It is no secret that our book, Unscientific America, which will soon release in paperback, displeased many New Atheists. They didn’t much like the argument that science and religion can work together, rather than always being at odds; that constant warfare between the two isn’t necessary, and can be destructive.
But don’t forget that there is another side in this debate that is also devoted to incompatibility, rather than reconciliation–the anti-science “intelligent design” types. Here is none other than Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute criticizing those like myself, or Michael Ruse, who are atheists but also take a compatibilist stance:
So it turns out that atheists like Ruse and Mooney promote compatibility between God and evolution out of constitutional concerns. They fear that if atheism and evolution become too closely linked, this could make the teaching of evolution unconstitutional. Thus, they feel they’d better fix the problem by going around preaching that God and evolution are compatible.
Now they might genuinely believe it’s possible to reconcile God and evolution, but then again, don’t forget we’re talking about ardent evolutionists and atheists who personally reject belief in God and expressly admit legally / politically oriented motives for pushing the compatibilist perspective. Isn’t that at least a little suspicious?
In any case, this could explain the curious crusade of atheists who go around preaching on the compatibility of God and evolution.
The website where this appears, by the way, is bibleprophecyupdate.com. Wow.
Luskin is wrong about my motives and beliefs…for instance, the main thing that has made me more aware of the possibility of science-religion compatibility is probably getting to know people who exhibit such compatibilism in their own lives and seem to do very well with it. Such folks seem to me to be eminent allies in the defense of science and reason.
As for my views being motivated by constitutional concerns–well, yeah, I’m definitely concerned that incorrect arguments about science and religion, such as those propounded by the Discovery Institute, might lead to strikes against the teaching of evolution.
But anyways. This just goes to show you that it isn’t always easy taking the middle ground.
As I’ve said, there is much that is surprising or unexpected about Elaine Ecklund’s findings on religion among scientists. I’m going to be blogging on this all week, but again, as background, if you haven’t yet you should first check out our Point of Inquiry episode (show website here; listen here; download/subscribe here).
The second point that arises from Ecklund’s research that I find intriguing is this. There’s a cliche out there, particularly among some conservative religious folks, that there is something nasty about science (and particularly evolutionary science), such that studying it will kill off your belief system.
However, Ecklund’s research seems to give the lie to this idea–and our discussion of this topic begins around minute 17:55-19:10.
First, among scientists who are atheists, Ecklund found that they tended to come from irreligious or not very observant family backgrounds. In other words, their atheism or lack of religion was in place long before their scientific training began.
Meanwhile, for scientists who retained religious beliefs, they tended to have started out with them to begin with, and then held on to them after a struggle or crisis of faith. But once again, if I understand Ecklund right, the struggle tended to happen before one’s scientific training and so was obviously not caused by it.
In both cases, then, what seems to be the key predictor of a scientist’s religious belief is family religious background…and not whether one studies science.
So why then are Christian conservatives so afraid of letting their kids learn real science? It doesn’t seem to be the threat here at all.
Elaine Howard Ecklund is a sociologist at Rice University; we cited her work on the topic of science and religion in Unscientific America. Now, she is out with a book that is going to seriously undercut some widespread assumptions out there concerning the science religion relationship.
The book, soon to be out from Oxford University press, is entitled Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think. And let me give you just a taste of her answers, from the book jacket (I haven’t dug in yet):
In the course of her research, Ecklund surveyed nearly 1,700 scientists and interviewed 275 of them. She finds that most of what we believe about the faith lives of elite scientists is wrong. Nearly 50 percent of them are religious. Many others are what she calls “spiritual entrepreneurs,” seeking creative ways to work with the tensions between science and faith outside the constraints of traditional religion…..only a small minority are actively hostile to religion. Ecklund reveals how scientists–believers and skeptics alike–are struggling to engage the increasing number of religious students in their classrooms and argues that many scientists are searching for “boundary pioneers” to cross the picket lines separating science and religion.
Incidentally, the universities whose scientists were surveyed for the book are: Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, Penn, U.C. Berkeley, UCLA, U. of Chicago, University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, U. Michigan, U. Minnesota, UNC Chapel Hill, U. Washington-Seattle, U. Wisconsin-Madison, U.S.C., Washington University, and Yale.
