More denialism of a science-religion conflict

One of the biggest accommodationists among historians of science has been the respected academic Ronald Numbers, now a professor of the history of science and medicine at the University of Wisconsin. He has been much honored, and specializes in the historical relationship between science and religion.  Wikipedia notes that “Numbers is the son of a Seventh-day Adventist preacher, and was a Seventh-day Adventist in his youth, but now describes himself as agnostic.”

Numbers has done some excellent work, but I’ve found him very soft on science and religion, to the extent of leaning over backwards to maintain that the two do not conflict. In the book edited by James Miller I’ve been reading, Numbers was interviewed about his views on the relationship between science and faith. Here’s one of the questions asked him, along with his answer (reference at the bottom):

Does not all of the controversy surrounding evolution suggest that there is an inherent conflict between science and religion?

First, I should say that I do not believe that the image of ongoing warfare between science and religion accurate describes what has happened historically. Of course, there have been many battles—psychological, professional, disciplinary—involving scientific and religious claims. But rarely, if ever, have they simply pitted scientists against religionists.  The battles have often erupted between scientists (remember, for example, Louis Agassiz and Asa Gray) or between members of the same church (Asa Gray and Charles Hodge were both Presbyterians). In some contexts you see groups struggling for cultural authority, with both sides appealing to science.  Occasionally, you’ll even find poignant evidence of of struggles that go on in the individual minds of scientists or religionists, wrestling with the competing claims of science and religion. Although issues related to science and religion have generated a great deal of conflict and unrest, there has been no inevitable warfare between the two. And in many instance, science and religion have been mutually reinforcing.

Let’s take this answer sentence by sentence, starting with the second one:

Of course, there have been many battles—psychological, professional, disciplinary—involving scientific and religious claims. But rarely, if ever, have they simply pitted scientists against religionists.

“If ever?” Really? What about the biggest battle of all, at least in modern times: creation vs. evolution. If that doesn’t pit scientists against religionists, I don’t know what does. So did, for example, the Galileo affair.  To make such a statement means completely ignoring history in favor of accommodationism.

The battles have often erupted between scientists (remember, for example, Louis Agassiz and Asa Gray) or between members of the same church (Asa Gray and Charles Hodge were both Presbyterians).

Louis Agassiz, a gegologist, was a staunch opponent of Darwin’s theory who nevertheless believed that Noah’s Flood was a local rather than a worldwide phenomenon, that Adam and Eve were the progenitors of Caucasians only, and that there were multiple centers of God’s creation throughout the world. Asa Gray, a botanist, was a big supporter of Darwin but claimed that evolution was theistic, with God creating the variations necessary to create humans and other species.  Charles Hodge, a theologian and principal of the Princeton theological seminary, rejected most of Darwin’s theory outright, equating it to atheism.  And he got into a famous kerfuffle with James McCosh (who became president of the nearby Princeton University), who accepted “Darwinism” based on evidence and said that Christians must accommodate their faith to the facts of science.  Three of these men were indeed scientists, but so what?—the conflict was based on religious interpretations or rejections of evolution!  To imply that these conflicts were not involving science versus faith is to ignore history again, an odd tactic for a historian of science!

In some contexts you see groups struggling for cultural authority, with both sides appealing to science.

Yeah, like “scientific creationists” versus evolutionists or “intelligent design advocates” versus evolutionists! These all appeal to science, but of course creationism (“scientific” or otherwise) and ID are not established science: they are attempts of religion to hijack science so that God can be snuck into public-school classrooms!  This is certainly a fight for cultural authority, but again stems from the incompatibility of evolution with forms of Christianity.  This is a weaselly tactic, appealing to “a cultural struggle” while ignoring its roots!

Occasionally, you’ll even find poignant evidence of of struggles that go on in the individual minds of scientists or religionists, wrestling with the competing claims of science and religion.

