Ethan Siegel damns those who claim that science and religion are incompatible

Reader Steve sent me an email with a link and his comment: “I enjoy reading Ethan Siegel’s posts. This one goes a bit too far in support of religion in my opinion.”  I didn’t really know who Siegel was, but he’s apparently pretty well known: his Wikipedia bio describes him as is “an American theoretical astrophysicist and science writer, who studies Big Bang theory. He is a professor at Lewis & Clark College and he blogs at Starts With a Bang, on ScienceBlogs and also on Forbes.com since 2016.” They add this:

Described as “beautifully illustrated and full of humour”, [Siegel’s] blog won the 2010 Physics.org award for best blog, judged by Adam Rutherford, Alom Shaha, Gia Milinovich, Hayley Birch, Lata Sahonta, and Stuart Clark and the people’s choice award, and his post “Where Is Everybody?” came third in the 2011 3 Quarks Daily science writing awards, judged by Lisa Randall, winning a “Charm Quark” for “[taking] on the challenge of simplifying probability estimates without sacrificing the nature of the enterprise or suppressing the uncertainties involved”. Siegel headed the RealClearScience list of top science bloggers in 2013, as his “unmatched ability to describe the nearly indecipherable made him an easy choice for #1.” Siegel also wrote a column for NASA, The Space Place.

I’ll take people’s word about the high quality of Siegel’s blog, but it’s surely been diminished a tad by his new piece on Medium (the apparent host of “Starts with a Bang”) to which Steve pointed me:  “Yes, science is for the religious, too.” It’s a poorly thought out defense of accommodationism that is short on arguments and long on thinly-disguised invective against people like me, who, he says, are harmful to society because we don’t recognize that religious people can like science and that science isn’t “hostile to faith”.  It’s basically Steve Gould’s NOMA argument all over again: “People of good will should recognize the beneficial effects of both science and religion, and respect each other’s views. Those who don’t are simply hurting society.” (That’s my characterization, not Siegel’s quote.)

And here’s how non-accommodationists hurt society:

There’s a public perception that’s harmful to everyone: that science is hostile to faith, and that religious people aren’t interested in science. Yet this is not what the data shows at all. While there certainly exist scientists that are elitist and antagonistic towards religion, the vast majority of scientists share the same levels and types of religiosity as the other members of their country’s culture. While there are a number of religious people who have no interest in science, widespread surveys indicate that most religious people support science quite strongly.

. . . To push the viewpoint that religion and science are inherently at odds not only does a great deal of damage to the integrity of both, it runs contrary to people’s actual, lived experiences.

The “lived experiences” trope alerts you immediately that there may be some virtue-signaling going on here, and I think there is. But let’s look at Siegel’s argument, which is threefold:

1.) Many religious people are interested in science and support scientific research.  That’s true; I have no quarrel with this. But that doesn’t address my own argument, made in Faith Versus Fact, that the grounds for incompatibility have nothing to do with whether scientists can be religious and religious people can be fans of science. This kind of cognitive bifurcation just shows that people can accept two incompatible ways of judging what is “true” at the same time. Here’s my argument, in brief:

  • Religion and science both make claims about what’s true in our Universe. Theologians and believers, when being honest (almost an oxymoron), will admit that, yes, their religious beliefs are underlain by claims about reality, and if those claims be not true, then religion be not true. Here are two of several quotes to that effect I cite in FvF:

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 more than just a collection of value judgments and moral directives. Religion often makes claims about ‘the way things are.’ —Karl Giberson & Francis Collins

Or, if you want the Bible, look at 1 Corinthians 15:14: “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”  That is, if Jesus wasn’t resurrected, it makes no sense to be a Christian.

My further argument:

  • Science has a way to find out what is true, or at least to arrive at better and better approximations of what is true, while religion has no way to do that.
  • The result is that different religions make conflicting claims about reality (e.g., “Was Jesus the divine son of God?”) that cannot be resolved.
  • Religion has also made false claims about reality (e.g., creationism, the Exodus, etc.) that science can correct, while religion has no way to correct science.
  • Therefore, religion is incompatible with science because it uses a different methodology to adjudicate truth, and because the outcomes of that methodology (what religion deems “true”) cannot be verified.

The incompatibility can be seen with a religious scientist like Ken Miller, a pious Catholic. In the lab he acts like an atheist, never considering the supernatural and accepting only as true what can be tested scientifically. But when he steps into his church he immediately believes in things like the Resurrection and transubstantiation—things that are not only unevidenced, but disbelieved by other faiths and, frankly, ridiculous for a grown man to believe. Accepting truths about the cosmos using two different methods demonstrates the incompatibility between science and religion. To put it another way, in science faith is a vice while in religion it’s a virtue. Or still another way: science has ways of finding out whether its claims are wrong, while religion doesn’t. (As I said, science can sometimes demonstrate that religion claims are wrong.)

So Siegel simply misses the boat here. Showing that there are religious scientists and science-friendly believers doesn’t show that science and religion are compatible, any more than saying that someone who believes in faith healing as well as scientific medicine has compatible beliefs.

