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Activism, Atheism, Politics, science

Evolution and Accommodationism

At the recent Evolution 2010 conference, there was a two hour talk on accommodationism.  There’s been plenty of scuttlebutt on the blogosphere about it, too.  I was not there, so I can’t comment on the specifics of this particular talk, but this seems like a good time for me to discuss my views on accommodationism, with particular focus on two areas — science and politics.

Let’s begin with the obvious question:  What does “accommodationism” mean?

To be fair, there isn’t an official definition.  If you ask Michael Shermer, Francis Collins, PZ Myers, and Ken Ham, you’ll probably get four different definitions, each with their own political and scientific implications.  However, I think we can start with very broad strokes and try to work our way down to more precise meanings as the word applies to different situations.  Let’s start with this basic working definition:  Accomodationism is the position of attempting to reconcile science and religion in the spheres of personal beliefs, political agendas, and cultural memes.

Right out of the gate, I have to own up to my own words, and I’ll do so with pride.  I maintain that as worldviews and philosophies, faith based religion and science are dichotomous.  They are incompatible at the most fundamental level.  There is no way to do science with faith, and vice versa.  But we shouldn’t just dismiss accommodationism so glibly.*  Life isn’t just about philosophy.  A completely accurate philosophy and a quarter still won’t buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks.  We have to think about some of the things accommodationists are trying to accomplish in the less than philosophically perfect world of irrational humans.

Let’s begin with the biggest problem for “separationists.”  (I don’t really know what to call folks who hold the position opposite accomodationism.)  Somewhere around 4 out of 10 Americans are not scientifically literate enough to accept evolution as a fact that is as certain as gravity.  Of the remaining 6 out of 10, perhaps 2 or 3 are perfectly willing to suggest that evolution and some form of creationism are compatible.  (Check out BioLogos arguing about how many angels can fit on the head of a pin… er… I mean… whether or not there was a real Adam and Eve.)  In a nutshell, strict separation of religion and science is a pipe dream right now.  We can talk about how great it would be, but we can’t sell it.

So the question becomes one of practicality.  This, I believe, is where the most outspoken accommodationists are coming from.  They don’t care so much about being completely right as they care about having more people on the side of science.  What they’re suggesting is a less binary approach to the question.  Better to get people closer to our position than to remain in a deadlocked ideological battle.

So let’s ask the question:  Can we improve the perception of science and scientists by leaving religion some wiggle room?  I’ll admit to being stumped on this one.  Part of me wants to believe that no self-respecting biologist would bother with a discussion of a historical Adam and Eve based solely on trying to interpret the Bible.  But then I remember Francis Collins and his intensely scientific observation that a beautiful waterfall proves that Jesus is the savior of the universe.

How can we be true to science while entertaining non-scientific ideas?  On the one hand, we can appeal to the peer review process.  Presumably, any attempts to introduce Adam and Eve into the scientific literature would be met with immediate and derisive scorn by any competent peer review panel.  But lest I become too smug, I need to remember that there is still an unspoken “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the social sciences.  Just let it go when therapists and researchers start talking about the “human soul,” or the uniqueness of “higher morality” in humans.  Don’t rock the boat.

But that’s the whole point, isn’t it?  Aren’t the hard-line separationists trying to say that science is being hindered by giving too much ground to religious ideas?  Don’t the social sciences prove that?  Again, we’re back to the question:  Is it better to give some ground and hope that in the long run, science will win by virtue of its correctness and reliability?

I have some doubts.  For one thing, science has become incredibly compartmentalized.  While it’s true that all science majors have to take introductory courses outside of their field, we have to acknowledge that it’s possible to be a published, peer reviewed physicist, astronomer, or mathematician and know next to nothing about evolution.  And let’s be honest:  The debate between science and religion is over evolution, not physics or chemistry.  Theists are perfectly happy to use their IPhones, hybrid cars, and tankless water heaters.  They just don’t want to talk about the equally valid conclusions reached by biologists about the origins of man.

