More than five years ago, I was griping about the pretense of compatibility between science and religion, prompted by an otherwise good site at the University of California Berkeley that offered the usual pablum:
Science and religion deal with different things. Science tries to figure out how things work and religion teaches about morality and spirituality. There doesn’t need to be a conflict.
Complete bullshit. I’d rather get my morality from reason and real world experience, from science, and religion teaches nothing about morality. Religion is about obedience to arbitrary rules. As for spirituality — I don’t need a cult to teach me about the nonexistent and irrelevant. Then last year, the NAS came out with the same nonsense:
Science and Religion Offer Different Ways of Understanding the World
Science and religion address separate aspects of human experience. Many scientists have written eloquently about how their scientific studies of biological evolution have enhanced rather than lessened their religious faith. And many religious people and denominations accept the scientific evidence for evolution.
There is this kind of conciliatory and entirely false cliched position that major proponents of better science education tend to take — because it’s popular, they pretend that religion is the gentle, benign bit of fluff that has some vague utility in making people better. It’s a lie told to calm the ignorant…the ignorant who will then turn about and obligingly stick a knife in our efforts to improve science, all in the name of their Lord.
I’ve never understood it. It simply grants religion an unquestioned privileged place as an equal to science, when it deserves no such prestige. Why aren’t these pro-science organizations going out of their way to say, “Science and literature deal with different things” or “Science and Art Offer Different Ways of Understanding the World”? At least then they’d be saying something true. At least then they wouldn’t be promoting a damaging delusion.
I’m not a lonely voice crying out my frustration to an unheeding world, I’m pleased to say. I’ve heard from many fellow scientists who feel the same way. Larry Moran has always been vocal about the same problem. And of course we’ve got those cranky New Atheists busily publishing their demolitions of the validity of faith.
Add another big name: Jerry Coyne is making a similar argument.
It seems to me that we can defend evolution without having to cater to the faithful at the same time. Why not just show that evolution is TRUE and its alternatives are not? Why kowtow to those whose beliefs many of us find unpalatable, just to sell our discipline? There are, in fact, two disadvantages to the “cater-to-religion” stance.
By trotting out those “religious scientists”, like Ken Miller, or those “scientific theologians,” like John Haught, we are tacitly putting our imprimatur on their beliefs, including beliefs that God acts in the world today (theism), suspending natural laws. For example, I don’t subscribe to Miller’s belief that God acts immanently in the world, perhaps by influencing events on the quantum level, or that God created the laws of physics so that human-containing planets could evolve. I do not agree with John Haught’s theology. I do not consider any faith that touts God’s intervention in the world (even in the past) as compatible with science. Do my colleagues at the NAS or the NCSE disagree?
The statement that learning evolution does not influence one’s religious belief is palpably false. There are plenty of statistics that show otherwise, including the negative correlation of scientific achievement with religious belief and the negative correlation among nations in degree of belief in God with degree of acceptance of evolution. All of us know this, but we pretend otherwise. (In my book I note that “enlightened” religion can be compatible with science, but by “englightened” I meant a complete, hands-off deism.) I think it is hypocrisy to pretend that learning evolution will not affect either the nature or degree of one’s faith. It doesn’t always, but it does more often than we admit, and there are obvious reasons why (I won’t belabor these). I hate to see my colleagues pretending that faith and science live in nonoverlapping magisteria. They know better.
If you want to talk compatibility with science, atheism is a far better fit to the evidence. It is ridiculous that we still try to link evolution and science education to an airily nebulous version of inoffensive religion that virtually no one accepts, and isn’t even a reasonable model of the way the universe actually works.