The power of nonsense
By PZ MYERS - PHARYNGULA
Added: Tue, 07 Jul 2009 23:00:00 UTC
Forgive me, readers, but Madeline Bunting has raised up her tiny, fragile pin-head again, and I must address her non-arguments once more. Well, not her non-arguments, actually, but the same tedious non-arguments the fans of superstition constantly trundle out. She was at some strange conference where only people who love religion spoke and came away with affirmations of the usual tripe. It's as if the "New Atheists" have provoked a counter-attack by critics armored in pudding and armed with damp sponges.
…the Archbishop of Canterbury was brisk, and he warned, "beware of the power of nonsense". Science's triumphalist claim as a competitor to failed religion was dangerous. In contrast, he offered an accommodation in which science and religion were "different ways of knowing" and "what you come to know depends on the questions you start with". Different questions lead to "different practices of learning" - for example different academic disciplines. Rather than competitors, science and religion were both needed to pursue different questions.
We're quite aware of the power of nonsense — and I agree that it certainly has a powerful draw on some people, from those who frolic with fairies to the Archbishop of Canterbury. That's the frightening element of this whole argument, that people get sucked into spiritual fol-de-rol and think they're suddenly deep and perceptive thinkers, and that waving a little fluff at the atheists will make them run away.
We often get this vague claim that religion is a different methodology and a different way of knowing things, and that judging religion as a science is a category error. Very well: different way of knowing what? What are these different questions that they are asking, how do they propose answering them, and why should we think these questions are even worth asking, and that their answers are valid? They never seem to get around to the specifics.
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