Froese, Bader, and the compatibility of science and religion

I just finished Paul Froese and Christopher Bader’s America’s Four Gods, which was a very interesting survey of American religious beliefs analyzed according to four major conceptions of God: the Authoritative God, the Benevolent God, and the Distant God. It’s well worth reading.

Still, I have to gripe about something that appears on page 145.

The authors cite the books of Richard Dawkins, Vic Stenger, Mark Perakh, and myself as examples of “prominent science professors making similar arguments” against the existence of God. (Including me among the prominent is not a good sign.) Then, after adding Christopher Hitchens to the mix, they say

Although the arguments of the New Atheists are certainly engaging, they tend to misrepresent the current relationships among science, progressivism, and belief in God. Today, Democrats and cultural progressives are overwhelmingly likely to believe in God. Many professional scientists are also devout believers. In sum, a large swath of America is religiously devout, politically liberal, and scientifically savvy—three things we are told cannot go together.

Well, this misreads our arguments. First of all, like too many people, the authors confuse a pro-technology attitude in the general population with being supportive of science. These are not at all the same. I know this is a common mistake, but academics writing about science and religion have no business ignoring this distinction.

Second, some of us—Vic Stenger in particular—counts the believers in what Froese and Bader call a “Distant God” as near-atheists in a broad cultural and political context. Froese and Bader’s own data shows that political liberalism, a genuinely pro-science (not just technology) attitude, and weakness of religious commitment tend to go together. I have my doubts about Stenger’s lumping in Distant God believers with nonbelievers—in some contexts their supernaturalism is very significant indeed, and not just a pale echo of a more traditional God. But in the broad-brush political picture Froese and Bader are concerned about, I think that Stenger has it about right.

Third, our argument that science and religion are not as compatible as often presented does not imply that no scientists believe in supernatural entities. Of course many do—we argue, in some detail, that they are mistaken. And we add that the comparatively high levels of skepticism among professional scientists (not applied scientists) are no accident in the light of our arguments.

It’s disconcerting to be accused of misrepresentation by authors who do not accurately present our position. I daresay we might be wrong. We’re not social scientists, any of us. But, dammit, the argument we are engaged in is not something that can be deflected just by observing the existence of the Francis Collins’s of this world.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07711295082644210782 Juno Walker

    Are you saying that they are implying that someone like Francis Collins is a prime example of a paradox that shouldn't exist?

    I think Collins is a prime example of your view that scientists like Collins are mistaken – deeply mistaken.

    I've read "The Language of God" as well as many articles at BioLogos. I view Collins as deeply conflicted and confused, not only mistaken.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Juno, I pretty much agree with you. My gripe is that I too often run into the argument that "science and religion is obviously compatible, just look at people like Francis Collins." Well, it's not as easy as that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07711295082644210782 Juno Walker

    Exactly.

    It's like people who watch Fox News and align themselves with conservative opinions on various issues. God forbid (excuse the pun) they watch The Colbert Report or The Daily Show, which regularly points out the hypocrisy in Fox News' "fair and balanced" reporting.

    I'm especially sensitive to Collins' attempt at reconciliation: I grew up in a born-again, Evangelical environment. Fundamentalists (militant or not) view him as a hopeless heretic: if there was no "original sin", then there is no need for a "savior." At least they can see that much. Hence all the lawsuits around the country trying to "balance" the teaching of evolution, or eradicate it outright.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Hi Taner,

    I fail to see how anybody can be pro-technology but not supportive of science. Anyway, my main point is that the idea that religion is anti-science is just another atheistic myth. You won’t find a half-educated and half-intelligent religious person who is against science. It is interesting to notice how popular/superficial atheism depends on myth building (and at its worse on demonizing those who think differently), as popular/superficial theism does.

    Religion is, as it should be, against the naturalistic interpretation of science. The syllogism “Physical phenomena are amenable to mechanistic modelling, therefore the reality that ultimately produces these phenomena is of a mechanistic nature” does not hold any water whatsoever. Those who embrace that syllogism do not thereby demonstrate their respect for science, but rather their disrespect for sound thinking.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06017322587415620841 Rich

    I was reading an article on this same exact thing at http://creation.com/atheism and it shows that Sam Harris disagrees with this. I heard Sam Harris is very intelligent and a member of Mensa or something. What's your opinion on Sam Harris saying that there is a chance of a designer but he would have to be a product of evolution?


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