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← Atheists are wrong to claim science and religion are incompatible, Church of England says

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Jump to comment 21 by Jos Gibbons

I don’t know whether Beckford is giving the Synod’s statements the emphasis they desired; for all I know, they were angrier with creationism than they were with atheism. However, I’m giving Beckford the benefit of the doubt – something I seldom do with journalists who write articles about things like this – for two reasons. Firstly, religion is rubbish enough the Synod most probably hate atheism more than creationism. (For starters, at least creationists believe in a god – indeed, more or less the same god as the Church of England professes.) Secondly, Beckford didn’t take sides, except in one way (for which I do criticise him) – he only quoted one side of the debate. Admittedly that is quite bad, but I admit that I would have been more annoyed if he had explicitly weighed in on their side. Now on to my analysis of the article: all of the things I say are about the people/groups quoted rather than Beckford. I apologise for its length, but I needed to respond to just about every line; what’s more, their errors were so concise that a well–explained riposte takes significantly longer.

Atheists are wrong to claim science and religion are incompatible
That’s an exaggeration of what any of us have said.

Militant atheists are wrong to claim that science and religion are incompatible, members of the Church of England’s governing body said.
Do these people have a problem with non–militant atheists? Because if so, they may be relieved to realise that’s basically all of us. For starters, our methods are non–violent: we prefer to use those things which are on our side, like arguments or the law (where it is secular, or affords us opportunities to make it so). What exactly would we have to do to NOT be militant? My guess is, shut up. Mind you, Bertrand Russell wasn’t called militant. Maybe the sorts of people who invent these terrible memes didn’t exist in his day; it takes an enormous level of dishonesty, as well as virtually no sense of personal guilt.

