Templeton-funded researcher defends Templeton Foundation and its call for “dialogue” between science and religion

In the new issue of the Los Angeles Review of Books (link below), Peter Harrison, in a piece called “From conflict to dialogue and all the way back“, purports to review Yves Gingras’s recent book on science and religion, a book whose thesis is that no useful dialogue is possible between science and religion.

Harrison is described by Wikipedia as “an Australian Laureate Fellow and Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Queensland.”

Harrison doesn’t like the book (though he damns it with faint praise at the end of his piece) for three reasons.

First, he appears to hold the Gouldian view that science  and religion cannot be in conflict because they deal with different areas of inquiry (Gould saw religion as the bailiwick of morality, science as the study of the natural universe). He quotes for instance the arrogant and obscurantist Terry Eagleton, a prime specimen of the Sophisticated Theologian™:

TERRY EAGLETON once remarked that regarding religion as an attempt to offer a scientific explanation of the world is rather like seeing ballet as a botched attempt to run for a bus. Eagleton gestures toward a confusion that often afflicts those who advocate for an essential conflict between science and religion — the assumption that the two enterprises are competing for the same explanatory territory. Were this to be true, conflict between them would indeed be pretty much inevitable. An alternative view holds science and religion to be essentially independent operations, concerned with quite different questions. On this model, conflict is unlikely. Equally, dialogue would be unnecessary, perhaps even impossible? [JAC: Harrison never tells us, given his view that science and religion aren’t in conflict, what such a dialogue would consist of, or even if he approves of one!]

As I show at great length in Faith Versus Fact, religion does indeed make truth claims, some of which (efficacy of prayer, existence of Jesus, existence of a soul, etc.) are either directly or in principle testable empirically. Moreover, many religious scientists and science-friendly theologians, including Francis Collins, Karl Giberson, and Ian Barbour, have at least had the intellectual honesty to admit that many religions, including the Abrahamic ones, are at bottom founded on truth claims. I quote:

A religious tradition is indeed a way of life and not a set of abstract ideas. But a way of life presupposes beliefs about the nature of reality and cannot be sustained if those beliefs are no longer credible.  —Ian Barbour

Likewise, religion in almost all of its manifestations is morethan just a collection of value judgments and moral directives. Religion often makes claims about ‘the way things are.’
Karl Giberson and Francis Collins

If you don’t like those, how about the Bible?

If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your Faith is also vain.  —1 Corinthians 15:14

You can hardly call yourself a Christian if you don’t think Jesus was the son of God, part man and part divine, and died and was resurrected to expiate our sins. If you don’t think an angel dictated God’s words to Muhammad to create the Qur’an, you’re hardly a Muslim.

I won’t go on here, but see Faith Versus Fact for the list of empirical claims made by religion. As I note there, the biggest opponents of the “separate magisteria” argument aren’t scientists but theologians, who dislike Gould’s claim that religion makes no factual claims about the world.

On this issue, both Eagleton and Harrison are wrong. If you disagree with me, look at the continuing and long-standing battle in America and other places (including Muslim countries) between scientists and creationists. This battle deals entirely with empirical claims about biology and origins, is motivated solely by religious dislike of evolution, and is a prime example of the “conflict hypothesis” in action: a battle lost by creationists on empirical grounds. I’ll add here the insistence of the Catholic Church that Adam and Eve were literally  the ancestors of all of us, a claim that, says the Church, cannot be contradicted. Yet science has disproven that claim. And we’ve seen no evidence for a soul that enters us at conception, whatever that soul may be.

It is this duel of empirical claims that has indeed created a conflict between science and religion. That conflict is exacerbated  because only science, and not religion, has ways of proving its own claims wrong.  Most Abrahamic believers, I think, can envision no evidence that would make them change their minds about their factual claims. One well known person, whose name I can’t recall (see FvF), argued that even if a camera in Jesus’s tomb showed his body rotting, he’d still believe in the Resurrection.