And is not that evidence of a conflict between science and religion? The implication here is that there is no “external” conflict because individual minds can experience such dissonance. But that’s simply dumb.  Remember this: 64% of Americans forced to choose between their faith and a scientific fact that contravenes their faith will choose to reject the fact and embrace their faith.  And remember, too, the sad story of Kurt Wise, Dawkins’s “honest creationist,” who was trained as a paleontologist (B. A. University of Chicago, Ph.D. Harvard!) but became a staunch young-earth creationists and jettisoned what he had learned—and believed, taking a job at fundamentalist Bryan College.  Wise said this:

Although there are scientific reasons for accepting a young earth, I am a young-age creationist because that is my understanding of the Scripture. As I shared with my professors years ago when I was in college, if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate. Here I must stand.

Now, Dr. Numbers, is that not a conflict between science and religion?

Although issues related to science and religion have generated a great deal of conflict and unrest, there has been no inevitable warfare between the two. And in many instance, science and religion have been mutually reinforcing.

Indeed, warfare is not inevitable on all fronts because there are accommodationists like Numbers who simply proclaim harmony or even amiability.  But where the claims of religion come into conflict with science—as they must when theistic religion (as it must) makes claims about what exists in the universe—there will be warfare. That is inevitable, and will persist until religion surrenders or retreats into a watery deism.

As for science and religion being “mutually reinforcing,” it means this:  science tells religion that its claims are wrong, and the smart religionists accept the claims of science. Those determined to stay religious then engage in duplicitous forms of reconciliation.

Religion, on the other hand, has never reinforced science—except for the common claims that early scientists did their work to reveal God’s ways.  But that doesn’t operate any longer, and science doesn’t need religion. In fact, we’d be much better off without it, especially the evolutionary biologists!

_________

Quote is form p. 52 of Numbers, R. L. 2004. Darwin and Darwinism in America: an interview. In Miller, J. B. (ed), The Epic of Evolution: Science and Religion in Dialogue. Pearson/Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.

72 Comments

  1. Posted December 10, 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Why scientists bendover backwards to accommodate the religious defeats me. I see nowhere the religious bend backwards for science, they always maintain they are right, have been right and will be right even when there is contrary evidence to the same.

    • Dawn Oz
      Posted December 10, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

      The forked tongue Mr Numbers thinks that he is somehow keeping the peace, and that his main value. He is the Neville Chamberlain of accommodation. I hate people who muddy the waters like this – shame Mr Numbers!

      • TJR
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 3:14 am | Permalink

        That’s grossly unfair to Neville Chamberlain. Given only what was known at the time, appeasement/isolationism must have seemed like the lesser of two evils.

  2. Randy
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    What? No war between science and religion says Mr. Numbers. Then I issue a declaration of war now. Religion? Never! Accommodationism? Never? Surrender to the dark forces of superstition and ignorance? Never! I will not leave the battlefield until religion, accommmodationism and their allies have fallen. Go forth and proclaim that from this day forward, war exists between this defender of science and all religion as well as its accommodationist allies.

  3. Hempenstein
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Would that some other scientific fields (OK, beyond geology) had to deal with creationist objections to their science. I fondly await some detailed and compelling hypothesis on abiogenic origins to draw the chemists in.

    • eric
      Posted December 10, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      Chemists get drawn in whenever a creationist gets the laws of thermo wrong. Or radiometric dating – remember, study of radioactivity was chemistry before it was geology or physics. ;)

    • Marvol
      Posted December 12, 2012 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      There’s an excellent Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic dealing with that wish: http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2703

  4. Hempenstein
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and no inherent conflict between science and religion? Um, exactly what dominion keeps trying to append science to their terminology: Christian Science, Scientology, Creation Science. And could that be the same dominion that tries to denigrate science as just another of their stripe with Scientism?

    What affliction was he suffering under, during that interview?

    • Posted December 11, 2012 at 12:29 am | Permalink

      And of the three, only Christian Science claims to be doing science: they maintain that whenever they do their Christian Science healing and someone gets better, that is further evidence for their view (that matter is an illusion and [God's] Mind the only reality – Idealism in the strict sense). A mountain of confirmation bias.

  5. Brygida Berse
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Of course, there have been many battles—psychological, professional, disciplinary—involving scientific and religious claims. But rarely, if ever, have they simply pitted scientists against religionists.

    How about Galileo Galilei, “the father of modern science”? How was he – and his ideas – treated by the religious establishment?

