, Pascal, Newton, Bohr, Einstein et. al..
Another troubling argument from the believing side is that ENS says that the universe or life sprang from nothing. Of course, anyone with even the most rudimentary understanding of what ENS actually is, knows that ENS says nothing about the origin of the universe or how life began. ENS only describes how the diversity of life arose once the first self-replicating entity came to be. This, again, points back to our failure to educate our youth. (If any anti-evolutionists are reading, please note this fact.)
Yet another troubling aspect is the fabricated controversies underwritten by conservative religious organizations. "Teach The Controversy" is a catch-phrase started by The Discovery Institute (and parroted by our past, ideological president Bush. Ronald Reagan also stated "I have no chimpanzees in my family," ). It is all wrapped up in trappings of the open-society ideals of freedom of speech and information, but is (as determined by a U.S. court) a blatant effort to insert religious creationism into our public school science classes. The effort is to convince the scientifically illiterate and credulous public that there are major rifts amongst scientists that threaten to destroy ENS like a house of cards in the wind. Don't get me wrong…there is a controversy, but it is not within the ranks of evolutionary biologists. There are debates about very narrow aspects of ENS such as where Ardi fits on the evolutionary tree, but nothing that even remotely disputes the core concepts of ENS. The controversy is that religious organizations are making a concerted effort to feed creationism to our vulnerable youth and to undermine science to neutralize a challenge their theistic beliefs. 'Teach The Controversy' is tantamount to demanding that we teach the stork theory of conception in science class…or that we teach that the devil buried dinosaur bones to make it look like they were old. These efforts, at best, are ignorant but well intentioned or, at worst, insidious and dangerous.
Most believers have zero problems with anything else that science says or provides. They are perfectly fine with the concept that matter is made up of atoms…which are in turn made up of protons and neutrons surrounded by a cloud of electrons. Never mind that Niels Bohr's model of the atom is quite theoretical and we have never seen an atom to see if it looks like the model. What is important is that the model accurately describes what we observe in real life and makes reliable predictions of phenomena that we have yet to observe. If we ever got a real look at the structure of an atom; science would eagerly and giddily abandon our current understanding of atomic structure. Believers are also perfectly fine with the idea that microorganisms and genetics are the prime sources of disease (as opposed to demons espoused in the bible).
Is religion anti-science? It all comes down to Darwin. I would have to say, yes… religion is, in one important measure, anti-science. Are all believers anti-science? …of course not. Virtually all believers are able to assimilate and accept most real knowledge that science provides...but it is not a trivial observation that it is only the religious that mount an offense against ENS with rhetoric such as 'Evil-lution'. As far as I know, there is no other body besides the offended religious that has any problem with what the scientific community effectively regards as fact. Were there just one other identifiable group that challenged ENS, we might be able to point the finger of evidence denial elsewhere...but there is no other group. Evidence denial, in this case, is owned wholly by religion. The correlation is clear and cannot be dismissed.
Let us recognize this…Let us ridicule this…and let us educate our children.