The conflict in methodology between the way science and religion establish their truth claims creates a telling asymmetry. Science has the ability to tell believers that their factual beliefs are wrong, while religionists have no way to tell scientists that scientific facts are wrong. And so, over the years, science has repeatedly knocked down the truth claims of believers. Science has showed that prayer doesn’t work, we weren’t created 10,000 years ago at the same time as all other living things, there was no Exodus of the Jews from Egypt, there was no Adam and Eve, and so on.  Religion can’t do anything similar to claims about biology, physics, or chemistry. This, I think, is one reason why believers often resent science, even while giving it lip service, and decry “scientism”, the pejorative and erroneous claim that scientists often overstep their expertise.

This asymmetry is in fact why a “constructive dialogue” is useless between scientists and religionists. What can believers tell scientists that’s of any use to science? (Yes, they can tell us what they believe, or things about the history of religion, but that’s not what’s meant by such an exchange.) In contrast, scientists can tell believers things that can fundamentally alter what they believe. That was one byproduct of the great work of Charles Darwin.

So while we can’t have a constructive dialogue, we can have a “destructive monologue”: science can tell religionists that what they believe is wrong, but the other side has no such ability.

This brings us to Harrison’s second claim: that Gingras’s criticism of the Templeton Foundation in spending millions of dollars fostering such dialogue is misguided and “unnuanced”, and, worse, has “played a major role in foisting the theme of a ‘dialogue’ between science and religion onto the history of science [emphasis added].”  Harrison says that Gingras doesn’t convincingly document the claim that Templeton is trying to rewrite the history of science, and perhaps Gingras doesn’t, as I haven’t read his book. But given how Templeton is constantly funding people (like Harrison!) who maintain that the “conflict hypothesis” of religion versus science is misguided, there is more than a grain of truth in Gingras’s claim. For that is rewriting the history of science.

What’s odious about all this is that Harrison himself has received Templeton money, and yet spends a lot of his review defending Templeton against Gingras’s claims. Here’s what Harrison says:

(Full disclosure: I have been the recipient of Templeton funding, although none of my books on the historical relations between science and religion have been supported by them.)

This is a gross conflict of interest, and had I been Harrison trying to review Gingras’s book for, say, The Washington Post, the first question my editor would have asked me was whether I had any personal conflict of interest involving the author’s thesis. If I said I had taken Templeton money and Gingras criticizes the Templeton Foundation, I would absolutely have been prohibited from reviewing Science and Religion: An Impossible Dialogue. Shame on the L.A. Review of Books for even allowing Harrison to review the Gingras volume!

For, of course, if you’re in the Templeton stable, you better defend them if you want more Templeton money, and that is the prime conflict of interest at play here. Harrison, had he acted ethically, should have recused himself from reviewing this book.

If you want to see Harrison’s involvement with Templeton, check this Google search. He has given Templeton-sponsored lectures, attended Templeton-sponsored conferences, and accepted grants from the Templeton Foundation. In fact, in Templeton’s Stable of Prize Thoroughbreds, there’s a special stall labeled “Peter Harrison”. He knows which side his oats are buttered on.

Third, and I’m growing weary, Harrison goes through the usual machinations to show that what seems like a conflict between science and religion is really about something else, a thesis most prominently advanced by Ronald Numbers of the University of Wisconsin. Thus we learn from Harrison that Galileo was suppressed not because of religion, but because of other stuff, to wit:

This brings us to the Galileo affair, which makes a predictable appearance as a set piece. The basic details of the story are well known, and again Gingras does a creditable job of reconstructing them. Galileo was warned by the Inquisition in 1616 not to teach or defend the heliocentric hypothesis first propounded by Copernicus over 70 years before. Following the publication, in 1632, of an insufficiently ambiguous defense of Copernicanism, Galileo was placed on trial, and in the following year he was found guilty of vehement suspicion of heresy and ordered to recant. He did so and remained under house arrest until his death almost 10 years later.

This looks like an open and shut case of science versus religion. But there are complications. For a start, Galileo’s theory lacked proof, and his argument for the Earth’s motion based on a theory about the tides was simply wrong. Not only that, but the absence of observable stellar parallax provided apparently unassailable evidence against the motion of the Earth. The planetary model of Tycho Brahe, which had the planets orbiting the sun, and the sun orbiting a stationary Earth, offered a good compromise solution, and accounted for at least some of Galileo’s telescopic observations without the physical difficulties of putting the Earth into motion. In short, at this time there was no consensus in the scientific community about whether Galileo was right, and good reasons for thinking he was wrong. For its part, the Church was well informed on the relative merits of the various systems, and its support for the Tychonic model in the later 17th century was scientifically defensible.

