21st February 2012

“Stephen Jay Gould reconciled science and religion as two distinct 'non-overlapping magisteria' by, in effect, redefining and qualifying religion. The New Atheists refuse to do this. They think it departs too far from what religious actors themselves recognize as religious. Anthropologists call this error 'flouting the actor's point of view'”

Nancy Frankenberry

9 Responses to “21st February 2012”

  1. Atheist MC Says:

    Gould was essentially wrong because religion, especially fundemental literalist religion makes empirical claims about the world: 6 day creation, young earth, power of prayer etc etc. These are all within the remit of science to investigate.

  2. Dan Says:

    True, and that’s just the conflict between science and religion! There’s a whole other conflict between philosophy and religion, which has been raging since the dawn of written history. As creationists pervert science, so do theologians pervert philosophy!

  3. Sinjin Smythe Says:

    I don’t think Stephen Jay Gould ever really reconciled science and religion, rather he compartmentalized them so he could avoid addressing the overlapping questions, to stay out of the kitchen as he couldn’t take the heat. I agree AMC science has every responsibility to examine religious claims about creation and young Earth, power of prayer et cetera.

    James Wood said “Dawkins is unable to give any adequate description of what it is like to believe in God, and is thus, I think, a fairly coarse and predictable slayer of religious belief: before you can slay your enemy you should know it.”. I think this isn’t valid. I don’t have to know what it is like to believe in the Loch Ness monster to dismiss that belief myself or suggest that anyone else do the same.

    And for Wood’s “religionists are too religious, and the atheists are too atheistical” I don’t all things are equal. The relationship between religiosity and atheism isn’t different sides of a same coin. Bill Maher put it like this “atheism is a religion like abstinence is a sexual position”.

    Denying the importance of explanation, and in the cases of Dawkins and Dennett most specifically we are talking about scientists trained in the most rigorous methods of explanation known to humans, denial reflects poorly on the faithful and Gould as well.

    Dan I don’t think it is so much a conflict between philosophy as science and religion as philosophy but a hijacking of philosophy by religion. Philosophy is science and should be treated as such. Religion is inserting itself into scientific realms, places where it simply doesn’t belong. Religion makes claims about being able to answer philosophical questions but the answers are always lacking in genuine explanation.

    “flouting the actor’s point of view”? No “New Atheists”, if they must have a name, are critical thinkers, trained scientists, important intellectual contributors, they aren’t actors at all. Wood gives Gould more credit than he deserves.

  4. Data Says:

    Of course science and religion overlap! Though they are two different things entirely (I refuse to call religion a “field” or science an “ideology”), they seek to answer some of the same questions. Well, that’s not exactly true: for many things, science has already answered these questions (evolution, anyone?), while religion hides from the answers.

  5. Atheist MC Says:

    Sinjin:I think the quote is implying (although not clearly phrased) that Gould is the one in error and “flouting the [religious] actors point of view” by redefining what they really believe to suit his purposes. In this sense I agree with him. Pertinent to Dan’s point I think theologians do the same thing when they write apologetics that ignore the less “sophisticated” versions of God that work-a-day theists actually believe in. This is why whenever theologians invoke the courtiers reply in response to Dawkins or whoever just because (they assume) he hasn’t read Alvin Plantinga or some other similarly post-modernist blowhard, it’s easy to point out that nether have most believers. The Gods we typically reject are the ones on offer, not hypotheticals (although we can easily reject them too).

  6. Atheist MC Says:

    Data: I can’tremember who coined this but someone once said something like “Science can happily ignore religion, but religion cannot ignore science.”

  7. Sinjin Smythe Says:

    AMC I was taking my reference from the Frankenberry essay http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/atheologies/1875/liberal_or_literal_james_wood,_terry_eagleton,_and_the_new_atheism/

  8. Dan Says:

    Of course I mostly agree with your response to me, except for the bit about philosophy being science. That feels like quite an over-simplification – at the level of meta-analyses of science, science might be quite philosophical, but at the working level of science, science is a practical matter.

    So in the case of religion conflicting with science and philosophy, I’m talking about how religion fails on both the practical and meta-analysis levels of critical thought.

    But maybe you’re way of looking at it is equally valid. Hard for me to say.

  9. Sinjin Smythe Says:

    Dan the angle I’m getting at is elaborated upon far better by Sam Harris than I http://amzn.com/143917122X

    My unqualified take: Your scientific background, as I think many people of scientific backgrounds, predisposes you to discount philosophy as science.

    I believe there can be something completely practical about philosopy/morality/ethics as science much as Sam Harris does.

    Of course I also read stuff like Joseph Campbell and this fellow: David Richo http://amzn.com/1570624445

    Again, I don’t know anything. It is just an observation. One I think you would agree at least, religion has no business claiming philosophy as it’s domain.