Who drives the science/religion conflict?

A recent poll of 1,000 American Protestant pastors is perhaps not surprising, given the well know opposition to evolutionary science amongst the US public. (see Poll: Pastors oppose evolution, split on earth’s age). As the figure below shows over 80% of these pastors believe Adam and Eve were literal people and over 70% oppose evolutionary science. And about half believe the earth is about 6,000 years old!

I think this does identify a problem in the science – religion relationship. There are currently strong attempts to deny any conflict between science and religion. Those making this assertion will insist that opposition to evolutionary science and similar attitudes is restricted to fundamentalists. That most Christians have a more sophisticated attitude to their religion.

But surely this poll indicates that this opposition is actually widespread amongst Christian leaders. The pastors who in many ways do provide an alternative education and ideology to their flock. It indicates that not only are anti-science attitudes common amongst protestants, that actually are very strong amongst protestant leaders and are inevitably taught or communicated to lay church members.

Personally, I don’t think the religion/science conflict is inevitable (except at the epistemological level). But there is no doubt that it exists, especially in the US. And that it is being fed by these dogmatic attitudes of religious leaders.

I suspect that we have a similar situation here – just nowhere as big. In a post over three years ago (see New Zealand supports evolution) I suggested that the 20% of New Zealander opposing evolutionary science mean that about 40% of New Zealand’s Christians oppose evolutionary science.

There are stories of scientifically inclined Christians who feel unable to mention their support for evolution amongst their church community. But perhaps a high proportion of New Zealand’s pastors, or ministers of religion, are happy to promote that attitude.

Maybe they even actively teach (or preach) an anti-science message?

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35 responses to “Who drives the science/religion conflict?

  1. I’d be a wee bit sceptical regards statistics furnished by a mob called “Lifeway Research”. it appears their logo is made up of the christian death stake. Like all their nonsence, they probably made it up.

  2. ‘Religion’ = ‘faith’ = ‘belief’ – take your pick – by definition is irrational. So the ‘church’ – whatever the sect or cult – has always seen science as a threat to its power.

    No change there. Luther in 1517? Trouble in Christendom ever since. Not to mention the Jews and the Muslims – and that’s just three.

    Religion has thrown up some good stories and some great music. This is of course essentially humanist, not supernatural. When religionists blunder into science, they make fools of themselves. But that’s OK.

    When they have political power, they burn people at the stake…or stone people to death… or just imprison them for life…

    Unfortunately these people command a lot of money, power and votes, especially in the USA.

  3. Bushbasher the history of science and religion is a little more complex than a simple divide between rational and irrational. In the middle ages before the rise of science and democracy, knowledge was not separated into “science” and “non science”. Structured investigation into the natural world was called “Naturphilosophie” and was quite popular among the clergy.

    However from personal experience I totally support Ken’s comment …
    scientifically inclined Christians feel unable to mention their support for evolution amongst their church community

    Although I can be obnoxious on this blog when defending religion I get equally annoyed when I find myself defending basic science from ignorant Christians who rely on dumb pseudoscience from right wing American groups.

  4. Somebosy mentioned Alvin Plantinga? Arguably he is the pre-eminent living Christian philosopher, so it is worth viewing his talk (or book) addressing the subject of this post:

    Some points:

    In “Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism,” (Oxford University Press), he unleashes a blitz of densely reasoned argument against New Atheist rhetoric.

    Plantinga on Dawkins: “Dancing on the lunatic fringe,” Plantinga declares.
    Plantinga on Dennett: A reverse fundamentalist who proceeds by “inane ridicule and burlesque” rather than by careful philosophical argument.
    “It seems to me that many naturalists, people who are super-atheists, try to co-opt science and say it supports naturalism,” he said. “I think it’s a complete mistake and ought to be pointed out.”

    The so-called New Atheists may claim the mantle of reason, not to mention a much wider audience, thanks to best sellers like Mr. Dawkins’s fire-breathing polemic, “The God Delusion.” But while Mr. Plantinga may favor the highly abstruse style of analytic philosophy, to him the truth of the matter is crystal clear.

