Not that kind of compatibility

Chris Mooney (yes, it’s not over after all) disagrees with Jerry Coyne (and by extension me, and Austin Cline, and anyone else who has made the same point) about what the Pew report tells us about the putative compatibility of science and religion.

Let me say at the outset that I find it regrettable, just as Dr. Coyne does, that people are rejecting scientific findings due to their religion. That’s not cool. It’s not acceptable. And it is of course one of the key reasons we have an “unscientific America.”

But where Coyne sees sheer science-religion incompatibility, I see something else: An opportunity. For it seems to me that if we could only dislodge the idea that evolution is contradictory to people’s belief in “Jesus (19%), God (16%) or religion generally (16%),” then they would have no problem with evolution.

Yes, and if we could perform other miracles we could do other great things, but alas…

My view is that if we force-science religion conflict on much of America, then for a large portion of our citizenry, science is not going to prevail as the victor. But if we demonstrate compatibility, then that should be very good for the public understanding and appreciation of science.

This, annoyingly, is just Mooney going back to that same old equivocation again, as he keeps doing, like a dog with a bone, no matter how many times people tell him that that’s what he’s doing. (And yet he’s always telling us that people who disagree with him don’t know enough philosophy!) I told him so in a comment but of course, as always, he took not a blind bit of notice. I pointed out that it is not possible to ‘demonstrate compatibility’ in the epistemic sense. The only kind of compatibility it is possible to demonstrate is this brute force kind, in which believers simply ignore the evidence whenever it threatens their religious beliefs. The brute force kind of compatibility is epistemically worthless, and worse than that if it leads to delusions about genuine (epistemic) compatibility.

I told Mooney he is still playing on this equivocation and that he’s still talking about the brute force kind of compatibility and ignoring the fact that the people who disagree with him (and I’m one) are talking about epistemic compatibility.

It’s such a basic point. Is he refusing to get it, or is he unable to? The brute force kind of compatibility is an option, it’s true, but it’s not an option that it’s reasonable or sensible to try to pressure other people – least of all scientists! – into accepting for themselves. Yes it is always possible to ignore evidence, even whole mountain ranges of evidence, and believe whatever we want to. But that is not the same thing as substantive compatibility of findings. It is unwise to ignore this distinction.

10 Responses to “Not that kind of compatibility”