Evolving Thoughts

Suppose you have a religion and are interested in science. Do you

a. Have to give up your religion

b. Have to abandon your effort to find out about the natural world through science

c. Try to find some accommodation?

Now suppose you are a member of a scientific body, and want to suggest to members of religions that they can be part of the scientific enterprise. What do you do?

a. Tell them they can do so only if they abandon their religion

b. Tell them they cannot be part of the scientific enterprise

c. Tell them that some religions have no apparent problem accommodating science?

According to a certain kind of atheist of my acquaintance, the answer to both questions is a. According to some theists of my acquaintance, the answer to both questions is c. According to antiscientific fundamentalists, of Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu and various other religions, the answer is b [no links are necessary; you know who they are].

But both these theists and atheists share the view that science is worthwhile and should not be put on the same level as religious belief in public education, policy or discourse. What is going on here? Russell thinks that this is a philosophical matter, and scientific associations should not engage in philosophy. Wesley thinks that scientific associations must do so or they concede the field to the antiscientists and their faux framing of “he yelled, she yelled” (i.e., setting up the argument so that because they have no reason for their view, neither does anyone else, and it’s just a matter of who can shout the loudest).

What do you all think? I think that if one has a religion, one has to deal with the factual aspects of the world as best one can, and come to an accommodation, but does that transfer to the scientific associations themselves? Can they state that some religions are accommodationists? Can they advocate accommodationism?

Comments

  1. #1 Scott
    April 26, 2009

    If a scientific organization is asked the question, of those three, answer “c” is the only factually true response. Does one “advocate accommodationism” if one states a true fact?

  2. #2 Russell
    April 26, 2009

    That’s a good question. Let’s consider the rather small group that believes in vampires. I suppose someone who believes in vampires could somehow accommodate their beliefs to science by rejecting the various views of vampirism that conflict with the body of biological knowledge, and hold out that there nonetheless are vampires, even though their physiology and functions are not understood.

    Now: what should scientific institutions say about this? The one thing I would point out is that they shouldn’t say anything different with regard to those who believe in Christianity. Otherwise, they are not making a scientific statement, or a philosophic statement, but a political statement about how they will accommodate themselves to belief because it is popular.

  3. #3 qetzal
    April 26, 2009

    I guess the key question is whether one values consistency.

    For the first question, obviously you don’t have to give up your religion to pursue science. But if your religion requires you to believe empirical things without evidence, that’s inconsistent with science. Ideally, you’d at least recognize and acknowledge that inconsistency. There’s also the problem of choosing when to adhere to scientific standards of beliefs, and when to believe on faith. That problem has significant potential to compromise one’s scientific pursuits and integrity, but it’s not a show-stopper.

    On the second question, I don’t think a scientific body has to say any of those. Certainly not the first two. I think it’s fair to say that many people can accommodate their religious beliefs with science, but it’s up to each person to work that out for themselves. At the same time, I think scientific bodies have a duty to note that science requires empirical facts to support empirical beliefs. If and when the issue comes up, they should also acknowledge that some religious beliefs are incompatible with science, both on the empirical evidence, and in principle.

    Individuals are free to be inconsistent, accepting some “facts” on faith, and others only on evidence. Scientific bodies cannot do that and remain true to their scientific principles and mission. They can acknowledge that people are able to accommodate faith and science, but they should also acknowledge that doing so may violate scientific principles. If people choose to accommodate, that’s up to them, but scientific bodies shouldn’t advocate that.

  4. #4 Eamon Knight
    April 26, 2009

    I haven’t read the linked blogs posts yet, but at the moment I see it as a fine line to be walked (unless you want to just be a nuke-the-churches anti-theist).

    The problem as I see it, is this: As a matter of observation, some religious people and groups have accomodated themselves to science. Therefore (c) is factually true, as far as it goes. But it does not automatically follow that religion is philosophically compatible with science — the accomodationists might be behaving inconsistently (people do that; all of us do at some level). And I think we are being disingenuous if we point out the first, but use it to imply the second. (Personally, I think believers in any god that makes a difference are being inconsistent, but I haven’t thought it through enough to defend it).

