Joshua Rosenau, graduate student and Public Information Project Director for the National Center for Science Education, has his knickers in a twist. Perhaps it’s because he lost Professor Steve Steve, or perhaps it’s because I’ve criticized the views of his close colleague Eugenie Scott, and certainly it involves his visceral rejection of my non-accommodationist atheism. (Rosenau is a diehard faitheist, just the type the NCSE likes.) This week he’s going after me for my claim that religion is not a “way of knowing” that produces truths about the universe.
His argument is woolly and poorly written, and confuses “truth” (whose existence he denies), with “ways of knowing” and “knowledge”. He gets all balled up in a completely irrelevant riff on vampires.
Here’s a particularly good specimen of Rosenau’s ability to sustain a rational argument; it’s a comment he made in response to Ophelia Benson:
I don’t care for golf, nor do I find dance terribly meaningful either as a spectator or a participant. I also don’t personally find religion to be useful in my life. I know, however, that other people get great meaning from golf, from dance, and from religion. How is your indifference to religion any different than my indifference to dance? Would I be wrong to claim that dance is incompatible with science since the insights dance brings to dancers are not empirical in nature? How do we decide that some non-empirical ways of knowing are OK, while others are incompatible with science?
The only basis Coyne offers, and the only one I can recall being offered by other enablers, is that religion and science are incompatible because religions can make false empirical claims.
But so can art. I think that people who would read A Tale of Two Cities as an historical account of the French revolution are being just as bad as those who read the Bible as an historical account of the Bronze Age. It’s perfectly possible to read Dickens or the Bible as true, but not as empirically true. And if the battle is between people who read the Bible in a non-empirical sense and those who don’t, then it seems like we should strengthen the hand of moderate theists, not disparage them.
I wasn’t aware that there was a movement to replace the teaching of European history with the view given in Dickens’s novels, nor a push to deny people contraception because that’s what Dickens would want, or to keep women subordinate because Mrs. Micawber would never desert Mr. Micawber.
Rosenau’s shambling, from-the-hip style of argument doesn’t bode well for the NCSE. Or maybe it does — if they want somebody who is good at regurgitating ill-considered reasons for coddling religion. As Eric McDonald says:
Rosenau’s piece is so terrible it’s hard to read without holding one’s nose. It’s as though he’s saying that anything that makes me feel good, makes me feel as though I understand something, is, in some sense, a way of knowing. With that debased coinage it’s hard to say what is not a way of knowing. Instead of being an accomodationist, Rosenau is an obscurantist, and that should be a matter of considerable concern, considering that he works for NCSE.
Fig. 1. Ways of knowing.