An article published today by Religion News Service makes a straw man argument against vocal atheists. Researchers Christopher P. Scheitle and Elaine Howard Ecklund say that if you talk to fans of “New Atheists” like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, “there’s a good chance” you’d hear them say something like, “religious people hate science.”
That’s obviously not true. There are certain kinds of religious people who denounce science and ignore evidence — Creationists, Christian Scientists, etc. — but it would be foolish to say all religious people (as if they’re a monolith) treat science as a dirty word.
The Catholic Church, for example, accepts evolution even if the leaders make wildly inaccurate and harmful claims about homosexuality. Evangelicals may well go into scientific fields, even if they compartmentalize work they do in a lab and things they believe about the Bible.
Even Dawkins and Harris will tell you that.
But Scheitle and Ecklund, assuming most atheists can’t handle that kind of nuance, claim that we’re wrong to treat religious people as universally anti-science. (Even though we don’t.)
Over the past five years we have conducted hundreds of interviews, visits to houses of worship and a survey of over 10,000 U.S. adults representing a wide range of religious perspectives, all with the goal of better understanding how Americans understand the relationship between religion and science. What we found does not support the conclusion that religious people are hostile toward, disinterested in or pessimistic about science.
We asked our survey respondents how they personally view the relationship between religion and science. Rather than saying that the two are in conflict, evangelicals were the most likely to say that they view religion and science as having a collaborative relationship in which the two spheres support each other (48 percent of evangelicals) or that religion and science are each independent and refer to different aspects of reality (21 percent of evangelicals).
That’s… not surprising.
The problem with that analysis is that there are a lot of religious people who think their beliefs are not in opposition to science when, in fact, they are. Think of all those conservative Christians who ignore climate change, or think evolution is a hoax, or who believe transgender people are just “confused.” I’m sure if you asked them, they’d say their conclusions are firmly grounded in science. The rest of us are just selectively choosing which scientists to listen to.
Remember that one of the most cited studies arguing against marriage equality was the “scientific” study by disgraced sociologist Mark Regnerus which said children raised by gay parents had more problems as they got older. That study turned out to have all kinds of flaws. But Regnerus claimed he was doing proper science.
Creationist Ken Ham goes out of his way to talk about how everything in the Creation Museum is scientifically accurate. He just creates a made-up distinction between “historical” and “observational” science, a distinction no real scientist makes. Just about every credible scientist in the world dismisses his conclusions.
The point is: It doesn’t matter if religious people think their beliefs can co-exist with science. They either do or they don’t. The fact is certain religious beliefs go directly against scientific realities.
You can’t believe Jesus was born of a virgin mother, or walked on water, or created food out of thin air, or rose from the dead, and seriously claim to accept science. But those are the very people these researchers claim we shouldn’t ignore.
There are many religious people who simply say they believe in God and accept that there’s no proof of that. They pray because they think God is listening and it makes them feel better, but they don’t pretend that intercessory prayer has any real effect. They don’t make claims that contradict scientific truths, even though they believe in things science can never prove (or deny).
I get that. I get why those people believe their faith and science are compatible. But everyone else? They’re just wrong.
The researchers conclude:
… any attempt to connect scientific and religious communities, including the evangelical community, will be more productive if it begins by shedding the stereotypes presented by the loudest voices in society, and also understanding those communities’ core interests and worldviews.
Again, the loudest voices aren’t saying what Scheitle and Ecklund think we say. And “understanding” what religious groups believe about science has nothing to do with whether their beliefs make any sense in the light of science.
One thing that should bug everybody is that the article never once mentions that the authors wrote the article to promote their new book, Religion vs. Science: What Religious People Really Think, and that in the acknowledgments, they even thank the Templeton Foundation for funding the research that made the book possible.
The Templeton Foundation is an organization that explicitly tries to show that science and religion are compatible. Dawkins himself condemned the group’s famous “Templeton Prize” in The God Delusion, calling it “a very large sum of money given… usually to a scientist who is prepared to say something nice about religion.” He added, “Templeton’s money corrupts science.”
Religion News Service should have included that disclosure before publishing this piece.
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