Astrophysicist Ethan Siegel wrote an article showing that religion and science are compatible and, as you might guess, this unnerved atheist activist Jerry Coyne. In his attempt to rescue the misguided notion that science and religion are incompatible, Jerry Coyne writes:
But that doesn’t address my own argument, made in Faith Versus Fact, that the grounds for incompatibility have nothing to do with whether scientists can be religious and religious people can be fans of science.
If you think about it, that’s an odd claim to make. Imagine you are an alien from another planet sent to gather information about the human species. Previous probes have shown the humans have both science and religion, so you want to know how the humans handle both. Unfortunately, you initially contact Dr. Jerry Coyne to get this information and he tells you that science and religion are incompatible. You check the humans’ databases and find that “incompatible” means:
(of two things) so opposed in character as to be incapable of existing together.
So before probing further, you, unlike Dr. Coyne, think like a scientist and turn Dr. Coyne’s claim into a scientific prediction (since, after all, it is making an empirical claim). What would you predict? Clearly, you would predict that if science and religion are incompatible among the humans, they could not exist together. Thus, you would expect all scientists to be atheists and all religious people to be anti-science. It follows from the hypothesis of incompatibility – so opposed in character as to be incapable of existing together.
As a sort of positive control, let’s cite a true example of incompatibility – theism and atheism. Because theism and atheism are incompatible, we don’t find theists who are also atheists, nor do we find atheists who are also theists. They have to choose since they are so opposed in character as to be incapable of existing together.
Thus, when Siegal shows that many scientists are religious and many religious people are interested in science and support scientific research, he is thinking like a scientist and raising data that serve to falsify Coyne’s position. Coyne responds to these data like a typical pseudoscientist by trying to remove his hypothesis from the realm of empirical consequences:
the grounds for incompatibility have nothing to do with whether scientists can be religious and religious people can be fans of science.
Coyne wants to insulate his hypothesis from the data because it undercuts his hypothesis. As such, we’re left with the amusing and ironic situation that scientist Coyne has to abandon the scientific approach to keep his activist scientism afloat.
Look, what if all scientists were atheists and all religious people were anti-science? Would Coyne still be arguing that his position has nothing to do with whether scientists can be religious and religious people can be fans of science? Of course not. He would be citing it as powerful scientific evidence for the truth of this position. We all know this to be true.
If fact, we know he’d do this because he already tries to do this. Later in his blog posting, he writes:
Sadly, Siegel neglects the really important statistics: Scientists, at least when we have the data, tend to be far more atheistic than the general public…..If science and religion are compatible, why, at least in countries where we have data, are scientists so much less religious than the general public? It could be that nonbelievers are more attracted to science, or that science actually makes people less religious, or (most likely) a combination of these factors. Either way, this shows some conflict between science and faith.
What I want you to notice is how Coyne has completely abandoned the notion that “the grounds for incompatibility have nothing to do with whether scientists can be religious” and contradicts himself by arguing “If science and religion are compatible, why, at least in countries where we have data, are scientists so much less religious than the general public?” Apparently, whether or not scientists are religious or atheistic does indeed have something to do with his incompatibility claims.
So Coyne’s position is just an unfalsfiable hypothesis such that when scientists are religious, it does not count. But when scientists are atheists, it does count.
How does the activist mentally erase the data that contradict his hypothesis? Here is how he explains scientists who are religious and religious people who embrace science:
This kind of cognitive bifurcation just shows that people can accept two incompatible ways of judging what is “true” at the same time.
At this point, Coyne is assuming his conclusion. It’s not that people accept two incompatible ways of judging what is true. It’s that they accept two different ways of judging what is true. Let me illustrate.
Consider the picture below:
You can look at this picture from a scientific perspective. As such, you’d be focused on the biology, the geology, and the geography. You might want to count the different number of plant species or predict which part of the world this is. But you can also look at the same thing from an aesthetic perspective, noting the beauty of the whole thing. The scientific perspective does not detect the beauty and the aesthetic perspective cannot tell you if a scientist wrongly classified one of the plants. But this does NOT mean the two perspectives are incompatible. That would be absurd to think so. They are merely two different perspectives.
There are many, many problems with the notion that science and religion are incompatible. But what we’ve seen today is 1) the position flirts (at the very least) with unfalsifiability, and is itself incompatible with the scientific approach and 2) the position confuses the incompatible with the different. Just because two things are different does not mean they are incompatible. As one who is eating an peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I know that to be true.