Lying for Darwin: science/faith compatibility again

A few benighted folks (whose sites I won’t name) continue to argue that organizations like the National Academy of Sciences and the National Center for Science Education should get involved in theology, telling the faithful (regardless of what either the scientists or the faithful really believe) that science and faith are compatible.  After all, don’t we scientists agree that if the faithful truly grasped this compatibility, they’d immediately accept the fact of evolution?

Over at Cosmic Variance, physicist Sean Carroll takes up the cudgels against this recurrent and wearying argument:

. . . there are some scientists — quite a few of us, actually — who straightforwardly believe that science and religion are incompatible. There are absolutely those who disagree, no doubt about that. But establishing the truth is a prior question to performing honest and effective advocacy, not one we can simply brush under the rug when it’s inconvenient or doesn’t make for the best sales pitch. Which is why it’s worth going over these tiresome science/religion debates over and over, even in the face of repeated blatant misrepresentation of one’s views. If science and religion are truly incompatible, then it would be dishonest and irresponsible to pretend otherwise, even if doing so would soothe a few worried souls. And if you want to argue that science and religion are actually compatible (not just that there exist people who think so), by all means make that argument — it’s a worthy discussion to have. But it’s simply wrong to take the stance that it doesn’t matter whether science and religion are compatible, we still need to pretend they are so as not to hurt people’s feelings. That’s not being honest.

I have no problem with the NCSE or any other organization pointing out that there exist scientists who are religious. That’s an uncontroversial statement of fact. But I have a big problem with them making statements about whether religious belief puts you into conflict with science (or vice-versa), or setting up “Faith Projects,” or generally taking politically advantageous sides on issues that aren’t strictly scientific. And explaining to people where their pastors went wrong when talking about damnation? No way.

Right now there is not a strong consensus within the scientific community about what the truth actually is vis-a-vis science and religion; I have my views, but sadly they’re not universally shared. So the strategy for the NCSE and other organizations should be obvious: just stay away. Stick to talking about science. Yes, that’s a strategy that may lose some potential converts (as it were). So be it! The reason why this battle is worth fighting in the first place is that we’re dedicated to promulgating the truth, not just to winning a few political skirmishes for their own sakes. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?

77 Comments

  1. oldfuzz
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    Yes, while science is well served by organized groups with specific focus, faith is not. Who among us agrees on faith? None I know.

    As I have written before, “Science poses hypotheses to be tested. Faith is about premises based on the unknown and, in many cases, the unknowable.”

    Faith is personal. Make it communal means forming beliefs all must accept. Blech!!

    • articulett
      Posted January 20, 2010 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

      Exactly.

      Science, like math, is about the stuff that is true for everyone no matter what they believe.

      There is only one truth about the dimensions of the earth no matter how many different personal beliefs and perceptions there are.

      There are an infinity of possible beliefs, but only one objective truth. Science is the only proven method for delineating that truth.

  2. Bob Puharic
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    Christianity has some 38,000 denominations. It would be surprising, on probability basis, if they were all incompatible with science. Religion is infinitely plastic so the religious can make it do any tricks they want. But I’m not sure why we have to be constantly holding the hands of the religious, and reassuring them, like frightened children, that the big, bad, boogeyman of science won’t hurt them.

    • rwaa
      Posted January 21, 2010 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

      “Christianity has some 38,000 denominations. It would be surprising, on probability basis, if they were all incompatible with science. ”

      What a bizarre claim. It’s like saying that, given 38,000 novels written in English, it would be surprising if none were written in Japanese.

  3. Posted January 19, 2010 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    There are good comments on Sean’s post, too (and some good ones on at least one of those nameless other places, too).

    • Sigmund
      Posted January 20, 2010 at 12:24 am | Permalink

      I agree. Paul W deserves a medal (and a months supply of Prozac) for his sterling efforts.
      Mooney’s actions on this question of compatibility remind me of Ray Comforts claim that evolution can’t be true because a male and female would have to evolve to exactly the same species and then stop for evolution to work. No matter how many times its explained to him he adopts the same tactic – a temporary halt and then the amnesia kickes in and he’s back to using exactly the same argument.
      In any other circumstances Mooney’s actions would be given the term denialism.
      The only response he warrants is ridicule.

    • Wes
      Posted January 21, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

      Some of the comments are great. Unfortunately, there are also quite a few comments illustrating the science/religion debate’s ability to draw the most obscurantist pseudo-philosophical sophistries out of the woodwork, too. My favorite is “inDistinctMicrostate” at #81. Here is a perfect example of the kind of dingleberry who took a few philosophy classes, absorbed all the jargon and buzzwords, but never bothered to learn how to construct an argument:

      http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2010/01/19/the-truth-still-matters/#comment-112321

      • Wes
        Posted January 21, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

        Also, anyone who uses the word “chillax” should be fish-slapped into next Tuesday.