    However, I am also a believer in separation of concerns, and of not trying to open too many cans of worms at once. For that reason, I think science advocates should point out the existence of the compatibilists, while acknowledging the deeper unresolved philosophical question — and then refer inquirers to the compatibilists to see if they like their rationale. Science organizations should stick to doing science.

  5. #5 Pierce R. Butler
    April 26, 2009

    Now suppose you are a member of a scientific body, and want to suggest to members of religions that they can be part of the scientific enterprise.

    Why would “a certain kind of atheist” even want to make such a suggestion?

  6. #6 J. J. Ramsey
    April 26, 2009

    Russell: “Let’s consider the rather small group that believes in vampires.”

    Russell, your example contains a cheat roughly similar to that of Russell’s Teapot. The unobservable orbiting teapot seems absurd in part because we know the teapot is a man-made object and that the logistics of getting it into space would be rather tricky. Similarly, vampires, were they to exist, would be rather concrete and detectable things, and that if they existed, they ought to have come to light (errm, so to speak) by now. That’s not quite so true with invisible things like souls or deities.

    Eamon Knight: “But it does not automatically follow that religion is philosophically compatible with science”

    I’m inclined to see the whole question of the philosophical compatibility of religion and science as hopelessly ill-defined. On the one hand, there is no nice, neat attitude that the religious have toward empiricism, and even the idea that the religious think that faith is belief without evidence is dodgy. On the other hand, the discipline of science is such that it is robust against some level of false beliefs (religious or otherwise) in the scientists participating in the discipline. Often the beliefs are simply irrelevant to the study in question, and peer review can catch dodgy results that may be due to any relevant false beliefs. Of course, it doesn’t always work so nice and neat, but science is nonetheless fallibilist; the possibility of error on the part of the participants is already taken into account.

  7. #7 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    April 26, 2009

    I once thought that atheists and scientists needed to be completely consistent as far as compatibility. Scientific exploration precludes the naturalistic explanations of religious authority, yada yada yada.

    I have come to the realization that the accommodationist accession is a political necessity in order to just get evolution taught without interference from religious institutions or school board nabobs.

    It isn’t impossible to accept continental drift and still be religious, right? We should at least allow that scientists can be religious, even if we deplore that they try to make twisty rationalizations to remain so.

  8. #8 Chris
    April 26, 2009

    Coming at this question from the point of view of a scientist with religious beliefs, I think that both sides need to be intelligent. The idea that religious people need to make twisty rationalizations to be scientists is false. As someone of religious faith, I do believe that there is a God. However, I view God through the lens of science. If something is scientifically proven, then one cannot deny it on religious grounds – to do that would be blasphemous. I think the problem arises when people confuse science and philosophy. For example, when: 1) religious people attempt to force an agenda based on a primitive understanding of God or, 2) scientists try to use science to justify being atheist.

  9. #9 Russell Blackford
    April 26, 2009

    How do you get (a) and (a) as my answers out of what I wrote? lol

    I wouldn’t actually give those answers.

    My off-the-top-of-my-head answer to the first question, if someone is asking me for personal advice, is “follow the science where it leads. It may (I warn you) lead you to an understanding of the world that you’ll find to be incompatible with your religion, but it may not.” I also quite like Eamon’s answer above. My own view is that such a philosophical incompatibility exists unless the religion concerned is pushed in a direction well away from providential gods and the like, such as are found in orthodox monotheisms. However, I don’t mind that individual scientists disagree with me. I’m not denying individuals the right to try to find some personal accommodation, though if they do I reserve my own right to argue with them about it.

    My answer to the second question is closer to (c) than either of the other two, but I’m really not sure that such an organisation should be offering ANY answer on such a question.

    If pushed, though, I prefer a wording such as your formulation of (c) to a wording that says or implies something like: “Religion and science are philosophically compatible.” It’s one thing to say that some scientists perceive them to be compatible, with the implication that some don’t; it’s another to adjudicate on who is right. Ideally, though, I say (with Eamon, apparently) that the organisation should stick to science.

