I don’t think that religion is necessarily in conflict with science, but it clearly is in some cases. As the original statement only said ‘most’, I didn’t find his phrasing problamatic. I think young earth creationist religions are an example of such a conflict for religious believers, but they are a minority of religious people. Old earth ‘divine guidance’ type creationist beliefs are not in conflict with science.
Why do you say “science, correctly understood, is clearly incompatible with religion.”? Do you think there is an inherent conflict between science and religion for all religions? If so, can you be more specific about what you mean because religious beliefs are very diverse.
Since this is a response I get quite a lot, I thought that I should clarify what I meant, especially concerning the word religion because, as Beth rightly points out, there is a wide diversity of meanings assigned to that word.
What I mean is that science is incompatible with all religions that involve a supernatural agency that can interact with the world in any form. A nonmaterial agency acting in such a way that it overturns the workings of the laws of science is what we normally call a miracle. It is a singular event that defies any scientific explanation or cause. The population geneticist J. B. S. Haldane captured the problem that a scientist should have with believing that such things can happen: “My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.” Another biologist Richard Lewontin put it even more succinctly: “We cannot live simultaneously in a world of natural causation and of miracles, for if one miracle can occur, there is no limit.”
Let’s take the case of Beth’s example of old Earth divine guidance creationist beliefs. The problem is with the ‘divine guidance’ part. How does that ‘divine guidance’ manifest itself? It means that god nudged things along at crucial moments in the Earth’s history to make sure that the outcome is what he wants. But such interventions, however small and however rare, are in direct contradiction with science because they would violate the normal working out of the laws of science. If such an explanation is allowed to pass without challenge for even one event, then how can we counter those who say that Hurricane Sandy was god’s punishment for some perceived sin? How do we distinguish between when god acted to influence some outcome and when he left things alone? This is the problem that Lewontin pointed out.
If the meaning ascribed to religion disavows such a supernatural agency altogether and involves just a set of rites and rituals, then of course it is compatible with science because then such a ‘religion’ is more akin to a philosophy or a way of life and causes no problem for the scientist. A scientist may like to practice meditation and yoga in the company of like-minded people wearing robes and chanting, and believe that it provides her with peace of mind and improves her as a human being. She may call herself a Buddhist and there would be no problem with that. But most Buddhists also believe in reincarnation and mystical karmic forces and the like that act in the world, and those aspects of Buddhism are incompatible with science.
Similarly some people believe in some cosmic spirit force or deity that exists outside of normal space and time and does not intervene in the world at all. Such a belief is not incompatible with science but seems pointless and I doubt that it would appeal to many religious people. As Marcus Ranum pointed out in a comment to a different post, how can one tell the difference between such an inert or undetectable god and no god at all?
While it is undoubtedly possible to slap the label of ‘religion’ onto a set of philosophical beliefs (such as existentialism) or practices (such as yoga) and then correctly assert that such a ‘religion’ is compatible with science, that is not what people normally think of as a religion.