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Science journalists accept logical fallacy, therefore journalism is compatible with stupidity

I said I was done with this guy, but his latest includes a bit that annoys me to no end. Keith Kloor interviews Daniel Sarewitz to get ammo for his claim that religion and science are compatible.

Based on your piece, I would presume that you think the two are compatible. However, some of the prominent New Atheists, such as PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne, insist that science and religion are incompatible. Why has this discussion become so binary? Why the either/or mindset exhibited by some atheists?

DS: There are lots of scientists who are also religious, so as an empirical matter science and religion are apparently not incompatible.

Gah. Dumb.

There are scientists who believe the earth is 6000 years old and that there was a global flood 4000 years ago. Therefore, science and creationism are perfectly compatible.

There are accountants who skim off profits and hide them in the books, therefore accounting is compatible with criminal larceny.

There are doctors who smoke, therefore smoking is compatible with healthy lungs.

Why has this discussion become so binary? Easy. Because some scientists have gigantic religious blindspots and want to pretend that their gullibility is part of their science.

Comments

  1. okstop says

    In theory, science and religion could be compatible if religion in fact restricted itself to the kinds of questions that are beyond the ambit of science, such as “what is the nature of good?” As a matter of fact, (a) religion invariably strays into making substantive assertions of fact, which are the meat and drink of science and (b) analytic philosophy, which takes the deliverances of science as a starting point, already tries to answer questions that lie beyond the scope of science while still, obviously, treating science with respect. Religion is not compatible with science when it encroaches on the domain of science and when it fails to treat science as a starting point when venturing beyond that domain, which it always, always, always seems to do.

  2. New England Bob says

    You forgot one example:

    There are politicians who use reason….

    Oh, wait, no there aren’t. Never mind.

  3. lrickard says

    Awful as this is, isn’t anybody worried about this kind of monolithic thinking? It’s not like there’s one kind of scientist only, and so there’s only one kind of religious blindspot. The brains of people who do science are as full as nooks and crannies as an English muffin, which is presumably why so many non-climatologist scientists can be climate deniers and so many EEs (if I may extend to engineering) believe in telepathy. Consistency is, dare I say, not our forte.

  4. Lofty says

    PZ, why do you deny there are “other ways of knowing” besides science? Isn’t mental masturbation a substitute for gathering hard data? You are hurting theire fee-fees.
    /snortle

  5. sharkjack says

    A few years ago I met a creationist IT student in an interdisciplinary honours program meeting. Creationists being the rare breed they are where I live, I was incredibly fascinated by meeting one in meatspace. Most of my fellow biology students weren’t so curious and a few activily tried to take him on, but though both parties were clever, the lack of experience on the biology side led to a trampling defeat every single time. To him specifically, science and religion were very compatible. However when we say science and religion aren’t compatible we aren’t talking about specific people in specific fields. We’re talking about foundational principles on determining what is real that clash. The foundational principle of holding a belief as irrefutably true without/against evidence vs the idea that evidence determines what we should hold as true.

  6. Dick the Damned says

    Jumpin’ Jebus on a stick, of course they’re not compatible. It’s a case of non-overlapping magisteria, one of which is entirely imaginary.

  7. okstop says

    @Irickard: but there aren’t that many climatologists who are climate deniers – almost none, in fact. The conflict between science and religion is only responsive to differences between individuals inasmuch as some individuals might be willing to discard all claims of a given religion that intrude on the domain of science, in which case I guess there wouldn’t be much conflict (but see problem B, above). The conflict is really more about formal features than particular dogmas, which means its not that sensitive to differences at the level of the individual scientist and/or believer.

  8. sqlrob says

    science and religion could be compatible if religion in fact restricted itself to the kinds of questions that are beyond the ambit of science, such as “what is the nature of good?”

    Is good observable (even indirectly)? If no, what’s the point of the question? If yes, it’s the purview of science.

  9. WharGarbl says

    @lrickard
    #3
    Arguably there’s a limit on mental capacity (in that most people don’t have time to think through/study in detail of stuffs they do not have expertise in). So some probably go for a short-cut and trust other sources. Unfortunately some of those sources might be wrong (but since it’s easier, they take that short-cut anyway).
    Kind like what PZ demonstrated recently regarding the GravityLight. He didn’t have expertise on the subject, trusted someone who appeared to know what he’s saying, and got a few details wrong.

    Same thing may apply to religion. Some people might not have time to think/reason through morality choices, so instead they pick a religion that may match their moral compass (or “adapt” the religion to their moral compass) so that whenever they have to make a choice, they just go “I do it because it’s what *so and so deity* want/wants.” instead of having to go through the mental exercise to work it out. And more than likely, it formed a positive feedback loop for the individual in question (make a choice based on dogma, outcomes seems okay, therefore its working). A few rare mistakes would not deter them from using the short-cut (“It works most the the time… so…”)

    @sqlrob
    #8

    Is good observable (even indirectly)? If no, what’s the point of the question? If yes, it’s the purview of science.

    Curiosity? Apparently it’s a question important to some people.

  10. consciousness razor says

    I doubt it’s really just plain stupidity. It’s garden-variety, blatantly dishonest, change-the-subject, toss-over-the-board-game-and-declare-victory bullshitting. But of course, it is pretty stupid to think anyone would let you get away with it.

