More on accomodationism

In the course of a long and often annoying back and forth with Jerry Coyne, Chris Mooney comes up with a succinct explanation of where science/religion accommodation comes from:

Insofar as I?m an accommodationist, then, it?s not because I don?t see the incongruity between relying on faith, and looking for evidence, as bases for knowing. Rather, it?s because I know that many very intelligent people are struggling all the time to make their peace with this incongruity in their own way?a peace that works for them. And so long as they?re not messing with what our kids learn?or, again, trying to ram their views down our throats?then good on ?em.

His point about whether science and religion are different “bases for knowing” is a reference to Jerry Coyne’s question to Mooney: “Does Mooney sign on to [Peter] Hess?s statement that the faithful and the scientists are all really engaged in the same endeavor?” FWIW, Hess’s quote was that “Science and faith are but two ways of searching for the same truths,” which is not really saying it’s “the same endeavor.”

The bigger thing about Coyne’s question that grates is that it pretends that “scientists” and “people of faith” are non-overlapping sets. That everyone under discussion is either a scientist or religious, and a religious scientist is no more than a theoretical possibility. But we need not even choose a different surname to disprove that. Fr. George Coyne is an astronomer. He was, for many years, the director of the Vatican Observatory, and was a Jesuit priest for even longer. Does he see any conflict between his study of the heavens and his belief in heaven? Not at all:

the International Theological Commission, under the presidency of Cardinal Ratzinger, and less than a year before he was elected to the Papacy, issued a lengthy statement in which it saw no incompatibility between God’s providential plan for creation and the results of a truly contingent evolutionary process in nature. ?

There appears to exist a nagging fear in the Church that a universe? in which life? evolved through a process of random genetic mutations and natural selection, escapes God’s dominion. That fear is groundless. Science is completely neutral with respect to philosophical or theological implications that may be drawn from its conclusions. Those conclusions are always subject to improvement. That is why science is such an interesting adventure and scientists curiously interesting creatures. But for someone to deny the best of today’s science on religious grounds is to live in that groundless fear just mentioned. ?

It surely sounds like he sees science and religion as paths to truth, though not (as Jerry Coyne seems to think) to the same truths. Coyne’s exploration of the concept of creation is also worth considering:

It is unfortunate that creationism has come to mean some fundamentalistic, literal, scientific interpretation of Genesis. Judaeo-Christian faith is radically creationist, but in a totally different sense. It is rooted in a belief that everything depends upon God, or better, all is a gift from God. The universe is not God and it cannot exist independently of God. Neither pantheism nor [metaphysical] naturalism is true. But, if we confront what we know of our origins scientifically with religious faith in God the Creator ? if, that is, we take the results of modern science seriously ? it is difficult to believe that God is omnipotent and omniscient in the sense of many of the scholastic philosophers. For the believer, science tells us of a God who must be very different from God as seen by them.

This stress on our scientific knowledge is not to place a limitation upon God. Far from it. It reveals a God who made a universe that has within it a certain dynamism and thus participates in the very creativity of God. Such a view of creation can be found in early Christian writings, especially in those of St Augustine in his comments on Genesis. If they respect the results of modern science and, indeed, the best of modern biblical research, religious believers must move away from the notion of a dictator God or a designer God, a Newtonian God who made the universe as a watch that ticks along regularly. Perhaps God should be seen more as a parent or as one who speaks encouraging and sustaining words. Scripture is very rich in these thoughts. It presents, indeed anthropomorphically, a God who gets angry, who disciplines, a God who nurtures the universe, who empties himself in Christ the incarnate Word. Thus God’s revelation of himself in the Book of Scripture would be reflected in our knowledge of the universe, so that, as Galileo was fond of stating, the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature speak of the same God.

He ends with an endorsement of process theology which is worth reading, but which I won’t quote. The point here is not that science and religion give you the same answers, or that they answer the same questions. It is also not that religious knowledge is static, as some new atheists often claim. Theology responds to new scientific discoveries, just as it reacts to cultural shifts. Claims about theology are tested in a different way than scientific claims, indeed cannot be tested as scientific claims, but that does not mean they are invalid. He sees science and religion as connected, as informing one another in certain ways, and as rooted in the same reality, therefore incapable of contradiction. Apparent contradictions must be addressed by further study.