  4. Sven DiMilo
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    The reason why this battle is worth fighting in the first place is that we’re dedicated to promulgating the truth, not just to winning a few political skirmishes for their own sakes. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?

    there you go.

  5. Posted January 19, 2010 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    Overall among the several posts there must be some 40 thousand comments pointing out that ‘some scientists are religious’ is not the same thing as ‘religion and science are compatible’ – yet the wrangle goes on.

    I find the idea that we should just shrug off the most basic logic, quite startling.

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted January 20, 2010 at 3:14 am | Permalink

      A good number of those will have been by you of course.

      I have also made a few posts pointing out the same thing.

      If Mooney et al have not understood the point by now I doubt they ever will. What I remain unsure of is whether Mooney’s failure to understand the point is deliberate or down to lack of intellect.

      • Posted January 20, 2010 at 8:19 am | Permalink

        No, none are by me! I wasn’t aware of this latest installment until late yesterday – and anyway I can’t post at Mooney’s site because I’m banned there.

        Mooney has actually grasped the point now – he says about 8 times in that one post that we have to admit that some scientists are religious even if we don’t think that’s coherent etc etc. But of course that doesn’t mean he’s admitted that he got it wrong in the book and in post after post after post last summer, or that he’s taken over what we said without ever having the good manners to acknowledge it (as I’ve mentioned before, he’s even taken over some of my wording), or that he should apologize for all the opprobrium he heaped on anyone who disagreed with him. No, on the contrary, now he seems to be implying that we stubbornly don’t get that some scientists are religious. Sigh.

        Paul W deserves a secular version of the Templeton Prize. Paul W rocks.

      • Screechy Monkey
        Posted January 20, 2010 at 11:01 am | Permalink

        Mooney has made this same “mistake” so many times that it is difficult to reach any conclusion other than that he is deliberately lying.

        I’m not sure whether “lying for accomodationism” is better or worse than “lying for Jesus.”

      • Notagod
        Posted January 20, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

        There is a thought process that seems to be stuck in my head. It started when I read Ophelia Benson’s comment. The result that keeps coming back is “internal system failure” (my brain doesn’t like system failures, it is inclined to think it made an error and will try to find out where). The input that keeps going in is “Ophelia Benson banned”. I’ve tried ignoring it but, it won’t go away.

        Update: Its ok now, visiting the Mooney site has refreshed the loony data set. No more internal system failure.

      • Matt Penfold
        Posted January 20, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

        Ophelia,

        I was not referring to this particular posting by Mooney, but rather the whole sum of his postings.

        Whilst I can still post at his blog, although everything I post seems to get held in moderation, I can no longer be bothered to do so.

      • rwaa
        Posted January 21, 2010 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

        “What I remain unsure of is whether Mooney’s failure to understand the point is deliberate or down to lack of intellect.”

        False dichotomy.

      • Posted January 22, 2010 at 4:02 am | Permalink

        @Ophelia Benson:
        Seconding the Paul W. nomination.

        @Matt Penfold:
        Yeah, it appears posting there is indeed useless. I’ve posted a response directly to Chris Mooney there (pointing out that he uses a hypothetical set of questions to dismiss a tactic of neutrality, without showing how his tactic would handle them better), but I’m not really expecting a reply anymore. On the plus side, at least the house trolls ignored me too.

      • qbsmd
        Posted January 22, 2010 at 8:49 am | Permalink

        “Mooney has made this same “mistake” so many times that it is difficult to reach any conclusion other than that he is deliberately lying.”

        I think the term “trolling” might be more appropriate. People link to him and respond to him every time he writes a post; if he’s doing it for notoriety or attention, he’s succeeding.

  6. MadScientist
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    But … but … but … they *are* compatible! I’ve just rediscovered Einstein’s Theory of God: science is 100% compatible with whatever dumbass superstition you have. The Hindus say the world was created by Brahma – and we all know that science has proved that true! At the same time science had proved that it was Abraham’s god that created the world. How marvelous this science of ours which means whatever we want it to mean. Did I ever mention that accommodationists are dumbshits?

  7. NewEnglandBob
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    Sean Carroll said it well, even though it has been said hundreds of times before that pretending there is compatibility between science and religion is dishonest and deceitful.

  8. Posted January 19, 2010 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    Some interpretations of religion are compatible with science. Some aren’t.

    I don’t have a problem with the claim, “Religion doesn’t necessarily conflict with science.”

    But, I definitely have an issue with, “When it’s correctly interpreted religion doesn’t conflict with science.”