    There are lots of scientists who are also religious, so as an empirical matter science and religion are apparently not incompatible.

    There are lots of non-scientists who think science is the best approach to understanding empirical subjects. I think that means that not being a scientist is “compatible” with science, since “compatibility” isn’t what your job is. Is not being religious compatible with religion?

  11. Sastra says

    Whenever a scientist (or anyone else) insists that science and religion are compatible, they always use the same justification: ” the existence of God(the truth of Christianity; souls; the afterlife; reincarnation; the Conscious Universe; insert your sacred woo) isn’t a scientific matter. It’s not a science question. ”

    And then everyone nods in agreement. No, of course it’s not. Nothing like it.

    Why the hell not? Yes it is. All science does is try to eliminate bias from an evaluation of evidence and argument. Religion is supposed to be based on facts about reality. These facts are inferred through evidence and reason. If the inferences don’t hold up to scrutiny you don’t get to shove them into some other category — like a moral commitment or personal evaluation.

    Assertions about a “compatibility” between science and religion always try to change the subject. Watch carefully. They redirect the issue about whether the beliefs are true to whether they are useful, or whether they come along with other things, or whether someone else believes false things, or, or, or.

    It’s tiring. And utterly predictable.

  12. profpedant says

    “However when we say science and religion aren’t compatible….We’re talking about foundational principles on determining what is real that clash. The foundational principle of holding a belief as irrefutably true without/against evidence vs the idea that evidence determines what we should hold as true.”

    Intellectual honesty does not demand that a person _care_ that science and religion are incompatible, but intellectual honesty does require that one not deny that science and religion are incompatible. It is completely fine if someone plays with ‘non-overlapping magisteria’, cognitive inconsistencies, or other methods for ignoring the importance of the differences between religion and science, for the simple reason that people do not have to live like I think they should. But denying that there is an innate conflict between religion and science is simply stupid nonsense.

  13. footface says

    I thought it was binary because one and only one of these statements is true:
    A) Science and religion are compatible.
    B) Science and religion are not compatible.

    Don’t you kind of have to pick one of those if you want to play?

  14. lrickard says

    I don’t want to be hyperactive here, so I’ll shut up after this: I don’t quibble with the concern over the nonoverlapping magisteria bait and switch. It’s just that these discussions always seem to toss about ‘science’ and ‘religion’ as if they were entities. That makes me uncomfortable. I’m pretty sure I can recognize scientific thinking, but I’m not confident I can recognize science. I’m pretty sure I can recognize religious thinking, but I’m not confident I can recognize religion. I know that there are large institutions that claim to recognize them, but I’m not sure that, when pressed, they would be able to make the case. Bottom line: I’d rather use the adjectives when I argue, and I wonder if anyone else feels the same.

  15. jose says

    “There are lots of scientists who are also religious, so as an empirical matter science and religion are apparently not incompatible.”

    It’s like it’s 2008 all over again!

  16. kosk11348 says

    Ever notice how so many accommodationists use compatible to mean “able to co-exist peacefully so long as neither has any direct contact with the other?” Yet I somehow doubt they would call two people who can’t stand to be in the same room with one another a “compatible couple.”

  17. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    I think they mean science and religion are Compartmentable

    See, It’s just a little typo.

  18. glodson says

    I used to believe that religion and science were compatible. But I was wilfully ignoring that science demands evidence while religion demands blind faith. So one had to go.

    Guess which one I rejected.

  19. Sastra says

    footface #13 wrote:

    Don’t you kind of have to pick one of those if you want to play?

    The problem here involves interpretation: what does it mean to be “compatible?”

    Science and religion are compatible in some ways: they are incompatible in others. That makes it hard to pose the question as a binary. You can only do that if the terms are not ambiguous, but clear.

    Good luck with that, since apologetics thrive on ambiguity. The accomodationists dishonestly try to pretend that the only important sense of “compatible” is the one where the two fit together — like scientists who swivel between the lab bench and the church pew. The other meanings of “compatible” (the ones which get to the heart of the issue) are then stigmatized as insignificant or silly.

  20. Randomfactor says

    A) Science and MY PARTICULAR religion are ALWAYS compatible.
    B) Science and YOUR PARTICULAR religion are not EVER compatible.

    Which of those two is correct?

  21. stevem says

    “Non-overlapping magisteria” means they do NOT overlap. For every question, the answer is either from Science OR Religion, not “either”, nor “both”. “How old is the Earth?” is a SCIENCE question, “What is Good?” is moreso a Religion question. [But even that answer can be determined by REASON and not just "because He says it is good"]. Sorry to take off on a tangent, I’m just bothered by automatic dismissal of SJG’s famous phrase [I think he coined it]. I just want to emphasize the “non-overlapping” part of the phrase.

  22. says

    What is good is a religious question? I thought it was a philosophical/ethical question that takes the findings of science into account.

  23. consciousness razor says

    “Non-overlapping magisteria” means they do NOT overlap. For every question, the answer is either from Science OR Religion, not “either”, nor “both”.

    No. Non-overlapping doesn’t imply everything must be in one or the other. Picture a Venn diagram with two circles which don’t overlap, like so:
    O O
    There could be questions not in a circle, and there could be more than two circles with questions in them, because the claim isn’t about any of that.