For another thing, (and I honestly hate to go back to the already dying horse, but I have to) there’s an inherent bias against atheists in the accommodationist position.  Or, to put it another way, since we’re talking about popular opinion, not philosophical accuracy, we are giving the advantage to the theists.  Let’s imagine a conversation between a hardliner atheist scientist and an agnostic accommodationist:

Atheist:  I’m perfectly willing to accommodate as much religion as you can prove.  Frankly, I’m willing to accommodate anything at all, so long as you can show me that it’s true.

Agnostic:  You’re being too hard-nosed.  We have to be open-minded to other points of view.  You’re being absolutist and exclusionary.  You’re a radical.  Be nice.

Atheist:  But… I just said that I’m perfectly happy to accommodate any point of view that can be demonstrated as true.  Show me god, I’ll believe.  Show me that religion is good, and I’ll believe.  I’ll believe absolutely anything as long as it can be demonstrated.  How is that being an extremist?

Agnostic:  You just can’t tell other people that their position is wrong.

Atheist:  I don’t say that!  I say that until it’s proven right, we shouldn’t treat it as if it’s true.

Agnostic:  But that’s not true!  You do say some things are not true… like a historical Adam and Eve.

Atheist:  Well, yeah, because that’s not just about speculation anymore.  All the evidence proves that it is a false claim.  I’m sorry, but I can’t just pretend the evidence isn’t there.

Agnostic:  Extremist!

So, if we’re supposed to include every point of view, why can’t we include PZ Myers’ opinion?  It’s ok to argue over a real flood that covered the whole earth (even though it’s physically impossible with the volume of water on earth) but it’s not ok to say, “I’ll believe anything as long as you prove it”?

It’s a horrible catch-22 with science.  We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.  But what about politics?

Here, I’m a lot more flexible.  Politics has almost never been about facts.  It’s about who wins and who loses.  Is it ok for a politician to talk about accommodating religious views so long as he supports science and refuses to back non-scientific agendas like abstinence-only education?  I think so.

Let’s face it:  Politics has always been about manipulating the masses of ignorant voters.  With all of our scientific advances into the workings of the human mind, we’re much better at manipulating masses than we used to be.  For example, we have recently discovered that there’s a small bias on voting slips based on the ordering of the candidates.  Controlling for other factors, the candidate at the top of the ballot gets more votes than the other candidates.  If we apply this principle to the 2004 election debacle in Florida, Gore would be president by 50,000 votes, and no amount of recounts or hung chads would have mattered.  (Bush was listed first because he was a member of the same party as the current governor, his brother Jeb.)**  So for all the hubbub and vitriol, it’s fair to say that political agendas weren’t the deciding factor in the election.  As close as things were, Bush’s win can be scientifically justified as an unconscious effect of positioning on ballots.  So much for being right, eh?

We also know that for the most part, the ignorant masses will go along with whatever is shouted the loudest for the longest time.  If it takes a certain amount of accommodationism to get some “hard-line” science advocates into office, then I’m ok with that.  Granted, there’s a line in the sand somewhere.  I don’t think it’s possible to have a successful career after championing an anti-abortion position and then becoming an abortion-rights “activist politician.”  But politics is about saying only as much as necessary to get elected.   This seems a natural fit for accommodationism.

In any case, this is all a bit of thinking aloud.  What do you readers think?

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* Hi, George.

** This data comes from an advance copy of a book I’ve been reading.  Details to follow in an upcoming blog.

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Discussion

22 thoughts on “Evolution and Accommodationism

  1. I don’t think many philosophers of science claim that science is unlimited in scope; it’s bad at evaluating art for example. It’s been a while since I’ve read Shermer, but I think he’s made this point several times.

    Religion makes both scientific and non-scientific claims. Science can be used to disprove false scientific claims (such as a 6,000 year-old earth) but is inapplicable when it comes to metaphysical claims (such as the existence of a deity). That’s the domain of philosophy.

