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Jun 28 2010

Is Religion Compatible With Science?

I keep hearing the accommodationist mantra that religion is compatible with science (or vice versa). There have recently been issues regarding a person who happens to be a skeptic, while at the same time being Christian (of the Roman Catholic sect), becoming upset that her religious ideas were openly ridiculed by other skeptics. There have been recent articles attempting to rationalize the “Adam and Eve” myth of the Christian Bible as factual. Now, it seems, there has been atheist-bashing at, of all places, an annual event hosted by The Society for the Study of Evolution.

What is the Society for the Study of Evolution’s purpose?

“The object of the Society shall be the promotion of the study of organic evolution and the integration of various fields of science concerned with evolution.”
The Society for the Study of Evolution Constitution and Bylaws

It seems that someone at the Society has come to the conclusion that religion is now a “field of science”. That may be a bit harsh, though. Perhaps it is simply that one particular discussion at theEvolution 2010 conference featured discussion by one or more fervent accommodationists.

Jen McCreight was in attendance at the Evolution 2010 conference. She was able to attend their Communicating Science Symposium. This symposium was chaired by Robert T. Pennock, PhD, and Tiffany Lohwater. You may recognize Professor Pennock’s name as he was an expert witness in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case. Tiffany Lohwater is Public Engagement Manager at the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) [to which Prof. Pennock was elected a Fellow in 2006].

The symposium began with a talk by Prof. Pennock. Jen mentioned that “it had good parts,” but also that it “quickly went downhill.” It seems that a large portion of Prof. Pennock’s talk was about a perceived need for scientists to distance their support of evolution from atheistic views. He said we should stress the compatibility between science and religion so that those in the middle can accept “theistic evolution.”. Jen had not expected the entire symposium to be devoted to accommodationism.

After Prof. Pennock’s talk, the symposium was continued by (according to Jen) “a woman from the AAAS” who I assume was Tiffany Lohwater. The woman indicated that there was no use in including either creationists or atheists in the discussion because both groups are extremists who will not change their minds.

Wait one fucking minute! I resent — nay; I am offended by — this woman’s statement! I am an atheist, but I am not a dogmatist! Most atheists are not dogmatic in their disbelief. If any religion provides evidence that their deity exists and their religion is true, and said evidence is verifiable by the scientific method, I will believe in their god. That is not the way of an extremist who will not change their mind.

Tiffany Lohwater has said in the past, “But public engagement with science allows that both scientists and non-scientists bring valuable knowledge and perspectives that can guide the application of science in society.” [See Going Beyond a Public Understanding of Science to Give the Public a Voice] Ms. Lohwater co-chaired an inquiry group that created a report published by the Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE). This report, Public Engagement With Science, has this to say:

“…responses to science are deeply informed by knowledge and perspectives from non-science domains, such as senses of ethics and morality,” it is imperative to “encourage conversations with all aspects of society including the public, scientists, and decision makers.”

I completely agree with this idea. The public should be involved, and they should be encouraged to learn more about the science that is affecting their lives. But wait: I don’t see where it says that we should “water down the real science so it can fit in with some peoples’ religious mythology.” There is a difference between communicating effectively with a wide range of the public and curtailing scientific evidence and thought because it might offend the sensibilities of some members of that public. I simply don’t see how people like Prof. Pennock, Ms. Lohwater, Chris Mooney, et al., have made that leap. Perhaps even the AAAS leadership has made that leap.

Religious ideas are perfectly fine as long as they’re kept within their religious context. If someone wants to believe that their deity influenced evolution, that is certainly their prerogative. If they promote this idea as being true and factual, they should provide evidence supporting it. If they do not have such evidence, then they need to accept the fact that their religious idea is not supported by science. That’s the end of it. No more demands for respect or acceptance. No more accommodation. Science and science education should not make accommodations for patently religious ideas that have no evidentiary basis.

Science is a system that we humans use to increase our knowledge about how the Universe works. Religion does not increase our knowledge. Religion is most often a dogmatic belief that “god did it and that settles it.” There are many people who consider themselves members of one religion or another, yet still accept the reality of biological evolution. I applaud them for this. There are some people who consider themselves to be scientists or educators, yet propose that communication about science be structured to allow for theistic beliefs. I deride them for this.

I will brook no capitulation on the part of scientific knowledge to the willfully misguided attempts of religion to lay claim to the facts that underlie our Universe and the way it works.

1 comment

2 pings

  1. khan

    So true.

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