Framing Science

Released around the time of Expelled’s premiere, this YouTube clip produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science features Francis Collins, CEO Alan Leshner, and others discussing the compatibility of science, religion, and evolution. Collins ends the video by urging that we need to return to the middle ground, a place where we can celebrate both science and faith.

Comments

  1. #1 Randy
    May 30, 2008

    but Jerry Coyne and PZ say they are incompatable.

  2. #2 omar ali
    May 30, 2008

    “history, not argument, undermined the gods”. Times change and the gods have to change with them (or pretend not to change and call their new forms with old names). We cannot “return to middle ground” because there is no middle ground to return to. To the extent that religion works in this world (to organize people, to console people, to kill other people, whatever) its going to stay around and the ones that work better will be fruitful and multiply. Argument-wise, the atheists have never lost in the past and wont loose in the future. But some of them will make like Collins and take advantage of religion where it helps…the totally sincere ones are the ones who have a hard time with this.

  3. #3 Beth B.
    May 30, 2008

    While the more moderate and non-literalist forms of religious faith seem able to mold themselves to our changing scientific view of the universe, I can’t help but wonder about the more literalist versions of Christianity (for instance) that hold specific tenets that *do* contradict scientific facts. To what extent would a return to the middle ground of celebrating both faith and science (following Collins) help out this situation?

    (Given the topic of the blog, I’m sure this point has been covered before. If so, apologies.)

  4. #4 Paul W.
    May 30, 2008

    Science and religion do conflict, systematically, unless you systematically bowdlerize your religion wherever it conflicts with science. (NOMA and all that.)

    There’s a reason why most scientists are nontheists, and the overwhelming majority of top scientists are outright atheists.

    Sure, there are a few scientists who manage to be both good scientists and very religious, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t actually a conflict. (Heck, a few Jews have managed to be neonazis, too. What does that prove, except that some people are good at compartmentalizing and avoiding recognizing conflicts between their beliefs?)

    Nontheists are about 100 times more likely to be top scientists than theists, if membership in the National Academy of Science is representative of top science. (Nobody seems to be able to find a better example.)

    Beyond that, there’s a more general inverse relationship between religious orthodoxy and advanced scientific achievement. People who identify as evangelicals or fundamentalists are underrepresented among theist scientists, by a factor of several. Atheists are overrepresented among nontheist scientists, also by a factor of several.

    So statistically speaking, science and religion seem to conflict a lot. An atheist is several times more likely to be a top scientist as an agnostic, about 100 times as likely as a theologically liberal theist, and 1000 times as likely as a very orthodox theist.

    That’s a simply staggering discrepancy that begs for an explanation.

    It’s way, way too big to account for by the usual suspects—e.g., that irreligiosity and science are both correlated with things like race, sex, family income, etc.
    Even the large majority of white males with graduate educations are theists. The large majority of well-off people are theists, too. But scientists are mostly nontheists, and top scientists are overwhelmingly so. Atheism is clearly a vastly better predictor of top scientific achievement than race, sex, and family income combined.

    For more detailed statistical arguments, see the comments on this older thread:

    http://scienceblogs.com/framing-science/2008/04/does_advanced_science_educatio.php

  5. #5 real belief
    May 30, 2008

    I couldn’t agree with anymore that the notion that religion and science are compatible. And, I take one step further that incompatible views like ID or creation science are actually anti-god.

    Dong science is understanding and exploiting the objects. Arguing creation science and ID express willingness to test and to measure the God, and ultimately, to replicate the creating processes like the God, which is the challenge to the God.

  6. #6 inkadu
    May 30, 2008

    “It would make faith look foolish. And that would be a terrible tragedy.”

    Thanks for the laugh.

  7. #7 Ryan
    May 30, 2008

    I know there are plenty of intelligent people who have managed to make their religion coexist in their minds with their up-to-date scientific knowledge, and for them, I’m sure, science and religion don’t overlap — but, so far as I can tell, they’ve had to eliminate a traditional function of religion: describing and explaining the world in which we live. They now rely on scientific explanations to do that and they rely on faith to give their life meaning (etc). Nothing wrong with that.

    But outside their minds, in the world we live in, it’s pretty obvious that science and religion do still overlap, and where they tend to overlap is where religion tries to continue in its traditional function of describing and explaining the world.

    And a lot of religions continue to do that, and they probably will for the foreseeable future. And why not? If your religion is true, it makes sense to believe it’s true everywhere, not just in spots. If it’s wrong about the world, what else is it wrong about?

    So some people have managed to throw out the part of their religion that doesn’t function well in the modern world. Well, you know, just because I Bondo the giant dent in your fender, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a collision. And just because every time religion and science crash into each other, someone is there to flip religion back right-side-up and duct tape a trash bag over the hole where a window used to be … that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. And (now that this metaphor has been stretched beyond all usefulness) I think you’re gonna have a hard time convincing people who know what they’re religion looked like before science got to it that that window always had a trash bag duct taped over it.

  8. #8 Paul W.
    May 31, 2008

    I got ahold of the actual Ecklund & Scheitle paper discussed in the earlier thread about whether becoming a scientist causes you to lose your religion.

    http://scienceblogs.com/framing-science/2008/04/does_advanced_science_educatio.php

    A quick look at Table 4 suggests that it strongly tends to, though of course the authors are right that it doesn’t “necessarily” (their emphasis) make you simply “drop” your religion.

    According to table 4, 61.6 percent of the elite scientists studied were raised Catholic or Protestant. They do disproportionately come from liberal varieties of those faiths, and/or households where religion wasn’t rated “very important,” but they were raised religiously.

