Let’s take another look at the New Atheist talking point as articulated by Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne:
Although it is possible to be a scientist and still believe in God — as some scientists seem to manage it — there is no question that an engagement with scientific thinking tends to erode, rather than support, religious faith. Taking the U.S. population as an example: Most polls show that about 90% of the general public believes in a personal God; yet 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences do not. This suggests that there are few modes of thinking less congenial to religious faith than science is.
while the official position of the National Academy of Sciences is that there is no conflict between science and faith, 93% of the members of that Academy—the most elite body of scientists in America—are atheists or agnostics……No conflict? Why is atheism among scientists tenfold more common than among the American public, and even higher among scientists at more elite universities or those who are members of more elite organizations? The answer surely involves atheists going into science more often, but almost certainly the main reason for the discrepancy is simply that practicing science erodes one’s religious belief.
Notice that Harris insists, “there is no question that an engagement with scientific thinking tends to erode, rather than support, religious faith.” No question? Coyne insists “but almost certainly the main reason for the discrepancy is simply that practicing science erodes one’s religious belief.” Almost certainly?
People like Harris and Coyne love to posture as if they are Ambassadors of Science while pontificating about the need to always rely on science. Yet as we can see, they don’t practice what they preach. For how in the world did they derive their sense of certainty about a causal mechanism from one single survey result? Don’t they know that scientific truths are provisional?
Perhaps Coyne and Harris should learn how to think like a scientist on this matter. First, we need to establish that this 93% number is real. Can it be replicated? Is the survey actually measuring what they think it is measuring? If they do indeed determine that, compared to the general population, NAS members are more likely to be atheists, then they can raise their Erosion Hypothesis. For that is all it is – a hypothesis. It is not beyond question, as Harris seems to think. And it is not almost certainly the case, as Coyne seems to think it is. It is simply an untested hypothesis. And have they come up with any way to test their hypothesis? Of course not. Have they ruled out other possible explanations? Nope. They not only gullibly lapped up the number, they abandoned the scientific method and replaced it with posturing and claims of certainty.
And these are the men who think they can preach to us about science.