    • Notagod
      Posted January 20, 2010 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      Which religion commands that faith is not desirable?

      If; religion compatible science then; science compatible religion.

      Which religion is going to welcome a complete investigation and then make the changes necessary to come into compliance with the results?

      • Tulse
        Posted January 20, 2010 at 10:36 am | Permalink

        “If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change.”
        — The Dalai Lama

        Of course, the Dalai Lama is not the only leader of Buddhism, and in many places Buddhism is infested with tons of superstition, but still it is a remarkably open-minded statement.

      • Notagod
        Posted January 20, 2010 at 11:17 am | Permalink

        Science will always acknowledge the weight of strong verifiable evidence, the statement doesn’t suggest that Buddhism should.

      • oldfuzz
        Posted January 20, 2010 at 11:53 am | Permalink

        Secular religions do; e.g., many Buddhists, Christians and others are secular and religious.

        There are those who say you cannot be a secular Christian. Who are they to say? Defining Christianity is more challenging than defining life.

      • Paul
        Posted January 20, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

        There are those who say you cannot be a secular Christian. Who are they to say? Defining Christianity is more challenging than defining life.

        Examples, please? I’ve never heard that. “Secular” has a specific meaning when it comes to policy, and is easily reconcilable with religion. What people say is that science and religion are not compatible, in that religion makes claims that do not agree with science or posit phenomena that are less plausible , less parsimonious, or impossible due to known scientific mechanisms. Yes, this is not true of Deism, or Pantheism/Panentheism, but the arguments are normally explicitly or implicitly excluding those from the religion umbrella (the former because it is unfalsifiable, the latter mainly because it’s declaring God exists by defining existence as God, instead of posting an actual entity other than existence itself).

      • oldfuzz
        Posted January 20, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

        Paul, “What people say is that science and religion are not compatible, in that religion makes claims that do not agree with science…”

        True, some do, but not all religious leaders such claims, only those who are ignorant of science. For me the question may be moot. I see science and religion as views of mutually exclusive phenomenon, the objective (knowable) and subjective (unknowable). In the beginning, nature was the province of human meaning systems. Religion came first as the mythological explanation of creation and meaning of human life, except it wasn’t called religion until science came into being a few centuries ago. While some mythologists saw the distinction between these two comprehensions, religious leaders, so called, especially the Pope, viewed science as a heresy and resisted it.

        Intellectual leadership in any field means trying to penetrate the boundaries. Scientists do this and are lauded for their efforts, once their peers understand their breakthroughs. Leaders of religious thought do this at their peril and are martyred for it.

        The irony in this is that there are many who are leading religious thinking who are being vilified by their religious peers and unknown to scientists.

        My point is that scientists might have a more meaningful dialog on religion if they sought out contemporary religious thinkers–Geering, Borg, Crossan–for debate instead of shooting cripples who refuse to move beyond centuries old religious thinking.

      • Paul
        Posted January 20, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

        True, some do, but not all religious leaders such claims, only those who are ignorant of science. For me the question may be moot. I see science and religion as views of mutually exclusive phenomenon, the objective (knowable) and subjective (unknowable)

        So all Christian ministers are ignorant of science? Is that your stance? I have yet to hear one say that the Exodus never happened, and was at best folklore based on archaeological evidence. I have yet to hear one say that you can date some books in the Old Testament by looking at their prophecies — they are partially inaccurate far before the time the individual book was written, they get more accurate approaching the time written, and then they get wildly inaccurate when they pass the time the book was written. Or do they teach them as prophecies, even though anything they got right actually took place before the book was written?

        Yes, I’m focusing on the Christian religion because it’s the one I am most familiar with. But the only religions that make no sort of historically verifiable claims that I am familiar with are the ones I listed as outside the normal conversation. I wasn’t aware that there were Deist religious leaders, but I’ll gladly concede that they may pay attention to scientific findings when they contradict their religion. Aside from that, the set of leaders you’re referring to is, for all intents and purposes, empty.

      • Tulse
        Posted January 20, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

        scientists might have a more meaningful dialog on religion if they sought out contemporary religious thinkers–Geering, Borg, Crossan–for debate instead of shooting cripples who refuse to move beyond centuries old religious thinking

        The No True Scotsman argument never grows old.

      • oldfuzz
        Posted January 20, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

        “So all Christian ministers are ignorant of science? Is that your stance?”

        Not what I said. For me one error in the debate is the assumption that religious leaders are to be equated with scientific leaders. Top scientists achieve their state, usually, through demonstrated excellence in their work. Christian “leaders” achieve theirs through popularity.

        Science is a community of scientists who, when there is disagreement, go to work testing their differences.