    • Posted December 10, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      b-but… (switching to an Irish brogue)

      …that was a *political* battle, don’t you know? Just like when Bruno was barbecued for his political beliefs. Also, all those so-called “religious wars” were all battles over real estate and resources… political battles.

      …don’t you know?

      • Posted December 10, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        …whoops. I forgot to close my brogue tag. {/brogue}

      • Posted December 10, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

        So the Bible is not just a guide book of how the universe works (hand washing excluded) but it is also a handy book of quotes and speeches to use on any occasion to motivate the masses in order to justify rape, pillage, invasion, persecution and intestine fiddling.

        • Posted December 10, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

          ESPECIALLY intestine fiddling.

          There actually is quite a lively and checkered history of using intestinal linings for fiddling purposes. Kitteh intestinal linings. *shudder*. And horsehair to fiddle the intestines with. It is just too much for me, sometimes…

          • wads42
            Posted December 11, 2012 at 3:06 am | Permalink

            “intestine fiddling”.

            Is that something akin to sodomy?

            • Posted December 11, 2012 at 6:21 am | Permalink

              Yes. More specifically, it is a prelude to such unsavory activities taking place deep in the bowels of the Earth. This meticulously-researched documentary captured the grisly spectacle, fiddled intestines, horsehair and all. Luckily they turned the cameras off before things got really icky.

              • wads42
                Posted December 11, 2012 at 7:37 am | Permalink

                Thank God for that!

            • Posted December 11, 2012 at 7:38 am | Permalink

              Note the wide, bow-legged stance exhibited by the revelers. I forgot to mention though, that the above clip is most definitely NSFW.

              • John Scanlon, FCD
                Posted December 12, 2012 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

                I was just wondering whether Republican philosophers adopt the wide stance intentionally?

                Need to ask Dan Dennett.

              • wads42
                Posted December 13, 2012 at 1:47 am | Permalink

                If they’ve had intestinal fiddlings, the world might fall out of thir bottom.

  6. MadScientist
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    I thought Numbers’ response was bizarre – he was answering a question that was not asked. His response was essentially “I’ll ignore the question of a conflict – no, you say conflict but I’ll say war – between science and religion and instead tell you irrelevant stories about how a number of religious scientists couldn’t agree on things”. Is he becoming a politician or is he getting old and telling grandpa stories?

  7. arizonajones
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    I will challenge the credentials of anyone
    who claims to be a “scientist” who suggest
    there are areas of inquiry where skepticism
    is not required.

  8. Posted December 10, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Nice post! I’m of the opinion that we must not be soft on religion. When it interferes with science it should be confronted and mocked.

  9. eric
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    I see a No True Conflict argument here. I.e., there is no conflict as long as one ignores the actual, historical conflicts.

  10. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Nicely quartered and drawn.

    I will add that there is an inevitable battleground over facts, since science is in the business to convert beliefs to facts and religion is in the business to convert facts to beliefs (eg “souls”).

    Specific battles besides biology has been physics (religious claims of “gods” controlling objects directly or through laws), cosmology (religious claims of “gods” controlling evolution and creation of universes), astrobiology (religious claims of “gods” controlling creation of cells) and the upcoming final battle ground: neuroscience (religious claims of “souls”).

    will persist until religion surrenders or retreats into a watery deism.

    I think this could become homeopathic deism. Deism is threatened, at least for now.

    What is a threat is modern physics where laws and initial conditions are potentially selected respectively unnecessary.

    We don’t know whether these things will eventually be accepted or rejected. But meanwhile deism, “the belief that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of God” [Wikipedia] isn’t a safe retreat.

    Only when deism puts itself in the knee of pantheism, not relying on observation but on some variant of “cosmos equates a god” or similar non-reasonable nonsense, can it be a retreat (as for now).

  11. MNb
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    “So did, for example, the Galileo affair.”
    Anyone who thinks that this affair was about science versus religion also thinks that science can provide the absolute truth. Because that’s what Galilei claimed in his 1632 book Dialogues and that’s what he was tried for.

    • Brygida Berse
      Posted December 10, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

      Anyone who thinks that this affair was about science versus religion also thinks that science can provide the absolute truth. Because that’s what Galilei claimed in his 1632 book Dialogues and that’s what he was tried for.