The Council for Secular Humanism is proud to announce its 30th anniversary subscribers’ conference. “Setting the Agenda: Secular Humanism’s Next 30 Years” will be held October 7 – 10, 2010, at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, California. Scheduled speakers include Richard Dawkins, who will accept a very special award (to be announced); authors Sam Harris and Robert Wright, who will dialogue on humanist stances toward faith; and a glittering roster of speakers, including James Randi, P. Z. Myers, Eugenie Scott, Paul Kurtz, Lawrence Kruass, Chris Mooney, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Victor Stenger, Shadia Drury, Mark Johnson, Barry Kosmin, Ibn Warraq, and many more.
Sounds like a rumble. Details here….
A while back, well before I knew I would be a new host to the show, I did an episode of Point of Inquiry with D.J. Grothe to discuss the arguments and controversy engendered by Unscientific America. In the process, we got into quite a lot of detail about my views on science, religion, and free inquiry–many of which are either misunderstood or misrepresented in parts of the atheist blogosphere.
I mention this because I just noticed that a recent issue of Free Inquiry has actually printed a transcription of part of the Point of Inquiry interview, including passages like this:
FI (D.J. Grothe): In your book Unscientific America, you take on the New Atheists, even though you are an atheist. You argue that the battle should be for scientific literacy as opposed to a battle against religion. You seem to argue that when the battle is science versus religion, public scientific literacy actually suffers.
Mooney: Right. We live in an overwhelmingly religious society, and we should just admit that not all of the religious have a problem with science. It is important to refute the fundamentalists when they encroach on science education across the country in regard to evolution. But in order to do that, it is critical that we mobilize the pro-science moderates. The New Atheism, as a strategy, flies in the face of this, since it is often about attacking and alienating the religious moderates.
This is precisely what Unscientific America argues, too. D.J. continues: Read More
I haven’t blogged on this subject in a while, due to the kinds of comments/blitzkrieg it always evokes. And I’m sure I’ll be accused of “arguing from authority” here, simply because I’m quoting someone I find particularly eloquent and persuasive.
But so be it: When I saw Chad Orzel’s post last week explaining why it is that science and religion can be compatible, I couldn’t help linking, as it so perfectly summarizes my own view, and in better terms than I myself can probably put it:
OK, fine, as a formal philosophical matter, I agree that it’s basically impossible to reconcile the religious worldview with the scientific worldview. Of course, as a formal philosophical matter, it’s kind of difficult to show that motion is possible.
We don’t live in a formal philosophical world, though, and the vast majority of humans are not philosophers (and that’s a good thing, because if we did, it would take forever to get to work in the morning). Humans in the real world happily accept all sorts of logical contradictions that would drive philosophers batty. And that includes accepting both science and religion at the same time.
So, in my view, it is not in any way an “unconscionable” political statement for professional scientific organizations to state that science and religion are compatible. It’s a statement of fact, an acknowledgment that in the real world, there are numerous examples of people who are both personally religious and successful, even prominent scientists. Guy Consolmagno, George Coyne, Bill Phillips, Francis Collins, and many more.
How do these people deal with the philosophical contradiction inherent in there beliefs? I have no idea. I don’t really care, either, any more than I care how philosophers resolve Zeno’s paradox. Religious scientists exist, and I can move from one side of the room to the other in finite time. End of debate, let’s talk about something that actually matters.
There is nothing unconscionable, in my view, in professional organizations stating publicly that these people exist. What would be unconscionable is the reverse–a public statement that science and religion can never be compatible amounts to a denial of the existence of the many men and women who find some way to reconcile science and religion in their own lives. I find that sort of rhetoric deeply insulting even on blogs, let alone from a professional organization.
Amen amen amen….and now, let the wild ruckus begin.
I’ve been meaning to blog this radio segment, on Minnesota Public Radio’s Midmorning program, in which renowned physicist Lawrence Krauss and myself discuss the scientific year in review–with particular emphasis on the changing of the guard in the Obama administration, the climate conundrum, and even the battle over science and religion (where I differ with Krauss maybe 5 %). You can listen here: