Josh Rosenau has a sermon on the perils of attacking those who think science and religion can coexist at On the need for grownups [at Thoughts from Kansas]. It’s a pretty damned good sermon. He points out that the claim that science and religion are incompatible is itself an untested, and hence unscientific claim. It’s a point I would like to discuss a bit.
Back when a philosophy known now as logical positivism was fashionable, the claim was made that whatever was not scientifically verifiable was metaphysical rubbish. This was known as the Verification Principle. Karl Popper, among others, noted that the Verification Principle was not scientifically verifiable and was therefore, on its own account, metaphysical rubbish. That put an end to that version of logical positivism (although no philosophical position ever really dies). It was self-defeating.
What Jerry Coyne and the anti-accommodationists are doing, as Josh points out, is a version of logical positivism (Josh does not use that example – that’s me). They are saying that those who attempt to argue that religion and science are compatible or might coexist are being unscientific, are themselves being unscientific. In fact, the data is that science and religion coexist nearly all the time – most of those who support scientific views are religious. This is because most of everyone is religious, of course, but the fact remains: if one approaches this as a scientific matter, science and religion just are coexistent, that’s the fact of the matter.
What Coyne and others seem to want to argue is that religion and science should not be coherently expressed by a single person. That is a philosophical position one might argue for, philosophically. It is not a fact of science, though, nor, it seems, a fact of logic. So argue for it. Others, as is the way of debates, will argue the contrary, or some other view. As an accommodationist, I think that whether or not science and religion should be treated as compatible, in fact they are, or as compatible as any potentially competing set of beliefs may be, such as the belief that science is the only way to gain justifiable beliefs, which is not, itself, scientifically justifiable.
There is a facet of religion I greatly despise. It is the idea that we should use beliefs as tribal markers to identify those who are worthy and good, and to thereby exclude others as unworthy or bad. Like most tribal markers, such as ritual behaviours, accents, clothing, vocabulary, profession, ethnicity and the like, these are arbitrary markers. They have to be arbitrary, to act as honest advertisements of in-group and out-group identity. So it comes as a great disappointment, a facet of irreligion I greatly despise as much as I do when the religious do it, that this happens in reverse.
This is why I made my snide cheap shot about the split in Dawkins’ website. Dawkins, Coyne, and many others (but not all those who happen to agree with them substantially, I hasten to add) are in the business of building an exclusionary group. Ken Miller and Francis Collins believe in religion? Exclude them from science, and damn them to the outer hell of irrationality. The irony that this is itself an irrational behaviour (or, better understood, is an act of strategic rationality rather than conceptual, to keep allies close and enemies away) escapes them, as our own sins always do.
For example, Coyne’s term “faithiest” is a term of opprobrium and abuse, just as Josh points out, other racial or sexual epithets are. While one may not identify the exclusion of non-“Caucasians” or LGBT’s in American society with that of accommodationists (or, for that matter of atheists in theist America), they are of the same kind if nowhere near the same degree. Dawkins’ claim that accommodationists “like the idea that someone has faith” or that we “have faith in faith” is a similar act of abuse. But they are rational, of course. No self-defeating behaviour for them, no sir.
Look, I don’t care if atheists are aggressive or not. Certainly being excluded themselves, they have the right to be loud and proud. I think they should speak out at every turn. But does that require that they must denigrate and belittle those who don’t entirely agree with them? Must they turn into what they themselves despise? It seems, sadly, this is the human condition. But don’t pretend to be the vanguard of rationality when you are just as irrational and tribal as everyone else. The term for that is not “rational”, but “hypocritical”.