      No, the Inquisition’s examination of Galileo was mainly about his heliocentric view of the universe, considered a heresy by the Catholic Church. But the specific topic of the particular publication under scrutiny doesn’t really matter. What is important is the inquisitors’ general intent to supress those intelectual pursuits that they saw in conflict with Catholic teachings. 

      A perfect illustration of this is the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. It reads like a Who’s Who of the history of human thought and covers great works of philosophy and literature in addition to scientific writings of Copernicus, Bruno, Galileo and Kepler. Removal of many names and book titles from this list in the 18th and the 19th century (the whole excercise was finally abolished only in 1966) doesn’t change the historical fact of that long-standing conflict Dr. Numbers so adamantly denies. 

  12. MNb
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Also note that with the data known back then it was impossible to decide between Copernicus and Ptolemaeus, something Galilei preferred to ignore in his book and something the not quite dumb theologians of the Inquisition were quite aware of.
    Let’s see if I’m called a historical revisionist and a liar again, like last time, and if JAC will permit it.
    Of course creation/evolution is a prime example of science versus religion, except that quite a few believers don’t have a problem at all with the evolution theory.
    (first disclaimer: I use theory in the European meaning of the word, not in the “just a theory” meaning).
    (second disclaimer: even if it can be conclusevily shown that there is no conflict between science and religion I will remain an atheist).
    (sorry for using a proxy, I have problems with my internet connection)

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted December 10, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

      …except that quite a few believers don’t have a problem at all with the evolution theory.

      Many believers say they don’t have a problem with evolution — but they still reject the implication that humans are the unplanned result of a purposeless, unguided process. So apparently they do have a problem with the theory as scientists understand it.

      • JohnC
        Posted December 10, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

        Yes, but it is still an “implication”. Theistic evolutionists such as Ken Miller would have no problem admitting that purpose cannot be deduced from the science. But he would claim, I think, that the evidence is not incompatible with God guiding the process in undetectable ways. This is a philosophical position, which if it does no violence to the science, is undecidable on purely empirical grounds. And it may even be politically advantageous in contexts such as the US.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted December 10, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

          You might as well argue that photons are carried about by tiny invisible faeries whose paths just happen to coincide with those predicted by Maxwell’s equations. The evidence is not incompatible with this idea. But it certainly does do violence to the science to take such ideas seriously.

          The philosophical justification for theistic evolution is precisely the same as for photon faeries, i.e. nil. The only reason for entertaining the idea at all is a prior commitment to theism at all costs, even at the cost of one’s intellectual integrity.

          • JohnC
            Posted December 10, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

            “The only reason for entertaining the idea at all is a prior commitment to theism …”

            I agree. So what? While I’m a lifelong atheist I don’t have problem with someone like Ken Miller choosing to believe God “directs” evolution in some empirically undetectable way.

            • Gregory Kusnick
              Posted December 10, 2012 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

              He can believe what he likes. What he can’t do (and maintain intellectual respectability) is claim that he fully accepts the theory of (unguided, materialistic) evolution as a sufficient explanation of human origins, while at the same time insisting that God stacked the deck to produce us.

              • JohnC
                Posted December 10, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

                Intellectual repectability is in the eye of the beholder. If he doesn’t distort the science in his writings (especially since he co-authors the second-biggest selling school biology textbook in the US), I don’t have a problem.

              • wads42
                Posted December 11, 2012 at 3:04 am | Permalink

                “Intellectual repectability is in the eye of the beholder.”

                No, it is in the eye of his scientific peers.
                Otherwise anyone can make up nonsense and claim that it is intellectually respectable, contrary to all empirically established views.

            • wads42
              Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:58 am | Permalink

              “I don’t have problem with someone like Ken Miller choosing to believe God “directs” evolution in some empirically undetectable way”.

              I do; It would be reasonable of Miller if God wns known to exist; then we could perhaps ask him if he “directed” evolution.
              It is no use inventing one unknown to explain another. It is even more useless to invent an unknown to explain and already known. We already know the main mechanisms of Evolution.

