Science Fuller Religion

Good, someone else besides Richard Dawkins and PZ and me who thinks science and religion are not compatible.

At an August 2005 City College of New York conference featuring a panel of Nobel Laureates, one scientist created a stir by arguing that belief in God is incompatible with being a good scientist and is “damaging to the well-being of the human race.”…Hauptman: The only significant negative reaction came from Cornelia Dean, a reporter from The New York Times. I was later told by several of the other Nobel Laureates that they agreed with me, but for reasons of their own, they just did not respond…[O]bviously this view is unpopular in this overly religious society. People who are outspoken about it are more than just regarded as cranky, they are deeply disliked…I spoke out because of this frustration I have only lately begun to feel about the religiosity in our society.

In other words the pressure of public opinion and social conformity silences a lot of people. I think it is really necessary to resist that pressure and that trend. That’s why I keep yapping about it – I’m applying social pressure from the other direction. (Not that that’s much use, with the NY Times doing its bit for the wrong side.)

The interviewer asks if he thinks there is a relationship between being a good scientist and being a religious skeptic.

What are religions based on? They are not based on evidence but on faith. On the other hand, a good scientist insists that, before one assents to a claim, there must be good evidence for that claim…I think we would be better off if scientists were more open about their lack of belief in God.

So do I. I’ll tell you who doesn’t, though, and that’s Steve Fuller. He would accuse Hauptman of ‘demonizing’.

The contributors to this volume consist of some veterans of the Science Wars over the past fifteen years, including the editor, Gerald Holton, and Paul Gross. Some pieces demonize the quite different senses of “fundamentalism” on offer in contemporary Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism – each of which supposedly threatens the future of science.

Gosh, why would anyone think Christian, Islamic or Hindu fundamentalism would threaten the future of science? There’s no possible reason, therefore those horrid blood-spattered veterans of the ‘Science Wars’ have to resort to demonization. Some people will stop at nothing!

While it is relatively harmless to insist that mastery of a scientific specialty requires training in certain techniques, it is more problematic (pace Kuhn) to insist that all such specialists share the same disciplinary narrative – and still more problematic to require that they pledge allegiance to the same philosophical world-view, say, what the US National Academy of Sciences calls “methodological naturalism.” It makes for bad philosophy, bad science, and bad politics. Yet, we seem to be sliding down this slippery slope, which in the past has led to loyalty oaths and in the future could lead to the genetic profiling of people as unfit for scientific endeavors because of their propensity to belief in, say, the supernatural.

‘Disciplinary narrative’ – right. It’s just a story. And methodological naturalism is a ‘philosophical world-view’ coercively forced on all aspiring scientists. That’s a line that the defense (the ID side) tried to push at the Kitzmiller trial, the one where Steve Fuller covered himself with glory by helping his side to lose the case (by giving his ‘expert’ testimony that ID is indeed religion, when the defense was trying to claim that it wasn’t – boy, I bet they were sorry they’d invited him to the party). Barbara Forrest wouldn’t play.

Q. And methodological naturalism is a convention that’s imposed upon scientific inquiry, is it not?

A. Forrest: No, it’s not a convention that is imposed upon scientific inquiry. Methodological naturalism is a methodology. It’s a way of addressing scientific questions. It reflects the practice of science that has been successfully established over a period of centuries. It’s not imposed upon science. It reflects the successful practice of science.

So now Fuller is setting the record straight, now that there’s no pesky judge to interfere.

Perhaps the volume’s strongest suit is that it does not feature arguments to the following effect:…(b) That the research and educational agendas of democratic societies should be turned over to scientific specialists, by virtue of their superior knowledge, so to prevent society from egregious error…To this reviewer, the absence of (b)-style arguments is the surest sign that the contributors, despite their uniformly establishmentarian scientific sympathies, are still republicans – and not authoritarians. It will be interesting to see whether a successor volume still holds fast to this ideal, since some contributors seem to be chomping at the bit to grant authorized scientists unilateral control over the science curriculum.

How dare they. How dare they want to grant ‘authorized’ (what does that silly dig mean?) scientists ‘unilateral’ (what does that mean?) control over the science curriculum? How dare they not want to include lots of those unfairly ‘demonized’ fundamentalists along with lots of clued-in sociologists of science and lots of, um, baseball players? How dare they not want to hand control over the science curriculum over to The People at large, to do with it as they will? Is this a democracy, or is it not? It is a democracy. Therefore all curricula should be under the control of unauthorized democratic unauthoritarian non-specialists, because that’s democratic and the other thing isn’t. Scientific specialists who have (ew, ew, ew) ‘superior’ knowledge (can’t you just see them, those bastards, sitting around their labs in their horrible white coats fawning on each other for having so much ew superior knowledge and specialistism?) and establishmentarian sympathies are bad, bad, bad people who don’t belong in a democracy, they should all be locked up in missile silos or something, we hates ’em.

Forrest’s effectiveness was reflected in the presiding judge’s interpretation of the US Constitution’s separation of Church and State doctrine in Puritanical rather than Whitmanesque terms: He went beyond ruling that a religiously inspired viewpoint should not dominate the public school curriculum to pronouncing that no such viewpoint whatsoever should ever be introduced into scientific matters. Why science, as opposed to other subjects in the curriculum, should be treated so preciously remained unaddressed. However, it would make sense if a certain self-consciously non-theological conception of science were treated as a secular religion of a civic republican polity, as Dewey seemed to wish for the United States.

Oh, gawd, what a pile of steaming ordure. What a horrible, sly, insinuating, eelish way of deploying rhetoric instead of argument he has. How annoying he is. How I wish he would give it all up and become a church warden instead.

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