Straightening out the kinks

Chad Orzel said a strange thing the other day.

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.

That’s very blithe – hey ho, we believe all sorts of things that are completely incoherent and that’s just fine, in fact if we didn’t we would be unable to move. That’s not really right, actually – sorting out things that are incoherent is generally useful, and it’s a good deal too glib to just shrug them off as purely formal and of interest to no one but philosophers.

Sean Carroll is much better.

In the real world, scientists have different stances toward religion. Some of us think that science and religion are (for conventional definitions of science and religion) incompatible. Others find them perfectly consistent with each other. (It’s worth pointing out that “X is true” and “People exist who believe X is true” are not actually the same statement, despite what Chad and Chris and others would have you believe. I’ve tried to emphasize that distinction over and over, to little avail.)

Yes so have I; I tried so over and over on Chris’s posts that I got banned from commenting there (and also from commenting at Talking Philosophy); also to little avail. Chris does seem to have grasped the point now, but he hasn’t said ‘Oh right, oops, my mistake, sorry for all that name-calling’; instead he just pretends we disagree with him that there are scientists who are also religious. We don’t. It would be to little avail to try to get Chris to acknowledge that though.

And there are some scientists — quite a few of us, actually — who straightforwardly believe that science and religion are incompatible. There are absolutely those who disagree, no doubt about that. But establishing the truth is a prior question to performing honest and effective advocacy, not one we can simply brush under the rug when it’s inconvenient or doesn’t make for the best sales pitch. Which is why it’s worth going over these tiresome science/religion debates over and over, even in the face of repeated blatant misrepresentation of one’s views. If science and religion are truly incompatible, then it would be dishonest and irresponsible to pretend otherwise, even if doing so would soothe a few worried souls. And if you want to argue that science and religion are actually compatible (not just that there exist people who think so), by all means make that argument — it’s a worthy discussion to have. But it’s simply wrong to take the stance that it doesn’t matter whether science and religion are compatible, we still need to pretend they are so as not to hurt people’s feelings. That’s not being honest.


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