Siegel’s argument for compatibility gets worse when he argues that the “unknowables” of science are comparable to the “unknowables” of religion:

The truth of the matter is that there are certain unknowables in this Universe; certain questions that even if we gathered all the data we could ever gather, we’d be unable to answer. The amount of information we have access to is enormous, but finite nonetheless. There will always be room for wonder, and there will always be questions beyond humanity’s capabilities of drawing robust scientific conclusions. Most importantly, there will be differences in what each of us determines is the “most likely” or “most logical” possibility in the absence of certainty, and that we must treat one another with respect, even when we reach different conclusions.

Yes, science may not be able to answer all questions about the Universe because we lack the tools to do so, because the questions are hard (how does consciousness work?), or because the questions involve knowing irrecoverable history (how, exactly, did life begin?). But science has explained many previously enigmatic phenomena that, for lack of answers, were once imputed to God of or the supernatural (e.g. epilepsy, disease, lightning, etc.), while religion has never answered a single question about the “nature of reality” that it claims to adddress. The progress of science over the last 500 years stands in stark contrast to the absence of progress of theology, which has not answered a single question about the nature and workings of the divine over a much longer period of cogitation. That’s why we have thousands of religions, all making different (and often incompatible) claims about reality

2.) “Among scientists, belief in God aligns quite closely with the beliefs held by other members of that particular country.” To support this, Siegel shows a graph taken from the work of Elaine Ecklund, a professional accommodationist funded by Templeton:

Yep, it’s true that in religious countries scientists tend to be more religious, and in less religious countries are more atheistic, but it’s not a perfect correlation (look at the US vs. UK, realizing that the US is far more religious than the UK). More important, so what? Of course scientists will be more religious in more religious nations, because that’s the way they were brought up! This says absolutely nothing about the compatibility of science and religion.

Sadly, Siegel neglects the really important statistics: Scientists, at least when we have the data, tend to be far more atheistic than the general public. We know this from both the US and the UK. In the US, for example (data differs slightly from Ecklund’s; see FvF pp. 12-13 for references), 83% of the general public believes in God, and only about 4% admit to being atheists. In contrast, the figures for US scientists as a whole are, respectively, 33% and 41%. For scientists at “elite US universities”, the figures are 23% and 62% (the latter number includes atheists and agnostics), and for members of the National Academy of Sciences, the figures are 7% and 93%!  Siegel doesn’t point out this disparity, which should be evident from the US data above! Figures from the UK are comparable, with more accomplished scientists being less religious.

If science and religion are compatible, why, at least in countries where we have data, are scientists so much less religious than the general public? It could be that nonbelievers are more attracted to science, or that science actually makes people less religious, or (most likely) a combination of these factors. Either way, this shows some conflict between science and faith.

Siegel also neglects these data from a 2015 Pew Poll:

So much for “lived experience”: your own and your perception of other people’s!

3.) “While there are a number of science-and-society issues where the general populace and scientists have differing opinions, there are many such issues where their viewpoints align extremely closely.” The quote is from Siegel, and he gives this figure to support it:

Well, there are SOME areas where their viewpoints align extremely closely, but more, it seems, where there’s a significant disparity between the views of scientists and the public. But how, at any rate, does the graph above demonstrate Siegel’s point? It may show that in some areas religious people adhere to the views of scientists, but that doesn’t mean that science and religion are compatible. I haven’t denied that many believers respect science and promote scientific research. That’s admirable, but doesn’t speak to the fact that in the religious realm, believers have no good reasons for believing what they do.

I don’t want to go on, because Siegel’s article doesn’t make any new arguments for compatibilism. His main point seems to be that religious people and scientists need to respect each other for the good of society, and that both science and religion make positive contributions to society. As for “respect,” well, I’ll respect believers as people in the sense that I’ll be civil to them, but I refuse to respect their superstitious beliefs. As for both making a contribution to society, I’d argue that science is essential to human progress, while religion merely impedes it, has become superfluous, and one day will disappear without ill effect (as it has in Scandinavia).

I get it: Siegel wants to look like a good guy, just as Gould did in his NOMA book Rocks of Ages. You don’t look very good if you claim that science and religion are incompatible, but if you say they are compatible, well, you don’t offend anybody. You look conciliatory and nice. That’s why Siegel’s whole piece is infused with a distasteful kumbaya tone. One example, from near the end of his piece:

While there are elements of society that are quick to brand anything religious as “anti-science” or anything scientific as a “threat to your religion,” the truth is that people of all different religious beliefs and upbringings grow up to be outstanding scientists. The truth is that scientists have religious beliefs that are in-line with the rest of their country. There is no universal religious perspective or experience, and that we all have ways of making personal connections with each other, and finding common ground for building trust and mutual respect. It’s time to put an end to the insensitive, snide, and snarky remarks that denigrade [sic] those with differing beliefs from our own, and to work together to educate, share knowledge, and respect the diversity of possibilities for what we don’t know.

. . . Religion is for anyone who wants it in their life, and science is as well. They are neither fundamentally incompatible, nor are they mutually exclusive. Knowledge, education, self-improvement, and the bettering of our shared world are endeavors that are open to everyone. We don’t have to (and likely won’t) always agree with one another, but we can always work to understand a perspective that differs from our own. Perhaps, someday in the near future, that will be the story that makes headlines, rather than attempts to sow discord between two of the most influential forces for good in our world.

This sounds lovely, yes? But it has no bearing on Siegel’s point. As for me, I’ll continue to “sow discord”, which, no matter how civil I am, will still be perceived as “insensitive, snide, and snarky.” There’s no way you can argue against religious delusions without being perceived that way!

