My piece on The Conversation about the incompatibility of religion and science continues to be the most-read piece of the week on that site, having reached nearly 100,000 views and 655 comments. I can’t say I’m not chuffed, but of course most of the comments take issue with what I said. Well, that’s okay by me: at least they heard me.
And I continue to get a lot of private emails from believers and loons (there is substantial overlap). I’ll show two of them today. This one came from someone called “Nobody special”, who was anonymous but apparently a scientist. I didn’t realize that my piece had been republished in Newsweek, but sure enough it was, just yesterday.
Here you go. “Nobody Special”‘s comments are indented, and my responses are flush left:
War between Religion and Science?
Dear Dr. Coyne,
I read your opinion piece in the Conversation and in Newsweek about whether there is a war between science and religion.
I believe you are correct when both disciplines are incorporating the “philosophies of men”. And not open to new ideas or other vantage points.
Truth is universal, whether found in science or religion it is the same. The key is what basic principles you accept at the starting point. In science we accept basic truths about our external world, then we learn and test externally to see what hypothesis are true. Do you accept basic truths about the spiritual world, then learn and test internally to see what creeds of religion are true? No you do not.
Science accepts that this existence is real and what you see, touch, smell, and hear are real. There are truths in science that can’t be proved, but are accepted by faith (without proof), because we need a starting point. Yet many people experience dreams that are so real that they don’t know they are dreams until the wake up. This questions existence. You think, therefore you are. But you cannot prove to me that you think, you can only prove it to yourself. Sounds like religion. You can prove that you have brain waves that appear similar to mine when we each think of green, but there are still differences and you cannot prove that your experience of green is the same as mine.
No, those are philosophical questions, not religious ones, and they don’t go any distance towards proving the existence of God. And, of course, someday we may be able to see what other people’s subjective experiences are like, though we already have some clues from their behavior. It is, after all, empirical study and not the Bible that revealed that color blind people see differently from the rest of us.
Thus faith is required by you that your perception of green is correct. Yet we know this is not true for everyone. Color blind people do not see what you see, and vice versa. This experience we call life is very subjective, not objective. Science tries to remove much of the subjectivity, which is good, but it is never fully successful at the task.
I’m not sure that you can say “my perception of green is correct”. If 95% the world were blue-green color blind, it would be abnormal, but given that our perceptions are evolved, I’m not sure you can say that my perception of green is “correct” any more than you can say that a gay person’s romantic feelings towards of a person of their own sex is “incorrect”.
Does this make a color blind person’s experience of the world untrue? No, he has a different vantage point.
There are spirituality blind people also. And we know for a fact that what I experience when I seek the divine is not what you experience when you seek the divine.
Does this make one of our experiences untrue? No, we have a different vantage points.
Like the color blind person can’t see green normally. You, a spiritually blind person, cannot see the divine normally.
Okay, so HOW do you see the divine “normally”? Do Muslims see it normally? How about Scientologists, or Hindus? This person somehow is deluded into thinking that there are ways to judge the divine that are objectively “true.” The impossibility of that was my whole point.
So how did you get to your vantage point on Evolution? (Which by the way I believe is one of God’s methods of eternal progression.)
Thanks. Is that a truth?
You got there with much study, learned from masters, and tested the hypothesis for yourself. If I an unlearned evolutionist were to try to explain and criticize evolution, I would likely make many grave errors in my explanation and criticism. We scientists see this all the time in the “Divine Design” movement.
Is it not true that you an unlearned spiritualist will make grave errors and false understandings about faith and religion as you did in your hatchet piece?
It has taken me my life studying science to get to my current level of proficiency in my chosen field. It has also taken a lifetime of study, testing faith, seeking, and questioning God to get to my current level of spiritual proficiency.
Yet you, a spiritual nube, are criticizing that which you don’t know and haven’t studied or experienced. I have deeply studied many religions and found truth in all as well as error in all. This is exactly the same as science. All published papers have errors and truths in them. I would be castigated in science circles if I did the same thing with evolution that you are doing with religion.
Umm. . . I’ve studied religion and theology a lot more than the average person, but of course none of it gives even remotely convincing evidence for gods, much less religious “truth”. What this dude is doing is arguing from authority. He, apparently, has studied religion his whole life and is proficient in discerning “truth”.
But what IS that truth. Wait for it—it’s MORMONISM! He goes on (I’m assuming it’s male):
Gaining Knowledge of Eternal Truths”:
An interesting read, I recommend you pay close attention to the paragraphs after the heading “Teachings of Joseph Smith”.
Note, I am anonymous as there is a contingent of scientists who will make great effort to submarine my career if I were not. This is the worst kind of censorship and definitely not scientific. Shades of Copernicus.
Well, here are the paragraphs of “truth” that he pointed me to:
The gospel of Jesus Christ embraces all truth; the faithful accept the truths God has revealed and put aside false traditions.
“Mormonism is truth; and every man who embraces it feels himself at liberty to embrace every truth: consequently the shackles of superstition, bigotry, ignorance, and priestcraft, fall at once from his neck; and his eyes are opened to see the truth, and truth greatly prevails over priestcraft. …
“… Mormonism is truth, in other words the doctrine of the Latter-day Saints, is truth. … The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men, or by the dominations of one another, when that truth is clearly demonstrated to our minds, and we have the highest degree of evidence of the same.”
So there you have it ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters. Mormonism is TRUE! Other religions, by implication, are false. This self-styled Copernicus has embraces one of the craziest religions in the U.S. (but it’s crazy only because we knew how it arose), and he says it’s rock-solid truth. Such a view deserves mockery and contempt, which I would summon up if I thought it was worth it.
I will let this person know that I posted the email (without identifying information), and you can feel free to respond in the comments.