    Theism, with its vision of an orderly universe superintended by a God who created rational-minded creatures in his own image, “is vastly more hospitable to science than naturalism,” with its random process of natural selection, he writes. “Indeed, it is theism, not naturalism, that deserves to be called ‘the scientific worldview.’ ”

  5. HappyEvilSlosh

    “random process of natural selection” Not good that he gets something so basic wrong almost out of the gate.

  6. Ropata – this is the very work I am referring to. Pantinga’s ineptness can be see evne in your quote “Plantinga on Dawkins: “Dancing on the lunatic fringe,” – his resorting to abuse shows he doesn’t have an argument.

    In the presentation Plantinga shows how he doesn’t u8nderstand science at all. he support Intelligent Design, relies on Behe to decide that unguided evolution is impossible! (ignoring biochemistry in general). And then has a pathetic play with probabilities!

    And he claims that one can know there is a god without evidence because normal brains are constructed to know that without evidence. The problems with atheist is that they ahve something missing in the brains.

    Bloody incredible.

    You Christians must be in a bad way if you consider him “the pre-eminent living Christian philosopher”

  7. Is there evidence that evolution is unguided or is that just your philosophical bias? Surely any claim about ultimate purpose (or the lack thereof) is outside the realm of scientific inquiry.
    “It seems to me that many naturalists, people who are super-atheists, try to co-opt science and say it supports naturalism,” he said. “I think it’s a complete mistake and ought to be pointed out.”

    Much of Plantinga’s book is apparently the (more carefully considered) inverse of Dawkins and Dennett’s claims, by your logic they also have no argument.

  8. Ropata, the book is actually the debate he had with Dennett. I have listened to it and found it childish.

    How can anyone use Behe as the sole source of information on the science of evolution?? How?? He has been shown completely wrong so many times.

    Plantinga is ignoring all scientists but one.! Just so he can produce a conclusion he wants. Just as bad as claiming one can know something without any evidence at all. And if you disagree with him there is something faulty with your brain!

    Come on! Surely Christians can do better than that!

  9. Richard Christie

    Ropata asked

    Is there evidence that evolution is unguided ?
    :-/

  10. Is there evidence that evolution is unguided or is that just your philosophical bias?

    “Is there evidence that the Earth orbiting the Sun is unguided or is that just your philosophical bias?”

    “Is there evidence that staph infections are unguided or is that just your philosophical bias?”

    “Is there evidence that fusion reaction is unguided or is that just your philosophical bias?”

    The stupid, it burns.

    “Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là” Pierre-Simon Laplace

  11. To me, this beautiful world seems like a miracle from the hand of the Creator. You can call it a random accident if you like.

  12. (Apologies if this is a double post)

    To me, this beautiful world seems like a miracle from the hand of the Creator.

    No.7: ARGUMENT FROM BEAUTY, a.k.a. DESIGN/TELEOLOGICAL ARGUMENT (II)
    (1) Isn’t that baby/sunset/flower/tree beautiful?
    (2) Only God could have made them so beautiful.
    (3) Therefore, God exists.

    You can call it a random accident if you like.

    Only we don’t.
    Stop trying to create strawmen. It’s dishonest. Focus on what people actually say as opposed to you just making things up.
    Quote people. Quote them in detail.
    It’s a very fair and reasonable thing to do.
    Creating strawmen? Not so much.
    Leave that slimy tactic to the nutty, right wing American fundies that you want to distance yourself from.

    You may like to think that you are not one of them but you do sound an awful lot like one of them.

    Can I give a specific example to demonstrate that I am not just making an idle assertion?
    Yes.
    Can I back it up with a quote?
    Yes.
    Specifically, you sound like an ignorant Christian by the name of Ted Haggard who relies on dumb pseudoscience from right wing American groups.
    Here’s the video:

    7th Foundational Falsehood of Creationism

  13. In academia there is no serious conflict between science and religion. There are interesting debates about demarcation, but the only direct challenges to accepted science come from uneducated amateurs with a political or pecuniary agenda. It is incorrect to put all Christians into that bucket.

