Blackford: data give accommodationists no solace

June 18, 2010 • 6:01 am

Over at Metamagician, Russell Blackford, who was once an evangelical Christian, discusses what he (and many of us) mean when we assert that religion and science are incompatible:

In my case, what I say is something like this: they are incompatible in a sense. Accordingly, it is misleading to state simply “science and religion are compatible” as if there’s no problem. If you say that, you’d better gloss it, and you’d better acknowledge that, in the sense that actually matters to traditionally religious people, they may not be compatible, and that there’s thus a big problem. When I was a religious person, I didn’t care whether it was psychologically possible for some or even many people to be both (a) scientists and (b)religious. I cared about the consistency between (1) the truth claims of the sort of the religion I subscribed to and (2) the more robust truth claims of science, and inferences that could be reached from these together with other fairly plausible premises.

The position as I see it is something like this: viewed historically, religion needs to thin out its epistemic content, or to introduce notions of the capricious way supernatural beings act, or to adopt intellectually unacceptable ad hoc tactics of various kinds, in order to maintain a formal compatibility with the scientific picture of the world; the advance of science pushes God into smaller gaps; and some religious views are plainly inconsistent with robust scientific findings. All this reflects a general mismatch between the scientific approach to the world and the religious approach, which follows from (1) the fact that they use different methods for discovering the truth and (2) the methods of science do not, historically and contingently, reach the same conclusions as previously reached by religion. It turns out that religion needs to adapt constantly, thinning out its original truth-claims or making various ad hoc manoeuvres, or it find itself plainly contradicted by science.

All of this then feeds into arguments that the religions of the world are probably false across the board. The evidence is that they use unreliable means of looking for knowledge – but why, if they have access to gods, angels, etc.? Meanwhile, various specific religions are already falsified to the extent they are plainly or less plainly inconsistent with robust elements of the scientific picture of the world.

In the last few weeks we’ve seen several people trying to put a favorable spin on data that clearly show how less religious and more atheistic/agnostic are American scientists than the general public.  “American scientists are surprisingly religious!” they proclaim.  If a scientist tried this tactic with those data, she’d be accused of distorting the facts.  Blackford shows that, seen objectively, the data give no solace to accommodationists:

More research needs to be done, but the data we have is totally consistent with the non-accommodationist idea that science tends to push people either away from religion entirely or into some sort of “thin” religion with little of the traditional content. That is not going to comfort religious people who are suspicious of science, and nor will it comfort those accomodationists who want to paint the picture that there’s just no problem. For what it’s worth, the data we have favour the non-accommodationist position, once the latter is understood – and not represented by a straw man version.

Frankly, I think the better evidence is what you get when you simply place the claims of various religions side by side with the more robust findings of science. Given what we now know, do the religious claims seem plausible or not?

Accommodationists avoid answering this crucial question at all costs, for the answer doesn’t help their cause.  Instead they show displacement behavior, banging on about issues of tone and stridency.

9 thoughts on “Blackford: data give accommodationists no solace

  1. But civility is the primary issue, isn’t it? How can we expect anyone to listen to us New Atheists if we are constantly challenging their preconceptions and “other ways of knowing?”

    Furthermore, once we get them listening to us, we had better not detract from the religious people’s newfound attention by actually saying anything of substance. Better just to cluck our tongues at PZ and OB and JC and RD. We don’t want to be seen as mean, do we? No. Far better to join in the “shaming” so people will buy us candy and give us Templeton Grants.

  2. On a related note here is a review of the recent Faith and Science panel.
    By the way, is it only me or does anyone else feel rather disgusted that Ayala continues to use Picasso’s Guernica as a way to illustrate the divide between science and religion? He is a former Spanish catholic priest – he must know the shameful role his (former?) religion played in the event depicted by (the atheist) Picasso.

  3. Instead they show displacement behavior, banging on about issues of tone and stridency.

    Much as I LOL at that, I don’t think the trait is as much a result of displacement, or short term loss, as of (misplaced) strategy on long-term gains.

    For an accommodationist science wins by playing up to religion, and in their coming utopia the fundamentalists of the world will leave science alone by the non-militant religious’ say-so. Not that there is any facts or theories shoring up that belief, for after all of what value is facts?

    Of course it likely doesn’t help that displacement behavior is supported by and/or support that strategy.

  4. The thing that drives me nuts is that religion does not produce truths anymore than any other work of fiction/tall tale produces truths. Religion just makes shit up. Sometimes it’s right (the truth) other times is just plain wrong, but called the “the truth,” anyway.

    Look at the Abrahamic faiths. They’ve got all these “truths” in their religious texts. To the extent that those things are testable, or pondered, by-and-large they’ve not been “the truth.” That is, they are statements that are not in accord with fact and reality — and being in accord with fact and reality is a major component of “truth.”

  5. However I think we need to draw a line between accommodationism and genuinely offering something to the 10% or so “religious people” who don’t really believe the truth claims of their religion, but it gives them a sense of community and a set of cultural stories to help them live their lives. I don’t think that’s a bad thing per se, but I do feel there is a large contingency of atheists who just don’t know it yet.

    I may be wrong, which is perhaps why no-one visits my experimental website 🙂

  6. I think the real problem the religious have with the stridency of Atheists is that the whole tolerance of ideas and religions came about after all the religious wars of Europe during which thousands died and there was much suffering.
    The concept of peacefully living together and avoiding discourse and calling a truce on claiming one truth became generally accepted and allowing atheism (much later, remember Shelly was expelled from Oxford for professing atheism only ca. 200 years ago) is a side effect of this.

    So atheists not accepting this pact really is a bit scary.

  7. Interesting point, DaveG, but I think the real point is that the state should be secular: i.e. it should protect and promote this-worldly interests. It’s not that religions must cease to criticise each other or that atheists must cease criticising religion. It’s just that religions should stop seeking that the state impose an orthodoxy by means of fire and sword. I recommend going back to Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration on this.

Leave a Reply