The other big argument waged by a vocal group of prominent scientists involves the assertion that science is incompatible with religion. This insistence by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne is a puzzler. As someone who dislikes dogma of any kind and distrusts vested powers, I’m no fan of institutional religion. I’m also an atheist. But I see no value in making an enemy of virtually the whole world. What’s more, an argument that lumps together the Taliban, the Dali Lama, and Jesus strikes me as rather simplistic. The atheists who frequently disparage religion for all its faults don’t dare acknowledge that it has any redeeming value, or that it provides some meaning for those who can’t (or aren’t yet ready) to derive existential meaning from reason alone.
This sneering and strident approach by the religion haters is not just bad manners, it is puritanical. That’s what scientist Peter Higgs (of Higgs Boson fame) is getting at with his recent sharp criticism of Dawkins.
Jerry Coyne has already replied, but that comment was so appallingly dumb that I have to chime in.
This isn’t a matter of making an enemy of the whole world; it’s an issue of scientific integrity. Are you going to sit back and let people say things that are wrong simply because you’re afraid to annoy them? And yes, you can legitimately lump together the Taliban, the Dali Lama, and Jesus together on certain traits: they’re all three promoting superstition and falsehoods. That doesn’t mean you think the Dali Lama blows up statues, or that Jesus is crusading for Tibetan independence.
I am unimpressed with this constant claim that religion has redeeming value. What is it? That it provides dishonest answers to questions that trouble people? How is that a virtue? Only apologists for religion seem to think it is.
He quotes Saul Bellow. Seriously, dude: Saul Bellow? Why? He’s a good writer, but does he have some special authority on this matter?
What do you think happens at death?
This I don’t know, but I don’t think everything is resolved with the destruction of the body. What science has to say seems to me insufficient and unsatisfying.
Saul Bellow’s dissatisfaction with an honest truth is not an argument. It’d be like me saying I’m unsatisfied with astronomy because it doesn’t have enough squid in it, or that science education needs more parades and trumpets. Your personal expectation of what reality ought to deliver is not a valid criticism; I’m not going to claim that Islam fails because 72 virgins isn’t enough. (If only they promised 73, I’d convert in a flash.)
To wave away the persistent questions and yearnings that still drive the religious impulse as merely the last bastion of ignorant superstition is, as I wrote here, “inconsistent with the spirit of science.”
The assertion that religion and science are incompatible has become an article of faith for some–a kind of dogma that I recently discussed in this post. Aside from this being a form of fundamentalism, I also said that I saw no constructive use “in making an enemy of virtually the whole world” by broadly denigrating all religious believers.
I’m not waving away the yearnings, they’re real enough, and we all have them. I’m waving away the goddamned answers as inadequate, contradictory, and false.
You do realize, Mr Kloor, that that’s what religion promises? Not more questions (if that were the case, it would be philosophy), but deep cosmic truths, answers hallowed by nothing more than generations of prophets pulling stories out of their asses? It is “inconsistent with the spirit of science” to simply accept those claims unquestioned, to assume that there is some validity to them because you’re afraid that pointing out the flaws might be regarded as “denigrating all religious believers.”
If telling people that they are wrong is denigrating, then my profession of education is dedicated to denigration.
I guess it also makes me a fundamentalist, if your definition of fundamentalis is lacking in reverence for the unsupported authoritarian dogma of religion, and feeling no respect for faith at all.