  10. #10 Spiky
    April 26, 2009

    My immediate answer is that there is a tradeoff between truthfulness and effectiveness. I think that religions do, in fact, make claims which are easily disproven, which is why they often pretend not to. That means the true answer should be (a) in both cases. But behaviourally speaking, (c) is more effective in leading people towards truthful conduct and good behaviour, because people have to come to the conclusion (a) for themselves, or not at all. And we are only human, and hypocrisy is a much-undervalued skill.

    On the whole I think it’s right that there should be a mixture of approaches, giving people options. I’d feel (c) were much more wrong if there were no (a) around. I’d also feel (a) was a bit pointless without enough (c).

    But I also feel that to answer this question properly we need to understand better what ‘religion’ really is, in a functional and behavioural sense. Because religions are inventions of the human mind, they can abandon beliefs and practices that no longer work for them, and adopt different ones. So can individuals. I am not sure that the line between this and abandoning a religion is all that clear.

  11. #11 Steve
    April 26, 2009

    d) Shut up and let people draw their own conclusions

  12. #12 Rick Thomas
    April 26, 2009

    This discussion treats science and religion as partners in dialog, but they are fundamentally not. Science is a humanity-wide project of reconciling all truths. Religion is many sects holding out various “truths” from reconciliation. The only resolution, and where politically savvy religions tend, is that science is about the material and religion is about the immaterial. And that’s great.

    A scientific institution can adopt this position, implicitly or explicitly, and avoid any further discussion. And if the larger community wants the discussion just make sure that philosophy is represented equally with religion.

  13. #13 Aaron Golas
    April 26, 2009

    Science advocacy means advocacy of scientific methodology. There’s no getting around that. It means saying, when science and faith are in conflict, science wins because its methodology is better. It also means you can’t just offer faith-based acceptance of science’s conclusions and ignore the methodology for convenience.

    Since religious belief is what needs to accommodate to science, let the religious advocates push accommodation. I’m sure they’ll have no trouble making themselves heard; science advocacy groups need neither argue for them nor advertise for them.

  14. #14 Susan Silberstein
    April 26, 2009

    The answer is obviously “c” but I recognize that as an atheist, I’m not sure my logic and philosophy filters allow me to make an unbiased determination. That is, can I pretend to have no opinion and ask myself what would I do if I did indeed have religious beliefs?

  15. #15 Chris' Wills
    April 26, 2009

    Well, I’ld suggest that a scientific association should only require that its members follow the scientific method when doing scientific studies.

    Anything else should be outside their remit (what people do outside their work place is no business of their employer, as long as it isn’t illegal) and is an infringement on individual liberties.

    They are not, nor should they strive to be, agents of “right thought” just agents of right methodology in science.

    To expand the policing aspect, should they ban sadists from physics, based on the premise that this might distract from the physics?

    The fact that some who call themselves scientists and claim to know “The Truth” wish to bar those who don’t hold with their beliefs is simply prejudice. It is nothing to do with science and how it is done. Just silly people wishing to aggrandise themselves and feel important.

    The scientific method and development of models can, is and has been practiced by people of all beliefs/worldviews/philosophies, any attempt to police who can or cannot be a scientist in any field (as long as they follow the normal scientific methodology) is no more correct than the restrictions on philosophy enforced in some countries.

  16. #16 jeff
    April 26, 2009

    The answer is (c) accommodation. Scientists should not be thought police, and there may be more to heaven and earth than is dreamt of in their current philosophy. In addition, in the United States, freedom of religion is explicitly protected by the Constitution. Of course, so is freedom of speech.

    But what should accommodation mean? Is it (c1) we don’t care what metaphysical beliefs you may have, as long as you adhere to established science and methodology, or (c2) we will actually make some minimal effort to reconcile the two?

  17. #17 Kevin
    April 26, 2009

    I’d have to agree with most of the posters here; religion and science deal with fundamentally different parts of a person’s worldview, though a significant number disagree. The first question, a person can only answer for themselves, and very few people will be convinced otherwise once they’ve decided.
    Then, the problem of a scientific organization: once you are an organization, you’re no longer purely a creature of the ideas and actions you advocate and participate in, but you’re also a member of the social and political world. This makes the last answer the most appropriate, except for specifically partisan groups. Aside from their internal operation, any public association has a need to be inclusive within their principles – don’t advocate religion, obviously, but if nondenominational information or information on accomodating religious organizations of as many faiths as possible (don’t disinclude, you’ll get sued!) is available, it should be provided or pointed out. No purely scientific organization should want ANYONE to turn away from science just because they don’t know enough about option c). From there, it’s back to number one.