    Posted by Adam Call Roberts | June 27, 2010, 9:10 pm
  2. Well, no. Science is useful in testing the claim of any deity which interacts with the universe. It can say, “No… there’s no such interaction.” This doesn’t disprove *any diety,* but it does effectively prove that a specific deity doesn’t exist in the way it’s been described.

    Claiming the existence of any undefined deity is philosophically pretty useless, don’t you think?

    Posted by hambydammit | June 28, 2010, 12:04 am
  3. Science can tell us how something happens, but it can’t tell us whether that is an interaction or not. So it can describe events but not their metaphysical causes.

    For example, science might eventually be able to tell us whether the punctuated equilibrium model of evolution on earth is the best model or not. But it can’t tell us whether this was the action of a supernatural, ineffable being or not.

    Posted by Adam Call Roberts | June 28, 2010, 12:18 pm
  4. People who use “metaphysical” in the sense that it lets us ignore the physical simply do not know what the term means: Any viable metaphysics must be consistent with physics. That is, any claims about the underlying structure of the world we live in must be consistent with everything we know about the world we live in. Even supernatural entities which presumably move in mysterious ways cannot remain entirely mysterious if they interact with the world we experience on a daily basis, the world that moves in consistent causal ways.

    To use your specific example, Mr. Roberts, punctuated equilibrium is an explanatory hypothesis. It is not just the mere observation of the fact that long periods of stasis are evident in the fossil record, but it offers an explanation for how these observed phenomena occurred. “God did it” is not even remotely explanatory. What did God do? How? Why? When? To what end? As soon as you say this being is ineffable, you explicitly deny that citing the being’s actions have any explanatory power. That does not mean that such a being is cannot exist, but it does mean that the proposal is not in even the slightest way a valid alternate hypothesis – because a hypothesis is an explanation for observed data. Furthermore, because a scientific hypothesis offers a causal explanation for some phenomena, it has other implications and can be evaluated against additional evidence, including the universal implication that it must fit in with every other well-established scientific causal explanation. A scientific hypothesis is a part of and an attempted contribution to a body of knowledge.

    In contrast, an assertion that some agency we cannot observe – an agent we do not know anything about, perhaps cannot in principle know anything about (including whether or not said agent even exists) – is somehow or other responsible for the observed phenomenon is the exact opposite of an attempt at explanation: It does not contribute to our knowledge, it subtracts from it. To say “God did it” of any phenomena simply asserts that there are no explanations for the phenomena, and is a sign that the person making the assertion has no interest in finding any actual explanations, and furthermore is attempting to persuade others not to pursue explanations. It is an attempt to preserve ignorance, not an honest attempt to contribute to any body of knowledge.

    Whenever God’s ways are presumed or asserted to be mysterious and “beyond our ken” and such, those who then go on to attribute anything at all to this ineffable cause are clearly engaging in bullshit, to use Harry Frankfurt’s technical definition thereof. That is, they do not even care if what they are saying is true. They cannot possibly care – or they wouldn’t make an assertion about the actions of God in the same sentence where they admit that they cannot know or understand the actions of God. To make a claim that not only is not supported, but cannot be supported in principle, is bullshit in its purest form.

    Of course, religious believers who attribute actions to a deity are almost never asserting something about an ineffable, “moves in mysterious ways” deity. They are actually making claims about an entity that has reasons for what He is doing, and they claim to know those reasons. But when they start getting specific about who God is, what characteristics God has, why God did this or that, and what exactly it is that God did, suddenly their claims are explanatory and at least partially causal (because God DID something in the world) and so have implications – and those implications are, generally speaking, entirely inconsistent with the available evidence. (That’s pretty much the downfall of creationism and the problem of evil, summarized in a single sentence.) And so believers retreat to ineffability, using God’s mysteriousness as a shield from criticism, and then turn around and claim to know things about their oh-so-ineffable God in the very next breath. This is, using the term in both its technical and pejorative sense, a bullshit move.

