Sunday, February 1, 2009

More on Religion and Science


"...Seems like I'm always being contrarian, if not downright disagreeable re: your recommendations, Itzik, but I'm afraid I find this is just a rehash of a very common, and in my view, rather juvenile obsession on the liberal left these days. When I was a kid I'd come to the conclusion that, as the ad campaign has it, there probably isn't a God, and for a few years in my adolesence I thought it was fun to epater les faithful, whoever they be, with displays of my rationality as contrasted with their superstition. After a while that just got old. The "incompatibility", not to say "war", between science and religion goes back a few centuries now, and keen new recruits to the rationalist side, a la Dawkins, Hitchins, and this guy, don't seem to have added much new. In fact, if anything, their fervor has a defensiveness about it that underlines just how mired they are in the shallows of an intellectual quagmire...."


"...My father was the village atheist and seemed to think that earned him points somewhere. I was bored and never paid much heed, and took it for granted that there were superstitious people and non-superstitous. At that level, big deal. The teachers I taught in Bhutan had all sorts of superstitions (indeed I learned that day to day Buddhism was all about ritual and superstition and not contemplation of some atheist sort). They were fine people and seemed to keep the religion away from the schools. When my kids were in school no--one was working hard to teach them blatant superstitions about the facts of the universe and especially biology. They were in school pre the current revival. That revival, it seems to me, is why there is a battle. So the atheists are carrying on a worthy fight. I agree that they should not get all huffy, but consider good tactics and strategy, and their self-righteous tone is bad. On the other hand they should not downplay the irreconciliable conflict between truth and falsehood and try to invent some trickiness to avoid that fact..."


"...Larry, you is hard to please. But I agree with Roger, if I read him correctly, on this one. And I see the Coyne piece differently from you. Is it shallow and a rehash? In its context, I can’t see how it can be. It is a review of two books by, I think, scientists-come-public intellectuals, who make good arguments against intelligent design, some very technical and difficult to understand about the fossil record and the idea of irreducible complexity, and about its latest argument de jour—the fine tuned universe.

These guys, Coyne argues, wind up, kind of unknowingly back at some form of creationism, after all, which goes to his essential argument: there is no reconcilation, except in the trivial sense that people can in their lives think and do logically inconsistent things. And he plainly and sensibly dismantles some of the arguments put forth against intelligent design that these guys debunk. Their overarching arguments, however, a la Coyne, a plea for an ill thought through reconciliation and tolerance, Coyne shows, land them in the incoherent religious soup.

So I plead to liking the piece, feeling that it had some intellectual resonance for me. I thought that with the overwhelming either obeisance or at least nods given to religion these days—Rick Warren at the Inauguration channeling Christ, the latest example, please—at least in America, a plain, clear, well written and thoughtful essay on these issues, turning on the axis of the contention between Evolution and I.D. is both interesting, and as Roger, says, a good corrective in a cultural war.

The conventional line is that religion and science can coexist. It’s a kind of received wisdom even amongst intellectual elites. It’s horseshit. Coyne I think makes a small but helpful contribution in saying why. I think he helps drain the quagmire.

But, again, there is no one I'd rather disagree with.


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