  18. #18 RBH
    April 26, 2009

    John asked

    I think that if one has a religion, one has to deal with the factual aspects of the world as best one can, and come to an accommodation, but does that transfer to the scientific associations themselves? Can they state that some religions are accommodationists? Can they advocate accommodationism?

    Well, let’s look at an actual empirical fact or two.

    One plain fact is that people exist who are both religious (Christian) believers and competent scientists (in the sense of actually doing standard science in a recognizable context like a secular university or industrial laboratory). Those people (excluding the presuppositionalists of the AIG, ICR, and Disco ‘Tute sort) do not in their scientific work invoke supernatural entities as causal or explanatory variables. If one reads their scientific papers one finds that they address genuine scientific issues without reference to angels, demons, or gods. Their papers in Nature and Science and Cell are indistinguishable from the papers of scientists who are not religious believers. So it follows that some sort of accommodation is possible for individual people. It is quite obviously the case that one can be both a religious person and a working and productive scientist: they exist.

    Is it appropriate for a scientific association to point out that fact? Sure. Those people do in fact exist. Their existence is an important fact in the political efforts to defend the teaching of the best science, and hence I see no problem at all with, say, NCSE pointing to the existence of those people as counter-examples to the false claim of fundamentalist Christians that science entails atheism. That’s a factually false claim, and it would be derelict to fail to point to counter-examples.

    Is it appropriate for a scientific association to advocate for “accommodationism”? My view is no: pointing out that some people manage it is entirely appropriate, but advocating it is taking a position on a question that’s not in the competence of a scientific association. I don’t want to be in the position of advocating for one or another specific theological resolution of the relation between science and religion. I take it as a given that the accommodation must be on the religion side, but it’s not a scientific association’s task to advocate for what specific religious accommodation must be made. Having watched evolutionary creationists torment themselves over the theological issues for the last few years, I’m not in a position to recommend any particular resolution, and I don’t think a scientific association is in any position to pronounce on it either.

  19. #19 sosman
    April 26, 2009

    I think scientific organisations shouldn’t even buy into the argument – stick to science. Ie my preferred answer to the second question:

    d) don’t tell them anything – they can figure it out for themselves.

  20. #20 Russell Blackford
    April 26, 2009

    I’ll throw a variant of the question back at you, John:

    http://metamagician3000.blogspot.com/2009/04/giving-up-something.html

  21. #21 Chris Schoen
    April 26, 2009

    RBH writes:

    Is it appropriate for a scientific association to advocate for “accommodationism”? My view is no: pointing out that some people manage it is entirely appropriate, but advocating it is taking a position on a question that’s not in the competence of a scientific association.

    Richard, it’s unclear from this whether you feel the associations Coyne cites in his article are engaging in this advocacy or not.

    I personally can’t detect any moral stance in the statements of the NAS or NCSE so cited. The NAS does not say that science and religion should coexist, merely that they do, and that there need not be conflict between them. This is a factual matter, and an important corrective to assertions by extremists on both sides that one cannot adhere concurrently to science and a religion. The NCSE statement, to, merely denies, on factual grounds, that one cannot hold a belief in the divine, and in evolution. (Pity that it even needs to be said!)

    This zero-sum, scorched earth position we are seeing articulated by Coyne, Myers, Dawkins and their counterparts among the religious fundamentalists, is starting to feel reckless to me–humanity is a species that hardly needs much encouragement when it comes to taking sides in epic and pointless brawls.

  22. #22 James F
    April 26, 2009

    RBH #18

    Is it appropriate for a scientific association to point out that fact? Sure. Those people do in fact exist. Their existence is an important fact in the political efforts to defend the teaching of the best science, and hence I see no problem at all with, say, NCSE pointing to the existence of those people as counter-examples to the false claim of fundamentalist Christians that science entails atheism. That’s a factually false claim, and it would be derelict to fail to point to counter-examples.

