I'm not going to reply to Josh. He's gone beyond the pale as far as I'm concerned and no amount of rational argument is going to convince him that science and religion may not be compatible. His mind is firmly made up and now he's just making sure that his side gives out as many insults—perceived or real—as it receives.
John Wilkins is another matter. He has posted a defense of Josh [On the need for grownups [Thoughts from Kansas]]. I think it might be worthwhile to address his arguments in an attempt to shed some light on the problem and avoid the worst of the name-calling.
So, here goes ....
Josh Rosenau has a sermon on the perils of attacking those who think science and religion can coexist at On the need for grownups [at Thoughts from Kansas]. It’s a pretty damned good sermon. He points out that the claim that science and religion are incompatible is itself an untested, and hence unscientific claim. It’s a point I would like to discuss a bit.Good, let's discuss. We begin by defining terms. I claim that science is a way of knowing based on rational thought, skepticism, and evidence. I claim that when that way of knowing is applied to religious claims, those claims can be shown to be false or, at the very least, unsupported. Thus, if you are committed to science as a valid way of knowing, it follows that, when you stick to that commitment, the vast majority of religious beliefs are not compatible with science.
Do you have to make the assumption that the scientific way of knowing is a valid way of knowing? No, you don't. If you want to believe in other ways of knowing, such as faith, revelation, and just-so stories, then you are perfectly free to do so. In that case, science is probably not compatible with your worldview and you can believe in the tooth fairy, deny climate change, and refuse to vaccinate your children. No problem. No conflict.
However, if you do adopt the axiom that science is a valid way of knowing then I think most of those beliefs (and more) are not compatible with your choice. John is about to show us why that's bad philosophy.
Back when a philosophy known now as logical positivism was fashionable, the claim was made that whatever was not scientifically verifiable was metaphysical rubbish. This was known as the Verification Principle. Karl Popper, among others, noted that the Verification Principle was not scientifically verifiable and was therefore, on its own account, metaphysical rubbish. That put an end to that version of logical positivism (although no philosophical position ever really dies). It was self-defeating.So far, so good. I'm not a fan of Karl Popper. (However, I note that John is vastly over-simplifying the views of Popper and conveniently ignoring the reasons why the Verification Principle might be valid.)
What Jerry Coyne and the anti-accommodationists are doing, as Josh points out, is a version of logical positivism (Josh does not use that example – that’s me). They are saying that those who attempt to argue that religion and science are compatible or might coexist are being unscientific, are themselves being unscientific. In fact, the data is that science and religion coexist nearly all the time – most of those who support scientific views are religious. This is because most of everyone is religious, of course, but the fact remains: if one approaches this as a scientific matter, science and religion just are coexistent, that’s the fact of the matter.Let's dissect this paragraph. First, my anti-accomodationist argument is that once you accept that science is a valid way of knowing, then it follows that most religious claims are not compatible with that approach to knowledge. I have yet to see a valid accommodationist argument that addresses this important point. True, Ken Miller, Francis Collins, and Simon Conway-Morris have made the attempt but in the end their arguments boil down to a rejection of science as the only way of obtaining valid knowledge. In other words, they limit science to just those areas where it can't conflict with religion and then lay claim to other ways of knowing that rule in the religion magisterium. Presumably, John thinks that is a scientific way of reasoning.
Second, John repeats to tired old argument that just because there are people who claim to be good scientists AND are religious, then it follows logically that science and religion are compatible. (Actually, he says that they "coexist," but I assume he means compatible.) This is a very silly argument and I don't understand why John persists in using it. If it were true, then science has to be compatible with every single belief that's ever been held by anyone who claims to be a scientist. In other words, science is compatible with Young Earth Creationism since we know for a fact that there are many scientists who are Young Earth Creationists.
Please, John, for the sake of all of us, drop this argument. It's not going to convince any of us accommodationists and it makes your side look ridiculous since it puts you in the position of defending Young Earth Creationism and other kooky ideas that must be compatible with science if your argument is valid. You know darn well that there are many people who hold on to contradictory ideas. The fact that those people exist is NOT evidence that the ideas are compatible. (There's probably a name for that kind of flawed reasoning.)
What Coyne and others seem to want to argue is that religion and science should not be coherently expressed by a single person. That is a philosophical position one might argue for, philosophically. It is not a fact of science, though, nor, it seems, a fact of logic. So argue for it. Others, as is the way of debates, will argue the contrary, or some other view. As an accommodationist, I think that whether or not science and religion should be treated as compatible, in fact they are, or as compatible as any potentially competing set of beliefs may be, such as the belief that science is the only way to gain justifiable beliefs, which is not, itself, scientifically justifiable.John, you tacitly admit that science and religion are a "potentially competing set of beliefs." That's the point, isn't it? I argue that if you adopt science as a valid way of gathering knowledge then most everything about religion fails the tests of science. Those who claim to be scientists and still believe that there's a God who answers prayers are expressing two contradictory positions. You can't claim to be thinking like a scientist while holding on to beliefs that have been refuted by science. I claim that almost all claims of religion fall into the set of things that are incompatible with the scientific approach to knowledge (deism is a debateble exception).