    Posted by G Felis | June 28, 2010, 2:12 pm
  5. You’re absolutely right that ““God did it” is not even remotely explanatory,” which is why “God exists” (or more generally, “the supernatural exists”) is not a scientific statement and, using the principle of verificationism, is meaningless in the scientific sense. It is, as you put it, “not in even the slightest way a valid alternate hypothesis – because a hypothesis is an explanation for observed data.”

    I agree with most everything you write (if not the tone) until
    “That’s pretty much the downfall of creationism and the problem of evil, summarized in a single sentence.”

    You seem to be conflating science with ethics. Science can’t discover whether something is “evil” or critique theodicy. That’s the realm of philosophy. The problem of evil is a long, interesting debate, but not one that is at all relevant to the possible compatibility of science and religion.

    I’m glad to see you join the discussion. May I suggest that, in the interest of civil debate, that it’s more helpful to critique ideas than to assign insincere, anti-knowledge motives to those who disagree with you?

    🙂

    Posted by Adam Call Roberts | June 28, 2010, 3:28 pm
  6. Adam, I wonder if you realize the implications of removing “God Exists” from science. I’m perfectly happy with anyone who wants to do so, but the trick is, they don’t get to reinvent the rules when they do so.

    Science is the business of investigating that which we can detect. If it is detectable, it is within the realm of science. For God to opt out of science, it has to remain completely and utterly undetectable. In other words, to speak of god is to speak incoherently. For god to opt out of science, god has to opt out of meaning — any meaning at all.

    We have to be careful of scientific categories. Punctuated equilibrium, the theory of gravity, and general relativity are codifications — conceptualizations — of existing matter/space/time. They are not matter/space/time. In the same way, describing god, or the feeling the idea of god gives people, or the effect of religious beliefs — these are all conceptualizations. They are not “god.” God, as claimed by pretty much everyone, is an entity with some degree of agency.

    Any existing matter/space/time “entity” is absolutely in the realm of science, unless it is somehow removed from all interaction with the universe, in which case, we might as well say it doesn’t exist for any practical purpose.

    As a side note, I won’t get into G Felis’s territory (his PhD dissertation was on morality and the philosophy of science, by the way) but science can address morality — not evil. In fact, science has already described and quantified human (and other social animals’) morality in many ways. Whether it’s completely accurate is a matter of debate, but the evolutionary mechanism of morality is pretty well understood.

    “Evil” is a nonsense concept. It must refer to theology, which must borrow from naturalism, or else it refers to something without a coherent epistemology.

    Posted by hambydammit | June 28, 2010, 3:50 pm
  7. The testimony given by scientists, theologians and philosophers of science in the American creationism-in-schools cases had led me to believe that Popper’s theories on the demarcation of science were how it is traditionally explained. I’ve got a marked-up copy of Shermer’s ‘The Borderlands of Science’ lying around somewhere.

    “For god to opt out of science, god has to opt out of meaning — any meaning at all.”

    I, on the contrary, join Popper and other thinkers and hold that non-scientific statements can hold meaning. Literary criticism I think is the example Huxley gave.

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    Science can describe the natural effects of the supernatural, yes. If I purport the existence of a God who created a universe in which all swans are black, than we can scientifically demonstrate that I am wrong. But if I purport the existence of a God who created a universe in which swans are different colors, we cannot scientifically demonstrate that I am right.

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    I’m not arguing on this blog that God exists or that religion is a valid method to discover truth or that reason cannot disprove the existence of God. Rather, I am making the very small argument that science itself – by definition – cannot answer the question of the existence of the supernatural — and by implication, that “accommodationism” as described by the blogger, is a valid response.