    Chris Schoen #21

    I personally can’t detect any moral stance in the statements of the NAS or NCSE so cited. The NAS does not say that science and religion should coexist, merely that they do, and that there need not be conflict between them. This is a factual matter, and an important corrective to assertions by extremists on both sides that one cannot adhere concurrently to science and a religion. The NCSE statement, to, merely denies, on factual grounds, that one cannot hold a belief in the divine, and in evolution. (Pity that it even needs to be said!)

    Hear, hear! I have watched as a straw man has been constructed that the AAAS, NAS, and NCSE are advocating that there is no conflict been science and religion in general, when the real point is that acceptance of evolution need not preclude religious belief. This isn’t advocating a specific theology, it’s making a statement of fact in response to scare-tactic creationist arguments to the contrary.

    Finally:

    Now suppose you are a member of a scientific body, and want to suggest to members of religions that they can be part of the scientific enterprise. What do you do?

    a. Tell them they can do so only if they abandon their religion

    b. Tell them they cannot be part of the scientific enterprise

    Dr. Smith, are you now, or have you ever been, a theist?

    /snark

  23. #23 Chris Schoen
    April 26, 2009

    Richard, following up on my comment @21, I just saw your post at Panda’s Thumb about this. Well said, and it answers my question, above, of whether you regard the NAS and NCSE as “advocating” accommodation.

  24. #24 Larry Moran
    April 26, 2009

    My answer to the first question is irrelevant since I am an atheist.

    I imagine that religious people would opt for “c” (try to find accommodation) but would be worried about the threat of “a” (have to give up your religion).

    My answer to the second question is “d” – none of the above.

    When a religious student asks me whether they can become a scientist I say, “Certainly, as long as you follow the standard practices of science.”

    When a scientific organization asks me whether it should weigh in with an official position on the science/religion debate I say, “No, stick to science.”

    It’s not up to AAAS or NAS to tell devout Christians, for example, whether their beliefs are compatible or not compatible with science. That’s not part of the mandate of a scientific organization.

  25. #25 DaveScot
    April 27, 2009

    Moran is right. The people obsessed with these questions are treating science as a religion. It should be treated like driving a truck. No matter what your religion as long as you keep your eyes on the road, hands and feet at the controls, fuel in the tank, air in the tires, and so on and so forth then your religion is not relevant. If you view science as a religion instead of an occupation then problems and conflicts are going to arise.

  26. #26 PZ Myers
    April 27, 2009

    Tsk, tsk, John. Two false trichotomies at once? I thought philosophers were supposed to know better than that.

    See Larry Moran above for my answer to your test.

  27. #27 freelunch
    April 27, 2009

    I would say that within the magisterium of science, science has to point out that religious claims are unsupported. As long as religions do not make claims about reality that are in conflict with reality, science should leave it alone.

    That’s somewhere between A and C (but not B) because there should never be accommodation to unsubstantiated claims within science, but outside of it, scientists shouldn’t care as scientists about religion any more than they prescriptively care about tastes in music.

  28. #28 Ian Spedding, FCD
    April 27, 2009

    My answer would be ‘c’ in both cases.

    There is no conflict between religion and science, the conflict is between religion and atheism. Atheism denies the existence of any god or supernatural domain, religion affirms them in some form. Science is a process for investigating and explaining the observable Universe. Where religions – or atheists – make testable statements about the nature of that Universe, science can adjudicate on the degree to which it is consistent with what is already known. That is all.

    The scientific position on a god should be that it all depends on what you mean by “god” but no evidence for any of the usual suspects has been found thus far, although the possibility can’t be absolutely ruled out. What can be said is that, also thus far, it has not been found necessary to invoke such a concept to explain what is observed. That said, there are still some very deep mysteries to be fathomed so dismissing anything out of hand is unwise.

  29. #29 Tyro
    April 27, 2009

    Re #1, I think the answer is none of the above. Religious people do enter science and find ways to accommodate their unscientific beliefs however it would be disingenuous to suggest that their religious beliefs will not be affected, sometimes dramatically. The fact is that a decline in religious belief strongly correlates with advancement in science, whether this stems from religious people dropping out or abandoning their beliefs I can’t say but if we’re going to take a stance on this we should be honest.