        • wads42
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:52 am | Permalink

          It might not be incompatible with an omnipotent God guiding the process if this God was known to exist; but as it is not known philosophically or empirically, it cannot be assumed to be a “not incompatible” possibility.

      • wads42
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:42 am | Permalink

        “Also note that with the data known back then it was impossible to decide between Copernicus and Ptolemaeus, something Galilei preferred to ignore in his book”–

        I thought it was Galileo who did in fact establish the difference empirically by his telescopic observations of the moons of Jupier,–and their orbits around Jupiter,–not the Earth. Didn’t he write it down in his book?–how do we know of it then? I’m sure the Church would have hushed it up.

        • JohnC
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 3:43 am | Permalink

          I think you are correct, however is observations were also compatible with the system of Tycho Brahe, which was also essentially geocentric. While Galileo guessed right on that issue, he was wrong in rejecting Kepler’s elliptical orbits in favour of Copernicus’s circular model.

        • BillyJoe
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 4:24 am | Permalink

          There is a big difference between Copernicus and Ptolmy. His name was Ockham and he yielded a damn machete!

    • Posted December 10, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

      Also note that with the data known back then it was impossible to decide between Copernicus and Ptolemaeus, something Galilei preferred to ignore in his book and something the not quite dumb theologians of the Inquisition were quite aware of.

      I had a vague recollection that this is not correct, so I decided to look it up. It turns out that there was indeed data available at the time, some of it due to Galileo himself, which was in serious conflict with Ptolemic models. From Wikipedia:

      From September 1610, Galileo observed that Venus exhibited a full set of phases similar to that of the Moon. The heliocentric model of the solar system developed by Nicolaus Copernicus predicted that all phases would be visible since the orbit of Venus around the Sun would cause its illuminated hemisphere to face the Earth when it was on the opposite side of the Sun and to face away from the Earth when it was on the Earth-side of the Sun. On the other hand, in Ptolemy’s geocentric model it was impossible for any of the planets’ orbits to intersect the spherical shell carrying the Sun. Traditionally the orbit of Venus was placed entirely on the near side of the Sun, where it could exhibit only crescent and new phases. It was, however, also possible to place it entirely on the far side of the Sun, where it could exhibit only gibbous and full phases. After Galileo’s telescopic observations of the crescent, gibbous and full phases of Venus, therefore, this Ptolemaic model became untenable.

      Notice that the phases of Venus can be explained by a model where the planets orbit the sun but the sun orbits the earth: but such a model is more or less identical to the model we currently use: it is just tantamount to a co-ordinate transformation. Indeed, modern astronomy still uses the Right Ascension/Declination co-ordinate system that is essentially geocentric.

      • Georgia
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

        Tycho Brahe’s modified heliocentric model, which the Church did not oppose, also accounted for the phases of Venus. Galileo thought the primary evidence for the motion of the earth was that it made the tides slosh around, which is silly. In addition, the Copernican model was seriously flawed because Copernicus, like everyone else until Kepler, assumed the planets moved in circular orbits at the same speeds. As a result, his model could not be confirmed by observation of the movement of the planets when viewed from earth, a problem which troubled Copernicus all his life but did not seem to bother Galileo. Galileo’s was more a case of free speech versus censorship, not good science versus superstition.

        • Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

          Well, you could characterise it that way, but the free speech was science (albeit flawed) and the censorship was religiously motivated.

          /@

          • Georgia
            Posted December 11, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

            Opps. That should be Brahe’s “geocentric” model. And, yes, the censorship of Galileo was religiously motivated, and, to that extent, it conflicted with the free exchange of ideas necessary for science and a generally health society. But the position taken by Cardinal Bellarmine in his original 1616 injunction against Galileo — that one shouldn’t say a proposition is “true” without good evidence — was closer to the modern view of science than Galileo’s own view. And the injunction, as originally written, was not that onerous. Galileo could discuss the heliocentric model, even argue that it best accounted for the movement of the planets. He just couldn’t say that it was “true” — in the sense of absolute truth — without better evidence. Galileo’s defense against the charge that he violated the injunction was not that the Copernican theory was true; he denied that he ever said it was true, and nobody was buying that line. Note: At the trial, the Church also produced a second, probably forged, version of the injunction that prohibited him from discussing the Copernican theory at all. But by that point, Galileo’s enemies were just piling on.