        Religions resolve their differences by majority vote of the leaders irrespective of facts.

        Therefore, if you want to study leading edge science, read the research. If you want to study leading edge religious thought, study the heretics; e.g. Matthew Fox, Hans Kung, Lloyd Geering, John Shelby Spong, Ludwig Feuerbach’s Essence of Religion or essence of Christianity would be a good starting point since the were written in the 19th century.

        It’s a question of what you consider a valid source of religious insight, those who think originally or those who thoughtlessly parrot century old ideas. I choose the former and have heard Lloyd Geering and John Crossan speak. They would tell you that the Exodus story is just that, a story of escape with little basis in fact. It’s a story with a human moral.

      • Paul
        Posted January 20, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

        t’s a question of what you consider a valid source of religious insight, those who think originally or those who thoughtlessly parrot century old ideas. I choose the former and have heard Lloyd Geering and John Crossan speak.

        I trust you spend equal effort pointing out to the religious how they are practicing religion wrong? I can’t help but notice that your heroes have a lot to say about how atheists are wrong, but rarely if ever chastise the religious establishment no matter how far it varies from what they claim religion is or should be.

        They would tell you that the Exodus story is just that, a story of escape with littleno basis in fact. It’s a propaganda story with a human moralto justify why the Hebrews are the rightful occupants of the land of Canaan instead of their cohabitants

        Fixed it for you. At least, that is what they would say if they cared about real scholarship instead of trying to artificially inflate the value of the Bible.

      • Paul
        Posted January 20, 2010 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

        eww, messed up the strike tag. I don’t comment on WEIT too often. A correction:

        They would tell you that the Exodus story is just that, a story of escape with no basis in fact. It’s a propaganda story to justify why the Hebrews are the rightful occupants of the land of Canaan instead of their cohabitants

      • oldfuzz
        Posted January 20, 2010 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

        Paul, “I trust you spend equal effort pointing out to the religious how they are practicing religion wrong?”

        Absolutely not. Religious practice is a personal act. For me, Karl Popper was on the mark when he wrote of the Open Society which means I am free to live as i choose and others are free as well provided my choices do not bring harm to them and vice versa.

        My current personal meaning system (religion) has evolved for three score years since my confirmation where I made a personal declaration I have long since abandoned.

        The demand for proof of religious belief is as invalid as the fundamentalist’s suggestion that proof exists. Religious belief transcends knowledge which is why science and religion are not at odds. Science operates in the domain of the known. Religion, faith, spirituality eplores the domain of the unknown. When science reveals a new known, religious views change accordingly, but the Pope doesn’t. Ask Galileo, who professed his Christianity at the time.

        You can’t have your faith and edicts, too.

      • Notagod
        Posted January 20, 2010 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

        Your science would be rather boring as it can only operate on the known. Its a false statement. Science absolutely does operate on the unknown – that is what it is all about.

        Christianity needs to show that zombies can exist, they haven’t made any progress on that in two thousand years. It doesn’t matter what else an adherent writes or talks about if they call themselves christians they need to accept zombies as a life form, its the foundation on which christianity is built. If they turn it into a metaphor its viability is mush.

      • oldfuzz
        Posted January 21, 2010 at 7:10 am | Permalink

        NotaGod, “Christianity needs to show that zombies can exist…”

        I know no Christians who hold the existence of zombies to be true. As one who invokes science I am sure you can cite a reference for this “fact.”

      • Tulse
        Posted January 21, 2010 at 8:06 am | Permalink

        oldfuzz, I think you’re missing the reference — Christians absolutely believe that there was at least one human who died then was re-animated.

      • oldfuzz
        Posted January 21, 2010 at 10:46 am | Permalink

        Tulse, “Christians absolutely believe that there was at least one human who died then was re-animated.”

        Not missing your point, disagreeing with it. Some Christians view resurrection of Jesus as a biological miracle and others see it as a metaphorical reference. Christians aren’t required to believe one thing any more than scientists must subscribe to one view.

        Not all scientists subscribe to the big bang theory. Where do evolutionists stand on how life began? Is there an accepted biological definition of life and non-life?

        That people of one stripe disagree is at the bedrock of science when probing the unknown. It’s even more so in religion or spirituality or meaning of life due to the lack of hard evidencs.

      • Paul
        Posted January 21, 2010 at 11:36 am | Permalink

        Paul, “I trust you spend equal effort pointing out to the religious how they are practicing religion wrong?”

        Absolutely not. Religious practice is a personal act.

        Oh, that explains why you go around telling Christians to stop passing laws with no justification aside from religious edicts, right? Religion is a personal act, not something that has any effect on people other than the practitioner.

