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.