    • Mark
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      “Also note that with the data known back then it was impossible to decide between Copernicus and Ptolemaeus”

      As pointed out below, this is not correct. Perhaps you meant to write “Tycho Brahe” rather than Ptolemy. The moons of Jupiter and the phases of Venus — both discovered for the first time with Galileo’s telescope — made a complete hash of the Ptolemaic model.

    • Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      As Thony C. points out, there were several models circulating at that time…

      /@

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted December 12, 2012 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

      Assertions of Ptolemaic astronomy were refuted by multiple independent observations of Galilei: moons orbiting Jupiter, mountains on the moon, and sunspots for example.

      So apparently you are lying.

  13. wads42
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Wjhat about the continual and regular attacks against:
    1. Reductionism
    2. Sxiemtism
    3. Materialism
    4.Mechanistic science.
    5.”Limitations of Science”
    6. Failure of imaginatiom by sciemtists.
    7. “atheistic” science
    etc etc

    Sounds to me rather as if they have got something against science

    • JohnC
      Posted December 10, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think we want to deny that there are legitimate debates among non-religious scientists about issues such reductionism (is biology reducible to physics, even in principle?).

      • wads42
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:46 am | Permalink

        Debate about what? -whether there is in fact an atomic and subatomic and quantum world, and whether these are in fact the basis of biochemisty and living biological systems?

        • JohnC
          Posted December 11, 2012 at 3:06 am | Permalink

          The role of emergent phenomenon, for instance.

          • wads42
            Posted December 11, 2012 at 3:13 am | Permalink

            OK–I agree with that; but how long will the debate continue? What we need is evidence. It is scientific evidence that terminates s debate by reaching a coherent and compatible solution.
            (Which should be the case with the “debate” over evolution,–which is only kept going fruitlessly, by creationists and “Theistic Evolutionists”).

            • JohnC
              Posted December 11, 2012 at 3:19 am | Permalink

              I don’t believe we are in a debate over evolution with Miller, so let’s train our sights on the real enemies who are polluting the pond of science (creationists and woo-woo’ers of various stripes). I’m basically a pragmatist.

              • wads42
                Posted December 11, 2012 at 4:01 am | Permalink

                Yes indeed. I loved the demolition job he did on Michael Behe in “Finding Darwin’s God”.
                I fact I emailed him and told him so, and then suggested it was a pity he was still as believer. He was quite nice about it.

  14. wads42
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    ps-that should be “scientism”.-I need new glasses.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 4:31 am | Permalink

      So do I. I thought that’s what you wrote.

  15. JohnC
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    While I’m intellectually in tune with the critique of accommodation, it seems to me the decision to prosecute this critique in a high-profile manner is essentially a political decision about the best way to advance the agenda of science literacy and support in a particular society, ie it’s context-dependent.

    Clearly, adopting such a position in, say, the Dover trial would have been singularly unwise. In such a context, one’s best expert witnesses were clearly the Haughts and Millers of this world.

  16. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    There certainly is a conflict between science and religion, mainly because there is a conflict in their !*methodologies*!(!!)

    Most accommodationism fails because it applies science in a kind of selective way and comes across as a kind of salvage operation on religion, effectively saying we lost this, but we can still have this.

    Only by admitting religion works only as a big symbolic metaphor does religion really have a “prayer” of surviving science and even this is bad when it takes the road of distorting the history of religion and science (as Karen Armstrong does with both).

    As Lawrence Krauss has observed, it really winds up as a one-way street, with religion accommodating science more than the other way around.

    Personally, accommodationists who both have minimalist creeds and have made genuine contributions to science (such as Arthur Eddington on both counts) don’t particularly bother me- nor do those who actually pursue science because of a piety that has actually stimulated their scientific curiosity (rare, but it happens).

    But let’s not obfuscate and just pretend there isn’t a conflict by confusing the issues, please.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 4:38 am | Permalink

      Accommodationism eventually will fail because the religious will ultimately have to reject it. And it’s not possible for the religious to accept religion as metaphor because JC did not die for a metaphor.

