Rust Belt Philosophy criticizes Lisa Miller’s account of the criticisms of Collins as being an example of spineless mainstream media not willing to countenance the real crux of the challenge to his nomination:
she manages to keep up the dry indifference and artificial neutrality of opinion that afflicts our media, all while studiously avoiding anything that might upset the status quo. This last bit in particular is what bothers me.
Among the many, many names Miller could’ve picked to represent Collins’s detractors, she went with Steven Pinker and Sam Harris – a fair enough choice, I guess. The thing they share, and probably the major point of agreement among the anti-Collins faction, is that they “say a religious world view is fundamentally incompatible with a rational one.” The threat to normality here is pretty clear: in our current cultural narrative, religions aren’t fundamentally incompatible with rationality, so if Pinker and Harris are right they represent a threat to that narrative. So Miller, doing her job as a spineless mainstream journalist, replies that “there is no evidence that Collins has ever shied from the pursuit of scientific truth.” Trouble is, these are perfectly compatible statements.
When Pinker and Harris (and Myers and whoever else) say that religion and science don’t mix, they aren’t making a demographic prediction: nobody means to say that “scientific, religious person” is an oxymoron or a logical impossibility. What we skeptics object to is the continuing social pretense that the mere existence of religious scientists (or scientific religionists) somehow indicates that the truth-apt claims made by science don’t conflict with the truth-apt claims made by religions. The fundamental level of conflict that Pinker and Harris refer to, then, is pretty obviously not the practical; in practice, people believe and act in all sorts of crazy, incomprehensible ways, and anybody would be a fool to deny this.