Yes, complications!!! First of all, “proof” is not required for a theory to have credibility; the concept of “proof” is alien to science. And whether or not the scientific community agreed with Galileo or not, he wasn’t suppressed and put under house arrest because other scientists didn’t accept him. No, that happened because his own evidence contradicted Church teachings. This defense of the Church is boilerplate accommodationism. Yeah, maybe there were “complications”, but to say that religious dogma played no role in the Galileo affair is to show yourself as willfully blinkered. Even Harrison admits that Galileo was found guilty of heresy, and, well, heresy involves religion, not scientific debate.

Sadly, but understandably, Harrison says little about evolution except this (my emphasis):

Historians of science tend to cling to the old-fashioned idea that effects come after their causes. The canonical works that first began to dismantle the idea of a perennial conflict between science and religion — God and Nature (1986) edited by David Lindberg and Ronald Numbers, and John Hedley Brooke’s classic Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives (1991) — were written before the Templeton Foundation’s funding activities had begun to have an impact in the 1990s (the Foundation itself was not constituted until 1987). Earlier still was James R. Moore’s The Post-Darwinian Controversies (1979). This book was instrumental in identifying the 19th-century progenitors of the conflict thesis, conclusively laying bare its deficiencies, and showing how religious opposition to Darwinism had been greatly exaggerated.

Anybody who claims that, beginning with the Scopes trial up to today, “religious opposition to Darwinism is greatly exaggerated”, is either ignorant or lying. 76% of Americans think that God either created life directly as Genesis states (38%) or thinks that God had a hand in directing or tweaking evolution (the other 38%). Muslim opposition to evolution continues throughout the world, but we don’t hear much about it. One example: the teaching of evolution in Turkish secondary schools was just banned by the pro-Islamic regime of President Erdogan. Woe to that once-secular country!

Harrison is wrong on all counts, I think, and it’s shameful that he, a consumer of Templeton dosh, accepted a commission to review a book that criticizes the Templeton Foundation. But that’s only one flaw in a deeply flawed and fulsomely accommodationist book review.

h/t: Matthew Cobb

36 Comments

  1. Posted December 28, 2017 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Thanks

  2. Posted December 28, 2017 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    …Gingras’s key claim is not that the Foundation has sponsored dialogue between science and religion — which, given its stated mission, is a dead giveaway — but that it “has also played a major role in foisting the theme of a ‘dialogue’ between science and religion onto the history of science [emphasis added].” There is nothing obvious about that claim, and in fact it turns out to be well wide of the mark…As for the effectiveness of the Templeton Foundation in fostering dialogue, a more careful and fine-grained analysis is called for here, rather than gestures toward correlations and the deployment of evidence that barely rises above the anecdotal.

    Perhaps ‘foisting the theme of a ‘dialogue’ between science and religion onto the history of science is too bold a claim claim (if that is what Gingras’s claim is)? Personally, I would say ‘pushing the theme of a ‘dialogue’ between science and religion onto the history of science’.

    Templeton didn’t have to be involved in the original repudiations of the Conflict Thesis to be guilty of accommodationism *now*. The charge is not that they have single-handedly promoted the ‘Science and Religion’ pseudo-discipline, but simply that they have promoted it.

    After all, Harrison himself has been a director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science & Religion at the University of Oxford, which has been the beneficiary of $3m worth of grants from Templeton (search for Ian Ramsey @ https://www.templeton.org/grants/grant-database)

    Templeton also supports the The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at Cambridge University – it has recently given it $2.4m to expand (https://www.templeton.org/grant/expansion-of-faraday-institute-the-next-20-years). How is this ‘evidence that barely rises above the anecdotal’? One would have to be startlingly obtuse to see it as anything but fostering dialogue between science and religion.

    These are substantial sums of money, and Templeton are welcome to give it. But the rest of us need to be aware that Templeton’s religious underpinning is playing a role, at the very least, in the fostering of this dialogue. And this must surely have an effect on historians of science.