 

118 Comments

  1. Ken Pidcock
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    While there certainly exist scientists that are elitist and antagonistic towards religion…

    What a weird us of elitist.It’s entirely inappropriate to the point he’s trying to make but, since it’s derogatory, I guess he finds it useful.

    • Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      Actually, he’s right. There are elitist attitudes with regards to the religious, though not just among scientists. At some point today in this comment stream I predict someone will make a joke about stupid American religious people from the Deep South or something similar.

      • phil
        Posted January 18, 2018 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

        Curiously, I would have described Siegel as some sort of elitist, and there are enough elite religious types (I’m looking at you George Pell) who deny science.

      • Helen
        Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

        How can you ignore the snake handlers? The cults? And who determines what a cult is?

  2. Craw
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    His perpetual motion machine is cool.

    • Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      I’ve been trying to figure this one out. Are you referring to the EM drive?

  3. Posted January 18, 2018 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Why is it that accommodationists don’t do their research? Throughout human history as religiosity has gone up, scientific inquiry has gone down … and vice-versa. Period. If the two were not at odds, this is a strange correlation.

    And, since correlation isn’t causation, is there a causal link that would make this so? Of course there is. History is replete with examples of religious antagonism to and suppression of scientific knowledge. During the Renaissance and earlier in Europe, books had to be submitted to the religious hierarchy before being allowed to be printed. There was an office whose work it was to censor books, including scientific works.

    The monotheistic religions teach that if a believer has a question, the answer is in scripture. If the answer is not there, the question is trivial, too trivial to be included in scripture. Ta da!

    Of course science and organized religion are at odds, because the religions say so. Unlike the tango, a single institution can make a war.

    • Craw
      Posted January 18, 2018 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      “Throughout human history as religiosity has gone up, scientific inquiry has gone down … and vice-versa. ”

      This is untrue. I will cite only 12th century Europe as a counter example. (You made a categorical claim. Got proof?)

      It is important to understand why there really is a conflict. It is not because a priori it is clear that rational inquiry must refute revealed religion, and so that those chosing to do rational inquiry must abjure their faith. Rather, it is because the actual results of rational inquiry in fact do so. A nice example is critical bible scholarship. This field was founded *by believers* in the 19th century confident that an examination of the evidence would vindicate the Bible. As we know, it did not. But there are other, earlier, examples of rational inquiry not refuting religion, often because it did not progress to the point it could. But religiosity did not decline.

      • Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        Excellent point.

      • Posted January 18, 2018 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

        But, there also is much evidence for religions shutting down investigations of reality that were more rational and/or scientific.

        Ijtihad in the Muslim world was “independent reasoning or the thorough exertion of a jurist’s mental faculty in finding a solution to a legal question” in re the Koran or other
        religious documents. It got shut down in the 10th century.

        Throughout most of its’ history, Catholicism
        quashed “heretical” beliefs (what was designated as heresy changed over time) and established dogma. As has been mentioned, they also established an office to determine what written works were all right for Catholics to read. The rest were listed and prohibited. (I think you can still find this list.) Scientific discoveries and their discoverers were also restricted.

        More recently, the Catholic Church tried a more modern approach of investigation and learning, which they terminated.

        The Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) did the same thing.

        There may be many other examples of movements in religious organizations attempting to be more rational and/or scientific, but running into difficulty when investigation questions dogma.

        Another thought: Throughout almost all religions, when disagreements on dogma arose,
        a new religion was formed. So, those individuals inclined to be religious can pick and choose one that best suits them. It would be interesting to find out which “flavors” of religion (I assume Christianity of some form) are most frequently selected by scientists.

  4. darrelle
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    I generally like Ethan Siegel’s writing on science topics. But my initial impression of reading this article of his is that he seems rather immature regarding this topic.

    • Posted January 18, 2018 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

      +1

    • eric
      Posted January 19, 2018 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      Fully agree on his writing. He also brings in (or used to bring in) other astrophysicists to write guest columns, even some he disagreed with. That’s a good practice.

      I’m not sure I’d call this position ‘immature.’ We might see it as flawed for the reasons Jerry points out, but it seems to be common and held by a lot of smart people. This doesn’t mean it’s well justified or right (I don’t think it is); just that the position isn’t really associated with naivete on the subject or lack of thinking on the subject. This area seems more a case where many smart and well educated people can review the same data, all think hard about it, and yet come to different conclusions based on their own internal biases or preferences. This is particularly obvious in looking at that third figure; Jerry and Ethan both cite it. They both accept it as reasonably valid data. But they reach different conclusions about what it means.

      JAC:

      This kind of cognitive bifurcation just shows that people can accept two incompatible ways of judging what is “true” at the same time.

      I agree that religious people are using different and incompatible methods for assessing truth.