    Re #2, surely (c) shouldn’t state that “religions have no apparent problem accommodating science” but that religious people have no apparent problem accommodating science. The latter is demonstrably true, the former is arguably false. At best it seems that, with sufficient effort, some religious beliefs can be kept from obvious conflict with scientific conclusions. In general we must admit that a great many religious beliefs can not be accommodated without significant change and that most deeply religious students entering sciences will find their religious beliefs challenged.

    If the AAAS or NAS doesn’t wish to admit to these facts as they clearly do not, then they should keep schtum. They’re not changing many minds about the co-existence of religion and science and are instead demonstrating that even making generalizations about religion is incompatible with science (since they can’t manage it themselves).

  30. #30 gillt
    April 27, 2009

    The second question rankles. Scientific organization don’t act as gatekeepers to the scientific enterprise–deciding who or what said enterprise may apply to. Also, I was under the impression us adults thought it best to move beyond the atheist-as-fundamentalist caricature?

  31. #31 John Pieret
    April 27, 2009

    To question #1, all three are possible options and in various combinations. None of them are madatory.

    Question #2, it seems to me, is exactly of the order of giving a prospective student advice on how to fund his/her education. You give them some possible sources of information/help, avoid telling the prospect which is the proper method of funding for their circumstances or which is the best value and let them investigate and make their own judgment. I do agree, then, with Larry:

    It’s not up to AAAS or NAS to tell devout Christians, for example, whether their beliefs are compatible or not compatible with science. That’s not part of the mandate of a scientific organization.

    That’s quite true. However, I don’t see how the NAS did that in any way (though some of the NCSE stuff did seem to do so, to the extent Jerry Coyne’s characterization of it was complete). Letting people know that there are viewpoints that theists claim allows them to participate in science and where to find it is no more sinister than telling them, on the other hand, about various loans and grants.

  32. #32 Chris Schoen
    April 27, 2009

    Larry,

    Did you see the part in there where John employs the word “suppose,” signaling a thought experiment? I hope you don’t object, when Einstein asks you to picture him observing a beam of light that he is pursuing at velocity c, that both physical and technical constraints would make this feat impossible.

    Without any historical context, it might be accurate for you to write that:

    It’s not up to AAAS or NAS to tell devout Christians, for example, whether their beliefs are compatible or not compatible with science. That’s not part of the mandate of a scientific organization.”

    But the fact is that both religious fundamentalists and “Churchillian” atheists are proclaiming, quite audibly (note I do not say “loudly”), that a choice must be made between one’s identity as a Christian (for example), and a scientist. This is propaganda, and it is scientifically false. If there were high profile groups proclaiming that one could not be both gay, and a scientist, or an immigrant, and a scientist, would you find it outside the mandate of scientific organizations to inject a little truth and reason into the matter?

  33. #33 Larry Moran
    April 27, 2009

    Chris Schoen asks,

    If there were high profile groups proclaiming that one could not be both gay, and a scientist, or an immigrant, and a scientist, would you find it outside the mandate of scientific organizations to inject a little truth and reason into the matter?

    To the best of my knowledge there is no serious controversy over these issues. I’m perfectly happy if scientific organizations go public with statements that gays and immigrants can be scientists.

    The religion issue, on the other hand, is controversial. There are many of us who believe that science and (most of) religion are incompatible. When the people you represent (i.e. scientists) are divided on an important issue it’s better for the organization to say nothing.

    You can vote on this at my blog poll if you want.

    I’d like to ask John a question. It’s a hypothetical question.

    How would he feel if a professional philosophy organization issued a statement saying that they have an official position on the conflict between science and religion—it has decided that there is no conflict?

    Would this be an appropriate thing for a philosophy organization to do?

  34. #34 Chris Schoen
    April 27, 2009

    Larry,

    This appears to reduce to a moral stance that endorses scientific organizations making public statements that you agree with.

    We can easily imagine that there is, irrealis, a controversy over gays or immigrants in the sciences. For example: a prominent and politically powerful extremist movement in the gay rights or immigrants’ rights community has decided that the sciences have been coopted by the heterosexist or racist status quo which makes participation in them untenable. Amazingly, unaccountably, some scientists have begun to adopt similar sentiments for reasons of their own. Yet the fact remains that some excellent working scientists are gay, or immigrant.

