Respect is another one-way valve

That interview with Ayala in the New Scientist

They are two windows through which we look at the world. Religion deals with our relationship with our creator, with each other, the meaning and purpose of life, and moral values; science deals with the make-up of matter, expansion of galaxies, evolution of organisms. They deal with different ways of knowing. I feel that science is compatible with religious faith in a personal, omnipotent and benevolent God.

Religion deals with an imaginary or projected relationship with an imagined or projected ‘creator,’ which is a somewhat special kind of relationship, and not really a window through which we look at the world – more like a window through which we conjure a world more to our liking. Religion is far from alone in dealing with our relationship with each other or the meaning and purpose of life or moral values, while science is alone in dealing with the items on its list. Things are blurry and fuzzy and confused from the outset. Sure, science is compatible with all that, but only in the sense that one can always just compartmentalize. It’s not compatible in the sense that one can really combine the two in action. In fact it’s like multitasking that way. Teenagers love to tell adults in a condescending way that they really can text and check email and listen to a biology lecture all at the same time. Yes; we know it’s physically possible to do all three at once, the point is that they are all done badly. That’s what the teenagers don’t get, and it’s what the compatibilists don’t get either. Either you separate the two, in which case you’re tacitly admitting that they’re not compatible, or you don’t, in which case your science will be not so good.

I made a similar point in my piece on Templeton for TPM.

And yet, there are limits even to Templeton’s attempts to bring science and religion together, and that fact seems to indicate that there may be real reasons to be wary of that project, as opposed to simply being “allergic to religious thought”. Even Templeton-funded scientists don’t actually apply religious thought at the coalface – in the lab, in the field, in peer-reviewed journal articles, as the University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne, author of the best-selling Why Evolution is True, confirmed.

“Indeed, none of us bring religion into our work,” he told me, “for the same reason that Laplace mentioned: ‘I have no need of that hypothesis.’ Using God or the supernatural never got us anywhere, so we gave it up. And no, nobody, not Francis Collins, or Kenneth Miller, nor anyone uses religion in their own scientific work – not that I know of!”

Anthony Grayling agrees that this is a real stumbling block. “The Templeton strategy is about trying to borrow the respectability, the lustre, the seriousness, the gravitas of proper science for its apologetical agenda. It is an entirely cosmetic matter, and doesn’t reach anywhere near any coalfaces of science. (When science reaches the coalfaces of biblical history etc it tends to have an uncomfortable result for the goddies; which is perhaps why Templeton doesn’t seem to fund much in the way of Palestinian archaeology or dating of the Turin Shroud.)”

The fact that even Templeton-funded scientists don’t actually apply religious thought at the coalface kind of gives the game away, if you ask me. It seems to reveal that all the guff about harmonization and interface is just some polite fiction that everybody ignores in practice.

New Scientist asks Ayala why there is still conflict then, and he says, ‘Religion and science are not properly understood by some people, Christians particularly.’ In other words he is right by definition, because he gets to define what religion and science properly understood are, and the fact that they are not like that in practice is not evidence that he is wrong but just…that pesky Scots fella again.

How can mutual respect between science and religion be fostered?

People of faith need better scientific education. As for scientists, I don’t know what they can do: not many argue in a rational and sustained way that religion and science are incompatible.

Nonsense. Lots of them do. Funny way to foster mutual respect.

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