    Time to revisit Sunny Bains’ reporting on Templeton (http://sunnybains.typepad.com/unedited/2006/11/the_templeton_f.html)

  3. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted December 28, 2017 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    My biggest problem with Terry Eagleton’s book was his massive overgeneralizations concerning the viewpoints of various atheists, and his creation of a horrible portmanteau (Ditchkins) to which he attributed all sorts of views with no citations from any actual atheist writings. Furthermore, while religion is more than truth claims, it still involves claims about truth as well as goodness. The same problem afflicts the Chris Hedges book which came out roughly the same time. (Eagleton has written a few other things I kind of like, but I find Hedges histrionic across the board!!)

    The Catholic church may have had political motives among others for condemning Galileo but that does not imply the absence of religious motives as well.

    I can get a dialogue between science and religion on ethics and wouldn’t mind a saner dialogue between Buddhism and quantum physics (which would have to be better than the claptrap put out by Deepak Chopra), but the Galileo affair is a real conflict between church and lab, period!!

    It is arguable that there was less religious opposition to Darwin in the 19th century (See “Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders” by David Livingstone), but it has certainly ramped up since then. Perhaps the original 19th-century progenitors of the conflict thesis somewhat exaggerated their findings, but look at what is happening today with Ken Ham and the Discovery Institute.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted December 28, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      “a saner dialogue between Buddhism and quantum physics”

      In what sense would this be a dialogue? What outstanding problems in quantum physics do you think can be usefully illuminated by Buddhist teachings?

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted December 28, 2017 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

        Well, it can make suggestions. Niels Bohr & Schrodinger & Oppenheimer were influenced by the metaphysics of Vedanta Hinduism, and struck by the similarities between some of its ideas and theirs in physics.
        Heisenberg is noted to have said “Quantum theory will not look ridiculous to people who have read Vedanta.”
        Schrodinger in his autobiography said “Most of my ideas and theories are heavily influenced by Vedanta”.
        Oppenheimer “The general notions about human understanding…which are illustrated by discoveries in atomic physics are not in the nature of things wholly unfamiliar, wholly unheard of, or new. Even in our own culture, they have a history, and in Buddhist and Hindu thought a more considerable and central place. What we shall find is an exemplification, an encouragement, and a refinement of old wisdom.”
        (Carl Sagan never ever claimed to be influenced by Vedanta Hinduism, but he did regard its claims as far closer to the modern scientific world-view- this is expounded in “Cosmos”)

        THAT SAID,, JAC is right that religion has no method of reliably verifying its claims, while science is often able to falsify claims of religion.
        Also, Newton pulled the basic concept of gravity from alchemy which is predominantly false, and here merely had a lucky guess. Finally, the quantum woo being purveyed now is disgraceful.

        • eric
          Posted December 28, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

          Newton pulled the basic concept of gravity from alchemy which is predominantly false, and here merely had a lucky guess.

          No, he had some ideas he used as a hypothesis.

          In science it doesn’t matter where a hypothesis comes from, it matters what you do with it. It can come from alchemy just as easily as a falling apple, or dream of a snake eating it’s own tail, or floating in the bathtub. No, I’m not implying those stories are true. But even untrue, they make an important (IMO) point about how prior beliefs fit within science’s methodology. People’s ideas – regardless of source or craziness – contribute positively to science when they motivate us to explore; they arrest science when they are instead mistakenly treated as evidence or observation.

          • JonLynnHarvey
            Posted December 28, 2017 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

            Entirely agreed, but I never meant to imply anything to the contrary.

            • JonLynnHarvey
              Posted December 28, 2017 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

              I didn’t meant that Newton had a lucky guess. I meant that alchemists had a lucky guess. Newton of course treated this as a hypothesis.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted December 28, 2017 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

          If you squint, “Let there be light” looks kind of like the Big Bang, but that’s not dialogue; that’s after-the-fact rationalization. I don’t see how pointing out coincidences of that sort helps science move forward.

          “Finally, the quantum woo being purveyed now is disgraceful.”

          Of course. All the more reason not to dignify it with “dialogue”.

          • JonLynnHarvey
            Posted December 28, 2017 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

            I wouldn’t call quantum woo dialogue either. It’s just some very careless people making insubstantial claims with ridiculous self-confidence.