      • Matt G
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 7:46 am | Permalink

        Whoa, I just realized that Jerry has the same initials!

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:37 am | Permalink

        Definitely the classic Western understanding of Jesus’ death disappears if you think Adam and Eve are metaphors. Historically, Christianity has had multiple understandings of Jesus’ death, but the one that dominates the West is both the one that is the most morally absurd, and only makes sense if you have a real Adam and Eve.

  17. g2-d34147f3f4e571d41cd1577a51e70a35
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    Here’s another, more recent than Galileo:

    “Had the ecclesiastics of the Church of San Nazaro in Brecia given in to repeated urgings to install a lightning rod, they might have averted a terrible catastrophe. The Republic of Venice had stored in the vaults of this church several thousand pounds of gunpowder. In 1767, 17 years after Franklin’s discovery, no rod having been placed on the church, it was struck by lightning and the gunpowder exploded. One-sixth of the city was destroyed and over 3,000 lives were lost because the priests refused to install the ‘heretical rod.’”

    cited at: http://www.evolvefish.com/freewrite/franklgt.htm

  18. Mark
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure I believe in an “inherent” conflict between science and religion but there almost certainly is a conflict between science and certain forms of Christianity.

    To see this, one can simply rely on the authority of Alvin Plantinga. According to Thomas Nagel’s review of Plantinga’s book in The New York Review of Books, “But Plantinga even suggests in a footnote that those whose faith includes, as his does not, the conviction that the biblical chronology of creation is to be taken literally can for that reason regard the evidence to the contrary as systematically misleading.”

    Plantinga believes in a sensus divinitatis that forms people’s faith-beliefs and that can legitimately override the claims of science when someone’s faith points them in another direction.

    • Sastra
      Posted December 11, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      I think your example undermines your argument that there is no “inherent” conflict between science and religion. Plantinga has formed an unfalsifiable hypothesis regarding a “sensus divinitatis.” This is simply an elaboration on the claim that faith is a “special way of knowing.” Since faith is part of every religious or spiritual belief system, this is an inherent conflict. No unfalsifiable hypotheses.

      Turn scientific analysis on religion and religion becomes either wrong or unnecessary. The religious scream about this, because they want their fact claims treated like moral claims.

  19. Posted December 11, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    I find this really surprising. I’m reading “The Creationists” right now written by him, which is a very meticulously researched history of creationism since Darwin. It is filled with antagonistic anecdote after antagonistic anecdote about creationists strategizing to abolish evolution.

    Only in the most literal, narrow sense of the word “war” would someone not use the term to describe the relationship between science and religion. Perhaps Numbers would concede a metaphorical “cold war” between the two?

  20. Kevin
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    “If that doesn’t pit scientists against religionists, I don’t know what does. So did, for example, the Galileo affair.”

    What is this supposed to mean, given that Galileo was a Catholic?

  21. Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    What happened to Drs. Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus? :-o

    /@

    (subscribing)

  22. Posted December 11, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    One objection. While I agree he may be in “denial” in the psychological sense of the word, I’m not sure he was making a true denialist argument as your title would suggest. Cherry-picking was there sure. But I didn’t see any conspiracy theories or fake experts being cited. A conspiracy theory is really the hallmark of denialism.

    By chance did he try to suggest that the “religion vs science” war was just a conspiracy by the media to generate hype or anything like that? That would get you there.
    -m

  23. Marvol
    Posted December 12, 2012 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    I’m thinking that Numbers might mean something slightly different with his “In some contexts you see groups struggling for cultural authority, with both sides appealing to science.” I think he might be talking about the abortion or euthanesia debates, or maybe even global warming – let’s assume so for the sake of argument.

    Even then his argument fails, because the religious side in these ‘struggles’ consistently misrepresents the science. For instance in the abortion debate the religious side ignores that before 20 weeks there is no nervous system, hence no pain, in a foetus, yet it instead refers to cherry-picked bits of pseudoscience that just-so happens to agree with their point of view.

    Another example might be homosexuality. Science says basically: it happens throughout nature, and humans are but animals, so whatever else it is, homosexuality is not an aberration. This is also roundly ignored by the religious side that keeps proclaiming that it is ‘unnatural’.


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