    For example:

    “What is Good?” is moreso a Religion question.

    That’s an ethical question, which is a kind of philosophical question. Religion doesn’t own ethics, or philosophy generally, or anything else which isn’t a science, like the arts.

    *A stupid fucking word

  24. consciousness razor says

    Sorry, I was going to say “magisteria” is a stupid fucking word (at least as a description of science). I don’t know if it was intentionally used to obscure the point, but it probably has that effect.

  25. footface says

    Okay, so I don’t really understand. But I do understand enough to be bugged by the “other ways of knowing” racket.

    Other ways of assuming? Roger. Other ways of wondering? Sure. But of knowing? How can you know something there’s no evidence for the truth of?

    And what are these wondrous truths that Religion has made known to us? Don’t work on Sundays? Or, you know, Saturdays? (Fridays?)

  26. Sastra says

    Yes, in order to claim its own Magisterium religion tries to co-opt the larger categories of philosophy and ethics. But religious philosophy (e.g.. apologetics) and religious ethics (e.g. Divine Command Theory) are not only crap, but depend on the truth of the specific supernatural claim they’re derived from. And that truth involves evaluating evidence. Doing so in a way that minimizes error involves science.

    If God doesn’t exist then the religious philosophy and ethics which are supposed to be based on God don’t stand up. If they do, then they weren’t based on God — and thus religious — in the first place, were they?

    Sure, philosophy and ethics in general are compatible with science in general. So what? Accomodationists always try to pretend that advocates of “scientism” are claiming otherwise. What they’re doing, however, is a bait ‘n switch.

  27. Lofty says

    Footface, if you redefine “knowing” as “what I wholeheartedly believe in and will brook no opposition to” then it all becomes clear. Redefining common terms and then to argue against them is a popular game with religious people. Knowing something (in the scientific sense) that is backed by clear evidence is alien to those who only inhabit their own thought bubble.

  28. footface says

    Well, in that case, sure. Religion and navel gazing and tarot cards and pulling scraps of paper from a hat are all wonderful ways of knowing!

  29. Sastra says

    As I see it, there are several subjective “ways of knowing” that are perfectly legitimate and usually not considered scientific. These methods come in two variations.

    The first “way of knowing” involves the personal evaluation of a direct experience. You can “know” that chocolate tastes good only by tasting it. Unless, of course, you don’t like chocolate. In that case, you learn that chocolate doesn’t taste good — to you. This “way of knowing” mostly comes down to knowing about feelings, preferences, tastes, and what it is to experience something subjectively. You can collect data on such knowledge about an individual or group of individuals, but you can’t really determine whether or not something like “chocolate tastes good” is universally correct and people who don’t think so are wrong.

    The second “way of knowing” has to do with casual and/or historical knowledge which is seldom challenged in a way that demands direct scientific testing. “I had oatmeal for breakfast last Tuesday” isn’t a scientific claim unless this information is critical in a trial and so people are looking for forensic evidence which takes it out of a “subjective” personal area and puts it into an objective forum which convinces (or ties to convince) skeptics. Sometimes this can’t be done. An experience can’t be repeated.

    People who insist that a claim like the existence of God is only knowable subjectively want to focus on the feelings associated with the evidence or the uniqueness of the experience. But they’re pushing the issue into the wrong category.

    Or, perhaps, they’re inventing a third category: knowledge gained through ESP — right and true and direct into the mind/brain like a character in a book. Not legitimate, no. But from what I’ve seen they often try to sneak it in disguised as one of the other “ways of knowing.” Attack it and they pretend you’re attacking one of the examples above.

  30. sharkjack says

    The first “way of knowing” involves the personal evaluation of a direct experience. You can “know” that chocolate tastes good only by tasting it. Unless, of course, you don’t like chocolate. In that case, you learn that chocolate doesn’t taste good — to you. This “way of knowing” mostly comes down to knowing about feelings, preferences, tastes, and what it is to experience something subjectively. You can collect data on such knowledge about an individual or group of individuals, but you can’t really determine whether or not something like “chocolate tastes good” is universally correct and people who don’t think so are wrong.

    This is only a problem because terms are kept ambiguous and used in different ways without making that clear.

    You can know chocolate tastes good or bad to you. In general that knowledge is limited to the person experiencing it, though we could probably figure it out by testing that persons brain. The type of stimilus you receive from tastes is actually objective, but it changes from person to person. This makes the question does chocolate taste good universally problematic because the whole point is that tastes differ from person to person.

    “When people say chocolate tastes good”, they usually either mean “I like the taste of chocolate” or “I know a lot of people who think the taste of chocolate is good (and very few that think it tastes bad)” Presuming you can establish exactly what constitutes a lot and which group of people at what point in time the statement was made about (as well as in what condition the chocolate is presented to the person, I could go on), you could then proceed to test this claim it would either be true or false.

    Along with this, there’s also the common ambiguity between having a subjective opinion on a taste (like enjoying the taste of chocolate) and an opinion that you personally hold about something that neither person has knowledge of. Like It’s my personal opinion that the Loch Ness monster exists (not really no) . Since the claim cannot be verified within the scope of a normal discussion, this often gets classified as subjective to shift from unverified to based on taste. However with taste it is accepted that the person saying something is their taste is the reigning authority on determining that, while with the second category this is not the case. This means both persons are on equal footing with regard to finding out about the truth of the claim and skepticism is perfectly valid.