For my own answer to Jerry Coyne’s questions, I want to point again to the analogy between reading about San Francisco and driving up to visit the city. A Dashiell Hammett mystery is not a slalom down Lombard Street, and the experience of being a tourist in San Francisco cannot be replaced by Mark Twain’s tales. But you can’t visit the San Francisco which gave birth to the Grateful Dead except by reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe. Literature and travel are, in some sense, different ways of getting at related truths. Which is not to say that there was ever an actual Maltese Falcon, or that everything Tom Wolfe describes happened just as he wrote it. That’s not the point.

But Coyne sees it differently:

The methods of ascertaining ?truth? via faith are either revelation or acceptance of dogma. These methods have produced ?truths? like a 6,000-year-old Earth and the Great Flood. Not a very good track record. In fact, I have yet to find a single truth about humans, Earth, or the universe that has come uniquely from faith.

This is a tricky question. I could point to the Golden Rule, which seems to crop up in lots of different religions, and emerges pretty naturally from evolutionary game theory under conditions that model early human societies. So it’s some sort of truth, and Jews had written it down long before anyone invented game theory. But it isn’t unique to faith. Indeed, any empirically testable claim cannot be unique to faith; it is in science’s realm (too?), and will be tested and found either valid or false. Claims which are not testable, like the divinity of Jesus or Mary’s conception free of sin, may or may not be true, but since we can’t test them, Christians believe them to be true and non-Christians don’t. That revelation cannot be tested means it is not science, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

It is a truth of a different sort, but not an unrelated truth. If Jesus lived, he walked the same world I do. If he was divine, the words he spoke struck ears like mine. His miracles were either sleight of hand, embellishments by later storytellers, or suspensions of natural laws. If I could take James Randi back a couple thousand years, I could figure that out, but as it is, all I can do is believe what I believe and let Christians believe what they do.

Randi and I could surely figure out what the score is with the loaves and the fishes and the wine. I don’t know any way that we could test Jesus’ divinity, or whether Mary was born with or without original sin. I kinda think that since neither of us places much stock in the notion to begin with, we’d find her just as lacking in it as we find everyone else. And this may be too post-modernist of me to say, but maybe it’s true for Christians and not true for me. If that’s the case, I don’t really see the harm in it.

The analogy to reading works here, also. I don’t quite understand the life of an illiterate, but I know that there are people who can’t read, or who can but don’t. When I was tutoring grade schoolers, I had one kid who could read well, but just didn’t care to do it. He wanted to draw teenage mutant ninja turtles for himself and his friends, but he just had no interest in the books his mother wanted me to have him read. Maybe he grew out of it, or maybe he still doesn’t understand why anyone should want to read. And we know there are plenty of Americans who simply can’t make any sense of letters on paper.

The closest I can come to either of those feelings, and I think the anti-accommodationist atheists feel like this about religion, is dance. I’ve never been able to dance, and never much minded that. I watch people dancing, and I see that they enjoy themselves. But I can’t fathom why, nor can I quite sort out what it is that they are doing. I can appreciate the technical challenge and the aesthetic merits of ballet, other stage dance styles, and what happens on dance floors at clubs, weddings, or bar mitzvahs, but I can’t quite understand why anyone chooses to do those things, let alone how I might replicate it. In any event there are lots of things I’d rather do. No harm done.

As best I can tell, opponents of compatibility look at religion roughly the same way, except that the see some ill-defined harm being done. They see religious practice as meaningly jabber, barely worth treating seriously. Grand metaphysical questions are declared irrelevant if they can’t be scientifically tested, or if they introduce causative agents whose existence and actions in the world are beyond scientific detection. Truths that can’t be verified aren’t deemed worth considering.