        I repeat, everyone you name as the “right type of religious leader” or “heretic” is simply fielding a self-serving agenda to keep religion relevant and bash atheists unless they spend equal (or any, even, ffs) time preaching to the religious to keep their religion personal.

      • oldfuzz
        Posted January 21, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

        I did not say, “religion is a personal act…” I said religious practice is a personal act. We might make progress if you read what I said.

        Atheism is a disbelief in theism. I am not a theist, but I do consider myself religious; i.e., I live by a meaning system which is based on the core of every religion, theist or not, love, compassion, hope, but not as well as I would like.

        I do not consider myself an atheist because I have come to see the idea of god(s) as being inconsequential. There are essential core values to be found in the writings of sages, religious and otherwise, but not science. One’s morality is found elsewhere.

      • Paul
        Posted January 21, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

        Atheism is a disbelief in theism.

        Atheism is a disbelief in gods. Disbelief in theism is delusion.

        I am not a theist, but I do consider myself religious; i.e., I live by a meaning system which is based on the core of every religion, theist or not, love, compassion, hope, but not as well as I would like.

        Your i.e. doesn’t follow. That is not how religious is traditionally defined. You’re equivocating by acting like it’s what people generally mean when they call th emselves religious. Love, compassion, and hope are also not “at the core of every religion”, nor are they things dependent on religion.

        I do not consider myself an atheist because I have come to see the idea of god(s) as being inconsequential. There are essential core values to be found in the writings of sages, religious and otherwise, but not science. One’s morality is found elsewhere.

        Word salad. That’s nice if you like to be able to find gurus to pronounce “values” from on high. I’d prefer to base my values on observed evidence and facts, instead of trying to crib them from an unsubstantiated authority telling me what wonderful epiphanies they had while sitting under a tree. Their claims have no value if the they have no backing outside the person making the claim (we in Science like to refer to that as evidence).

        It’s apparent this is going nowhere. I have no interest in a back-and-forth with someone who has allowed their brain to go to mush.

      • oldfuzz
        Posted January 21, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

        Paul, Yes, we’re done here. As for my mushy brain, you’re probably right, but it’s the best I’ve got until I learn more. Thanks for your thoughts.

      • rwaa
        Posted January 22, 2010 at 12:01 am | Permalink

        Of course, the Dalai Lama is not the only leader of Buddhism, and in many places Buddhism is infested with tons of superstition, but still it is a remarkably open-minded statement.

        The problem is that it’s a false statement.

      • rwaa
        Posted January 22, 2010 at 12:05 am | Permalink

        Secular religions do; e.g., many Buddhists, Christians and others are secular and religious.

        There are those who say you cannot be a secular Christian. Who are they to say? Defining Christianity is more challenging than defining life.

        This is a stupid word game. When we say that science and religion are inconsistent, what we mean by “religion” is a dogmatic system of “revealed truths”, “supernatural” forces or entities, etc. If something lacks all of the elements that would make it incompatible with science, then it isn’t incompatible with science, even if it’s referred to as a religion. Duh.

        semantic quibbli

      • rwaa
        Posted January 22, 2010 at 12:14 am | Permalink

        “I see science and religion as views of mutually exclusive phenomenon, the objective (knowable) and subjective (unknowable).”

        I see you as someone who doesn’t understand the meanings of the words you use.

        “The irony in this is that there are many who are leading religious thinking who are being vilified by their religious peers and unknown to scientists.”

        Leading where? Religious thinking is useless thinking; scientists have no use for these “leaders”.

    • rwaa
      Posted January 21, 2010 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

      “Some interpretations of religion are compatible with science.”

      This is meaningless drivel, like saying that some interpretations of lying are compatible with telling the truth.

      • Jonn Mero
        Posted January 22, 2010 at 3:34 am | Permalink

        oldfuzz
        I know no Christians who hold the existence of zombies to be true. As one who invokes science I am sure you can cite a reference for this “fact.”

  9. Peter Beattie
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    Wearying though this whole thing is, seeing Mooney shoot himself in the foot like this is almost comical. He says, without a hint of irony or self-awareness and with only one obvious substitution by me:

    Moreover, if religion is the mental block that prevents a wider understanding and acceptance of evolution, then by seeking to remove that mental block, a group like [the New Atheists] is simply striving to be effective. Why should its hands be tied in this regard?

    When I first read it, I wasn’t sure I liked this quote by Peter Medawar: “[some] people … have been educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought.” Now I think I can perhaps see what he meant.

  10. Posted January 19, 2010 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    This reminds me of the climate “debate” as well. Acting as though the science is Democratic or Republican.

    Then there’s the Freeman Dyson denialist camp who are tantamount to intelligent versions of William Dembski — all the while reinforcing the idea that there is a good reason to think “the conspiracy” is real.

