Should Science Groups Share Their Views on S&R?

quiet-pleaseYesterday, Chris Mooney defended science organizations that make statements about the compatibility of science and religion. In his view (like that of physicist Chad Orzel), addressing the issue makes the organizations more effective in reaching religious believers, and there’s no question that there are people who don’t think science and religion are incompatible:

The issue here is simply whether such people exist, and of that there’s no doubt whatsoever. In this blunt factual sense, at least, science and religion are compatible—they are reconciled all the time by actual living, breathing human beings. You might take issue with the logical basis for such reconciliation in a particular mind, but you can’t deny that it happens regularly.

Theoretical physicist Sean Carroll disagrees with Mooney, however, arguing science organizations like the National Center for Science Education should stay silent and neutral on matters of religion and theology:

Some people have as their primary goal advocating for some sort of cause, whereas others are simply devoted to the truth. But an organization advocating for science needs to take both into consideration.

I have no problem with the NCSE or any other organization pointing out that there exist scientists who are religious. That’s an uncontroversial statement of fact. But I have a big problem with them making statements about whether religious belief puts you into conflict with science (or vice versa), or setting up “Faith Projects,” or generally taking politically advantageous sides on issues that aren’t strictly scientific. And explaining to people where their pastors went wrong when talking about damnation? No way.
Right now there is not a strong consensus within the scientific community about what the truth actually is vis-a-vis science and religion; I have my views, but sadly they’re not universally shared. So the strategy for the NCSE and other organizations should be obvious: just stay away. Stick to talking about science.

Category: Debates


2 Responses

  1. No, Sean Carroll doesn’t disagree with the quoted passage. He doesn’t disagree that there are people who don’t think science and religion are incompatible. He also doesn’t disagree that ‘You might take issue with the logical basis for such reconciliation in a particular mind’; on the contrary, he agrees, and he does take issue.

    Carroll does disagree with the conclusion Mooney draws from the quoted passage, but he does not disagree with the quoted passage, and saying he does makes him look daft. (We ‘new’ atheists spend a lot of time trying to convince the ‘let’s harmonize’ crowd that we know there are people who think science and religion are compatible; we do not dispute that.)

  2. V. V. Raman says:

    Sean Carroll:

    I agree with this, in principle.
    However, we need to be very clear about what one means by Truth.
    There is and there is experiential truth.> It is the latter that Gandhi had in mind when he wrote about his
    People advocating a cause often have a certain type of truth in mind.
    Science itself is an enterprise that is working for a cause: the quest for truths about the phenomenal world.
    It seems to me that it would be in the best interest of science if scientists qua scientists keep silent on religious truths. But as thinking people and as citizens they have every right and obligation to speak on such issues.
    But it could be inappropriate for scientific organizations to take a position on religious matters, exactly as (in enlightened frameworks) governments and governmental leaders refrain from advocating one religion or another.

    V. V. Raman
    January 20, 2010
    Truth and Tension in Science and Religion,

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