A while back I wrote a piece about how a decent pro-evolution site at the University of California at Berkeley, “Understanding Evolution,” was marred by its pro-accommodationism stance, and was funded by the National Science Foundation. To me that bordered on state endorsement of religion, because asserting the compatibility of science and religion is a particular theological stance.
Alert reader Peter, though, just informed me of a similar site, also hosted by Berkeley, called “Understanding Science.” As with the evolution site, it looks like a good resource for teachers; there are sections about how science works, the nature of evidence, and so forth. But it’s also marred by its accommodationism, which is not a small part of the site.
Misunderstandings of the limits of science
- MISCONCEPTION: Science contradicts the existence of God.
- CORRECTION: Because of some vocal individuals (both inside and outside of science) stridently declaring their beliefs, it’s easy to get the impression that science and religion are at war. In fact, people of many different faiths and levels of scientific expertise see no contradiction at all between science and religion. Because science deals only with natural phenomena and explanations, it cannot support or contradict the existence of supernatural entities — like God. To learn more, visit our side trip Science and religion: Reconcilable differences.
The facts: many people, and not just scientists, do see a contradiction between science and religion. Look at these data from a recent Pew survey (click to enlarge):
And a further correction to the correction: science can either support and contradict the existence of supernatural entities: all we need to do is test for the effect that those entities are claimed to have on the world. We can look, for instance, at the efficacy of prayer or the ability of rain dances to bring precipitation. Why do accommodationists continue to ignore that and assert that science can’t “test” the supernatural? We can’t test deism, but we can test theism. We have, and it failed.
- MISCONCEPTION: Scientists are atheists
- CORRECTION: This is far from true. A 2005 survey of scientists at top research universities found that more than 48% had a religious affiliation and that more than 75% believed that religions convey important truths.1 Some scientists are not religious, but many others subscribe to a specific faith and/or believe in higher powers. Science itself is a secular pursuit, but welcomes participants from all religious faiths. To learn more, visit our side trip Science and religion: Reconcilable differences.1Ecklund, E.H., and C.P. Scheitle. 2007. Religion among academic scientists: Distinctions, disciplines, and demographics. Social Problems 54(2):289-307.
1Ecklund, E.H., and C.P. Scheitle. 2007. Religion among academic scientists: Distinctions, disciplines, and demographics. Social Problems 54(2):289-30
The facts: scientists are far more atheistic than regular Americans. As Jason Rosenhouse pointed out on EvolutionBlog about Ecklund’s conclusions:
Asked about their beliefs in God, 34% [of scientists] chose “I don’t believe in God,” while 30% chose, “I do not know if there is a God, and there is no way to find out.” That’s 64% who are atheist or agnostic, as compared to just 6% of the general public.
An additional 8% opted for, “I believe in a higher power, but it is not God.” That makes 72% of scientists who are explicitly non-theistic in their religious views (compared to 16% of the public generally.) Pretty stark.
From the other side, it is just 9% of scientists (compared to 63% of the public), who chose, “I have no doubts about God’s existence.” An additional 14% of scientists chose, “I have some doubts, but I believe in God.” Thus, it is just 25% of scientists who will confidently assert their belief in God (80% of the general public.)
For completeness, the final option was “I believe in God sometimes.” That was chosen by 5% of scientists and 4% of the public. Make of it what you will.
Now explain to me, please, how anyone can look at that data and write this:
As we journey from the personal to the public religious lives of scientists, we will meet the nearly 50 percent of elite scientists like Margaret who are religious in a traditional sense…. (p. 6)
And, finally, this:
Science and religion: reconcilable differences:
|With the loud protests of a small number of religious groups over teaching scientific concepts like evolution and the Big Bang in public schools, and the equally loud proclamations of a few scientists with personal, anti-religious philosophies, it can sometimes seem as though scienceand religion are at war. News outlets offer plenty of reports of school board meetings, congressional sessions, and Sunday sermons in which scientists and religious leaders launch attacks at one another. But just how representative are such conflicts? Not very. The attention given to such clashes glosses over the far more numerous cases in which science and religion harmoniously, and even synergistically, coexist.
And there’s even a photo of a very accommodationist Francis Collins:
Note that this site is supported by the National Science Foundation, a government agency, although there’s a disclaimer which says, correctly, that “Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).” Nevertheless, expressing a compatibility between science and faith is a theological view, and I don’t think the government should be in the business of espousing particular brands of theology.