Ask me why I read, and I can tell you about worlds I’ve experienced and people I’ve met, despite the centuries or leagues separating us. I can tell you about the excitement of placing myself in epic battles, and the contentment of sitting next to Thoreau at Walden Pond (contentment occasionally interrupted when my companion says something foolish). But to someone who can’t or won’t read, that makes no sense. Ask me why people dance, and I can’t do much more than speculate about the historical role played by rhythmic movement in our ancestral culture. I suspect there’s more to it, I just don’t know what it is. But it would be wrong of me to dismiss it. It’s just as wrong, I think, for the anti-accommodationists to simply dismiss the possibility that religion does something useful for some (but not all) people.

George Coyne doesn’t want to push creationism in schools. He doesn’t try to siphon my tax dollars off for Catholic schools, he doesn’t chain himself to the doors of abortion clinics, he doesn’t try to make me go to his church, and he doesn’t hold back his scientific work because of his beliefs. He believes what he believes, he doesn’t impose it on others, and it would be as wrong for others to impose their beliefs about science and religion on him as it would be for him to impose his beliefs on me. Unless there’s some empirical, scientific test that would resolve this question, it falls in the same category of untestable claims as the Immaculate Conception. And the Golden Rule tells us that we should discuss this issue with the same civility and respect that we wish occurred in discussions of religion.

Comments

  1. #1 Dave W.
    June 26, 2009

    “Ill-defined harm?” No. Religion is the only human endeavor (unlike reading, travel or dancing) which encourages belief in propositions for which there is no evidence (or even which contradict evidence). And because religious people are inseparable from society, and their beliefs affect policy and communities in numerous ways, unevidenced nonsense is inevitably injected into governance and society, including the basic idea that it is acceptable (or even a virtue!) to believe things with no basis in, or in contradiction to, reality.

    And no anti-accomodationist I’m aware of dismisses the idea that religion does something useful for some people. Anti-accomodationists consider the harm being done by religious ideas to be greater than the alleged benefits.

    All this misses the point of the term “accomodationist,” but that point has been lost so badly and so often since the start of this brouhaha that it’s probably a waste of time and effort to correct anyone on it anymore. But for most of your post, replacing “anti-accomodationist” with “anti-theist” (and “accomodationist” with “theist”) would have been more appropriate.

  2. #2 Bob Carroll
    June 26, 2009

    George Coyne? who he? (last para) ;p
    Bob

  3. #3 Sigmund
    June 26, 2009

    “He (George Coyne) believes what he believes, he doesn’t impose it on others, and it would be as wrong for others to impose their beliefs about science and religion on him as it would be for him to impose his beliefs on me.”
    Absolutely right.
    It would also be wrong for his church to tell people that condoms spread aids. It would be wrong for his church to impose their rules regarding divorce, contraception, abortion and stem cell research in any country in which they have an influence, not only on members of their own church but for believers of other religions and none.
    And that’s exactly what George Coynes church does without the slightest squeak from George about the injustice of this situation.
    Where was George when the Catholic Church kept the sale of condoms illegal in Ireland for decades?
    Where was he during the numerous attempts to make abortion impossible to get for Irish and other women?
    Where was he when the catholic church did everything in their power to keep divorce illegal for everyone in Ireland, no matter what their religion (even flying Mother Teresa of Calcutta over to campaign on its behalf).
    Oh yes, we know where George was. He was sitting in Rome working for his infallible leader, the Pope.
    Where was George Coyne when the Catholic church was sheltering clergy guilty of raping small children, by means of moving them to different parishes where they would be free to rape and abuse again?
    So George Coyne feels free to say he sees no difficulty in reconciling his astronomy with his religion. Well big deal.
    Its hardly the bravest thing in the world to sit there safe in the knowledge that the church isn’t likely to reopen the bloody wounds it self-imposed during the days of Galileo.
    Come on Josh, is this really the best you have?
    Do you really fail to see that the Strawman you’ve built of atheists trying to sit religious people down and force rationalism into them is simply incorrect. The vast majority of us are quite content to let them believe whatever they want so long as they don’t try, like George Coynes church does, to force everyone else to live according to their religious rules, particularly when those rules both violate scientific fact (condoms do not cause aids) and empirically derived study of the best outcome in particular situations (for instance encouraging contraception and sex education is known – through numerous studies – to lower the rates of teenage pregnancies and abortions).
    I do not see a single believer who thinks in a metaphorical way about their religion trying to impose these irrational rules on the rest of us. Its entirely coming from those that believe in a non-metaphorical way (and only partially from those who could be described as fundamentalists).
    Even still, so long as you keep your non metaphorical belief in the private domain and not seek to impose it on others I doubt that there is much of a problem with even the most anti of the anti-accomodationalists.