    Posted by Adam Call Roberts | June 28, 2010, 4:30 pm
  8. Actually, Mr. Roberts, the greater part of my argument was about metaphysics and epistemology in general, not about science in some narrowly defined sense. I only referred to science at all because you offered a scientific example, but the argument I offered did not hinge in any important way on any epistemological question specific to the philosophy of science – so your response referring to (but not actually saying anything meaningful about) specific issues within the philosophy of science – the demarcation problem, verificationism and falsificationism, etc. – did not address my argument, but rather dodged the substance of it. In fact, your self-described “very small argument” misses every point at issue in this debate: Moreover, your argument seems rather transparently designed to miss those points, and your subsequent high-minded talk of tone is just more evasion of the substance of the argument. But in case more honest folk are reading, I’ll make clear what the points you keep dodging are.

    The possibility of the mere existence of “the supernatural” is NOT the main issue in the debate over the incompatibility of science and religion, or even a side issue. My response to any claim that there is some technical, abstract sense in which it is possible to offer some definition of God – a very, very abstract and largely content-free definition – which does not conflict with or even intersect with science is simply this: So? What’s your point? Why are you bringing that up? Who denied that? And who cares? It’s nothing but a red herring, for two reasons.

    Firstly, the vast majority of ordinary religious believers wouldn’t recognize what they call “God” (or “Allah” or whatever) in that definition, so it simply isn’t relevant in a debate about culture and education and policy and such. Remember, this debate is mostly about a bunch of atheist accommodationists telling more outspoken atheists like Hambydammit and I to shut up because we’re “hurting the cause” by pointing out the incompatibility of science and religion – although the accommodationists are never very clear about what exactly the cause is and how we’re hurting it, nor can they give an account of how protecting the delicate sensibilities of believers from even contemplating the incompatibility of science and religion will ever accomplish anything. As Hambydammit noted towards the end of his post, there certainly could be a worthwhile discussion on the strategic matter of what to do about the incompatibility of science and religion: However, such a discussion is quite separate from debating the actual incompatibility of science and religion. But I digress. The point was that this debate is about the real world, not about theoretically possible conceptions of “god” that have nothing to do with how actual people do conceive of the gods they worship and pray to for intervention and such.

    Secondly, the incompatibility of science and religion has nothing whatsoever to do with the possible existence of such an abstract deity in the first place: If the people who say science and religion are incompatible never claimed that an ineffable, non-detectable, deist-type deity cannot exist, claiming that such a thing can exist simply has no bearing on the discussion. It’s not a counterargument because it does not address any conclusion or premise in the argument. Of course, as atheists, we don’t believe that such a deity does exist – but we are in no way committed to claiming that it is logically or physically impossible for such a being to exist, just that the evidence leads us to believe that it doesn’t actually exist. And even if some particular atheists did make such claim – I don’t know any, but I don’t know every outspoken atheist in the world – that claim does not have anything to do with the quite separate claim that science and religion are incompatible, so it would still be completely irrelevant. Thus, your entire argument is not just a red herring, it’s a pretty stinky example of the species.

    But enough about what the debate is NOT about, let’s focus on what the debate is about. The incompatibility of science and faith, at minimum, is about the following two claims – both claims I think are pretty transparently true, and for which I and lots of other people (including our host Hambydammit) have offered many detailed arguments: One, actual beliefs that actual people have on the basis of their religious faith directly contradict well-established scientific knowledge – for example, creationism in all its guises. Two, science as a way of coming to know things about the world, which is continuous with a broader epistemology grounded in evidence and reason and critical thinking, is manifestly and directly incompatible with faith, which is a way of deciding what to believe about the world which explicitly eschews or deliberately distorts evidence, reason, and critical thinking. Let’s call these two claims i1 and i2, short for incompatibility claims 1 and 2.

    The atheist accommodationists cited above – the ones who keep telling other atheists to shut up about the incompatibility of science and religion – do not deny i1 at all. They apparently want very much to deny i2, but they must not have any good arguments to offer against i2 because they keep dodging it instead of addressing it. The most common dodge is to keep making straw man arguments which pretend that everyone arguing for the incompatibility of science and religion is only making claim i1. Your argument that it’s possible to conceive of a god which wouldn’t violate i1 is exactly such a straw man/red herring combo: That is, you’re arguing against a straw man by making a counterargument to the less important claim i1 while ignoring the more important and substantial claim i2, and the counterargument you make is a red herring because the whole reason for arguing against the straw man position instead of what incompatibilists actually say is to avoid addressing i2.