  14. I am hardly putting all Christians into the same bucket – its dishonest to characterize me this way.

    But ,Ropata, You are the one touting Plantinga as the great Christian kahuna. And he is coming out against science, even riding the ID hobbyhorse.

    I can’t see how anyone who supports science can support him the way you have.

    Or Craig who after all speaks out in support of infanticide and genocide/ethnic cleansing (provided he sees it as commanded by his god).

  15. And you are one uncritically touting Dawkins. Michael Ruse wrote:

    I think Dawkins is crude beyond belief when it comes to philosophy and theology.

    According to Thinking Christian, Plantinga says there’s no compelling argument for ID, but there are persuasive reasons to believe it’s true regardless.

    For Plantinga it’s much simpler than an argument. Design is just apparent in the world. We can see it, as we can see that the world wasn’t created intact in its current form just five minutes ago, that our memories are at least somewhat trustworthy, that there are other people (other minds) in the world besides ourselves. No argument that could prove these things true, yet we know them with trustworthy knowledge regardless. These are “basic beliefs:” things we know without having to call upon a string of inferences to support that knowledge.

    I think ID as a theory is inconclusive and open to criticism. However many of the objections to it are philosophical not scientific. The philosophical argument from design is a powerful reason to believe in God.

  16. It’s interesting that some people hate Dawkins so much they cannot recognise an argument or any philosophy from Ruse unless it is a naked attack on Dawkins! Playing the man rather than the ball again, Ropata.

    So you are convinced by Plantinga, who admits to not knowing any biology, because he is prepared to reject every scientist in the area except Behe – because Behe fits his argument from ignorance!

    Behe has been proven wrong scientifically. ID doesn’t stand a chance – and that is why no-one is seriously working on it scientifically7. It claims to be scientific, and it is in the sense it makes statements about reality which can be tested and falsified. But that has already happened – so people like you fall back on the argument that ID is “philosophical not scientific.”

    Well you have just admitted what the Discovery people ahve been covering up for years.

    But it does demonstrate a common theological attack on science – to claim reality is a matter of philosophy so you scientists keep your hands off!!

    I think, Ropata, your argument just demonstrates how one’s ideology can prevent people from being scientific. And honest.

  17. It is incorrect to put all Christians into that bucket.

    Stop making things up. Focus on the people and comments around you rather that ravaging the hay market to build strawmen.

    ID was and is a joke. It never got any traction in the scientific community.
    There was never any work. It was all sizzle and no steak.
    Nobody even came up with a working scientific definition.
    Anyone who played along with the con game is worthy of contempt.

    Michael Ruse wrote…

    No.
    Philosophy =/= science.

    No. 187: METACROCK’S ARGUMENT FOR GOD (I)
    (1) I have a philosophy degree.
    (2) Your knowledge in philosophy is paltry in comparison to mine.
    (3) Therefore you are unable to comprehend my intense philosophical proofs of God’s existence.
    (4) Therefore, God exists.

    Michael Ruse wrote…

    This is an argument from authority. Nobody is going to get an attack of the vapours just because Ruse wrote or did not write something.
    You’re doing the “many respected scientists and philosophers” hand-waving routine. It’s hugely unconvincing.

    If you have an argument then present it.
    But saying that somebody didn’t like somebody else over something they wrote..and then leaving it on our doorstep like an abandoned child is a waste of everybody’s time.

    I think ID as a theory is inconclusive and open to criticism.

    Bat guano.
    ID is not and never was a scientific theory.

    However many of the objections to it are philosophical not scientific.

    Tripe wrapped up in a thick layer of wishy-washy handwavy whining.
    Scientists trashed ID for very good and straight forward scientific reasons.
    That ship has sailed.
    All that remain is a front organization endlessly soliciting donations from the gullible and a tiny handful of echo-chamber blogs. Stick a fork in it.

    No 213: ARGUMENT FROM CHRISTIAN EXPERTS ARE IGNORED
    (1) Dembski, Behe and Plantinga are ignored by mainstream intellectuals.
    (2) Only a fear of the truth could explain this.
    (3) Therefore, God exists.