    Would you continue to abide by your argument that the very existence of this controversy means that the NAS and NCSE can’t make public comments merely observing that gays or immigrants can participate (and indeed are, at present, participating) in the scientific enterprise with no apparent detriment to thier identity either as scientists or as gays/immigrants?

  35. #35 Jim Lippard
    April 27, 2009

    My initial answer to the first question was (c) but it ended up being (a) in my own case. It can obviously be (c) if you’re willing to compartmentalize your religious beliefs or give them up when science shows them to be false; some liberal theologies have little danger of conflict arising since they have little empirical content.

    My answer to the second question is a modified (c)–they should point out that some religious believers have no problem accomodating the science, but others do not, and clearly make statements that are completely unsupported by or even contradicted by science. And I think they typically do this, e.g., with NCSE’s critiques of creationism.

  36. #36 Sigmund
    April 27, 2009

    Larry hit the nail on the head with his answer.
    ‘Religion’ is such a broad term, encompassing everything from completely metaphorical interpretations of ancient stories to almost total literal belief in the same tales, that it is impossible to say that all forms of it are incompatible with science. If we applied the same standard to belief in astrology, homeopathy or the flat earth theory then these too are compatible with science. In both cases the problem remains that those who believe in literal aspects of religions or pseudosciences are claiming legitimacy from the tiny proportion of those in either camp who only accept these stories as pure metaphors.
    The basis for science must always be the truth. For an scientific advocacy group to use disingenuous tactics that obscure the relevance of metaphorical and literal interpretations of religion leaves a bad taste. There is a big difference between saying ‘science and religion are compatible’ and with saying ‘so-and-so scientist sees no problem reconciling his or her religion with science’. The former statement is disingenuous without explaining which particular religion you mean (since most of the public reading such a statement may assume that their own religion – one that most likely contains many aspects that are not compatible with scientific knowledge – IS compatible.
    The second statement is simply a statement of the scientists belief and, though we may disagree with that scientists interpretation, can accept that this is their actual claim.

  37. #37 ArchangelChuck
    April 28, 2009

    Religion and science can coexist. Unfortunately, too much of religion has clung to the false superstition of a personal god. It isn’t religion that is the problem, it’s God.

    How, then, would I answer those question? It depends. Does the religion, with any degree of certainty, believe in a personal god? If so, then the answer is (a) to the first, and (c) for the second. If not, then (c) to both. The reason is simple: the only possible way to establish harmony between science and religion is the abandonment of the superstition of a personal god.

  38. #38 Alan Dow
    April 28, 2009

    I am a Ph.D. biologist and a committed Roman Catholic christian. I find no conflict and no need for “accomodation” between science and faith whatsoever, if by “accomodation” you mean that I must change or revise certain articles of faith in light of scientific findings. Despite the assertions of the “cultured despisers” of religion, I find no need to abandon my belief in a personal God and other core articles of faith that I hold dear. Science requires that I pursue a rational explanation for phenomena and, when I cannot find such a rational explanation, leave the matter open for further analysis when the tools available to science have improved. As attractive as it may be to many, the supposition that there is no God is an article of faith, not a scientific conclusion. At the very least, the God question is still an open matter.

  39. #39 TLAP
    April 28, 2009

    I am both a scientist as well as a confirmed Roman Catholic as well. I too find no need for accomodation between science and faith, yet am met each day with this feeling of the two being mutually exclusive. In a world where relgion has shaped every step we have taken in one way or another, I see no way that we could possibly ignore the religous perspective- however, I believe it is also time for a universal acceptance of what science has systematically shown to be “fact.” While we blindly accept the existane of God (as I do and always will), we cannot turn our heads away from empirical evidence that gives us definitive answers to many questions we have simply because they do not fit perfectly to the “storybook” of our religion whether that be the Bible, Koran or other entity. In the same breath, I must accept and respect those who wish to simply say “that cannot be because that’s not the way it was written in the bible.” I must admit, however, it is very difficult to sit through a conversation with someone who is trying to convince me that certain events such as the “big bang” and “evolution” as we know it did not occur, almost as if these events were synonymous to the “Holocaust” for the German Nazis. It baffles me. I believe in God, I have a strong faith, yet I lend my mind to science as well, why can there not be a middle ground?