    When surveyed, only 25.5 percent identified as Catholic or Protestant. Almost three fifths stopped being Christian.

    The percentage with no religious affiliation took up most of the slack. Only 13.4 percent of the scientists were raised with no religious affiliation, but 51.8 percent claimed none when surveyed—almost 4 times as many.

    While there’s a difference between religious affiliation and religiosity, it’s clear that the majority of scientists are in fact not religious. (In the E & S study, about 73 percent are atheist or agnostic, and another several percent believe in a “higher power” that’s not “God,” but some of those still retain a religious affiliation without believing even the basic God thing. I suspect many of those are cultural Jews.)

    Evidently, huge self-selection going into science accounts for a lot of the irreligiosity of scientists, as E & S say. And indeed, less orthodox people are more likely to go into science. But it also seems obvious that even among people raised religiously, either science systematically leads to irreligion, or something else leads to both.

    It may not cause a fundamentalist to drop religion altogether—those people generally don’t even go into science, or don’ make it anywhere—but it does seem to cause most theologically liberal people to give up on the idea entirely.

    Statistically speaking, the conflict between science and religion is just huge. Strong and orthodox religion leads people away from science in droves, and weak or liberal religion is subject to massive erosion by science. (Or perhaps by something else correlated with science, possibly just being smart.)

    Maybe Jerry Coyne is right. The huge bias against science is largely due to religion, and maybe the best way to promote science is to reduce the incidence of religion.

    If we frame science and religion as compatible, are we winning the battle but losing the war?

  9. #9 omar ali
    May 31, 2008

    Beth, you said: While the more moderate and non-literalist forms of religious faith seem able to mold themselves to our changing scientific view of the universe, I can’t help but wonder about the more literalist versions of Christianity (for instance) that hold specific tenets that *do* contradict scientific facts.”
    I think you are missing the point. So called literalist versions survive because they work. They work to motivate, organize and separate their flock from others and they work for the leaders who get better cannon fodder using them than they would find using, say, the constitution of the United States. Science may or may not become difficult IF they actually separate from society and create little Calvinist Genevas of their own. but until they do so and then suffer some consequences, they actually work very well.

  10. #10 Steve
    May 31, 2008

    Well it was nice to see something other than the old creationist mele put forward by respected religious people, this is a step in the right direction in influencing public opinion; Creationism is ridiculous, and it should be thought of that way by the religious and non-religious alike.

    All it takes to move from a position where you believe god created the world through evolution to a fully natural world-view is the realization that our evidence of evolution does indeed conflict blatantly with any religion except the Einsteinian variety.

  11. #11 doNald
    June 1, 2008

    The first problem I have with the video, and the one that I will comment on, is the juxtaposition of science and religion in the opening sequence. It is stated that science concerns only the natural world whereas religion concerns reasons for why we/things are here. You could properly call religion’s concern teleological. The problem is that this is not religion’s proper definition. Any definition of religion must include that a religion believes in some sort of supernatural entity (usually a deity, but possibly supernatural cosmic/karmic forces). The belief in a/the supernatural is the sine qua non of religion.

    From the video, and other similar arguments, attempting to make religion and science compatible, it seems as if the proponents are skewing the definition of religion so much that what they are describing is no longer religion, but a theistic philosophy.

    …..

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    June 1, 2008

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  13. #13 Magnus W
    June 1, 2008

    As a swede this was a sad sight…

  14. #14 Jarrod
    June 2, 2008

    I think Sam Harris put it best when he said that we need to acknowledge that religion has been the only major institution to pursue and popularise the deeper questions of spirituality, meaning etc.

    While I think the antiquated framework of all the major modern religions is far too cumbersome and shackled by dogma to yield any progress for humankind in this area, I certainly think that the question of spirituality is one worth pursuing.

    And I mean spirituality in the Sam Harris sense of the word: no need to thoughtlessly invoke the supernatural, we can explore our minds, the awesome complexity of the brain and the link they both have with our emotions, consciousness, sense of ‘self’, meditation etc.

    Immediately deferring to the bible, for instance (with all it’s endless revisionism as the church tries desperately to swim against the tide of modernity) robs us of a truer, deeper understanding of such matters. Why impose the horribly constrained framework of Christianity upon the question of spirituality? Surely serious inquiry into such a complex subject should begin with the broadest framework possible. And in the end I think we will find that this framework ends up being the same one that has facilitated all human knowledge. The Scientific Method.

  15. #15 idahogie
    June 3, 2008

    Science and religion are compatible only to the extent that the religious side of the mixture is watered down. The more meaningless and indistinct the religious beliefs, the easier it is to hold the two world-views simultaneously.

    When people do the opposite (i.e., dismiss, discount, or distrust the hard science, and accept the religion whole-heartedly or literally) then we accuse them of insanity. On the other hand, when people accept the methodology of science completely, and erase religion from their lives, there’s no negative impact whatsoever. So obviously, the two sides are not “two different ways of knowing” or “concerned with different questions.” The religious side is completely unnecessary, and is actually harmful, the more seriously it is ingrained.

    What a silly video for the AAAS to have put out.

  16. #16 omar ali
    June 4, 2008

    I think the AAAS is doing what it thinks is necessary to maintain reasonable funding and protection for science. Its not about religion or truth. Its a pragmatic, tactical move. I personally think its the wrong tactical move (because it will not help at all in calming down the nuttier fringes of the religosphere and the not-so-nutty people who go to church and are still comfortable with science dont need this to help them along..in short, it will change nothing for the better) but it is misleading to frame this as if its about anything beyond public relations.

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