  31. consciousness razor says

    Sastra,

    Hmm…. “direct” or “personal” experiences don’t automatically get to be “knowledge.” All sorts of problems with that. People experience things like hallucinations, illusions, memory failures, cognitive biases, things like phantom limb syndrome…. this list could go on for a long time. The real problem with positivism is the trivial one that it can’t justify itself without being self-refuting. I don’t see why subjectivity would be a problem for it more than it is for anything else. (Maybe “value” is, as in your first category, but that’s also a more general problem.)

    Besides, math isn’t science. You could know 2+2=4 without having any physical evidence of a natural phenomenon. You could also know why 2+2=4 by examining a proof to that effect, as well as the axioms the whole system is based on. I guess if you really wanted to, you could bite the bullet and say “no one Really Knows™ math,” or else that numbers are physical objects. Either seems absurd and pointless to me.

    And it’s obvious to me there are lots of disciplines other than the “sciences” (and math or logic) which produce knowledge. Go to a university and look at all the departments which aren’t sciencey. What else do I really need to say here?

    There’s really no point gerrymandering the terms knowledge or science, just to make a bit of counter-apologetics “easier” (but fallacious), since none of those disciplines implies there’s a god anyway:only religion/theology does that. Do you think saying philosophers or art historians or economists know stuff about those subjects implies there’s a god? I certainly hope not. Must they be “scientists”? Again, no, I certainly I hope not. Basically the only thing it does is insult everything that isn’t a science, but it’s barely even touching the religion/pseudoscience target it was aiming for.

  32. F [disappearing] says

    Why has this discussion become so binary? Why the either/or mindset exhibited by some atheists?

    Er, what other options are available? (0.500000000 of science is compatible with half of religion or something?) Complete logic fail here. How can this not be a binary question? (I mean, excepting it is actually unary, with a made-up wrong option.)

  33. firetree says

    The obvious problem is that some people confuse an innate “belief in a sense” or something we feel about ourselves with religion, which is something learned. These are two different things. Creationists and their religious beliefs are nonsense; they are men with schemes made to fit their own ideas of self-grandeur or something. Equate this innate sense of this “something influential” in your life with the sense of the taste of salt. Define the taste of salt. Ask yourself, does it exist? Is it real? How do you respond to the taste of salt? Does it taste good when you need for salt? Do you sense needs and excesses of salt? Does it taste bad when you have too much? People have studied all of this empirically. It is my contention that you can name the sense anything you want God or a Devil. It is God when you need it and the devil when you don’t. It does not change the fact that there is a sense of “something” centered on salt. Does the scientific mind turn off at the suggestion of anything smacking of evolutionary psychology that is something that ties sensed physiological needs to action; ties genetics to behavior?
    I can find nothing about life (biota) that stands in conflict with the idea that a sense of survival is the synergistic result of all genetic loci. Everyone knows the self-cleansing effect of billions of years of “survival of the fittest” has on our genetic make up even in light of the virtual flood of current epigenetic revelations. It is my contention that the sense of survival is a pangenetic derivative equivalent of the “taste of salt”. Call the sense of survival what you like. Let it drive you to foolish action or let you respond to it in a ridiculous way, but it is a very real sense; you are responding to something. Even when you call yourself an atheist, you are responding to something. Your response has nothing to do with the scientific fact that there is such a sense—unless you think a sense of the taste of salt is not a scientific fact. Paint pictures of it “in the image of man”. Hang it on a cross. Do what you will to it or with it; it is no more than a sense and you cannot change the nature of it. Unless you are prepared to deny that the taste of salt exists, you cannot deny that such a sense of survival exists. I chose not to call it God; therefore, I am an atheist; so what if someone else calls it God—go for it. Now, about religious: that is a different matter. Religious leaders have in the past done many things counter to survival and continue to so. They are a destructive forces, while survival is a force that can stand or fall on it own merits.

  34. Loqi says

    The Harry Potter books were printed using machines invented by science. Therefore science and wizards are compatible.

  35. Lofty says

    Personal knowledge:
    “I remember having oatmeal for breakfast last Tuesday and although I could be wrong, I generally trust my memory.”
    Scientific knowledge:
    “Here is a chart of all the breakfast foods I have eaten over the last month, on Tuesday last I consumed 175g of oatmeal with 150ml of low fat milk.””
    Religious knowledge:
    “I have oatmeal for breakfast every Tuesday because God told me to so I can’t be wrong because he is never wrong.”
    ;-)

  36. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    I would contend that to the extent deities exist and muck about in the Universe, then science becomes pretty much impossible. Imagine we have two theories, A and B. We conduct a measurement that distinguishes between them with some probability. However, a deity can place its celestial finger on the scale and influence the results–so there is some additional probability that our results arise from an interfering deity. This transforms every science into an investigation of divine psychology.

    We know science works. “Oh dear,” says God, and vanishes in a puff of logic.

  37. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    Is “incorrectly” a way of knowing?

    According to 75% of our sales force where I work, yes.