  18. Dawkins admits that life “has the appearance of design”. What is your problem?

  19. But Ropata, “Dawkins is crude beyond belief” - you are surely not going to take him as an authority?

  20. The argument from authority is only fallacious if the quoted source is not an expert in the subject. Dawkins is a good writer when he sticks to science, but when it comes to philosophy and theology he’s a numpty. By dismissing comments from experts you guys are embracing ignorance and bias.

  21. I think it is Plantinga who is the numpty regarding science.

    That is why he riles on one ID biochemist (Behe) and ignores the rest of science – because he has a predetermined conclusion that evolution is statistically impossible. Therefore his god did it!!

    I dismiss Behe’s claims (and so do most scientists) because he is wrong – and has been shown wrong. Even his own department has published a disclaimer!

    Yet he is good enough for you and Plantinga!!

    You are both numpties.

  22. As I have stated earlier I support the philosophical argument from design. Please stop attributing Behe’s version of ID to me.

  23. Ropata, you are supporting a version of ID advanced by Plantinga which relies on Behe. And contradicts current scientific knowledge. Behe is the odd man out here – which makes you and Plantinga numpties.

    Anyway Cedric surely pointed out the bid flaw with any “guided” evolution – it is equivalent to describing the movement of the planets as guided by angels!

    This is the problem with theistic evolution – it throws out the real essence and revolutionary nature off scientific evolution. It’s equivalent to ignoring Newton’s laws of motion and claiming things only look like that because of what your god is up to.

    Science has had to break away from such religious and philosophical rubbish to become the powerful force it is for understanding and changing reality.

  24. I guess this the the other side of the science/religion demarcation problem. Aggressive atheists who can’t allow people to think a little differently or hold to any kind of spirituality. The New Atheists are an embarrassment, they get far too much publicity because the media loves a stoush, not because they have come up with anything original or clever.

  25. Ropata, this has nothing to do with religion, spirituality or gnus. It’s a matter of reality. The scientific approach has told us a lot about the evolution of life on earth. Just because some crank like Plantinga disagrees diesnt change that reality.

    Plantinga knows nothing about the science of evolution but attempts to discredit it all using the argument from ignorance that Behe uses.

    If there is a demarcation Plantinga, Behe and you have violated it by attempting to impose religion on science.

  26. I’m imposing religion on science?!? Most of your screeds in this forum seek to justify atheism using science and calling it “reality”. That is a philosophical position not a scientific one.

  27. Ropata, Tell that to Platinga/Behe and there Wedge mates.

  28. By dismissing comments from experts you guys are embracing ignorance and bias.

    No.
    We are dismissing flabby, naked opinions not backed up by any argument.
    Philosopher “X” says “Me no likee”.
    Tough titties. I don’t care.

    (…thinks about it for a while…)

    Nope, I don’t give a toss.

    There’s no good reason to pay attention to whining.
    No argument or evidence is presented. There is no reason to pay attention to the abandoned waif by the doorstep. You are not supposed to just dump and run. It’s only demonstrates weakness on your part.
    When scientists give an opinion, they can back it up.

    Dawkins admits that life “has the appearance of design”. What is your problem?

    You are using his words as a quote mine.
    It’s very dishonest of you.
    He uses that “admission” as a rhetorical device.
    He goes on to discuss that concept and show why it’s misleading.
    You don’t mention that.
    So what’s YOUR problem?
    Why are you so slimy that you have to quote mine?
    Why don’t you have any personal integrity?

    Here’s how an honest person does it.
    Learn:

    “Natural selection is the blind watchmaker, blind because it does not see ahead, does not plan consequences, has no purpose in view. Yet the living results of natural selection overwhelmingly impress us with the appearance of design as if by a master watchmaker, impress us with the illusion of design and planning. The purpose of this book is to resolve the paradox to the satisfaction of the reader, and the purpose of this chapter is further to impress the reader with the power of the illusion of design.”