General Synod heard that public figures such as Professor Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, use a “crude caricature” of faith to depict worshippers as “blind” and “irrational”.
”Heard that” makes it sound like it’s a proven fact. In fact, it is nothing of the kind. Not one of the people who have accused RD of exaggerating how dumb religion is have even tried to prove it exceeds what he actually said of it in its qualities. It’s very simple: do you believe in supernatural things? Yes. Do you have evidence? No. Well, that’s irrational then. (Evidence is a requirement for belief in natural things too, but I wanted a brief label for the postulated entities they really shouldn’t be postulating.)
Clergy and lay members of the Church said it was perfectly possible to believe in God and Darwin's theory of evolution
So did RD
and said that religion can explain areas of existence that science cannot
Cannot what? “Explain”? The fallacy of linguistic ambiguity involves conflating multiple meanings of a term. Sometimes, it is possible within grammar to avoid repeating a word. That ability has been exploited here, but it only fuel’s the fallacy’s power. We need to spell it out more to see what’s wrong here. “Religion can explain1 things science cannot explain2”. Explain1 and explain2 both require a claim be made, but the crucial difference is that explain2 requires evidence to back it up, and evidence1 merely requires making up any old rubbish. (And yes – if it’s not supported by evidence, then it’s as bad as any alternative, and therefore is rubbish in the truest sense of the word.)
But they warned against treating the Bible as a scientific textbook, and claimed the “naivety” of some creationists can damage the standing of Christians who work in science and provide ammunition to their enemies
Notice there are no atheists who, in their willingness to junk mainstream science so as to strengthen their atheism, do disservice to atheists’ claim to have views that are supported by science. Therefore, atheism is MORE compatible with science than is Christianity, even if Christianity is somewhat compatible. Indeed, while no–one seriously claims either to be 100 % incompatible with science, there are plenty of gradations. What percentage of Americans are Christians? At least 75. What percentage of the American scientists in the National Academy of Sciences are Christian? All believers in god collectively are only 7, so Christians can only be less numerous. There are few social phenomena that are less compatible in statistical terms like these than science and Christianity.
Peter Capon ... said that Christians believe the world exists because of the will of God whereas atheists consider this to be a “complete delusion”.
It’s either true or it’s false. It is believed to be true by the Christians, not to mention many others. This belief is either supported by evidence or it is not. All we say is it is not. Why do these people spend so much time using the most emotive possible descriptions of our positions? It’s because they’re not interested in proving us wrong by providing some evidence. They just want to play the hurt feelings card.
We wish to refute the idea promoted by atheist scientists that science is on the side of the atheist in answering these sorts of questions. We wish to refute the perception that you have to choose between science and faith. We wish to refute the crude caricature of faith, as being blind and irrational, propagated by some atheist scientists.
It is of course unnecessary to add that the first of these positions is promoted, specifically, by atheist scientists. What is worthy of note is just how many scientists that is, and how high they are in prestige. For ordinary American scientists it’s about half of them, but in the aforesaid academy it’s an overwhelming majority, and for Nobel Prize winners – whether American or otherwise – it’s pretty much all of them. While you may not have to choose between science and faith, you certainly have to choose between always being rational and at least sometimes being irrational; and, while I agree this does not amount to the same dilemma as the one Capon wishes to refute, he should be talking to the creationists at least as much as he is to the atheists. The worst consequence of atheists exaggerating the incompatibility of science and religion – which I don’t think they do, although what they are misrepresented as saying does – would be their maintaining their faithlessness, which is harmless. But creationists’ worries about choosing between science and faith lead them to reject facts no–one should (that’s an understatement), and to propagate lies, misinformation and all manner of evils throughout the education system and the general populace. It can ruin an entire country’s long term scientific hopes. As for this “crude caricature” nonsense, I’ve already dealt with that.
[Capon rejects the idea] science can answer every question, insisting that some insights into questions of existence go beyond scientific explanation.
Name me one example of a question to which we can know we have found a true answer, but by use of a method other than science, but not by the use of science. The point is not whether science can answer everything: it’s whether anything else can answer ANYTHING. It is worth bearing in mind that, just because A cannot answer X, says nothing about whether B can answer X (except to indicate that X is difficult, which if anything would suggest B cannot answer X either). Yet these people, who expect to be taken seriously in debate, literally use the “A can’t so B can” line of reasoning, or at least the “A can’t so B isn’t a crock” line.
[Capon admitted] some Christians are sceptical about science because it represents “atheistic modernism and capitulation to western culture”.
Since when do Christians mind western culture? Given its obsession with money, perhaps they should, in the light of what Jesus said on the topic – but they do not.
Rejecting ... science does nothing to support those Christians who are scientists in their vocation or strengthen the Christian voice in the scientific area. Nor does it help the Christian who is a science student in school, college or university or encourage their faith in a great Creator.
Like I said before, atheists don’t have this problem. And by the way, a lack of a Christian voice in science and a lack of encouragement of Christian faith by science are not bad things. Science shouldn’t have voices like that; it should just do science. Nor should it encourage anything it doesn’t actually support with the evidence it has found.
Sargent ... said: "However close to the truth scientific and mathematical theory brings us, it remains an approximation. There are degrees of accuracy it cannot achieve. Somewhere in the remaining mystery is God."
The god of the gaps is a terrible fallacy, to the point where even mainstream theologians such as Dietrich Bonheoffer have denounced it, but this is easily the worst of the main examples of it I have seen. What gap has she chosen here? Scientific approximations. Oh, I see. So which orders in perturbation theory involve divine intervention? (I’ll give you a clue: there is an nth order for all positive integers n, but we have already tested the first few, only to discover their predictions are accurate. Perhaps a physics expert like Steve Zara can tell me what the smallest possible answer could be. My guess is 4th.) That Taylor series have infinitely many terms does not give evidence of the supernatural; that would mean a synthetic truth would be supported by an a priori fact.
[Butler said] belief in the invisible subatomic particles of quantum physics requires just as great a leap of faith as belief in God. “If believing that isn’t faith I don’t know what is and I don’t think that we need to be defensive about ours,” the bishop said.
The mathematical predictions of models containing subatomic particles are at once contrary to anything we would otherwise expect and tested with literally trillions (or is it now quadrillions? Again, Steve or an expert might know) of pieces of experimental data. These data are so numerous they will either provide evidence for such particles better than the evidence for just about anything else ever claimed, or decisively count against them. They have in fact done the former. If anything is NOT faith, this is it. He could not have chosen a worse comparison between his religious beliefs and another topic in terms of how much supporting evidence exists, and therefore the contrast in terms of how much faith if any is involved.
Friday's motion, calling on bishops to improve public understanding of the idea that the claims of science and belief in God are compatible, was passed overwhelmingly with 241 voting in favour and only two against, with two abstentions.
The 4 people who weren’t cowardly enough to say what they have to in order to avoid making their faith looking like a joke in the scientifically enlightened 21st century are the ones who interest me.

Sat, 13 Feb 2010 09:15:00 UTC | #441040