  38. Sastra says

    consciousness razor #31 wrote:

    “direct” or “personal” experiences don’t automatically get to be “knowledge.”

    I agree — it depends on how “direct” and uninterpreted they are. The example I like to use is a headache: you can have direct knowledge that your head hurts, and only you can know what that feels like. But you can’t then claim to have ‘direct’ knowledge of the experience of a brain tumor. You can be wrong about what is causing the pain.

    My examples of what the religious usually seem to mean when they invoke non-scientific subjective “other ways of knowing”‘ wouldn’t include non-scientific but objective analytical knowledge like math or logic. And as to whether historical, philosophical, or literary knowledge is scientific, or intersects with science, this probably depends on how closely rational empiricism is identified with science — or vice versa.

    As soon as claims are opened to a community of skeptics, though, I think the field of study takes on the sort of scientific objectivity/inter-subjectivity that theology, pseudoscience, mysticism, and religious belief can’t lay claim to. Their “ways of knowing” are significantly connected to the special virtue and status of the knower, making them subjective — but sure.

  39. consciousness razor says

    The example I like to use is a headache: you can have direct knowledge that your head hurts, and only you can know what that feels like.

    Well, this seems a bit off-topic, but I’d argue it’s probably not true that such “subjective facts” about an experience cannot (in principle) be available to a third party. We just don’t know how to do that in every case right now, but generally it will never be practical or useful to do that for everyone anyway.

    But this isn’t just speculation about a “principle.” We can already do that in exceptional circumstances. For example, if someone claims “I can’t seem to remember anything,” you could’ve known that (maybe you told them, and they forgot!) based on evidence they have brain damage consistent with amnesia.

    Dennett’s Quining Qualia is pretty much my take on it.

    My examples of what the religious usually seem to mean when they invoke non-scientific subjective “other ways of knowing”‘ wouldn’t include non-scientific but objective analytical knowledge like math or logic.

    Yeah, except for the rare apologist using TAG or similar presuppositional arguments,* that’s right. That’s why claims like “science is the only kind of knowledge” are not only wrong but also not even addressing what the religious apparently mean.

    *And I seriously doubt any of them believe because of that sort of argument, or a teleological argument, etc. That all comes after the fact that they already believe.

  40. Sastra says

    consciousness razor #40 wrote:

    That’s why claims like “science is the only kind of knowledge” are not only wrong but also not even addressing what the religious apparently mean.

    As I see it the real issue isn’t whether science is the only kind of knowledge or the best kind of knowledge: it’s what sort of claim “God exists” is.

    Is it a rational empirical claim, similar to saying that ESP exists or the Big Bang happened? Is it a moral claim similar to saying that love matters or we ought to stand by our commitments? Is it an analytical claim like 1+1=2 or A=A? Is it a subjective claim like saying “my head hurts” or “chocolate tastes good?” Is it an identity claim like “I’m bisexual” or “I am proud to be a Native American?”

    The religious waffle and confuse themselves and others. It’s clearly a rational-empirical claim, one supported by evidence, argument, observation, and experience. This is how they form it and use it. But they also want it approached and treated as if we’re dealing with one or more of the other kinds of beliefs. That’s because it’s supported by poor evidence, bad argument, flawed observations and misinterpreted experience. Shuffle it off into another category! Problem solved! Nobody will notice.

  41. Sophia, Michelin-starred General of the First Mediterranean Iron Chef Batallion says

    Of course science is compatible with religion.

    Actually believing the claims of religion? No.

    Science is compatible with religion in that religion is examinable by science. religion makes claims, science tests claims. So far, so hoopy. The conflict is entirely in the court of the religious when they start moving the goalposts and refusing to give up the ball. Yes, we can and should test religious claims, and the religious should, if they are serious in any way about their belief, encourage this. The enormous backlash against testing their precious religious claims shows the fragility of those claims, and reveals the underlying fear present in anyone when they know their entire belief system is built on a foundation of nothing more than wishful thinking held together with lies and wilful ignorance.
    Of course they don’t want it examined – their entire carefully constructed jumble of bollocks will collapse and they’ll have to start afresh. People are so invested in their comfortable religious nonsense that they often quite literally know nothing else.

  42. says

    In theory, science and religion could be compatible if religion in fact restricted itself to the kinds of questions that are beyond the ambit of science, such as “what is the nature of good?

    Right there you started off bad. There aren’t any questions that aren’t scientific in nature. Philosophers try to carve out a space for themselves but they can’t quite make a line over which science can’t cross. It must be a great source of consternation for them to say science can’t have a way to quantify something then a scientist walks up and shows them the evidence. They try so hard to seem relevant, always coming up just short. Science and Religion could be compatible if religion stuck with putting on it’s geek show for the chumps and stopped trying to have an answer to anything.

  43. okstop says

    @Mike, who said, I believe, “Philosophers try to carve out a space for themselves but they can’t quite make a line over which science can’t cross. It must be a great source of consternation for them to say science can’t have a way to quantify something then a scientist walks up and shows them the evidence.”

    I’d love to see a cite for some instance where a philosopher has tried to draw such a line and then thrown a fit when science crossed it. Philosophy is, in general, quite happy when science can actually take up some part of our realm, if only because we recognize that “well, [x] has the least problematic argument for it, so far” is so much less satisfying a reason to believe [x] than that it is well-supported by scientific evidence.