    Some of what Hambydammit was arguing in this post was that no god people actually believe in and worship ever seems to avoid crossing i1 in one way or another – and that any god which could avoid crossing i1 would be completely irrelevant to human beings living in the world, which is exactly why people don’t believe in such gods. Your response was to introduce the possible existence of an abstract, technical definition of “god” that has nothing to do with religion as it is actually practiced in the world by actual Christians and Jews and Muslims and Hindus and so on. So not only is your argument irrelevant, it’s irrelevant in exactly the way Hambydammit was talking about in the first place. Neither of us is saying that such a god cannot possibly exist: We’re saying that such a god wouldn’t matter to anyone if it did exist, so the possibility of its existence is quite beside the point.

    I’m also saying (and I’m pretty sure Hambydammit would agree with me) that choosing to believe that such a god exists when its existence explains nothing and has no observable consequences obviously requires deciding what to believe on the basis of faith, and so would still be contrary to science as a practice – or at least contrary to the broader epistemology grounded in evidence, reason, and critical thinking of which science is but a part (albeit a very important part). In other words, even when faith-based religion avoids running afoul of incompatibility with science in the i1 sense, it is still incompatible in the i2 sense.

    Posted by G Felis | June 29, 2010, 3:28 am
  9. I would have to agree with you Mr. Felis. However, I find that the belief in something (sorry, but here’s that completely outside the universe non-meaningful definition of God that has no impact on reality at all) makes me feel better when my science can’t explain something. I find that while this definition of God has no implications for how I live my life, it does bring me some measure of comfort. I still find it extremely hard to believe in this supernatural being though, so am stuck with a more believable (but some would say crazier) possibility that there is some scientifically explainable aliens pretending to be “Gods” to our tiny speck of a planet.

    All this aside, I really wanted to say thank you to you and hamby for the incredibly insightful discussion. That is probably the most concise and clear explanation against religion that I’ve been able to find. I’d like to make it clear (to myself) that from your explanation one gets the impression that you aren’t disbelieving in God so much as you are only believing in that which can be proven, and leaving unprovable questions for a later date when more evidence is available. This is exactly how I approach the question.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | June 29, 2010, 10:06 am
  10. Once again, please assume that errors I make in argument are due to my own human frailty and not out of some sort of evil malice.

    It does seem as though we’re arguing two different points. You’re arguing against i1 while I’m arguing about religion qua religion.

    My argument is “Religion in itself is not necessarily at odds with science.”

    Your argument is “The most popularly-practiced forms of religion in my culture invariably make claims that are at odds with science.”

    (An aside: Deism certainly isn’t dead, and the small, but significant adoption of liberal theology in Western Christianity, along with numerous perfectly compatible strands of Buddhism, ‘New Age’ practices and other scattered spiritualities — as actually believed by actual people — demonstrates that religion not fitting your i1 parameters not only can exist in theory, but does exist incarnate.)

    With i2, you’re explicitly stating what I thought you held. The discussion proposed on this blog was about science, not “a broader epistemology grounded in evidence and reason and critical thinking.” I hate to be a stickler, but there’s a difference between

    “Science and religion are incompatible.”

    and

    “Reason and religion are incompatible.”

    If only for strategic purposes relating to the U.S. Constitution, that’s an important distinction to keep in mind.

    Posted by Adam Call Roberts | June 29, 2010, 10:55 am
  11. For my clarification, it seems as though you do agree with my argument (“Religion in itself is not necessarily at odds with science.”) but that you don’t find it useful because most particular religions you deal with do have many elements at odds with science.

    i2 seems wholly irrelevant to the compatibility of science and religion. If you want to argue that rational thought should be applicable outside of science — or even that science implies that is it “continuous with a broader epistemology,” but all means do so, but it’s not relevant to the question “are science and religion compatible?”

