Posted by: Dan | August 24, 2007

Science and Religion: Building Bridges or Building Gangplanks?

Sam Harris has a to-the-point commentary in this week’s Nature:

An Editorial announcing the publication of Francis Collins’s book, The Language of God (‘Building bridges’ Nature 442, 110; doi:10.1038/442110a 2006) represents another instance of high-minded squeamishness in addressing the incompatibility of faith and reason. Nature praises Collins, a devout Christian, for engaging “with people of faith to explore how science — both in its mode of thought and its results — is consistent with their religious beliefs”.

At a time when Muslim doctors and engineers stand accused of attempting atrocities in the expectation of supernatural reward, when the Catholic Church still preaches the sinfulness of condom use in villages devastated by AIDS, when the president of the United States repeatedly vetoes the most promising medical research for religious reasons, much depends on the scientific community presenting a united front against the forces of unreason.

There are bridges and there are gangplanks, and it is the business of journals such as Nature to know the difference.

… no comment needed.


Responses

  1. I’ve also commented on this piece at:

    http://propterhoc.wordpress.com/2007/08/24/quite-a-week-in-the-journalspart-one/

    Agreed, no comment needed. Sam at his usual best.

  2. Meanwhile, Michael Shermer has used his September column in Scientific American to post “An open letter to Messrs. Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens.” It contains much I disagree with, but the closing statement is quite startling:

    Rational atheism values the truths of science and the power of reason, but the principle of freedom stands above both science and religion.

    Personally, I cannot agree that scientific truth should be subservient to any ideology; it does not matter that the ideology in question is one that I agree with.

  3. On Shermer, sure, respect for freedom of and from religion must be honored. But yes, there’s nothing preventing we atheists from standing up and pointing out that there’s nothing rational about religion. And that gets at my view of how to handle religion – I can and will tolerate its ideologues, but I do not have to respect those who make war upon science.

    It’s a sad truth that the vast majority of people in this world are extremely ignorant. I admit, as a rationalist, this bothers me, but I’ll still put freedom and human decency above my impulse to educate and inform.

  4. Hi quork,

    I cannot agree that scientific truth should be subservient to any ideology

    But at its core it is.
    In stating “scientific truth” you highlight a position that is a realist position. The idea that scientific insight does indeed give us a true look at/ grasp of reality.
    But you have antirealists too. They look at the track record of science; theories being replaced by competing theories, theoretical concepts being overturned, the flaws of induction, the fact that data underdetermines theories and they think, “Why now? Why should we be any more impressed that we finally have that grasp on reality. That our conception of science is finally on track.”

    From the theories down to the empirical evidence you have the unavoidable fact that all of it is tainted by subject human interpretation.
    Is there a definite reality that science is able to get a grasp on? I believe so. But it’s because of a realist ideology that I have that drives my philosophical stance. As with your claim.

    Dan,
    We disagree on a few topics, but this is an admirable position:

    I admit, as a rationalist, this bothers me, but I’ll still put freedom and human decency above my impulse to educate and inform.


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