So I’ve resolved to get my book’s section on science finished this month. One thing I want to do in it is address responses to Dawkins’ comments on the relationship between religion and science (and responses to the Gnu Atheists more generally here, but Dawkins is the name that comes up most often in this particular debate).
One difficulty here is that, aside from his controversial argument that God is highly improbable, the claims Dawkins makes about science and religion in The God Delusion are actually fairly mild. He talks about how evolution undermines the argument from design, and also talks about how many religious questions may not be scientifically answerable in practice, but they are scientifically answerable in principle. Take the virgin birth–in principle, we could have empirical evidence showing Jesus’ mother either was or was not a virgin when she conceived him, even though we do not in fact have such evidence.
One way to respond to this is to deny that things like the virgin birth are what religion is “really” about. This is the strategy of Gould’s NOMA, and has been adopted by a number of Dawkins’ critic, some explicitly endorsing NOMA, others using other banners like “methodological naturalism.” Not a terribly plausible response, but at least it’s honest.
On the other hand, I have the impression that a lot of people read Dawkins here as saying something that he’s never said. He’s never said that it’s impossible to be religious and a scientist, nor has ever said anything as simplistic as “evolution disproves the idea of God” or “evolution is logically incompatible with God” or anything like that. That people do think Dawkins has said these is suggested, for example, by the fact that people arguing that science and religion are compatible (whatever that means) often stress the existence of religious scientists.
Here, for example, is an oft-quoted bit from Gould:
Either half my colleagues are enormously stupid, or else the science of Darwinism is fully compatible with conventional religious beliefs—and equally compatible with atheism, thus proving that the two great realms of nature’s factuality and the source of human morality do not strongly overlap.
I’d really like to get more examples of this kind of thing: of arguing that science and religion are compatible because some scientists are religious, or attempts to criticize Dawkins by arguing at length that evolution and religion aren’t technically incompatible, stuff like that. I strongly suspect there are quite a few examples to be found from the Chris Mooneys and Michael Ruses of the world, and perhaps in official statements from organizations like the NSCE. Who can help me out here?