  4. #4 Jerry Coyne
    June 26, 2009

    Of course you must adhere to your party’s line, but you really shouldn’t make statements like “The golden rule is a truth.” It’s not a statement about what IS, it’s moral guidance. And if you think that is a truth, then you must also think that “You must stone to death those who commit adultery” (Islamic moral guidance) is a truth as well.

    And it’s quite disingenuous to claim that objections to faith rest only on “some ill-defined harm being done.” Are you serious? Sigmund has already mentioned some above. Here are some more:

    People get blown up if they’re non-Muslims or from the wrong sect of Islam. Is that an “ill defined harm?”

    Is it an “ill defined harm” to tell people not to use condoms on religious grounds, so that those people get AIDS?

    Is it an “ill defined harm” when stem cell research is prohibited, so that people with crippling disease must die before cures are found?

    Is it an “ill defined harm” to refuse medical treatment to children because your faith prohibits it?

    Was it an “ill defined harm” to prevent black people from joining the Mormon Church for decades, on the grounds that they were tainted.

    Really, your concept of “religion” (and that of the NCSE) appears to be “liberal Christian or Jewish faith that doesn’t do anything bad.” I need hardly point out to you that that species of faith is decidedly in the minority in our world.

  5. #5 Dave W.
    June 26, 2009

    Sigmund @3:

    Even still, so long as you keep your non metaphorical belief in the private domain and not seek to impose it on others I doubt that there is much of a problem with even the most anti of the anti-accomodationalists.

    Some ultra-rationalists think that any belief that’s not grounded upon evidence is a waste of brain cells that could be put to use elsewhere for the common good. Thinking itself is a limited resource, after all, so we probably shouldn’t squander it on issues for which we have zero chance of resolution.

    In this view, every second that George Coyne spends ruminating over the relationship between God and the universe is a second of “thought capacity” that’s gone forever from society, frittered away uselessly instead of being applied to the serious problems we face here on Earth (like hunger, violence, etc.). Thus, simply having unevidenced beliefs (metaphorical or not) causes a direct harm to society.

  6. #6 TB
    June 26, 2009

    Coyne: “And it’s quite disingenuous to claim that objections to faith rest only on “some ill-defined harm being done.” Are you serious? Sigmund has already mentioned some above. ”

    Only if you insist on painting moderates and liberals theists – people who would disagree with those actions or positions and are even working against them – with the sins of fundamentalism.

    So let’s take that broad brush and turn it around. Removing religion from society means that people will stop doing stupid, harmful things?

    http://www.faminegenocide.com/

    Should it be claimed that Coyne perpetuates an atheist world view that allows for this kind of genocide to occur, and so is as guilty as those who perpetrated it? A doctrinaire view of the world is as bad as a fundamentalist one.

    “I need hardly point out to you that that species of faith is decidedly in the minority in our world.”

    Which doesn’t disprove any of the points he’s made about them. Nor does it refute anything he’s said about Coyne. In fact, I’ll be bookmarking this blog. Excellent post.

  7. #7 TB
    June 26, 2009

    Coyne: “And it’s quite disingenuous to claim that objections to faith rest only on “some ill-defined harm being done.” Are you serious? Sigmund has already mentioned some above. ”

    Only if you insist on painting moderates and liberals theists – people who would disagree with those actions or positions and are even working against them – with the sins of fundamentalism.

    So let’s take that broad brush and turn it around. Removing religion from society means that people will stop doing stupid, harmful things?

    http://www.faminegenocide.com/

    Should it be claimed that Coyne perpetuates an atheist world view that allows for this kind of genocide to occur, and so is as guilty as those who perpetrated it? A doctrinaire view of the world is as bad as a fundamentalist one.