I don't understand your position. Perhaps it hinges on the idea that accepting science as a way of knowing is supposed to be a "fact" of science. I have never made that claim and, as far as I know, neither have any other prominent defenders of the incompatiblity of science and religion.
I do assume that science is the only valid way of acquiring knowledge but that's a testable assumption—at least in theory. All one has to do to refute that argument is demonstrate the existence of valid forms of knowledge that cannot possibly be derived from the scientific approach AND ARE COMPATIBLE WITH SCIENCE AS A WAY OF KNOWING. The last part is important. Acquiring knowledge by revelation is another way of knowing and if all of that knowledge was perfectly compatible with science then science and religion would be compatible. If the knowledge acquired by listening to imaginary voices in your head conflicts with the scientific approach then religion and science are not compatible.
You don't have to accept my assumption that science is a valid way of knowing. That's not the point. I agree that that the assumption cannot be justified as "scientific" since that's a circular argument much like to one you used to dismiss Popper. The point is that once you make that assumption and become a scientist, you can't just arbitrarily pick and choose how you are going to apply that way of knowing. You can't say that your scientific approach will help you understand whether the climate is changing but when it comes to deciding whether it's better to pray for your sick child or take her to the hospital then you'll rely on some other way of knowing. You can't be consistent if you say that science helps you understand evolution but you need to shift to another way of knowing when trying to decide whether you have a soul that lives on after you die.
Lot's of people may do that, but they aren't being logical or consistent. They may say they are being logical and consistent (e.g. Ken Miller, Francis Collins) but surely, as a philosopher, you recognize that what people say isn't always the truth.
By the way, feel free to offer up examples of knowledge gained by religion that are fully compatible with the scientific approach but couldn't have been derived from that approach alone. Those would be positive examples in favor of your position on compatibility. It would be a refreshing change to hear an atheist (agnostic) compatibilist give us a few examples instead of just ranting against our position.
This is why I made my snide cheap shot about the split in Dawkins’ website. Dawkins, Coyne, and many others (but not all those who happen to agree with them substantially, I hasten to add) are in the business of building an exclusionary group. Ken Miller and Francis Collins believe in religion? Exclude them from science, and damn them to the outer hell of irrationality. The irony that this is itself an irrational behaviour (or, better understood, is an act of strategic rationality rather than conceptual, to keep allies close and enemies away) escapes them, as our own sins always do.John, it doesn't help your cause to write things like that. For years people have been claiming that science and religion are perfectly compatible. As you know, it's the official position of the National Center for Science Education. Scientific groups such as the National Academies and AAAS also promote this belief. It's only in the past decade that people like me have been pointing out the flaws in those positions and advocating a reexamination of that widespread assumption.
For decades we've been demonstrating that Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design Creationism conflict with science. They are not compatible with science. For decades we've been biting our tongue when softer versions of creationism are touted as "scientific," religious, alternatives to the extreme versions of creationism. The idea being promoted was that there's some arbitrary line separating some religious beliefs from others. If you stay on one side of that line you are scientific but if you step over the line you are not. People like Ken Miller made this argument: he says that he can be a Roman Catholic and all of his Roman Catholic beliefs are perfectly compatible with being a scientist. Michael Behe, on the other hand, is a Roman Catholic whose beliefs are not compatible with science, according to Ken Miller.
Now, along comes a group of people who are fed up with having to bite their tongue in the face of such obvious irrationality. We present counter-arguments to the claim of compatibility. We suggest that the difference between Ken Miller and Michael Behe is quantitative, not qualitative. We suggest that that imaginary line between scientific theists and non-scientific theists is just that: it's imaginary.
Yes, it's true that this argument labels Ken Miller, Francis Collins, and Simon Conway-Morris (among others) as irrational thinkers. It's true that we state quite categorically that they can't claim to be thinking like scientists while, at the same time, falling down before frozen waterfalls as though they were a sign from a supernatural being. Is this "exclusionary"? Well, I suppose it is but it's no more exclusionary that the group you support. You're not trying to include me in your group of accommodationists (or agnostics) are you?
My point is that your argument is illogical and irrelevant. All points of view are exclusionary to some extent. The people who agree with you are included and the people who disagree with you are not. You are being exclusionary. Does that have anything at all to do with whether your argument is valid or not? (Hint: no, it doesn't.) I thought philosophers were supposed to be good at logic and good at understanding false and irrelevant arguments.
