Jason Rosenhouse posted on the series Cosmos and some reactions to it. In it, he complains about what he calls “the script,” an emphasis that the conflict model of the view of the relationship between religion and science is not the only or even the predominant one, historically speaking. He writes: “Prior to reading any essay about science and religion, do a search. If the words “nuanced” or “complex” appear then don’t waste your time. You’re about to get the script.”
Being nuanced and acknowledging complexity are what scholarship, and any attempt to describe things accurately, aim for. And what Rosenhouse writes next seems like it ought to support nuance and complexity:
As I’ve noted before, one problem in discussing conflicts between science and religion is that the term “religion” is very broad. It covers everything from, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it,” at one extreme, to “Gosh, that sunset sure is beautiful,” on the other. Moreover, many of the conflicts do not involve questions of fact that can be definitively resolved. Evolution poses serious challenges to major points of Christian doctrine, for example, but maybe those challenges can be overcome. There are lots of different arguments on offer, and everyone has to decide for themselves what they find plausible. That’s why I don’t generally say bluntly that science and religion must be in conflict. I think the challenges are sufficiently formidable that a reasonable person should reject all but the most liberal versions of Christianity, but many others disagree. Such is life.
But there is another way of framing the question that is much more clear cut. Science and religion are not necessarily in conflict, but science and religious authority certainly are. By “religious authority” I mean an attitude that says that there is a non-scientific source of knowledge about the natural world, such as divine revelation or the historical teachings of a church, that trumps all other claims to knowledge. When a governing body in thrall to such an attitude has a loyal police force at its disposal, look out! The best you can hope for is that they don’t do anything too sadistic to those who dissent from orthodoxy.
Oh, so close. Rosenhouse rightly acknowledges that religion covers a range of phenomena and views. But then he goes on to ignore that there are just as many different views of religious authority.
What is the appropriate response to this? Presumably to call for nuance and emphasize that this area is much more complex than he acknowledges.