    “I need hardly point out to you that that species of faith is decidedly in the minority in our world.”

    Which doesn’t disprove any of the points he’s made about them. Nor does it refute anything he’s said about Coyne. In fact, I’ll be bookmarking this blog. Excellent post.

  8. #8 D. C. Sessions
    June 26, 2009

    Religion is the only human endeavor (unlike reading, travel or dancing) which encourages belief in propositions for which there is no evidence (or even which contradict evidence).

    Blinded by polemic much?

    I could name a whole lot more, but the Chicago Cubs come to mind.

    Then there’s politics.

  9. #9 Dave W.
    June 26, 2009

    Cubs fans and politicians are what the adjective “religious” is for.

  10. #10 Mike McCants
    June 26, 2009

    “And so long as they’re not messing with what our kids learn”

    But, of course, that’s exactly what they feel it is their duty to do. Put them in a position of power and their religion commands them to do their best to impose their anti-science beliefs on public school children. Just ask Don McLeroy!

    “Perhaps God should be seen more as a parent or as one who speaks encouraging and sustaining words.”

    Riiiight.

    So exactly what “truth” is being searched for here?

    “It’s just as wrong, I think, for the anti-accommodationists to simply dismiss the possibility that religion does something useful for some (but not all) people.”

    Some quote about an “opiate of the people” needed here? What “something useful” is religion doing? Giving them hope of a life after death?

  11. #11 Josh Rosenau
    June 26, 2009

    Mike, I think it’s wrong to tar all religious people with the sins of fundamentalists. Some religious people are authoritarians, and they are assholes. Others don’t push their religion, and I see no reason to pretend that such authoritarian attitudes are an inherent aspect of religion.

    And no, I don’t care to debate the merits of Marxism here, except to note that you should be sure Marx wasn’t pushing an evidence-free belief system before using him to bash religion.

  12. #12 Thomas Lee Elifritz
    June 27, 2009

    Hey Josh, there is a reason people like you remain toiling in the lab and never rise above the level of post doc. Retard.

  13. #13 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    June 27, 2009

    It’s important to note that there are a great many of us “anti-accommodationists” who once danced to religion’s tunes; we could and did dance and felt the wonder and graciousness of the rhythm. We were not all always atheists, but came to the realization that the dance was indeed just a dance, and that the ball was a masquerade.

    The issue is not one of hating that there are scientists who are religious, but that there “needs” to be a “give” on the side of science in origins questions, a patronizing assurance re the explanation that natural selection and other processes of evolution don’t mean that “your religion is wrong.” The George Coynes of the world pronouncing imprimatur on evolution and cosmology may be nice for Catholics, but as a calmative and not as a quest to seek the philosophical implications of a world that shapes without the need for a supernatural actor.

  14. #14 chas
    June 27, 2009

    Mike,

    If Someone out there created you & hasn’t given you the ability to know He created you, how would you know He created you?

  15. #15 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    June 28, 2009

    Mike,

    If Someone out there created you & hasn’t given you the ability to know He created you, how would you know He created you?

    I find this question incomprehensible. Do you mean “how would you know he didn’t create you?

  16. #16 MJ
    June 28, 2009
  17. #17 chas
    June 28, 2009

    “I find this question incomprehensible. Do you mean “how would you know he didn’t create you?”

    That’s my point. If Someone out there created you but hasn’t given you the ability to comprehend that He created you how could you comprehend that He created you? If you can’t comprehend it’s because he hasn’t given you the ability to comprehend. His giving you the ability to know He didn’t create you is also a possibility I suppose.

  18. #18 Mike's Kirlian Holography
    June 29, 2009

    So, chas, you seem like the one to ask: just
    how many angels can dance on the
    head of a pin?

  19. #19 Josh Rosenau
    June 29, 2009

    @1: “Religion is the only human endeavor (unlike reading, travel or dancing) which encourages belief in propositions for which there is no evidence (or even which contradict evidence).”