You say, "The irony that this is itself an irrational behaviour ..." Why am I being irrational when I argue that religion isn't compatible with a scientific approach to knowledge? And why is it ironic? As far as I'm concerned, the ironic part is that for many decades we bought into the belief that some religious views were incompatible with science but other, equally bizarre, beliefs are perfectly compatible with science. Do you believe that God created the universe 10,000 years ago?—that's not scientific. Do you believe that God performs miracles just about every day?—that's compatible with science. Do you believe that God killed almost everyone on Earth in a giant flood?—that's not scientific. Do you believe that God sent his son to visit Earth then raised him back up into heaven?—that's perfectly compatible with science. Is this an example of rational thinking?
You also claim it's irrational to argue for the incompatibility of science and religion because it is bad politics ("to keep allies close and enemies away) escapes them, as our own sins always do"). Please, drop this argument. You've been following this debate for long enough to know better. In case, you've forgotten the issue, let me state the relevant points one more time.
- This is a discussion about the meaning of science and religion and whether they are compatible. My "allies" in that discussion are those who agree that science and religion are in conflict. My "enemies" are those, like you, who disagree. Please don't continue to made false assumptions about who my allies should be.
- From a political perspective, we argue that major organizations like NCSE should adopt a neutral position on the issue of compatibility. That's not what they have been doing. By allying with, and agreeing with, accommodationists they are excluding potential allies like me. I do not advocate that they officially adopt my position. I argue that they stop excluding me from the conversation by siding 100% with my "enemies." Got it? It's not rocket science. Try and keep up. The people who are being politically unwise are groups like NCSE who insist on adopting a controversial position that brings them into conflict with a great many scientists. We advocate neutrality. Why is that more irrational than taking a position that excludes people like me? Why are we labeled as the ones who are rejecting allies in the fight against creationism? You're not making sense here.
- When it comes to the bigger picture, I'm participating in a debate about rationality and superstition. The evolution/creation debate is a subset of that much larger debate. My allies in that large debate are fellow atheists and skeptics and we are fighting against superstitious beliefs of all kinds. My allies are people like Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, and Jerry Coyne (among others). Many of the superstitious beliefs are religious. My enemies in that debate are all those people who promote superstition and irrational (IMHO) worldviews. Those "enemies" include Ken Miller, Francis Collins, and Simon Conway Morris as well as Michael Behe, Bill Demski, and Paul Nelson. Please don't try to tell me that Ken Miller should be my ally.1 He's not on my side in the debate that matters. I'm the one who will decide who are my allies and who are my enemies. It's illogical for you to arbitrarily try and make that decision for me. This has been explained to you many times. Do you not listen or do you have cogent arguments about why my choice of allies is incorrect? (If you have cogent arguments, then why not make them instead of the strawman arguments you obviously prefer?)
For example, Coyne’s term “faithiest” is a term of opprobrium and abuse, just as Josh points out, other racial or sexual epithets are. While one may not identify the exclusion of non-”Caucasians” or LGBT’s in American society with that of accommodationists (or, for that matter of atheists in theist America), they are of the same kind if nowhere near the same degree. Dawkins’ claim that accommodationists “like the idea that someone has faith” or that we “have faith in faith” is a similar act of abuse. But they are rational, of course. No self-defeating behaviour for them, no sir.If this is the main point you want to make then you could have done it much better—and much less hypocritically—by leaving out everything else. Make up your mind. Are you criticizing the position I take or are you just complaining about the rhetoric that's being used on both sides of the debate?
Anyone reading your posting would conclude that you are belittling the argument that science and religion are in conflict. Then to top it off you complain that in addition to being "unscientific," "irrational," and "exclusionary," your "enemies" are also being mean because they call you names. Don't you see any irony in that?
Look, I don’t care if atheists are aggressive or not. Certainly being excluded themselves, they have the right to be loud and proud. I think they should speak out at every turn. But does that require that they must denigrate and belittle those who don’t entirely agree with them? Must they turn into what they themselves despise? It seems, sadly, this is the human condition. But don’t pretend to be the vanguard of rationality when you are just as irrational and tribal as everyone else. The term for that is not “rational”, but “hypocritical”.Pot, kettle black.
Anytime you'd like to continue this debate without calling me names, I'm happy to oblige. I'll try and refrain as well, although it does take some of the fun out of the discussion.
1. I can ally with Ken Miller in the fight against extreme forms of creationism and I'm happy to do so. That doesn't mean I have to agree with him on everything else. He's a grownup—as am I—and he can handle people who disagree with him on some issues but agree with him on others.