    Posted by Adam Call Roberts | June 29, 2010, 11:07 am
  12. i2 is not only relevant, it’s the whole point. For one, this is about an ongoing debate, and i2 simply is what the debate is about. i2 is what I’m arguing is true. i2 is what Dawkins and Harris and Hambydammit and many others actually mean when they say science and religion are incompatible, and they have argued the point very clearly – and been told to shut up about it by accommodationists who claim that science and religion ARE TOO COMPATIBLE SO THERE! NYAH! without ever actually addressing the substance of those very clearly stated arguments.

    Also, you keep harping on science in this narrow sense without justifying the distinction. Science doesn’t work because there’s something special about the science-ness of it. Science works – that is, science leads to knowledge and helps us avoid illusions and delusions – precisely and only because it starts from a position of fallibilism (not assuming that one already has some special access to the truth) and proceeds from there on the basis of publicly available evidence, rigorous reasoning, and is ALWAYS tentative, self-critical and doubting about its conclusions. These epistemological standards are not special to science, they are the only demonstrable way anyone ever successfully justifies claims about the world. Faith consists entirely in flouting those standards.

    Moreover, you can’t make a counter-argument to Hambydammit’s argument without actually reading his argument. I’ll quote a highly relevant sentence from the beginning: “I maintain that as worldviews and philosophies, faith based religion and science are dichotomous.” As worldviews and philosophies, he says, quite obviously meaning MORE than just the narrow practice of science. Not just the phrase “worldviews and philosophies,” but the context of discussion makes it clear that what’s at issue is the epistemological foundation of science, not just the specific content of scientific findings about the natural world (i1). Faith-based religion, he says, which is obviously narrower than the “religion qua religion” you cite. Buddhism and Unitarian Universalism, for just two examples off the top of my head, are religions that in their basic underlying principles eschew faith (although individual Buddhists or Unitarian Universalists may or may not have some faith beliefs). And insofar as they do, they are not incompatible with science. Since the overwhelming majority of religious adherents do believe things on the basis of faith, people talk about the incompatibility of science and religion instead of the incompatibility of science and faith. Of course, since “religion” is a blanket term that does include all those people with faith beliefs, it is still semantically accurate to say that science is incompatible with religion. I’ll admit that I would prefer it if people were a bit more careful to talk about the incompatibility of a scientific approach to the world and faith rather than the broader, looser language. But here, Hambydammit DID in fact specify “faith-based religion” right at the beginning, so he clearly intended to refer to that narrower field and it’s a childish exercise in hair-splitting semantics to keep saying “but not ALL religion.”

    I’m not accusing you of malice. I’m accusing you of bullshitting and dodging the actual arguments at issue. When people miss the point, I can attribute it to misunderstanding. When people continue to spectacularly miss the point when the point is re-explained in several different ways, I suspect them deliberately dodging the point.

    Posted by G Felis | June 29, 2010, 11:48 am
  13. If we expand the definition of science to include a larger worldview and contract the definition of religion to only include those religions which conflict with science, then I agree. “Science” and “religion” as thus defined are incompatible.

    However, I think the ‘accommodationists’ are not defining their terms in the way hambydammit is.

    My last couple comments were meant to argue with you, not with hambydammit. I shouldn’t have assumed your dismissal of a deistic God’s usefulness also meant you were charging deism with incompatibility with science. That’s my error there.

    Posted by Adam Call Roberts | June 29, 2010, 11:59 am
  14. I’m going to be honest and say that it very much sounds like Adam is arguing to argue. You sound like you’re trying to mangle the definitions of the key terms of the argument in order to make the argument sounds misleading. As if specific religions are being singled out, when instead what is happening is that those religions have no position to stand on in this argument. Not one with any logical support (which should have been obvious from the beginning of the argument). When you are ready to argue the merits of science vs. religion, instead of the definition of religion or science, please write a book, as I’m pretty sure I’d like to read it.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | June 29, 2010, 12:45 pm
  15. Adam, let’s put the rubber to the road. Name the religions you believe adhere to strict scientific standards of evidence for their metaphysical claims. If you can’t name one… why are we arguing?