            Newton’s getting the basic idea of gravity from alchemy is indeed a sort of coincidence, but it is harder to claim that for Vedanta and quantum physics.
            (Vedanta is a well-integrated, albeit flawed, philosophy with roots in Hinduism. Sociologically, Vedanta is sort of to Hinduism what Thomism is to Roman Catholicism.)

            Vedanta enabled Bohr et al to come up with some rather wild hypotheses (which then had to be lab-tested) that at first went up against Western notions of common sense. It’s influence on the founders of quantum physics was deep and extensive, although they certainly believed that lab tests would lead to both refinement and correction of these ideas. They would have regarded the Vedas (which have many internal inconsistencies) as wise intuitions which they could, as scientist, both correct and put on a firmer foundation.

            • eric
              Posted December 28, 2017 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

              Plank and later Bohr were trying to explain known observations that were inconsistent with NM; black body radiation, atomic spectra, photon wave/particle duality and later (after 1905) the photoelectric effect. So historically I think it’s not right to imply they were inspired to formulate QM by Vedic or any other philosophy; the ‘inspiration’ was a set of experimental results they couldn’t explain.

              • JonLynnHarvey
                Posted December 28, 2017 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

                These are not mutually exclusive. Science is a combination of experimentation and hypothesis.

                The anomalous experimental results were something to which Heisenberg et al could not find the key. But these folks were fascinated by the Vedic concepts of the unity of matter and energy manifesting itself in diverse ways under which there was a hidden unity, which influenced their work in science.

                It should be clear that the founders of QM regarded these Vedic ideas as suggestions not as dictates that must be believed due to some sort of divine authority.

            • Gregory Kusnick
              Posted December 28, 2017 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

              Even granting that some of the ideas of QM may have been partly inspired by the Vedas, there seems to be a fairly broad consensus today that the philosophy behind the Copenhagen school (the role of the observer, the ill-defined nature of measurement, the refusal to grant any ontological status to the entities postulated by the theory) was misguided at best and may in fact have been an impediment to further progress for several decades. So whether this putative dialogue was a productive one is open to debate.

        • Posted December 28, 2017 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

          That is pretty interesting! But whatever is in Vedanta philosophy that seems harmonious with particle physics can only be tested and supported or rejected by actual scientific experiments. This is much like what Jerry says about other truth claims in his talk from India that he posted earlier today.

  4. Posted December 28, 2017 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Moreover, from a 2009 Pew survey in the US:

    “If scientific evidence was to contradict one of your religious beliefs, would you continue to hold to what the religion teaches, or would you accept the contrary scientific finding?”

    64% reported they would continue to hold to the religious belief. Note that this is an underestimate of the true population percentage, as it only records people willing to fess up.

    Religion is quite apparently in conflict with science for a majority of believers.

  5. Kiwi Dave
    Posted December 28, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Typo alert: ‘Wilson [Harrison?] says little about evolution…’

  6. Posted December 28, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Quaerere Propter Vērum.

  7. Historian
    Posted December 28, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    “You can hardly call yourself a Christian if you don’t think Jesus was the son of God, part man and part divine, and died and was resurrected to expiate our sins.”

    Apparently, some Christians believe that Jesus was simultaneously all man and all god. As one Matt Perman puts it: “Another helpful way to say it is that Jesus is 100% God and 100% man.” If anyone has the stomach to read his long explanation of this or needs some amusement, go here for the mental gymnastics.

    https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-can-jesus-be-god-and-man

    • Posted December 28, 2017 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

      Oh, like how Yahweh is supposedly 3 things and 1 thing at the same time?

    • Posted December 29, 2017 at 1:45 am | Permalink

      I can’t believe I managed to read all of that! One phrase that immediately sprang to mind was HOLY SHIT. You’re right in one way about mental gymnastics but in another way it requires a suspension of faculties as well. I feel slightly mentally feebler after trying to accommodate the ‘logic’ behind that claptrap.

  8. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 28, 2017 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Religion has always been about money and without money how would it exist or succeed as it does? The fact that religion and science clash is an obsession of Templeton, and that just calls for more more of the same (money). More money to dilute and pour subjective reason into the issue. It mirrors the same problem as money and politics so religion and politics have much in common.

