Science and Politics are Incompatible

One of the core arguments of the New Atheist movement insists that science and religion are “incompatible.” Scientists are not supposed to be religious and if anyone truly values science, they are supposed to abandon their religion. The argument is convincing only to New Atheists simply because it is more of a talking point for their anti-religious propaganda than any type of robust argument. In fact, we can tell it’s only a talking point because of the unjustifiably selective nature of the comparison. That is, if science is incompatible with religion, might it not also be incompatible with other forms of human expression?

Jerry Coyne once wrote a post rationalizing his use of ad hominems and inflammatory language:

You know what? I don’t care a whit about the tone of those statements. This is exactly what is to be expected on websites (not in academic journals, note) in a case that is not purely academic, but political.[….]
The DI’s invective rolls off my back. At one time they—I think it was William Dembski—posted a picture of me next to one of Herman Munster, pointing out the resemblance. They eventually removed it, but it didn’t bother me at all. Satire is one of the weapons in this battle between rationality and superstition.

Sure. In politics, invective and satire have a place. In politics, we seek to change opinions and behavior with the use of invective, satire, and other forms of propaganda. But here’s the thing.

This approach is incompatible with the scientific approach. In science, we change opinions with experimental results. We change opinion with scientific evidence. In trying to understand how the scientific community came to accept the notion that DNA was the genetic material, we need only consider some of the famous experiments that showed this. Invective and satire did not play a role.

Coyne himself recognizes the difference when he writes, “This is exactly what is to be expected on websites (not in academic journals, note) in a case that is not purely academic, but political.”

Websites, not academic journals.

Not purely academic, but political.

In other words, science and politics are incompatible. Science changes opinions with experimental results and politics changes opinions with invective and satire. Science changes opinion by appealing to reason while politics changes opinions by manipulating emotions.

Now, recall that the New Atheists argue that scientists are not supposed to be religious and if anyone truly values science, they are supposed to abandon their religion. The very same logic would also mean that scientists are not supposed to be political and if anyone truly values science, they should abandon all political posturing and activity. Scientists, and all who value science, must become completely apolitical.

Of course, New Atheism, by its very nature, is political. Which means that Gnu Atheism is incompatible with science. Gnu atheists would never admit this given that their movement is purely political and has no commitment to reason.

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2 Responses to Science and Politics are Incompatible

  1. Bilbo says:

    Very nice insight, Mike.

  2. Dhay says:

    On the assumption – reasonable, I think – that Jerry Coyne thinks that science is built upon what he calls, “physical determinism” …

    ”… compatibilism (the idea that physical determinism is still compatible with the idea of “free will”) is a largely useless philosophical exercise: an exercise in semantics that accomplishes nothing of substance.”
    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/11/04/a-question-for-compatibilists/

    … it looks like Coyne thinks science is incompatible with free will, too. Scientists, and all who value science, must abandon the idea that they have free will.

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