In a previous posting, we saw Gnu activist Jerry Coyne’s idea of co-existing with religious people in a pluralistic society:
If religious people just kept to themselves, just went to church, respected the findings of science and a) didn’t teach it to their kids (which I think is a form of child mistreatment) and b) didn’t try to take their religious beliefs into the public sphere and make them law for everybody else, than I wouldn’t care so much.
Of course, there is a certain kind of familiarity with this kind of militancy, one that was apparently picked up by Coyne’s interviewer. For she responded with a very good question:
But we do now have experience of atheistic societies. I’m thinking of the Soviet Union and post-1949 China, both of which rejected religion and claimed to be scientifically-based societies. If you take faith out of the picture, don’t other crazy schemes emerge? Is it really religion that is a danger to science and society or is it human beings that are a danger to science and society?
Coyne’s response is quite lame:
The problem with the Soviet Union and China is that religion was replaced by an ideology which was largely anti-science and certainly anti-rational. In Russia, under Stalin, the cult of the leader replaced religious belief. That’s why they didn’t like religion, because it displaced people’s affections for the leader. It was in the Soviet Union that Lysenkoism, which is explicitly anti-scientific, took over and ruined Russian genetics for 30 years.
An “anti-science”, “anti-rational” ideology? That is certainly not how the Marxists viewed and promoted themselves. Like the Gnu atheists, the communists/Marxists postured as Champions of Science as part of their anti-religious worldview.
In fact, that leads to the great irony.
Here’s Jerry Coyne promoting a book that is arguing science and religion are incompatible as its main thesis. Yet this was the very argument that was part of the ideology that replaced religion in the Soviet Union. For example, here is how one communist teacher’s group described their mission in the 1950s:
“The formation of a materialistic attitude (Weltanschaung) in the students and scientific atheistic education is the paramount responsibility of every teacher. Teachers of biology, physics, chemistry, history, and literature can play an exceptionally important role. By revealing from its very foundations, the materialistic interpretation of the order in the universe and in human society, they can at the same time show, with vivid and pointed examples, how the slaves of religion try to falsify scientific truths and to fool the gullible public. It is necessary that the basic incompatibility between science and religion be clearly presented to the students, and that the detrimental effects of religious belief on scientific progress be clearly pointed out.”
Scientific atheists believed that their technological and scientific successes would obviously disprove the validity of religion because the two are fundamentally in opposition. Official Soviet ideology stated that “religion exists where knowledge is lacking, religion is opposed to science” (Yaroslavsky 1934:48). One can think of this as a strong albeit naïve version of secularization theory.
All of this leads me to wonder about a certain question. Professor Coyne wrote a book on the incompatibility of religion and science. Does he ever make an effort in the book to survey the history of this incompatibility argument and how it has been tied to certain ideologies?