      However I don’t necessarily agree with the implication that this is unique to religion or even inherently a bad thing! Methods (like science) for evaluating truth are tools, and we use different tools in different contexts. If I need to make a ‘deer in headlights’ decision on which way to jump, I’m not going to use science to do that, I’m going to use gut instinct. And if I need to make a decision on whether Albert hitting Bob on the football field was just a tackle gone wrong or a case of assault masquerading as a football hit, I’m not going to examine trajectories or momentum to do it. I’ll even use the ‘authority’ method (which is often how religion functions) of assessing truth rather than science on occasion; when I trust someone, or I can’t access the empirical data myself, or I evaluate that the ‘cost’ of a bad decision isn’t worth the effort of doing science to give me a higher confidence result. Bob says Alice wore a blue shirt yesterday, but Charlie says it was red. Well, if I trust Bob more than Charlie, I’ll accept the shirt was probably blue. Or maybe I trust Charlie more; the one thing I’m NOT going to do is collect shirt fiber evidence from Alice’s desk and send it out to a microscopy lab for analysis as my method for truth-determination. I’m NOT going to use the scientific method in this case; I’m going to use the incompatible method of argument from authority.

      We should be banging on religion as an empirically evaluated poor method of truth-determination. IOW it’s bad because it’s been shown not to work well. But the ‘argument from methodological inconsistency’ is IMO a very bad argument against it – or at least an insufficient argument against it – because rational and normal human beings access and use multiple inconsistent methods all the time…and this capability is a good thing, not a bad thing. It’s only a bad thing when we apply the wrong method to the wrong sort of problem (evaluating intent by measuring trajectory; or consulting a religious book to decide how old the Earth is).

  5. Rita
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    On comparing scientists’ religious beliefs to the religiousity of their countrries, “Of course scientists will be more religious in more religious nations, because that’s the way they were brought up!” Could it also be they answered in a way that would not jeopardize their funding, or their lives?

    • Posted February 4, 2018 at 4:32 am | Permalink

      Ah! What an excellent observation.

  6. Simon Hayward
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    I’m a little baffled by how to interpret the Pew data – I think that science and religion are often in conflict. But, science does not contradict my religious beliefs because I have none. I don’t know how many people are in this kind of position, so, as often happens, my ability to interpret the data is at the mercy of whoever wrote the questions

  7. Simon Hayward
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    I’m a little baffled by how to interpret the Pew data – I think that science and religion are often in conflict. But, science does not contradict my religious beliefs because I have none. I don’t know how many people are in this kind of position, so, as often happens, my ability to interpret the data is at the mercy of whoever wrote the questions

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      Not entirely sure how that posted twice – sorry

  8. Barry Lyons
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    I’m reminded of Sam Harris’s challenge:

    “I challenge you to think of a question upon which we had a scientific answer, however inadequate, but for which now the best answer is a religious one.”

    I’ve posed this challenge on numerous occasions on Twitter. So far there have been no takers.

    • nicky
      Posted January 18, 2018 at 10:24 am | Permalink

      Easy: “le Tonnere de Dieu!” explains it all!

      • Posted January 18, 2018 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

        God is Þórr/Zeus/Jupiter/Baʿal/Haokah/Susnoo-no-Mikoto/… ?

        /@

        • Helen
          Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

          Just as confused as you are on that comment

    • Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      It’s unfortunate you had no takers. You missed some funny stuff. If you google responses to the question, many god-botherers contort their arguments into hilarious tangles to try to answer it.

    • Posted January 18, 2018 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      I saw one answer for that question that went something like: “God is too clever for us to understand His infinite wisdom, therefore religious explanation may/will always be out of our grasp, whereas science is simple and does/can not ever reach the mind of God.”

      I took this to mean: God is fill in the blank for anything we do or cannot know.

      • Posted January 18, 2018 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

        SOP for creationists and their ilk. The religious have been chasing their God(s) into ever smaller hidey-holes since the Reformation.

  9. GBJames
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    sub

  10. Phil
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    He seems to place the blame for all this discord on the scientific community. Has he ever seen the open contempt and even hostility that many religious people have for science (or more likely the “scientism” of non-believers)?

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted January 18, 2018 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      Exactly.

      Also, while many religious people will accept science as long as it doesn’t contradict their beliefs, they will immediately turn on science when there is a conflict. Scientists in fields like evolution bear the brunt of the ire of the religious because they can prove that religious teaching is wrong. Religion has less to say about things at the microscopic level because it didn’t know they existed when scripture was written, so there’s nothing to prove wrong.

      • Phil
        Posted January 18, 2018 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

        That’s right. They are happy to accept science as long as it doesn’t get too close to beliefs they hold dear. And while they maintain a facade of being in tune with science, they attack the people who take a scientific approach to obtaining knowledge, accusing them of “scientism”.

      • Posted January 18, 2018 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

        Yep, apart from Creationists, most Abrahamic folks seem happy to reconcile Big Bang cosmology with “Fiat lux!

        /@

        • Rob Munguia
          Posted January 18, 2018 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

          The paradox is that physicists are saying that there was light only 300000 years after the Big Bang.

          • Posted January 19, 2018 at 2:16 am | Permalink

            I wasn’t suggesting a literal reconciliation; just the idea that the Big Bang “looks like” an act of creation.

            /@

        • phil
          Posted January 18, 2018 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

          I am always puzzled by that. Actually cosmology contradicts genesis but it never seems to cause the same heartburn, or the fact that there is absolutely no archeological evidence for biblical stories.

          I can only put it down to the fact that the basic premise of evolution, that we evolved from animals, is somehow much more offensive, or maybe just more widely known.

          • Helen
            Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

            I blame it on the fact we are not on the metric system.

