Atheism and Science at The Huffington Post

My essay The Unseen and Unknowable Has No Place in Science has just gone up this morning in the Religion section of The Huffington Post:


Yes, religion is incompatible with science. This doesn't mean, of course, that religious people are incapable of doing science. Far from it. There are certain questions that don't probe too deeply into the foundations of a person's faith and they have no problem employing their reason to its fullest in those cases. But when reason starts to get uncomfortably close (as it has for Francis Collins, Deepak Chopra and Michael Behe) well, that's when the desperate appeal to fuzzy thinking becomes apparent. Because the assumption of God is so obvious to them (and I'm sure they feel it powerfully) the evidence suggesting that evolution follows natural mechanisms and has no need of a supernatural intelligence must therefore be wrong. They'll bend over backwards trying to rationalize irrationality.

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Thank God (no pun intended) for a rational essay at HuffPo. All too often the essays there are replete with anti-vaccine hysteria or fuzzy rationalizations of the kind Deepak Chopra supplies ("Quantum physics states that we are all in a state of flux -- this flux force is God!").

Nonetheless, I think the essay could have been stronger in asserting its core point. Some religion defenders argue that religion and science are incompatible because they are making separate claims -- the separate magisteria -- and that religions' claims are untestable through scientific hypothesis. Some of these claims may be true. But the point I would have wished you stressed more is that religion makes very specific scientifically-checkable claims. And these claims do not check out!

It's more than simply religion makes unverfiable claims without evidence that are directly opposite to science. It's that religion makes verifiable claims without evidence that are directly opposite to science.

You may be interested in our new review of American attitudes toward atheists in the most recent issue of The Jury Expert.

Rita Handrich, Editor
The Jury Expert

Hey! You've got a beard!

Nice essay. It's good to see some rational thinking at HuffPo (I'd pretty much written it off as a quack-site). Great job!

By Physicalist (not verified) on 16 Mar 2010 #permalink

Thank you for that. I have no issues with the fact that many people are religious and even though I'm an atheist I don't go picking fights with folks who post about their religion on facebook and twitter. But I've had a few heated exchanges with people who post articles from HuffPo that make scientific sounding claims about the paranormal, often touting their theories as extensions of QM.
Any theory that cannot be tested or proved/disproved (one example that was given: your soul survives and is transported to another dimension, thus you never truly die) is equal in every way to every other untestable, unprovable/undisprovable theory. So claiming that when you die, your soul goes to another universe because you extrapolated that thought from something you heard someone say about QM, is every bit as likely as any theory posed but Scientology, Christianity, Wicca, or any other religion. That doesn't mean there is no life after death just that there is currently no way to determine that scientifically. It's all philosophy.

Good old HuffPo, there's an ad right below your article about how Genesis TOTALLY meshes with teh sciencez! Hil-fucking-larious. Good article!

By Rob Monkey (not verified) on 17 Mar 2010 #permalink

I saw that. What a joke. There is a lot of quack at HuffPo. But I think that's more a function of what people are interested in reading than anything else. In a similar way to Google, HuffPo highlights pieces based on the number of hits and comments. It's a bottom-up process rather than top-down. This means that science communicators have a lot of work to do if we want to compete in the marketplace of ideas. Right now my piece has almost as many comments as another article entitled "Adam Lambert's Pants Leave Little To The Imagination." Cue slamming my head into the desk.

"Faith" may refer to a religion or worldview, as in "My faith is Islam. ... Or it may refer to believing propositions without evidence or out of proportion to the available evidence."


"It is this latter use of faith that is incompatible with science. "


"Yes, religion is incompatible with science."

Subtle use of equivocation. Very nice. I predict you'll have a great future at the Huffington Post.

I am constantly amazed by people who pontificate on about the importance of reason yet can't see a simple fallacy staring them in the face.

@Brad: Are you saying you can have a religion that is not based on faith? That I would like to see.

You quoted 3 definitions of "faith." I would probably answer your question 3 different ways depending on what definition you are talking about.

But what I think about the relationship between religion and faith is besides the point. I can critique the argument you put forth in your article whether I agree with your conclusion or not.

What I am saying is that in the article you linked to, you equivocated between 2 definitions of faith (one def. in the 3rd to last paragraph and and another in the 2nd to last paragraph) and you gave absolutely no reason about why they should be connected.