    • Posted January 20, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

      Well let’s not forget that Freeman Dyson won the Templeton Prize.

  11. Posted January 19, 2010 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    Just by taking the separatist position, one is considered an “extremist atheist” by, get this other Atheists. I don’t care that much whether religious people think that there should be an accommodation. They are expected to do so, it’s a weakness.

    It’s the atheists who take that position that irritate me.

  12. Posted January 20, 2010 at 2:32 am | Permalink

    “establishing the truth is a prior question to performing honest and effective advocacy”

    True, but:

    “there are some scientists — quite a few of us, actually — who straightforwardly believe that science and religion are incompatible.”

    the issue is that when a scientist says that science and religion are incompatible, they are making a bogus argument from authority. A professional scientist is probably only an amateur philosopher, and questions of this nature are philosophical ones.

    In philosophy, the truth of a statement like this is not anywhere nearly as well-defined as is scientific truth. It probably cannot be established meaningfully. Philosophers and other students of the humanities get this, and are accustomed to working within that sort of framework.

    • Sigmund
      Posted January 20, 2010 at 3:19 am | Permalink

      Paul, the problem with a simple statement like “science and religion are compatible/incompatible” is that both ‘science’ and ‘religion’ are undefined. Depending on how you define both terms either viewpoint may be valid.
      The accomodationist argument relies on keeping the terms undefined. I can see the value in doing this – for instance it allows them to say “science and religion are compatible” to a Southern Baptist, despite knowing that the central tenets of that religion are completely contradicted by science.
      Some may call this lying or dishonesty but I prefer to think of it in Irish Catholic terms. What the accomodationists are doing is using the principle of “mental reservation” – a delightful term used by the Irish bishops to describe the process of using language as a way of placating an awkward questioner. The recent example from Ireland was the church stating that “the Catholic church is not financially contributing towards a child abuser” when what they actually mean was along the lines of “we make regular payments towards financially supporting this child abuser but since the payments go though on the first Tuesday of the month and today is Monday, we are not technically giving them money at this moment.”)

      • Matt Penfold
        Posted January 20, 2010 at 3:56 am | Permalink

        Mental Reservation is just what those of us who are not theologians call lying.

    • rwaa
      Posted January 22, 2010 at 12:26 am | Permalink

      the issue is that when a scientist says that science and religion are incompatible, they are making a bogus argument from authority.

      You clearly have no idea what an argument from authority is. This is made even clearer by the fact that the rest of your drivel is an argument from authority. Clue: being paid by someone to do philosophy (thus not being an amateur) does not make one an authority on whether science and religion are compatible (or on any other question, for that matter).

    • andyo
      Posted January 22, 2010 at 2:34 am | Permalink

      So what makes philosophers the arbiters of truth? If mental masturbation makes something true, I wonder what other kinds of masturbation will lead me to what other truths.

      Philosophy by itself without scientific verification has discovered as many “truths” as religion.

      What’s so hard to understand in the fact that science abhors faith, while for religion, it’s its central mode of “knowledge”?

    • Posted January 22, 2010 at 5:27 am | Permalink

      In philosophy, the truth of a statement like this is not anywhere nearly as well-defined as is scientific truth. It probably cannot be established meaningfully.

      Wouldn’t this argument actually support the “New Atheists” instead of the accommodationists? According to this, the NCSE and other accommodationists should stop asserting as fact that science and religion are compatible.

    • articulett
      Posted January 22, 2010 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

      Is it a “bogus argument from authority” to point out that for eons the teachings of the Catholic church were incompatible with the Science as discovered by Galileo?

      Scientists can read their horoscope… that doesn’t make astrology compatible with science.

  13. axxyaan
    Posted January 20, 2010 at 3:23 am | Permalink

    I was wondering what would people think if the dialog Chris Mooney set up would go as below. It is just that I think it is possible to be sensitive to people’s concerns without taking a theological position. So what do you think?

    RB: I know you say that evolution is good science, but I’m afraid of what my pastor says–that accepting it is the road to damnation.

    NCSE: Well I don’t know much about theology, I can only tell that some pastors seem to have no problem with evolution.

    RB: I do have one friend who accepts evolution, but he stopped going to church too and that worries me.

    NCSE: That can happen, but since you just told me your paster says accepting evaolution is the road to damnation, mayby your friend just changed denomination; with a pastor that has no problem with evolution.

    RB: And I’m worried about my children. If I let them learn about evolution in school, will they come home one day and tell me that we’re all nothing but matter in motion?

    NCSE: Well kids sometime do say stuff to provoke their parents. To be honest, I have never heard people accepting evolution say something like that. When I do hear something like that it is almost always someone who doesn’t accept evolution, claiming that that is what evolution means.