    That said, there are plenty of things that science can’t quantify, like “the good.” “They try so hard to seem relevant, always coming up just short.” You do know that ethics is a major concern for most people? That many major hospitals employ specialists in medical ethics (a philosophical discipline)? Ah, who am I kidding? You’re not the type to actually do the legwork when you can just snark off on the basis of your knee-jerk reactions. That much is clear.

  44. =8)-DX says

    @ #13 footface

    A) Science and religion are compatible.
    B) Science and religion are not compatible.

    Apparently “is compatible” is has a trinary value of
    A) is mutually contradictory
    B) is not mutually contradictory
    C) does not seem contradictory to someone suffering from cognitive dissonance

  45. Moggie says

    Is atheism compatible with being a priest? We know from Dennett’s research, and from comments by ex-priests, that some continue in the clergy after losing all faith. But most people would agree that that whole “telling people that God is real” part of the job is incompatible with not believing it. The fact that there are some who are able and willing to continue in this dishonest state does not erase the contradiction.

    If “there exists at least one person who is both x and y” is all it takes to declare x compatible with y, then pretty much everything is compatible with everything else. Doctors who are serial killers? Priests who rape children? Judges who are crooks? You can find examples of all those.

  46. okstop says

    @Moggie: you’re prevaricating between “normatively compatible” and “pragmatically compatible.” Being an atheist is pragmatically compatible with being a priest inasmuch as you can, if you’re willing to go to the trouble of doing so, carry out all the duties and responsibilities of a priest (at least, as far as anyone can tell) while still actually being an atheist. Being an atheist is normatively non-compatible with being a priest because there are explicit norms that a priest ought to believe in God. That some people violate such norms says nothing, in itself, about the status of those norms.

  47. Louis says

    Here’s my rough thoughts on the matter:

    1) It seems that “debate” is vastly confused by different arguments at different levels.
    Firstly, there are “matters of fact” (for want of a better term). There exists a subset of religious claims that are claims about the universe. These are ostensibly empirical claims, or at least claims open to empirical or reasoned analysis. Right from the outset I want to make a key distinction between rational in a personal sense and rational in an epistemological sense, I’ll call these rational(p) and rational(e). The vast majority of these claims can be, and have been, analysed by empirical/scientific/rational(e) means and found wanting. I.e. they were, however derived, attempts at explanatory hypotheses/frameworks for a series of observed phenomena (at least in part).

    These empirically verifiable claims have been shown to be inconsistent with observation and experiment, shown to be irrational(e) or in some manner scientifically falsified. I think it’s is perfectly legitimate to describe these claims as “irrational” as long as one makes it clear that one is using an epistemological/philosophical sense of the word “irrational”. When considering individual people or groups of people who hold beliefs in the veracity of claims of this nature I think there is a confusion/equivocation about which sense of the word(s) “(ir)rational” is being used. Is it irrational(p) to hold to the veracity of claims that are irrational(e)? Not necessarily, although it certainly can be.

    To be honest, I don’t see any genuinely controversial arguments at this level of the “debate”. Creationism in its various guises is false, demonstrably so. Likewise homeopathy etc. There are various formulations of religious ideas, like strict deism, which can in principle be made so that they don’t intersect with science. Whether or not they are rational(e) or based on reason as a mechanism of acquiring knowledge (more on that in a bit) is a different kettle of fish. For the other type of claims, there appears to be no reason to not describe those claims that are falsified as irrational(e), apart from a lingering personal attachment to maintaining religious privilege (or privileging religious explanations simply because they are in some manner religious).

    Secondly, there “matters of socio-political strategy”. There are political, psychological and sociological claims being thrown into the mix and insufficiently defined, clarified or even separated from the “matters of fact”. Here, I think, there exists genuine controversy. I think the “best” strategy is to take account of the context and act accordingly. The perfect is the enemy of the good here, and a pluralist approach seems the best option. There really is no one “best” strategy to rule them all, and failure to take account of the context prevents one from even developing a good one. From what I’ve read across the spectrum in this “debate” there really seems to be a lot of nonsense in this specific area, for example people claiming that simply because a claim is irrational(e) that a person holding it is irrational(p). Ironically, I see this coming distressingly often from the “accommodationist” side of things as a straw man of the “new atheist” view. I think this is because of the confusion over the issue of religious people being scientists. Which brings me to…

    2) Can religious people be scientists? Or even good scientists (whatever that might mean)? Yes of course they can. It’s irrelevant to the issue of the actual compatibility of science and religion. Should there be political, social and personal antipathy between science and scientists on one side and religion and religious people on the other? Does the fact of an epistemological conflict (if it exists, and I think it does) necessitate that there should be a conflict in other arenas? I think the answer is no to both questions, and I think, again, that these questions are irrelevant to the actual issue of compatibility.

