When the eminent biologist E. O. Wilson visited our university in 2009 to give a lecture, a small group of people was invited to meet with him privately for a discussion. Some of the people in the group tried to ask him his views on science and religion but he responded with some vague noncommittal generalities. It was clear to me that he did not want to get into it. Wilson’s deep passion has been to try and get as many people as possible to realize the danger that the Earth is in and the need to take steps to protect it. He had just published The Future of Life (2008) and I felt that he avoided this touchy issue to avoid alienating potential religious allies in his environmental cause.
This reticence has led many people to think that he is an accommodationist who believes that science and religion are compatible and merely ‘different ways of knowing’, as some like to put it. Via Jerry Coyne, I learn that on page 295 of his latest book The Social Conquest of Earth, Wilson makes his views about science and religion quite explicit.
It will be useful in taking a second look at science and religion to understand the true nature of the search for objective truth. Science is not just another enterprise like medicine or engineering or theology. It is the wellspring of all the knowledge we have of the real world that can be tested and fitted to preexisting knowledge. It is the arsenal of technologies and inferential mathematics needed to distinguish the true from the false. It formulates the principles and formulas that tie all this knowledge together. Science belongs to everybody. Its constituent parts can be challenged by anybody in the world who has sufficient information to do so. It is not just ‘another way of knowing’ as often claimed, making it coequal with religious faith. The conflict between scientific knowledge and the teachings of organized religions is irreconcilable. The chasm will continue to widen and cause no end of trouble as long as religious leaders go on making unsupportable claims about supernatural causes of reality. [My italics –MS]
That seems to me to be a pretty clear and unequivocal statement of the ‘new atheist’ position.