        • Posted January 19, 2018 at 5:10 am | Permalink

          I used to think that Fiat Lux was a top-of-the-range Italian car.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted January 19, 2018 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

          I used to do it myself when I was a Christian.

  11. Posted January 18, 2018 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    There continues to be an operative assumption that science and religion should play well together.

    Well, it’s not a fucking sandbox.

    The resurgence of the religious right should give pause to any thoughtful person.

    This current belching of Falwell and crew was made possible, in part, by the silence of right-thinking Americans.

    I don’t give a shit about Ethan Segal.

    I do care as I watch from north of the border about the current political climate which has become a pale reflection of the experiment called America.
    .
    Dennis Robinson
    Calgary, Alberta.

    • nwalsh
      Posted January 18, 2018 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      Go Flames!

      • phil
        Posted January 18, 2018 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

        …sandbox.

        No, well, the sand would chafe awfully.

        But seriously, if I said god was talking to me and told me I should kill as many infidels as possible, my beliefs would be respected only in the sense that they were very dangerous and I should be incarcerated and probably treated.

        At the same time it is acceptable to treat women as second class people although that demonstrably leads to suffering and death of women in some instances.

        If I believed in fairies in the garden would science be compatible with that? Should scientists respect my fairiest views?

  12. busterggi
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Science was developed by persons trying to prove their religion true and instead proving it false. If paredolia and brain farts didn’t exist then religion would have disappeared long ago.

    • darrelle
      Posted January 18, 2018 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      Made me laugh out loud.

  13. mrclaw69
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Not had chance to read Siegel’s blogpost yet, so couldn’t comment upon it (my own view on accommodation vs incompatibility aligns with PCC here), however I will testify to the quality of Starts With a Bang when he’s writing about cosmology. It’s (usually) a really good science blog.

  14. James Heard
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Excellent commentary, Jerry😂

  15. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    … if those claims be not true, then religion be not true.

    Good to see you back on board fully with the subjunctive mood, boss. 🙂

  16. Taz
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    It’s time to put an end to the insensitive, snide, and snarky remarks that denigrade [sic] those with differing beliefs from our own…

    Remarks such as: “I’m an atheist.”

    • rickflick
      Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      or, “You’re full of shit”.

      • busterggi
        Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:38 am | Permalink

        There’s always, “I’ll pray for you.”

        • Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:45 am | Permalink

          Now, now, although utterly pointless, in most cases it is said with good intent.

          • JohnE
            Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:56 am | Permalink

            Actually, the “good intent” is the same sort of “elitism” that you remarked on in your comment at the beginning of these comments, except that the elitism in this case (i.e. the smug confidence that they are in possession of the “truth”)is coming from the religious folks.

            • Heather Hastie
              Posted January 18, 2018 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

              +1.

            • Posted January 18, 2018 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

              It is certainly true that some religious people say that with an elitist “you poor heathen” attitude. But many earnestly believe that praying for others will help them.

              Case in point; my dear granny used to say that to me – she loved me dearly and always wished the best for me.

          • busterggi
            Posted January 18, 2018 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

            You REALLY believe that?

            • Posted January 18, 2018 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

              Yes, I do. I have friends and relatives who are religious and they MEAN it when they say it. They are deluded, for sure, in thinking it has any effect but when they say it they are they mean only good things.

              I love them for that.

      • Posted January 18, 2018 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

        Or “fuck you” works…

  17. Andrew Fredriksen
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Thank you!

  18. Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Use of animals in research seems not a question of the science, per se, but rather ethical choices.

    I assume the scientists’ favoring of nuclear power plants is based on safety concerns, but does not factor in economic concerns, or the opposition to reactors being touted as a panacea.

    • Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      It isn’t so much an ethical choice, but a necessity.

      • Posted January 18, 2018 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

        But that’s what prisoners are for. 😉

  19. DrBrydon
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    See? Science has unknowables, too. Same thing. Except it’s not. Science isn’t based on unknowable fundamentals, let alone make a virtue of them.

  20. Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    For science and religion to not be incompatible, one must erect NOMA within one’s own mind.

    • phil
      Posted January 18, 2018 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

      But to adhere to NOMA would require the religious believer to say and think nothing of history or any of the sciences. Can you imagine that happening?

  21. Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Ethan writes a great science column, particularly when writing about astrophysics and cosmology. He really wants to expand the science knowledge of his readers and I suspect he thinks that is best served by claiming there is no conflict. Of course there is, except for pantheism or beliefs like that. Still his column is well-worth reading.

    • Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      If he just stuck to physics and cosmology, why would he lose readers? I don’t know many religious people who deny cosmology–not nearly as many as who deny evolution. He’d be better off not mentioning religion at all.

      • Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:56 am | Permalink

        I agree.

      • colnago80
        Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        Oh, but the YECs must deny cosmology as it overwhelmingly supports an old universe.

      • Posted January 18, 2018 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

        They do deny cosmology, e.g. creationists denying the Big Bang.

  22. rickflick
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Siegel’s problem with incompatibility seem poorly thought out and that results in an incoherent, poorly written essay.

  23. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    On the side, it occurs to me that “kumbaya” is one of the ultimate acts of cultural appropriation. It originated among African Americans in the Southeastern United States in the 1920s, and is now a standard of suburban religious camps, Sunday schools, and scout camps. (Not sung at Camp Quest though, at least not any of the 7 years I was on staff! However, we have culturally appropriated a lot of material from Monty Python, Star Trek, and Doctor Who.)