    • Posted January 22, 2010 at 7:04 am | Permalink

      Answer one: a reasonable, quite neutral answer. Of course, it’ll also be patently clear to the believer that you are dodging the issue, and are likely an atheist yourself. You also clearly think his pastor is wrong, but are too polite to say so.

      Answer two: you’re rubbing it in that you think his pastor is wrong. You also imply he may need to leave his church for a “better” (evolution-accepting) pastor too.

      Answer three: Clearly you as an evolutionist think it’s OK (or at least normal) for kids to provoke their parents, but good Christian kids honor their parents, not provoke them. And are you insulting the believer for his lack of understanding of evolution?

      And as far as science knows, we are just matter in motion. Just really fantastically complex motion.

      OK, I’m only half-serious with these comments on your proposed responses. But my point is: you’re never going to please everyone. Even if you try to be as unconfrontational as possible, you will still end up saying that you think his pastor is wrong. But you won’t say so directly, and won’t say why you think that. Don’t think that creationists are too stupid to notice that and draw their own conclusions. Therefore, I don’t think you’ll be very convincing to anyone.

      In my view, we might as well be direct and open about what we think. Then you might at least get some respect for being straight-forward with them. Or stay out of it completely, of course.

  14. AdamS
    Posted January 20, 2010 at 4:48 am | Permalink

    Jerry

    You may be interested to see that Chris Mooney has taken up this issue as well.

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2010/01/19/what-should-science-organizations-say-about-religion-answer-a-lot/

    For my part I think there is a genuine debate about how to approach faith groups for science education. The issue of strategy is a different (though related) issue from the epistemological compatability of science/religion./ But Mooney oversimplifies by stating that the existence of religious-scientists prove the compatability.

    • AdamS
      Posted January 20, 2010 at 4:51 am | Permalink

      Sorry didn’t check the link first. Came from the Intersection here rather than the other way round. Ignore the above.

  15. articulett
    Posted January 20, 2010 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    My attempts at answering the questions posed:

    RB: I know you say that evolution is good science, but I’m afraid of what my pastor says–that accepting it is the road to damnation.

    NCSE: At one time clerics were similarly concerned about accepting the fact that the earth rotates around the sun.

    RB: I do have one friend who accepts evolution, but he stopped going to church too and that worries me.

    NCSE: Why?

    RB: And I’m worried about my children. If I let them learn about evolution in school, will they come home one day and tell me that we’re all nothing but matter in motion?

    NCSE: They may come home and say that the sun is just another star of trillions– would that bother you too?
    If you lived in Galileo’s time would you want your children to learn about heliocentrism though it conflicted with the church’s teaches about earth’s central point in the universe?

    I don’t like the mealy mouthed way that the NCSE treats religion, and I think they should treat all religions the same– hands off. Why can’t they treat all faiths the way they’d treat Scientologists, astrologists and voo-doo practitioners. What’s the reasoning behind coddling some brands of faith, and doesn’t that make those coddled feel entitled to coddling for “faith”– something that really is not an asset to scientific discovery at all. Who determines which faiths will be coddled and by how much and in what areas? How can we encourage religionists to keep their superstitions as private as they want those of conflicting faiths to keep theirs if we make them feel all special for what they BELIEVE?

    In science, facts trump faith and the truth trumps stories that claim salvation for belief.

    • Posted January 22, 2010 at 7:15 am | Permalink

      I like your answers. Don’t know if they’d go down well, of course. Better hope that the believer isn’t a geocentrist, because that could seriously derail your argument ;).

      But you’re clearly not tiptoeing around the fact that religions can be wrong about things, where science gets it right. It also points out that religion must adapt to science, not the other way around, and that the believer probably already accepts this to some extend.

      Disclaimer for the purpose of preventing straw-men attacks: I’m not advocating that the NCSE should actually adopt this sort of strategy. It’s probably still better if they kept out of religious matters as much as possible.

  16. tm61
    Posted January 20, 2010 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    I think science and religion are compatible in the same way that oranges and apples, or Fords and Chevys are – they both exist.
    Science says nothing about “God” – what does saying “water boils at 100 degrees” or “the earth revolves around the sun” say about God? The same thing that saying “humans and apes share a common ancestor” does – nothing. In some cases, of course, religion has a lot to say about these things, but doesn’t change the basic fact that any scientific statement says nothing about God.

    I’d say that the hypothetical conversation described by Mooney goes exactly as it should.

    • rwaa
      Posted January 22, 2010 at 12:31 am | Permalink

      Science says about God what LaPlace said to Napoleon: “I have no need for that hypothesis”.