    • nicky
      Posted December 28, 2017 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      Yes they do have much in common, as a Roman already observed (was it Cicero?):”The plebs believe it, the educated know it is false and the rulers think it is useful.”

      • nicky
        Posted December 28, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

        Which would have been quite obvious to Romans, since the emperor doubled as Pontifex Maximus.

  9. eric
    Posted December 28, 2017 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    On this model, conflict is unlikely.

    Well sure. Too bad the 7 billion people on the planet don’t all share your model.

    For its part, the Church was well informed on the relative merits of the various systems, and its support for the Tychonic model in the later 17th century was scientifically defensible.

    Irrelevant; as Jerry points out, the issue is not whether GG had a justifiable stellar model, but why he was put under house arrest.

    Is ‘notaboutism’ a concept? It should be. Harrison’s argument is notaboutism.

  10. nicky
    Posted December 28, 2017 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    I have a guilty admission: after reading “Rocks of Ages” (yes, I did get the pun from the beginning), I was somewhat to quite convinced, although I always had this thought in the back of my mind that Gould was primarily ‘strategical’.
    Of course now, especially after FvF, but also earlier, I know the notions in that book are mistaken. And to top it, the religious colleagues I gave it to did not like the thesis either anyway. (Next time it’s going to be TGD, GING and/or FvF).
    I won’t comment on that destruction of the review of Gringas’ SAR, Jerry (or Matthew?) did a great job there, just ashes left…

  11. colnago80
    Posted December 28, 2017 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    I hate to point this out but, in criticizing those scientists who accept Templeton cash, the folks at F.I.R.E also accept Templeton cash.

    • Brian salkas
      Posted December 29, 2017 at 2:38 am | Permalink

      i think this is because some religious people believe (wrongly) that religious free-speech is being suppressed on campus and that is why the religious arguments are failing.
      Unfortunately, all the free speech in the world couldn’t fix one incorrect ideology.

  12. Liz
    Posted December 28, 2017 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    I think I have mentioned this before but when I was in college I applied for an interdisciplinary studies major in philosophy, religion, and science. I had two advisors. A physics professor and a Muslim, religious studies professor. It was rejected by the board but what I was trying to figure out is why science and religion were in conflict and what exactly the truth was. I was also always arguing about what didn’t make sense like Jesus rising from the dead and being divine. Also evolution to creationists. I think initially I was asking the questions together because those were the areas in conflict. I would agree with this: “…we can have a “destructive monologue”: science can tell religionists that what they believe is wrong, but the other side has no such ability.” The history of religion, I think, is important, though. It would be good to keep in mind so we don’t repeat the same mistakes in the future. Also in the discussion might be religious culture because people will hold onto beliefs just to keep their culture (i.e. most of my friends and family). I think also that people confuse “transcendent” experiences with things that can be explained by biology and neuroscience. So the science of all of that i.e. (out of body experiences) should be on the table so people understand not to confuse those situations with divinity etc. This sentence is perfect: “The conflict in methodology between the way science and religion establish their truth claims creates a telling asymmetry.” I’m not sure if Harrison is saying he believes the sun and planets move around the Earth or not: “’For its part, the Church was well informed on the relative merits of the various systems, and its support for the Tychonic model in the later 17th century was scientifically defensible.’” I would love to debate him. The people who work at the evangelical hotline aren’t as interesting.

  13. Curt Nelson
    Posted December 28, 2017 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Science works. Without it we’d be living primitive lives. Religion, on the other hand, is credited with saving the random survivors of terrible events in a way that one would expect if there were no god.

    This vast disparity — pervasive examples of the effectiveness of science versus nothing to speak of for religion — is supposed to inspire a dialog?

  14. Posted December 28, 2017 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    On your conflict of interest suggestion, I believe that publications of this ilk like to use reviewers that have a “dog in the fight”. I don’t read the LA Review of Books but this is certainly the case with the New York Review of Books. I’m guessing that they run their shop more like a newspaper’s Opinion section. They want their reviewers to be fair, of course, but also don’t mind stirring a little controversy.

  15. Julian C
    Posted December 28, 2017 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    A non-substantive comment: delighted to see “fulsomely” used correctly!