    Whether or not science and religion are actually compatible is not a question of totting up religious believers and non believers in scientific jobs and publishing the results, or a matter of political strategy. This, again, is an instance of confusing the personal/social and the epistemological. As many have noted, it also falls foul of the nebulous definitions of “religion”. This all essentially boils down to an epistemological claim about mechanisms of acquiring knowledge. I don’t think the conflict is at the “science and religion” level, I think it’s at the “faith and reason” level (i.e. religion is a manifestation of fideist claims of faith as a means of acquiring knowledge, and science is the most reasoned of the reason based methods of acquiring knowledge, there are of course other reason based methods). Does faith actually produce knowledge (where knowledge = justified true belief, for a provisional value of “true” given the usual philosophical niceties and caveats)? I would argue that it doesn’t for a variety of reasons (too long to mention at the moment, maybe this will come out later), not least of which is because faith can be used to claim anything and explicitly requires no external test of the claim to demonstrate its veracity. I think we have to make distinctions between what we believe to be true and what we claim to be factually true, and that this process requires a good deal of honesty and philosophical insight. Is “religion” all derived from faith? No, of course not. Within religion there are a variety of reason based arguments and reason derived claims, hence why I don’t think the conflict, such as it is, exists at the level of science and religion. And also why the Tillichs et al of this world are not totally irrelevant.

    This is why I think things like, for example, the NCSE’s bold statement about the compatibility of science and religion is in error. There are three reasons: a) it is aimed at the wrong level of the “debate” (e.g. it uses the religiosity of some scientists as if this demonstrates epistemological compatibility), b) it presents features as bugs, and c) that it is false in the crucial, epistemological sense. I think it equivocates on the terms involved and as such is more of an own goal than an accommodationist strategy to cool the social and political situation.

    Reason b) needs a little expansion. On the “accomodationism” side of the “debate” there seems to me to be a desperate struggle to cover up the challenging, “universal acid to ideas” aspect of science. It seems that some people think that if this aspect of science is too openly revealed that this will discourage religious people from engaging with science and thus further the culture war etc. I find this to be a spectacularly patronising view of religious people as a group. Now, again, my impressions may be incorrect, but I’m far from the only one to notice this. I also think this is a major component of the own goal because, as I said, it presents a feature as a bug. The challenging aspect of science is part of what’s good about it, it’s part of the process, without it science wouldn’t be science.

    Here is where I think it is relevant to mention religious scientists, to come at the “problem” from a different angle. If the NCSE had come out and said that they couldn’t comment on the philosophical compatibility of science and religion, that they have no stance on this technical issue, then the objection goes away. If also the NCSE made no overt attempt to pander specifically to religious people as a special interest group but instead presented this as if it were not a problem at all (which from an individual point of view it isn’t), then I think that would have been a better strategy, one which achieved the same goals whilst not bowdlerising science to do so. Show people that on a personal level science does not necessarily lead to abandonment of religious beliefs and acknowledge that whist this is the case, science will challenge them personally which is a good thing. This can all be done without making a very dubious philosophical claim which at best muddies the waters.

    Sorry this is a bit long, but I hope it makes some kind of sense.

    Louis

    P.S. This is a very, very slightly altered version of something I posted on Wilkins’ “Evolving Thoughts” blog about 2-ish years ago.

  48. says

    Religion and science are compatible in the same way as literature and science. You may enjoy reading LotR, but you’d be daft to go looking for Hobbits or Orcs. (Though I believe there was some evidence for Ents at Cornell some years ago.Ents

  49. rdrotos says

    Religion is a primative by-product of our evolution to this point in our development. It appears to be without any facts to support it, regardless of the franchise or flavour – despite a lot of resources being consumed in the attempt, recently by folks who have learned “science-speak” in an attempt to sound rational. All developed cultures have to defend against “cults”, though each culture defines cults as behaving almost exactly the same way as our ancestor’s religions did (not long ago in some cases). One definition i have heard recently in a newspaper (sorry, i don’t have a citation for it) defined a cult as thought-control that urges participants to reject friends and family – something that was central to Jesus’ message, all presuming the new testament translations of early documents (that were cherry picked at Nicea etc) have any validity.

    Comparing religion to science is very much like comparing criminal or antisocial behaviour with the act of reading. Such comparisons are useless and a waste of time. One is a societal problem and a behaviour pattern, the other is a method of learning about *everything*.

    Is religion even real? As you see above, my own take on religion is it is really a behavioural problem that we are slowly learning in civilized environments to limit and hopefully – eventually – cure. Are all religions cults? If one is honest about analyzing religious behaviour, one would then have no need to progress to “is religion compatible with science”. It would be eliminated as a(n) (often dangerous) fantasy.

  50. anteprepro says

    I love how the people who trot out the “science and religion aren’t incompatible because religious scientists” people gloss over how scientists are significantly less religious than other segments of their society. Also love how they like to suddenly pretend that science=scientists and religion=religious people. Because doing so totally helps answer the question of whether the methodologies are compatible.

    Is the Sega Genesis compatible with a Nintendo Wii? Well, I know several people who have played both at one point, and several more people who like games from both systems, so they must be compatible!

  51. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    Plowing into bread trucks is cpmpatabe with driving because people who drive run lights and plow into bread trucks.