    Posted by hambydammit | June 29, 2010, 2:13 pm
  16. By the way, I’ve addressed UU in other posts to some degree. I have a hard time categorizing it. I’ve been to a couple of “services” and talked to a few “followers,” and for my life, I can’t tease an actual philosophy or set of beliefs out of it. It’s like… “We believe… or maybe we don’t… that something may or may not exist, or have existed, or might exist in the future, which some people might (or might not) call God, but which might or might not be god to other people, if it wants to… (or maybe it doesn’t). But we’re definitely going to have potluck dinners and encourage people to vote progressive.”

    If someone wants to site UU as a non-faith based religion, I’ll accept. To me, it seems like playing religion for closet atheists, but that’s just my experience. In any case, I’ve said repeatedly that I don’t claim that all conceivable religion is faith based. If I have to have an asterisk excluding UUs from all my criticisms, so be it. They account for what… a fiftieth of one percent of all religious people worldwide?

    As for Buddhism, I’m something of a fan since one of the central tenets to many branches is something like “never trust what you know.” But a close inspection of the news of religion shows me some pretty bizarre behaviors by Buddhists which I can’t justify on empirical grounds. I’m comfortable saying Buddhism is less faith based than most religion, but I hesitate to proclaim it free from woo.

    Posted by hambydammit | June 29, 2010, 2:34 pm
  17. If by ‘science’ you mean ‘science’ in the way it is traditionally and legally understood, then I submit the ones I listed in the aside – deism, certain strands of Christianity, Buddhism, ‘New Age’ and other traditions.

    If by ‘science’ you mean the broader epistemology one commentor wrote of, I honestly don’t know either way.

    My point – which has gotten lost somewhere – is that w

    Posted by Adam | June 29, 2010, 2:44 pm
  18. hen religion (or anything) makes a claim that lies outside the boundary of science, science doesn’t comment on it.

    Posted by Adam | June 29, 2010, 2:47 pm
  19. ‘Why are we arguing’ is what I’ve been trying to figure out from post one.

    Posted by Adam | June 29, 2010, 2:50 pm
  20. Are you suggesting that there are branches of Christianity which do not claim the existence of a God that interacts with the universe in any way?

    I’ve never heard of such a thing.

    I’m ok with deism. I don’t call it a religion because real deism admits that we can say nothing about god or what it might “want.” It doesn’t have any tenets, practices, or… well.. anything. It’s just a way to feel good about the universe while being a naturalist.

    New Age “religion” is frought with non-scientific claims about things like chakras and energy. No way does that count as a scientific religion.

    I’ve addressed Buddhism.

    I’ve also addressed the claim that science doesn’t “comment” on non-scientific claims by religions in my newest post, “Can Science Talk About Morality.” In a nutshell, science’s silence on a non-scientific claim is not an admission that the claim is valid and beyond science. Instead, it’s an unspoken indictment of the claim as either unfalsifiable (and therefore useless as a hypothesis) or incoherent.

    Posted by hambydammit | June 29, 2010, 5:24 pm
  21. No, I’m not suggesting that – you’re changing your question after I’ve answered. But our conversation on the boundary of science seems to be fruitless.

    I’ll read your new post, digest it, and comment tonight.

    Posted by Adam | June 29, 2010, 6:47 pm
  22. Oh? What changed?

    I asked which religions adhere strictly to the scientific method. You said some branches of Christianity. Now you don’t like your answer because… well, it kind of sucks, and you got called out for it. I’ve been consistent in my usage of the word “science,” as well. Science means science — the use of empiricism, reason, and probability in determining what is objectively real. Only one of us has been splitting hairs trying to make religion fit into the science box, and it isn’t me.

    Posted by hambydammit | June 30, 2010, 7:27 am

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