    • Posted January 18, 2018 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      “Always look on the bright side of life.”

      “Live long and prosper.”

      “Be kind.” Or as some other time travellers said, “Be excellent to one another!”

      /@

  24. Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    It’s time to put an end to the insensitive, snide, and snarky remarks that denigrade those with differing beliefs from our own…

    And here’s what Siegel says about Trump:

    The most frustrating thing about the President’s statement is that he’s very clearly talking about something that he hasn’t bothered to learn the basics of, yet wants to sound intelligent and authoritative when it comes to it. “It could be infinity” is code for, “I don’t need to know any more than I currently do, and neither does anyone else.” Maybe that’s true, but there are people who study this for a living. If you’re curious about it, you can get that information in any number of places… but you won’t find an awareness or an appreciation for it in the nation’s highest office.

    View story at Medium.com

    Now, now; no need to be insensitive, snide and snarky about Trump’s beliefs – they’re just different to yours, remember?

    Accommodationists’ appeals to go easy tend to apply only to religious beliefs, not political ones. This makes them just another cog in the privilege machine that religion has so successfully built up over the centuries.

  25. Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    If it makes you feel better, I may not get all that excited over a purely biological post about some obscure insect, but this is the sort of article that definitely attracts my attention.

    And although I haven’t accumulated much of a collection for the bookcase in my living room, what I do have includes Faith Versus Fact.

  26. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    … religious people and scientists need to respect each other …

    Oh, I respect absolutely the individual liberties of all people, religious believers included, to the self-same extent I expect them to respect the rights of others, including non-believers. And, per the religion and speech clauses of the First Amendment, I respect their right to believe any old thing they want, even if it’s arrant nonsense, as well as their right to spout off about it to their heart’s content (as long as I’m under no compulsion to listen).

    But the great mistake made by both the religious right and the cntrl-left is to take disrespect toward their ideas as a denial of their personhood, as tantamount to an act of intellectual violence.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted January 18, 2018 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      I would also add – under no compulsion to pay for it. That is the part that grinds my teeth.

      • Posted January 18, 2018 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

        Or to abide by it.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted January 18, 2018 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      Oh, I respect absolutely the individual liberties of all people, religious believers included, to the self-same extent I expect them to respect the rights of others, including non-believers.

      I disagree… I tolerate the individual liberties of all people, religious believers included, until their values have a negative effect on me (or mine).

      Science is about objective facts (yes there’s a whole debate behind this simple declaration), everything else (religion, politics, philosophy, culture, choice of ice cream flavour) is subjective opinion. Not all opinions are worthwhile, but which ones?

      • phil
        Posted January 18, 2018 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

        “…everything else (religion, politics, philosophy, culture, choice of ice cream flavour) is subjective opinion.”

        Not entirely true. Many beliefs and opinions presented under the rubric of religion or politics are supposedly based on “facts” which are demonstrably false. Those opinions based on falsities (“alternative facts”) are not worthwhile and need to be quashed.

  27. Ken Phelps
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Science =/= scientists.
    Religion =/= religious people.

    It really seems intentionally obtuse to pretend that since people have an ability to harbor different beliefs about different parts of their lives, that those beliefs are necessarily compatible. The fact that religious people can do science says nothing about the compatibility of the ideas.

    Religious people have been known to lie, cheat, steal, and murder. Are the ideas and motivations underlying those things compatible with religion?

    • Paul S
      Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      “Religious people have been known to lie, cheat, steal, and murder. Are the ideas and motivations underlying those things compatible with religion?”

      Isn’t that the theme of the old testament?

      • phil
        Posted January 18, 2018 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

        Many people use their religion, not always illegitimately, to justify dishonesty and murder.

  28. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    If you try to reconcile science and religion, all the bending and/or chipping away has to be on the part of religion and never on the part of science. Science gives focused, clear, and precise answers about the natural world through publicly verifiable means.

    I am however not bothered by the two methodologies of science and religion. But the problem with NOMA is that while the foci of science and religion may be quite distinct a la Gould, there really is a pesky middle ground where they overlap.

  29. Posted January 18, 2018 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    It’s astonishing that this type of sentimental handwringing still goes on and is often encouraged by those who should know better.

    In truth, compatibility accommodationists often rely on a type of special pleading and ad ignorantiam fallacy in their pleading: We don’t know everything, therefore it is perfectly reasonable to believe there might be a supernatural force operating in the universe that defies the Laws of Physics.

    Of course, Quantum Field Theory shows that if this were true, we’d have detected and predicted it by now. So, no, we don’t know everything, but we do know a few things, and those things greatly reduce the probability of a supernatural invisible agency operating within the known physical universe.

    Joseph Campbell put it rather succinctly in his Cooper Union lectures by stating: There is no argument between religion and science, there is only an argument between 6th-century science and 21st-century science. (The Impact of Science on Myth)

    There is, however, an underlying compatibility between 6th-Century religion and 21st-century religion as they both depend on ‘a suite of cognitive mechanisms adapted for other purposes. Such mechanisms
    render us hyperactive agency detectors, promiscuous teleologists, and intuitive dualists; collectively and incidentally, they predispose us to develop religious beliefs– or at least they facilitate the acquisition of such beliefs.’ (See Dennett and McKay)

    Obviously, science has greatly advanced from the 6th-Century BCE whereas religion, misbelief, and superstition seem to be arrested in time and through very early evolutionary patterns. Ironically, though, the very study of these primitive systems of misbelief have formed the lineaments of a brand new science in itself.

