I don’t even know what Wilkins is complaining about anymore, but he’s got some kind of objection (or agreement? I don’t know) to things I’ve said before or didn’t say. This is the danger of getting into discussions with philosophers — they’re saying something with great erudition, but sometimes you don’t quite see the point, except that they must say something.
Anyway, it’s something about the conflict between science and religion this time. At least I can try to say what I mean. I’m not going to worry about whether it answers what he asks, whatever it is.
Obviously, there is nothing wrong on this account with stating that evolution makes it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. This might very well be true. But the claim that extends beyond this, that to be true to the science one must be an atheist (which some do make, although not, I think, Dawkins and PZ – this is more an inference from their rhetoric than a claim they have actually made) is unwarranted, to use philosophical legalese.
John is correct: I have several times said that I know some very good scientists who are also religious, so the white crow has already flown on that claim. But I do not simply regard the assertion as falsified.
In the comments there, Thony C. brings up a good point.
But the science is not the basis for that tack, and if it’s bad to teach religious metaphysics as science, it’s equally unacceptable to teach irreligious metaphysics as science, that’s all.
The sentence quoted above, with which I am in total agreement, raise the very important question as to whether a metaphysically neutral or even metaphysically free science is possible?
Wilkins says that a “science without metaphysics is a contradiction in terms”, and I’ll shock him a little further by agreeing with him on that one, too. Of course we — scientists, atheists, and theists — all have our metaphysics. We are all swaddled in interesting assumptions that we either derive from our experience or hold because we would find an alternative difficult to reconcile with our ideas. We are people, not adding machines, so a metaphysic is unavoidable.
Unfortunately, I disagree with John when he claims that metaphysical interpretations of science “are neutral with respect to religion.” Unless you’re talking about religions like Gardner’s fideism or some of the more abstract forms of Buddhism, most scientific metaphysics are definitely not neutral about religion at all. Religions that believe in a personal, caring creator-god are going to get smacked silly by any sensible scientific metaphysic anymore — we know too much about the nature of the universe and the history of life on earth to make such a being an easily accommodated presupposition. Atheist and scientific metaphysics do not run afoul of one another, but most religious metaphysics do have conflicts with the metaphysics of science.
If I were to have a sincere conversation with a student on this topic (outside of class—it’s too far off-track for my subjects), I would most definitely not tell her that she must give up church to succeed in science; that wouldn’t be true. I would be honest, though, and tell her that the farther she gets into science, the more deeply her assumptions about how the universe works are going to be challenged, and her ideas are going to change. She’d get the same story from a professor in the humanities or social sciences, too, about getting deeper into literature or psychology or philosophy or art; that’s the nature of our business, we change people’s minds as a professional obligation. However, she’s going to have to pick up certain metaphysical notions in her pursuit of science in particular that are not going to blend well with religion, and certain conclusions from religious thinking are going to be ruthlessly disparaged by her fellow scientists — the only way to persist with religious belief is to maintain multiple mutually inconsistent metaphysical views.
People do that all the time so it is certainly not an insuperable obstacle. But people also prefer the low-strain tactic of avoiding inconsistencies, so remaining true to science is going to make it difficult to remain true to any but the most general of religions.
It really doesn’t matter whether you want to claim that it is poor “framing” to tell people that religion and science conflict: it is operationally true. Going into science, and getting educated in general, tends to strip away the silly extremes of religion and weaken faith — at the very least, it wrecks simple obedience and encourages thinking. It does promote (but does not require) atheism, without even trying, because most religious metaphysics are going to shrivel and crumble to ash when exposed to the harsh actinic light of science unfettered. Or they should, anyway. Some people are pretty good about clamping their eyes shut and hiding in the shadows.