    What about politics? Unless we’re calling supply side economics a religion now, it meets all the criteria you list for religion. Then again, I think it’s fair to say that science fiction and fantasy books and movies do many of the same things, fueling belief in anything from orcs and unicorns to laser pistols and faster-than-light travel. Not that that’s harmful per se, but still.

    @2 and @3: Check out this video: http://richarddawkins.net/article,3410,Richard-Dawkins-interviews-Father-George-Coyne,Richard-Dawkins-RichardDawkinsnet George Coyne doesn’t speak for the Catholic Church, and doesn’t set social policy for it. He says early in that interview “very great divergence exists within the Catholic tradition on many things.” No cause exists to commit the generic fallacy, attributing to one Catholic the sins of all Catholics.

    @4: It’s a bit hard to know whether I’m addressing you or the author of your talking points, but saying that some Muslims engage in suicide bombings (for instance) doesn’t even work as a condemnation of Islam in general, let alone religion. And faith is a term that goes well past religions to (as I noted above) issues of political ideology or a commitment to basic ethical principles (see, for instance, the Ethical Culture Society). Yes, fundamentalist Islam, Christianity, etc. are dangerous, but why is that an argument against religion (or faith, if your ghostwriter prefers) rather than fundamentalism, or indeed against authoritarian thinking?

    @18: Stephen Jay Gould in “Wide Hats and Narrow Minds”: “But if we laugh with derision, we will never understand. … If intelligent people invested intense energy in issues that now seem foolish to us, then the failure lies in our understanding of their world, not in their distorted perceptions. Even the standard example of ancient nonsense — the debate about angels on pinheads — makes sense once you realize that theologians were not discussing whether five or eighteen would fit, but whether a pin could house a finite or an infinite number.”

  20. #20 scripto
    June 29, 2009

    Accommodate away, I say. Isn’t it the work, not the person, that is important? Why take a fine useful tool like science and turn it into a philosophy? You can no more live on reason than you can on faith. Either way would make day to day living kind of unwieldy. What’s next? “The Evidence Driven Life”? Leave Ken and Francis alone!

  21. #21 Mike McCants
    June 29, 2009

    “Others don’t push their religion, and I see no reason to pretend that such authoritarian attitudes are an inherent aspect of religion.”

    Name a religion that does not expect its members to “go forth and proselytize”. Name a religion that does not expect parents to raise their children in the same religion. That seems plenty authoritarian to me.

    “So exactly what “truth” is being searched for here?”

    I think you failed to answer this question.

    “What “something useful” is religion doing?”

    I think you failed to answer this question.

  22. #22 Jason R
    June 30, 2009

    I guess I will never understand how an astronomer can be intellectually honest with himself/herself and be religious in regards to the three main religions (pure deists, pantheists I can see). From what I have read the religious texts make very specific claims about the creation of the universe, the earth and living beings (and other specific claims about historical events). Current evidence that science has gathered has shown that these events have not occurred as depicted in the religious texts.

    From what I see trying to accommodate this is a vast exercise in intellectual dishonesty.

    — I also don’t understand how people can take the bible seriously. There are numerous translations of the bible and non of them agree 100% in context. Every single bible translation is inaccurate in regards to other translations.

    — The whole thought of accommodation to me is a failure to analyze the texts in a complete sense. In order to find out if religious texts are compatible with the scientific process then the scientific process needs to be applied to the biblical texts to determine their accuracy in regards to evidence.

    — The translations of the bible itself are not compatible when you compare them to each other. They translations in a fine grained scale (yet still in context) do not agree with each other. Seems that there would have to be baseline bible in existence for it to be comparable to the scientific process.

  23. #23 Anna K.
    June 30, 2009

    @ Jason R, #22,

    This all presumes that making a religious claim is the same as making a scientific one.

  24. #24 Jason R
    June 30, 2009

    @Anna K, 23

    I guess that is the problem. I assume that claims are based on reality, truth, and intellectual honesty.

  25. #25 Anna K.
    June 30, 2009

    Jason R.,

    It sounds to me as if you are saying that the only way we can determine what is real, true or intellectually honest is through using scientific methods. Did I understand you correctly?