    The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence Reveals a Universe Without Design New York, Norton, 1987

    One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect, over the centuries, has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.
    The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself. In the case of a man-made artifact such as a watch, the designer really was an intelligent engineer. It is tempting to apply the same logic to an eye or a wing, a spider or a person.
    The temptation is a false one…

    The God Delusion-Richard Dawkins

    I would never stoop to quote-mining.
    I’m better than that. I’m not a tool like you.
    I quote people. In full.
    Try it one day.

    Aggressive atheists who can’t allow people to think a little differently or hold to any kind of spirituality.

    No, you are again building a strawman to salve your wounded, worthless pride.
    It won’t help you.
    You have been continuously dishonest in the way that you argue.
    You quote-mine and on multiple occasions you have been caught out just make crap up to suit yourself.

    Spirituality?
    Pull the other one.
    Might as well talk about your Chinese Chi or your Bajoran Pa for all the good it does. It’s all magical mumbo-jumbo that you can provide no evidence for. And yes, homeopathy is still just tap water.

    “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it?- Richard Dawkins

    You may like to think that you are not one of those ignorant Christians who relies on dumb pseudoscience from right wing American groups but you do sound an awful lot like one of them.
    Here’s another example:

    “The God Delusion Refuted” Refuted (1 of 2)

  29. Paraphrasing a current Listener article [Our Biased Brains]:…

    You do this all the time. It’s so boring.
    Though to be fair, it’s not just you:

    No 25: ARGUMENT FROM INTERNET AUTHORITY
    (1) There is a website that successfully argues for the existence of God.
    (2) Here is the URL.
    (3) Therefore, God exists.

    I think we should also remember that until the 19th century, almost all scientists were theists, and none of them expressed much anxiety that a “god, angel, or devil” would interfere with their work. (What a weird, narcissistic attitude that would have been). To the contrary, devout scientists and philosophers like Newton, Galileo, Leibniz, and Bacon considered science as a means to understand God’s law.

    No. 96: ARGUMENT FROM EUROPEAN HISTORY
    (1) Many prominent thinkers in pre-modern Europe believed in God.
    (2) Let’s just forget about the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
    (3) Therefore, God exists.

  30. This is the world I live in, infused with beauty by its Maker:

  31. This is the world I live in…

    Oh so you are not of Bajor? Well, that’s a relief! So far, so good.

    … infused with beauty by its Maker

    This is where the “Poof, goddidit” bit comes in and you lose your audience completely.

    No.7: ARGUMENT FROM BEAUTY, a.k.a. DESIGN/TELEOLOGICAL ARGUMENT (II)
    (1) Isn’t that baby/sunset/flower/tree beautiful?
    (2) Only God could have made them so beautiful.
    (3) Therefore, God exists.

    We’ve been here before.

    To me, this beautiful world seems like a miracle from the hand of the Creator.

    The key word here is “seems”. It only seems that way. You have no actual evidence. There is no science here. Only magical, child-like thinking.

    It’s ironic that you link to the Planet Earth series and focus on the nice pretties.
    Creationist numbskulls have tried that trick before.

    You may like to think that you are not one of those ignorant Christians who relies on dumb pseudoscience from right wing American groups but you do sound an awful lot like one of them.
    Here’s yet another example:

    David Attenborough on Creation

  32. Science/religion conflict is needless but you keep on pushing that atheist wheelbarrow, it is sure to generate more heat in the debate (but not much light).

    Instead of theorizing on the internet it may behoove you to go outside and bask in the sunshine, swim in the ocean, or sit under a shady tree.

    That’s all I have to say about that

  33. Funny, Ropata, you are the one pushing the “conflict thesis.”

    My point has always been that is wrong. There are plenty of religious people who are also scientists. Conflict does not arise at that level.

    But there is an epistemological conflict – any rational person should acknowledge that. Religion does not use evidence and reason, it uses revelation and authority.

    That’s the difference.

    A religious scientist who works with evidence and reason is doing science – not religion. We can have some confidence in their work.

    However, when they rely on revelation and authority they are doing religion. That’s when we can”t have any confidence in their conclusions.

    Perhaps if you left your keyboard and set about enjoying life there would not be the need to correct you so much.

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