    “We are getting tantalizingly close to a comprehensive cognitive neuroscience of religious belief. Robust Theories. Empirical evidence.” Dr. Anderson Thomson Psychiatrist Why We Believe in God(s): A Concise Guide to the Science of Faith Pitchstone Publishing (June 1, 2011)

  30. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    I think you do have to be an atheist to understand the incompatibility of science and religion. The religious sure do not tend to agree and some of them are spending a hell of lot attempting to prove otherwise.

    • Posted January 18, 2018 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      I once encountered a philosopher of biology who was struggling with his (evangelical Christian, to use his words) faith vs. the biology he’d learned. He was very sympathetic to the “incompatibility” thesis.

      Also, there’s a case to be made that to some degree a lot of the “great scientists” also felt it, because their views are often heterodox while still religious in some cases. (Newton and Boyle are *great* examples.)

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted January 18, 2018 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

        I am sympathetic to those scientist’s difficulties and hope they find their way through it. I have far less hope for the religious in general.

  31. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    … if you say they are compatible, well, you don’t offend anybody. You look conciliatory and nice. That’s why Siegel’s whole piece is infused with a distasteful kumbaya tone.

    I’m glad to see, in your piece above, that (as C. Hitchens used to quote Dr. Israel Shahak as observing) “there are some encouraging signs of polarization.” Compromise, conciliation, and accommodation are great tools for politics (and necessary for maintaining personal relations). But in endeavors intellectual, only the juxtaposition of openly conflicting ideas can provide clarity and help achieve some approximation of “truth.”

    Keep “sow[ing] discord” every chance you get.

  32. Posted January 18, 2018 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    if you want to see why 3rd wave feminism is insane and is an absolute poison, watch this interview,

    • Posted January 18, 2018 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      oops posted to wrong thread. This was meant for the MeToo thread

      • DiscoveredJoys
        Posted January 18, 2018 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

        But what a find.

  33. Steve Pollard
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Accommodationists often take their cue from Gould, and assert that science and religion occupy different “magisteria” (to use Gould’s rather pompous term), and address different questions.

    One response to that line is to ask:

    a. Which question are you currently trying to answer?

    b. What methodology are you using?

    c. How’s it going?

    Don’t hold your breath waiting for a coherent reply.

  34. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    I visit and enjoy his bl*g on a regular basis, and I have learned a lot about cosmology from it. He is also quite a character, it seems, and his enthusiasm for the subject are why I visit.
    Although I am a bit surprised at this emergence, it is not uncommon to see hard core scientists and good science communicators go a little squishy on the religion. I would suggest to him to read more on the issue of science vs religion before he weighs in. He really has not thought it through, in my opinion.

  35. Posted January 18, 2018 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    I hate to bring up Donald Rumsfeld, but he was right – there are different kinds of unknowns. One kind is whether there are any perennial unknowns (other than, perhaps, the answer to this question). Putting any topic into that category forever is antiscientific. (Alas many good scientists “on holiday” [Bunge’s phrase] have pronounced certain topics this way too.)

    • Posted January 18, 2018 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      Donald Rumsfeld, now that is a name I haven’t heard in a long time….. AAAAIGGH! What have I done? Don’t anyone repeat that name!

      No telling what havoc will be wreaked if he is called out of the depths.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted January 18, 2018 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      I gag a little in saying it, but that phrase of his has its uses.

      • Posted January 19, 2018 at 11:40 am | Permalink

        Yup. Together with the meaning of “is” thing from Bill Clinton, I started a “correct but possibly irrelevant in context philosophy done by politicians” list. (BC was correct to say that there are several meanings of “is” in English, irrelevant because the ambiguity did not affect the topic.)

  36. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    I commented over there. Doubt it will do any good.

  37. mirandaga
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    “Showing that there are religious scientists. . .doesn’t show that science and religion are compatible”

    “If science and religion are compatible, why. . .are scientists so much less religious than the general public?”

    With respect, if individual scientists being religious tells us nothing about whether science and religion are compatible, then I would think that, pari passu, individual scientists being non-religious also tells us nothing about whether science and religion are compatible. I don’t see that you can mix and match here.

    • Kiwi Dave
      Posted January 18, 2018 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

      The first is anecdotal, the second is statistical. Neither is ‘proof’, but statistical anomalies are more suggestive than anecdotal anomalies.

      • Kiwi Dave
        Posted January 19, 2018 at 12:13 am | Permalink

        Drat – post in haste, repent at leisure. I might have misunderstood you, so…

        If our hypothesis is ‘Religion and science are fully compatible’, we would expect religious belief in the sub set of scientists to closely follow religious belief in the general population; but in societies where there is freedom of belief, there is a consistent pattern of reduced religious belief among scientists, which suggests the hypothesis is wrong.

        It is quite possible that as irreligion spreads in the general population, the gap in unbelief will narrow.