  40. #40 John S. Wilkins
    April 28, 2009

    I’d like to thank you all for intelligent and generally respectful discussions while I was en route from Lisbon to Sydney.

    I should state my own view: Science and science commentary organisations that represent the science rather than (say) religious scientists should not, as Larry said, ever enter into advocacy for anything other than the science. But I think they can state that this or that religious organisation or group has said officially that science and religion do not, or ought not, conflict when antiscience lobbyists are trying to get the issue framed as being science contra religion simpliciter. So I think that what the AAAS and NCSE do in noting this is legitimate, and when they advocate accommodationism they exceed their mandate.

  41. #41 Sigmund
    April 28, 2009

    Isn’t simply noting the belief of one segment of scientists while ignoring the opposite view of the vast majority of scientists akin to lying about the consensus view?
    For instance, some scientists believe that a 6000 year old earth, with flood geology as described in the bible is consistent with the scientific evidence.
    I think its not unreasonable to suggest that that is a true statement – there are indeed some scientists that do think like that.
    In that case wouldn’t it be acceptable for the NCSE or AAAS to state this?
    Or would it be disingenuous since it fails to point out that the vast majority of scientists not that the evidence points in an entirely different direction?
    I guess this is the point here – simply pointing out that some scientists accept ‘religion’ and science are compatible without presenting the opposing view IS taking a stance on one side of the debate, or at the very least is akin to accomodationism.

  42. #42 Scott Hatfield
    April 28, 2009

    John, I shared the following suggestion over at PZ Mwahaha’s as to what I thought the stance of NCSE should be:

    “Individuals privately hold a range of views on the question of the correct relationship between science and religion, debating the question of how they can be compatible, if at all. But scientists themselves have no question about how science should be conducted: by careful measurement, experiment and reasoning based on evidence, rather than faith.”

    I made this suggestion because I can see the point that NCSE has probably gone a bit overboard in emphasizing religious counterexamples to evolution’s foes at the expense of the One True Unfaith, but I’m not losing too much sleep over it.

  43. #43 MrrKAT, Finland
    April 29, 2009

    c and c.
    Both can be taken as sociological observations. In latter (c) as hints, but no imperatives nor suggestions because decisions are up to believers/churches themselves.

  44. #44 Pierce R. Butler
    April 29, 2009

    Our host’s closing point that organizations /= individuals trumps the stand of any given individual. When the organizations lack consensus, a secular/agnostic/laissez-faire approach is the most concise response to any controversy beyond the requirements of the discipline in question.

    Much less concise, if arguably more honest transparent, would be a thorough dirty-laundry-flying, finger-pointing, open-ended flame war within each such organization. Can I see a show of hands for all favoring this option?

    Hrmm – concise wins.

    Meanwhile, we can only hope that NCSE will follow Richard B. Hoppe’s lead. My recommendations for them: take away their incumbent chaplain’s idiosyncratic Center-sponsored soapbox, set up a page of pro-evolution/science statements from Big Name religious entities, and reinvent their “Faith Project” as a religious advisory board.

  45. #45 Anders
    April 29, 2009

    You are forcing false alternatives. What about this answer:

    d) Your religion is irrelevant to science as your smoking is to cancer research, and its not the business of organizations promoting science to tell you to give up smoking OR to continue smoking. We all probably know the most rational answer to the question, but there’s nothing stopping a 3-packs-a-day smoker from being the best cancer researcher on the planet.

  46. #46 anonymous
    April 29, 2009

    The question lacks sufficient information – specifically if the religion is one that claims scientific knowledge or not.
    If it is a religion that only touches on things that are disjoint from science – there is no conflict (e.g. that invisible pink unicorns fly through space).
    If it is a religion that touches on the real world, they are incompatible – and this is probably the type of religion that the question is intended to ask about (e.g. the earth is only a few years old and all evidence to the contrary was put there artificially).

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