    • andyo
      Posted January 22, 2010 at 2:46 am | Permalink

      Science says nothing about “God” – what does saying “water boils at 100 degrees” or “the earth revolves around the sun” say about God? The same thing that saying “humans and apes share a common ancestor” does – nothing.

      Not until you define “God”. That’s why the religious can get so weasely, because they usually run to another “definition” of their god when pressed, so it’s compatible with what science does have to say.

      So, “humans and apes share a common ancestor” does say a lot about many gods, actually. If those religions contradict evolution, then that statement says their god or gods cannot exist.

      • tm61
        Posted January 22, 2010 at 8:55 am | Permalink

        I disagree…

        The statement itself says nothing about “God”. As you say: “Not until you define ‘God'” – but that means the definition of God has some thing to say about the statement – not the other way around.

        How does defining God affect the other statements? What is fundamentally different about the three statements? I’d say nothing.

      • Posted January 22, 2010 at 9:22 am | Permalink

        @tm61: what he means is that it really depends on your definition of what “God” is or does. If your definition of God includes a claim that he is a sentient being that created life, science will tell you that that this God is highly unlikely to exist, and at the very least highly unnecessary.

        If, on the other hand, you define “God” as someone who’s always hiding himself, and whose actions are indistinguishable from random chance, then you may have a religion compatible with science. You just wont have much of a God anymore. You certainly won’t have the God of the Bible anymore.

  17. eNeMeE
    Posted January 22, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    RB: I know you say that evolution is good science, but I’m afraid of what my pastor says–that accepting it is the road to damnation.

    NCSE: Well, here’s the clergy letter project – what denomination are you, so I can direct you to someone who can answer your questions?

    RB: I do have one friend who accepts evolution, but he stopped going to church too and that worries me.

    NCSE: I’m afraid I’m not a pastor – though mine certainly doesn’t think I’m damned.

    RB: And I’m worried about my children. If I let them learn about evolution in school, will they come home one day and tell me that we’re all nothing but matter in motion?

    NCSE: I’ve never heard anyone claim that, but if you’re really worried you should talk to one of the signers of the clergy letter project.

    …Hey, putting words in the mouths of hypothetical people is fun!

  18. Noons
    Posted January 22, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    There’s something that most people (especially those on the Coyne/Carrol/Myers side) have been missing:

    The NCSE et al are not themselves making theological statements. They are merely quoting theological statements made by theologians – some of whom are senior members of various denominations. The clergy letter project is the perfect example.

    So this is really a non-issue. If you think science and religion are not compatible, talk to the religious leaders who think they are.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 22, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      Do you think we’re all morons? Of course we know that. But by putting forward only the people who see that religion and faith are compatible, and not quoting people (or theologians) who think otherwise, the NCSE is making a de facto theological statement. Remember that tons of religious people and their “theologians”, as well as many atheists, see science and faith as incompatible.

      • tm61
        Posted January 22, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

        But what would be the point of quoting people who say “religion and science [which is what I think you meant to say] are incompatible” to people who are religious but are struggling with the incompatibility issue?

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted January 22, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

        tm61, you are not following the discussions very well. Coyne/Carrol/Myers et al are saying the NCSE should say NOTHING about religious compatibility.

      • tm61
        Posted January 23, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

        Bob:

        I agree: because the NCSE’s mandate is to increase the understanding and acceptance of science, they should refrain from saying anything about religious compatibility. But what’s true for the NCSE is true for anyone who would promote science: don’t say anything about religious compatibility (either for or against). A blog which appears to exist to promote the acceptance of science hurts its own cause by criticizing religion. Basically, it commits the same error the NCSE does.

      • articulett
        Posted January 23, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

        Speaking out against religion is like speaking out against any other superstition. I don’t think it hurts “the cause” (presumably spreading rational thinking)when a scientific organization chooses to voice skepticism of supernatural claims, including religion. It does muddy the water, however if they imply that some brands of supernatural thought are perfectly “compatible” with science while declaring that others are not.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted January 23, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

        I disagree with you, tm61. The NCSE is a public organization and a blog is a private enterprise. There are/should be different rules for public and private.

    • articulett
      Posted January 22, 2010 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

      You cannot endorse statements about religion being compatible with science without implying that science is compatible with nutty notions like hell, damnation, demon possession, Satan, etc. Does the NCSE want to be giving credence to the notion that these are “scientifically valid” beliefs?

      No one disagrees with the notion that scientists can be religious. How they accomplish this is their own private business, and it’s easy enough to acknowledge that many scientists are religious AND accept evolution without using the word “compatible” to imply overlap where there is none.

      Science is no more compatible with religion than it is with astrology.


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