A smaller but highly regarded nonprofit organization called the National Center for Science Education has drawn at least as much of the New Atheists’ ire, however. Based in Oakland, the center is the leading organization that promotes and defends the teaching of evolution in school districts across the country.

In this endeavor, it has, of necessity, made frequent alliances with religious believers who also support the teaching of evolution, seeking to forge a broad coalition capable of beating back the advances of fundamentalists who want to weaken textbooks or science standards. In the famous 2005 Dover, Pa., evolution trial, for instance, the NCSE contributed scientific advice to a legal team that put a theologian and a Catholic biologist on the stand…

Despite the resultant bitterness, however, there is at least one figure both sides respect — the man who started it all: Charles Darwin. What would he have done in this situation?

It turns out that late in life, when an atheist author asked permission to dedicate a book to Darwin, the great scientist wrote back his apologies and declined. For as Darwin put it, “Though I am a strong advocate for free thought on all subjects, yet it appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against Christianity & theism produce hardly any effect on the public; & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds, which follows from the advance of science.”