The clash

How to pretend an incompatibility is just a difference in taste. How to airbrush a genuine stalemate.

[R]eligious convictions limit many Americans’ willingness to accept controversial scientific theories…Science and religion have traditionally, and often incorrectly, been viewed as enemies. This perception has been fueled in part by a number of famous episodes in history that have pitted scientists, like Galileo and Darwin, against the prevailing religious establishments of their time. But more often than not, scientists and people of faith have operated not at cross purposes but simply at different purposes…How can Americans say that they respect science and even know what scientists believe and yet still disagree with the scientific community on some fundamental questions? The answer is that much of the general public simply chooses not to believe the scientific theories and discoveries that seem to contradict long-held religious or other important beliefs.

Right. So it does. Much of the general public chooses not to believe discoveries, no matter how well supported by evidence, that seem to and do contradict religious beliefs. And that, good Horatio, is why science and religion are indeed enemies – especially, it is why religion is the enemy of science: because it teaches people to choose not to believe evidence-based theories that contradict religious beliefs. That means that scientists and ‘people of faith’ do indeed operate at cross purposes. Yes, the purposes are also different, but that doesn’t make them any less cross. Your would-be biologist or geologist or psychologist or cognitive scientist who chooses not to believe well-warranted theories that contradict religious beliefs is going to be an incompetent biologist or geologist or psychologist or cognitive scientist in proportion to the number and salience of the well-warranted theories that are voluntarily not believed. The two ways of thinking are at cross purposes.

When asked what they would do if scientists were to disprove a particular religious belief, nearly two-thirds (64%) of people say they would continue to hold to what their religion teaches rather than accept the contrary scientific finding…This reliance on religious faith may help explain why so many people do not see science as a direct threat to religion…These data once again show that, in the minds of most people in the United States, there is no real clash between science and religion. And when the two realms offer seemingly contradictory explanations (as in the case of evolution), religious people, who make up a majority of Americans, may rely primarily upon their faith for answers.

But that is a real clash. Of course the ‘reliance on religious faith may help explain why so many people do not see science as a direct threat to religion,’ but that simply amounts to saying that so many people are delusional and willfully ignorant (in the sense of choosing not to believe no matter what quantity of evidence). That doesn’t make religion compatible with science, it just makes it capable of denial, which we already knew.

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