    Not comparable with good driving though

    It’s also begging the question: are people who think religion and science are comparable correct? They must be because there are people who think they’re comparable

  52. anteprepro says

    It seems that the pro-compatibility side of this argument always approach in the most glib and simplistic fashion that they can, and then wipe off their hands, pat each other on the back, and head home. It isn’t approaching the question empirically to see that there are (SOME) religious scientists and then conclude that religion and science themselves are compatible. That is dodging the question, ducking out of its way, leaving behind a putrid slime trail with every evasion. An actual attempt to address the compatibility would involve determining exactly how much religion and science overlap one another, and then, in that area of overlap, how often they tend to converge on the same answer. But, like clockwork, the smarm and the evasions arise in this arena too. You see, religion and science don’t overlap that much, because all of that shit that is flatly wrong was just metaphor! You see, we can say that religion and science are compatible because it sounds nice and comforting, even when we are concluding that compatibility based on the fact that they are supposedly completely different domains that barely even intersect! You see, we can selectively ignore all of the bullshit that is clearly contradicted by science, hone in on the vague stuff that somewhat resembles reality, and say that the area in the overlap is perfectly in agreement! An honest approach to the question of compatibility would find that 1. religious claims significantly overlap into the realm of scientific inquiry and 2. a large majority of important religious claims that fall into this realm are either unconfirmed by science or outright contradicted by it. An honest approach to this would invariably find that science is the bane of religion. Which is why the apologists are only left with dishonest handwringing, evasions, and sleights of hand. They’ve lost and all they have left is a bag full of tricks for trying to prevent too many people from realizing it.

  53. anteprepro says

    Wow, that interviewee…

    We have binary arguments because they are easy and mindless and comforting–no one has to acknowledge ambiguity or complexity; everyone gets to be right. Binary arguments are a refuge for orthodoxies, and atheism can be as much an orthodoxy as religion. I say this as an atheist. I am not an agnostic. I don’t believe in god(s) and I think those that do are incorrect. But I think humans have lots of different ways of making sense of their experience of the world, and my way happens to be atheism.

    I’m also trained as a scientist, by the way, and I think science offers extraordinarily powerful ways of understanding our world–but there’s a lot that it can’t tell us, and a lot that it gets wrong, and a lot of claims made on its behalf that are terribly overstated. I’m more interested in whether a person is thoughtful, kind, and open-minded than whether they’re an atheist or religious. If people want to try to come to terms with the finiteness of life in the face of the infinitude of time through religion rather cosmology, I don’t see why that should bother me.

    So, let’s see if I can sum up what I’ve found here:
    “I’m an atheist, but…”
    Atheist orthodoxy!
    Everyone but me is arguing simplistically, the fucking dogmatists!
    It’s all just, like, my opinion, man!
    Science has limits! Ergo, unevidenced bullshit is perfectly warranted!
    Religion is all about feelings , you big meanies!

    I went to the main article to see if he had anything more to say in defense of compatibility, aside from what PZ quoted. The above was all that was left to the article. Yes, after saying that religion and science are compatible because religious scientists exist, he dares to talk about binary thinking leading to orthodoxy. I think accommodationists are fueled by irony. And inanity, of course.

  54. kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith says

    For me using religious scientists as proof of compatibility (whatever that means), and even as a way of saying “see, some scientists are religious“, has always seemed very tenuous and glib.

    “Religious” scientists tend not to be religious in the same way as people generally describe thmeselves as religious.

    Ask them if they believe in miracles or in a “personnal relationship with <insert your favorite deity here>”, and you’ll get blank stares and stammering. It’s always a vague, I-believe-in-a-higher-power deist kind of thing, which most religiously inclined people would describe as closer to being an outright atheist than to being a believer – except when it serves their ends to claim that person as “religious”.

    It would be funny to take the actual statements of “religious” scientists, attribute them to, say, a used car salesman, and ask people to say whether they would describe that person as a believer.

  55. Sastra says

    “I don’t believe in god(s) and I think those that do are incorrect. But I think humans have lots of different ways of making sense of their experience of the world, and my way happens to be atheism. … I’m more interested in whether a person is thoughtful, kind, and open-minded than whether they’re an atheist or religious. If people want to try to come to terms with the finiteness of life in the face of the infinitude of time through religion rather cosmology, I don’t see why that should bother me.’

    I’ll translate:

    “Are science and religion compatible? Well, I’m an atheist and a scientist and … I think … we should … CHANGE THE SUBJECT! Who cares? Religious people are nice and if they are nice to me then nobody should care! I sure don’t! It doesn’t matter! Science and religion are … Hey! Look out the window!”

    Great job answering the question, Mr. I’m-a-Nice-Atheist. Really nice answer. Deep.

  56. caveatimperator says

    Are there actually any questions that lie inside the realm of religion, but nowhere else? In the past, people claimed that the motion of the planets was a question of religion. They claimed that the diversity of life was a religious question. Earthquakes and floods came from the gods, as did children and good harvests.
     
    But now, in the 21st century, religion has retreated to a very small box. Even the questions that many continue to claim are outside the realm of science (like “what is the nature of good?”) are being answered (in this case, within philosophy, anthropology, and neuroscience.) The holy books have come under academic scrutiny as well, and they have been found to be no more holy than the Iliad and Das Nibelungenlied.
     
    So no, science and religion are not compatible, because religion has almost no questions left to answer

  57. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    Are there actually any questions that lie inside the realm of religion, but nowhere else?

    That honestly depends on your POV. Mine is that; no there is not, because once you answer HOW the question of WHY is either answered or rendered irrelevant.