  38. JohnH
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Regarding the question of compatibility, has anyone ever done a study of how compatible the world’s religions are with one another? Once the religious reach a consensus of what the true religion is, perhaps then we can test for the compatibility of science and religion one on one.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted January 18, 2018 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      Religions (and sects or cults within religions) don’t seem to be converging; they just dwindle, or schism. Science, in the broadest view, does seem to be converging on a set of objective facts.

      I don’t think we can do a compatibility study any time soon.

      • JohnH
        Posted January 18, 2018 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

        Well, until they come up with an objective consensus of what religion is (no god, one god, three in one god, many gods, etc.) it is a purely subjective concept and therefore, in in its present state, can only serve to be divisive (my subjective view is truer than yours). This does not seem compatible with the scientific method which provides a means of arriving at objective truths that are accessible to everyone.

      • Posted January 18, 2018 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

        Yes, religion is strongly divergent. “Splitters!”

        /@

        • Diane G.
          Posted January 19, 2018 at 1:32 am | Permalink

          Nice graphic!

          • Posted January 19, 2018 at 2:14 am | Permalink

            There’s a larger, more legible version here.

            /@

            • Posted January 19, 2018 at 2:17 am | Permalink

              PS. This infographic is from a project created by Dzvenislavy Novakivsky incooperation with the Kyiv-Mohyla Business School, at funki.com.ua – which seems now to be offline.

              /@

              • rickflick
                Posted January 19, 2018 at 7:27 am | Permalink

                Quite a project! It suggests that when you get right down to it, every individual within every denomination probably has a different perception of the belief on offer.

    • Posted January 19, 2018 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      This requires some analysis of “same” and “different” when it comes to doctrines.

      The “Moral and Religious Education” course I had to do in grade 10 in high school (long ago) attempted to do the “they are basically the same morally” thing. This runs into another problem: a scope of ethics thing. For example, a Muslim will likely claim the prohibition against eating pork is an ethical doctrine, but that’s certainly debatable.

  39. Posted January 18, 2018 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    “… science has ways of finding out whether its claims are wrong, while religion doesn’t.”

    Is does: Dying. (“But then, of course, it’s too late,” to quote Merlin.)

    /@

  40. rom
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Religion and believing in god are not necessarily dependent on one another.

    Theoretically I could be quite religious and consider myself a Buddhist … of a Stephen Batchelor variety.

    At the 2016 Imagine No Religion Conference, Julia Sweeney talked about finding a “church” to meet her needs. At the same conference Kelly Carlin seemed like a modern western Buddhist.

    Pantheism? Sexed up atheism?

  41. Greg Geisler
    Posted January 18, 2018 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    One of my favorite posts of 2018. I don’t understand why other human beings cannot think this clearly about Faith.

    Please keep being: “insensitive, snide, and snarky.” regarding this subject.

    Why can’t someone like you be President? Nevermind, I know why.

  42. Dale Franzwa
    Posted January 19, 2018 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    Jerry, I read this science post. Great stuff. Agree completely. Please don’t give up on writing science posts.

  43. Diane G.
    Posted January 19, 2018 at 1:37 am | Permalink

    sub

  44. Kevin Lawson
    Posted January 19, 2018 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Yes, religion is not compatible with science, but it has wormed its way into our culture. Religion creates some charities and services that give good people a venue for expression of their helpful nature, then religion claims all the goodness done as their own.

    Other religious people aren’t particularly charitable, but if you meet them, you come away with the impression that they are good people and you recognize that they do important work in the world. Again, credit often goes to the religion.

    What we have to remember is that as we honor and respect some religious people, we can still parse out the religion. We can condemn the belief and not feel we must mince words.

    What makes any philosophy a religion is a group-think policy, and specifically, people must agree to share a non-falsifiable belief for which there is no evidence. They must arrive at this belief through faith, which requires starting with a conclusion and using confirmation bias to align themselves with that conclusion.

    That’s why I object to the usual “why can’t we all get along” pleading from atheists ready to collaborate with theism. Sure, treat victims of religion with respect, but their epistemology is defective and should not be treated as separate but equal.

    Unfortunately, theists have managed to create a social climate in which religion is considered a category of ideas that get special protection from critique. We are expected to tread lightly if we demur at all. However, religious ideas are delusional, defective, and dangerous, so why shouldn’t we say so loudly?

    Yes, this may disturb some people who cherish their religious ideas, but that cannot be helped. The key is not to attack anyone personally, and to be very clear about everyone’s right to choose. However being silent about bad thinking methods is not required.

    The problem with religion is that ignoring evidence and forming conclusions by wishful thinking becomes an accepted approach. In some cases, this is limited to god-belief, and yes, there are capable scientists who are theists. Unfortunately, wishful thinking usually leaks out into many aspects of life, including relationships and politics.

    There are good reasons for anti-theists not to peacefully tolerate religion. For instance, common sense should tell you that Trump is not going to bring your job back from China, but religion sets you up to believe him. Trump says what you want to hear, and you have learned from faith that this is sufficient reason for belief.

    So should there be war on religion? That is not the best way to put it, but an energetic campaign of assertive resistance is appropriate.

  45. Zetopan
    Posted January 21, 2018 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Religion relies on the very vagueness of its wildly varied definitions to escape scrutiny. By failing to ever clearly define what they mean by “religion”, accommodationists always continue to muddy the waters as much as possible (it is their favored MO).


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