Ron Lindsay talks to Chris Mooney

Heard Lindsay talking to Mooney yet? Very interesting.

They start with accommodationism and the putative compatibility of religion and science. Lindsay quotes a bit from Unscientific America in which M&K say the NAS and other big science outfits say the two are “perfectly compatible.” Lindsay presses that point, and Mooney ends up admitting he’s not sure “perfectly” is an exact quote and he’ll look it up…

Which kind of sums up the whole disagreement right there. Yes we all know they’re “compatible” in the superficial sense, but are they compatible all the way down? Are they compatible in the substantive sense? Are they perfectly compatible? Of course not.

Then they move on to the Catholic church and its generous tolerance of evolution. Lindsay points out that that doesn’t really count as the Catholic church being compatible with science, given that it also insists – and tells believers to believe – that god intervened by giving humans “souls” and thus different from all other animals, a difference scientists don’t accept. Mooney says that’s all right provided it’s a supernatural claim, because science can’t say nuffink about that. If the Catholic church said humans have souls and we can prove it and here’s the data, then it would be a scientific claim and science could say No, but as it is, it’s not, so science can’t, and that means science and religion are compatible.

So the deal is, as long as it’s just a perfectly legless reasonless arbitrary assertion, it’s compatible with science, and no one can say “but that’s bullshit.”

Then Mooney claims that “methodological naturalism” is dominant and mainstream and the reason he’s right.

Then he talks about Galileo and Newton being motivated by their religion to do science. Lindsay shrewdly objects that we can’t know what might have motivated them if they’d lived in a less religious time and place…and Mooney just pretty much brushes that off. Things get somewhat worse from then on – Mooney’s tone (yes “tone”) gets more dogmatic and certain and, at times, scornful. He’s very confident of what he thinks he knows, and somewhat patronizing in defense of it.

They move on to the badness of new atheism. Lindsay asks if he has any evidence for the putative badness, and Mooney rather irritably says no, he couldn’t have, it would be too complicated and expensive. “So you could shut up about it then,” I murmured pensively, and Lindsay made a similar point, with nicer words. Mooney said no no, it’s perfectly all right for him to draw big conclusions, because “it’s an inference based on a lot of knowledge.”


Lindsay points out that European countries do better at scientific literacy and understanding of evolution, and that that’s probably because they are more secular and thus less inclined to let religion trump science. The US could become more like that. Mooney wasn’t having that – he knows better. Lindsay suggested that direct criticism of religion might be a step on this road; Mooney said “that’s incredibly naive psychologically.”


Then they talked about the Templeton Foundation, and Mooney’s “fellowship,” and the fact that it was controversial. Would you accept a fellowship from the Discovery Institute? Lindsay asked. No. Liberty University? Probably not. But they interfere with science, and Templeton doesn’t. Templeton, he said, “are generating a dialogue about the relationship between science and religion.” He thinks that’s a good thing.

I don’t.

I also don’t think he is thinking about it carefully enough. He’s not, for instance, apparently aware that the knowledge he thinks he has is largely Templeton knowledge – it’s knowledge that fits right into Templeton’s agenda and that is produced by Templeton funding. The books he’s read that tell him about Newton’s motivation and so on very often turn out, when one looks at the copyright page and then at google, to have been written by people with Templeton connections. I’m not a bit sure they don’t always turn out to have been written by such people. I don’t think he realizes the extent to which he’s parroting a line.

Lindsay differs. Yay Ron. Lindsay says one can see Templeton as in fact interfering with science just as the Discovery Institute does, but in a more subtle fashion. Yes indeed one can; that’s exactly how I see it. They fund most of the blather about “science and religion” that’s out there, and they do it very subtly. But Mooney was just frankly dismissive of that suggestion.

I haven’t listened to the second half yet.

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