  16. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 28, 2017 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

    — Upton Sinclair

  17. Brian salkas
    Posted December 29, 2017 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    100 years ago we used to argue whether human psychological differences were the result of “nature or nurture” but now we know that the answer is nature, nurture, and both depending on the specific trait being discussed. Perhaps the question of whether science and religion occupy different bailiwicks or are all-together incompatible will look just as unsophisticated as the outdated “nurture vs. nature” debate looks to us now.

    I totally agree with Coyne that a Christian is not a Christian if she does not believe in the resurrection of Christ, and that there is no reconciling Christ’s alleged resurrection with science. That being said, I do think there are some parts of religion and science that are not incompatible, particularly those parts of religion that pertain to morality or that enjoin/mandate certain acts, but these are not at the core of religion.

    But are all forms of religious faith, even if irrational, at odds with science? Is someone being anti-scientific if he says something vague like “I have faith that there is a God somewhere out there, even though there is no evidence for it”? It seems like such a belief – despite being exorbitantly irrational – is not contradicting science because no science was ever evoked. An anti-scientific belief, I would argue, would be one made by the same person who then tried to justify his belief with bogus facts (evolution violates the 4th law of thermodynamics, only God would think to create the plants to be green because green is a soothing color etc.) but if he can admit that his belief is absurd and/or irrational, I would say that he is not at odds with science despite his irrationality. It is only when people attempt to justify their vague and highly improbable beliefs with empirical claims that the religious person contradicts science.

    Tl:dr – religion almost always contradicts science, but not quite always. In order to not contradict science the religious belief must be:
    1) unfalsifiable
    2) not defended by arguments that are falsifiable
    3) never spoken of in public (this is just a suggestion to make the world a bit better)

    This argument would still be abhorred by the Templeton Foundation because it makes abundantly clear that religion is always non-scientific at best and usually, but not necessarily, anti-scientific as well. I am curious to see if Jerry Coyne will agree with me if he responds to this. And sorry about breakin’ da roolz with this long post.

    • Sastra
      Posted December 29, 2017 at 6:32 am | Permalink

      At the very core of the scientific approach is a love for and concern with truth. “If I am wrong and what I believe isn’t true, then I would want to change my mind.” There’s a combination of honesty, humility, and curiosity in that.

      It seems to me that “I have faith that X is true, even though there is no evidence for it” is the polar opposite of scientific integrity. The Believer has no real interest in discovering anything outside of whatever it is they WANT to believe — whether it be God, homeopathy, history, or evolution. What’s going on then is a sort of role-playing at being a seeker of truth. For whatever reason the position of “believing X” has become more important to the person of faith than X.

      And there’s the conflict. I’d say that refusing to engage in the rational assessment of truth at all, publicly AND personally, is a far more fundamental fight with science than getting involved in a debate with the consensus. The position you’ve introduced looks a lot like Frankfort’s classic “Bullshitter.”

      • Brian salkas
        Posted January 2, 2018 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

        “It seems to me that “I have faith that X is true, even though there is no evidence for it” is the polar opposite of scientific integrity.”

        I would disagree. I think it is not aint-scientific to believe in something that cannot be investigated. Things like the color of jealousy are simply unrelated to science, so although it is irrational to think that jealousy is red, it does not seem to contradict science.

        “The Believer has no real interest in discovering anything outside of whatever it is they WANT to believe — whether it be God, homeopathy, history, or evolution.”

        This is why I put so much emphasis on falsifiability. Things like Homeopathy can, and have been, proven ineffective so your analogy is invalid here. The same can be said about evolution because it has so much valid evidence supporting it. One would be deeply ainti-science to disbelieve in neo-Darwinian evolution.

        “I’d say that refusing to engage in the rational assessment of truth at all, publicly AND personally, is a far more fundamental fight with science than getting involved in a debate with the consensus.”

        I agree with that, but only when the belief being debated is not testable. If someone wants to believe something that science could no disprove anyway, then they are not anti-science. I agree with Coyne that almost all religious beliefs are anti-scientific, I am just arguing how a religious belief could be agnostic to science. The same could apply to a statement like “I believe gay marriage is wrong”. That is not necessarily a belief that science could disprove.

  18. GregZ
    Posted December 29, 2017 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Today’s “Far Corner Cafe” is appropriate.
    http://farcornercafe.blogspot.com


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