We’ve seen that Mooney and Kirshenbaum claim that ‘faith and science are perfectly compatible.’

Austin Cline has a very helpful post explaining how this is done.

Chris Mooney regularly insists that all he wants is to promote the “pragmatic” position that science and religion are compatible. He doesn’t want critics of religion and theism to “shut up,” he just doesn’t want them to keep being so publicly critical. This differs from shutting up in that… well, Chris Mooney can’t quite explain how it differs. But it does, really. You can trust him on that.
As a demonstration of just how trustworthy Chris Mooney is, as well as a demonstration of just what he he thinks “framing” is all about, he recently cited a report which reveals that there is a “silent majority” of Americans who agree with him that science and religion are compatible.

That report, from the Pew Research Center, does indeed shed new light on how people find science and religion to be compatible. What they do is, whenever science says something they don’t like, they just ignore it. Simple!

[A]ccording to a 2006 survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 42% of Americans reject the notion that life on earth evolved and believe instead that humans and other living things have always existed in their present form…Interestingly, many of those who reject natural selection recognize that scientists themselves fully accept Darwin’s theory. In the same 2006 Pew poll, nearly two-thirds of adults (62%) say that they believe that scientists agree on the validity of evolution. Moreover, Americans, including religious Americans, hold science and scientists in very high regard…So what is at work here? 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.

Ah! So that is what is meant by compatible! We suspected as much all along, but how helpful of Mooney to cite a report that spells it out so bluntly and in such detail. Science and religion are ‘compatible’ because many people are perfectly happy just to ignore any theories and evidence that contradict their religious beliefs. Right. We knew that. That’s one of the first things Jerry Coyne said in the New Republic review –

True, there are religious scientists and Darwinian churchgoers. But this does not mean that faith and science are compatible, except in the trivial sense that both attitudes can be simultaneously embraced by a single human mind.

Or the even more trivial sense that people can pay lip service to one attitude while allowing it to be trumped by the other whenever that seems more pleasant.

In other words, for a great many Americans, religion and science are ‘compatible’ in a sense that simply contradicts the real meaning of the word. They are ‘compatible’ in the sense that people in this demographic will allow science to go its merry way, and will avail themselves of its benefits, but they will ‘simply choose not to believe’ anything they don’t feel like believing. That’s not genuine compatibility – it’s just compartmentalization, which is in fact the opposite of epistemic compatibility.

It’s funny that Mooney doesn’t seem to dwell on that part of the Pew report very much. He did slip up though in his ‘silent majority’ post, and Austin Cline spotted the slip-up. Mooney quoted this from Pew:

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.

Right – and that, Chris, makes religion incompatible with science, not compatible. It makes the two ‘compatible’ in the brute force sense that people can always just ignore mountains of evidence, but it makes them incompatible in the sense that just ignoring mountains of evidence is in fact not a reliable way to discover the truth about anything.

Mooney seems to rely on equivocation between the two meanings for his whole case, and then express baffled outrage when anyone points this out. Not good.

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