Keith Ward thinks clearly and writes clearly, and this piece is a good example:
Julian Baggini raises the question of whether religion and science are compatible. But, as he implies, that question is too generally phrased to be helpful. We need to ask if particular religious and scientific claims conflict, or whether they are mutually supportive or not. Some are and some are not, and it would be silly to say that all religious claims conflict with all scientific claims, or that they do not.
Many religious statements are naturally construed as statements of fact – Jesus healed the sick, and rose from death, and these are factual claims. So Stephen Gould‘s suggestion that religion only deals with value and meaning is incorrect, though it is correct that scientists do not usually deal with such questions….
I do not see why Baggini says that religions “smuggle in” agency explanations where they do not belong (for instance, claiming that the cosmos exists because it is created by a God with a purpose). That seems to be a perfectly acceptable factual claim that no known scientific technique can answer. The physical sciences do not generally talk about non-physical and non-law-like facts such as creation by God. That does not mean that such questions are meaningless, or that there are not both rational and silly ways of answering them.Claims that the cosmos is created do not “trespass onto” scientific territory. They are factual claims in which scientific investigators are not, as such, interested. Scientific facts are, of course, relevant to many religious claims. But not all facts are scientific facts – the claim that I was in Oxford last night, unseen by anyone, will occur in no scientific paper, but it is a hard fact. So it is with the miracles of Jesus, with the creation of the cosmos and with its end. The interesting question is not whether religion is compatible with science, but whether there are important factual questions – and some important non-factual questions, too, such as moral ones – with which the physical sciences do not usually deal. The answer seems pretty obvious, without trying to manufacture sharp and artificial distinctions between “hows” and “whys”.