  26. #26 Pierce R. Butler
    June 30, 2009

    … it pretends that “scientists” and “people of faith” are non-overlapping sets.

    Does this count as a re/denunciation of the “non-overlapping magesteria” perspective?

  27. #27 Pierce R. Butler
    June 30, 2009

    ahem … magisteria …

  28. #28 Jason R
    July 1, 2009

    @Anna K.

    The scientific method is a great tool for determining truth.
    However it isn’t the only way to determine truth. there are less rigorous ways to determine truth.

    What I’m really trying to say is that holy books make specific claims about the structure and formation of the universe (besides of claims it makes). These claims clearly defined in the books. Each one of these claims has been falsified, by Astronomy, Cosmology, Geography, Archeology and other disciplines.

    As a result the entire premises of the religions is based on false claims. ( granted pure deism and pantheism isn’t lumped in, since they make no direct claims towards the items I’ve listed below.)

    – I’d like to write more but i’m off to a meeting.

  29. #29 Anna K.
    July 1, 2009

    @ Jason R., #28,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond. It sounds to me like you are equating religious claims with scientific ones. In that case it now makes sense to me that you would have a hard time seeing how a religious scientist could be intellectually honest.

  30. #30 Josh Rosenau
    July 1, 2009

    Not necessarily. The magisteria in question are not people, but the entities “science” and “religion.” Whether those are non-overlapping (a topic I find somewhat uninteresting), it is indisputable that their practitioners do overlap.

    In some recent post I basically rejected the notion of total non-overlap, but I neither reject nor endorse it as an ideal for science and religion. I think Gould meant it more as an ideal than a description. Certainly no one can deny that strains of evangelical Christianity (among others) do overlap with science, so overlap is indubitably possible. I would say that proponents of a young earth are overstepping the legitimate realm of religious thought, and that people who say that science can falsify the existence of god(s) are overstepping science’s limits. It may not be possible to produce total non-overlap, to make science and religion entirely orthogonal, but they can certainly have that overlap be minimized without harming the core of either enterprise (for instance, a lot of theoretical physics, especially cosmology/multiple universes/string theory/etc. can produce discussions that would be just as appropriate in a departmental seminar for physics or theology). And a bit of overlap at the margins doesn’t really bother me, as it will either get resolved through further research (eliminating or obviating the overlap), or it will remain unresolved, and provided neither field interferes with the other, they can proceed happily.

  31. #31 Pierce R. Butler
    July 2, 2009

    Josh – thanks for a thoughtful reply.

    I would say that proponents of a young earth are overstepping the legitimate realm of religious thought, and that people who say that science can falsify the existence of god(s) are overstepping science’s limits.

    A post sometime on just where we might draw such limits, on either side, could be a constructive contribution to the ongoing dialog.

  32. #32 Mike McCants
    July 22, 2009

    “that people who say that science can falsify the existence of god(s) are overstepping science’s limits”

    Bang. Bang. That strawman is dead, dead, dead. Why do you keep shooting it?

    “It may not be possible to produce total non-overlap, to make science and religion entirely orthogonal”

    It’s simple. Science finds “truth” and religion does not. So if we can agree on what could be “true”, it’s science and if not, it’s religion. :-)

    Name something that religion claims as “true” that really, really could be true that science could not accept as true.

  33. #33 Josh Rosenau
    July 22, 2009

    It’s cute how an idea that was central to the fight between the New Atheists and the “accommodationists” has suddenly become passé. I can’t complain, since the New Atheists seem to have adopted our position, and are now trying to move our goalposts.

    Not that I’m defending this proposition, but two religious truths that science cannot speak to are: “Jesus died for our sins” and “The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao.”

    Science cannot test these claims, so could not “accept [them] as true,” though scientists could. That does not make them false (though they may be false for other reasons).

  34. #34 Mike McCants
    August 21, 2012

    “Jesus died for our sins”
    The word “sin” is a religious word. Such a sentence is meaningless to a scientist. So science cannot assign a value of “true” or “false” to such a statement.
    “The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao.”
    Similarly meaningless.
    The words “true” or “false” cannot be applied to such statements. So they cannot be “really, really true”.

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