Myths within a myth

Yes – this is going to be about religion – a common source of myths. Specifically the “conflict paradigm,” “conflict hypothesis” or “conflict myth.” Really the myth that there is such a “paradigm”, “hypothesis” or “myth” claiming  religion is and always has been at odds with science.” If you see what I mean. Think of Russian Matryoshka wooden dolls.

This is a story put about by Christian apologists (“militant Christians”) who would have us believe that there is no conflict between science and religion. That actually Christianity is the mother of science. And any conflicts that do occur are really the work of atheists, or “atheist scientists.” These atheists are the ones putting about a false myth.

I want to unpack the myth advanced by these militants.

Of course there are conflicts between religion and science – inevitable when the epistemology is so different. Whereas religious knowledge is based on revelation and authority, science is based on evidence, reason and testing against reality. But this is a principled difference – it’s not the same as claiming religion is and always has been at odds with science.”

Religious and non-religious scientists work alongside each other with no ideological conflict. And “atheist scientists” are hardly to blame for the very public attacks on science by creationists and intelligent design proponents.

The public view of science

But what about the public? How do they perceive science and religion? Do they only see conflict? Or do they accept the differences. After all, they don’t go to a mechanic when they are ill – so why should they go to a religious leader when they wish to find out about the world and the universe.


I ask this because I am currently reading Elaine Howard Eckland’s book Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think.

Eckland’s research for this book appears to be inspired by a belief, or concern, that the US public is suspicious of science. The public is described as highly religious and it is thought to perceive that scientists are mostly atheistic and hostile towards religion.  This could in the future lead to decline in public funding and other support for science. It is imperative that scientists communicate better with the public. That current scientific personalities are perceived as atheist and only fanning the flames of the conflict. And that religious scientists must come forward to speak for science. Particularly to deny any conflict between religion and science. To give a religious veneer to science.

But she doesn’t offer any data in her research to support the concern. No survey or interviews with the non-scientific public. The research (funded by The Templeton Foundation) was solely about the religious attitudes and traditions of scientists. The public attitudes seem to be assumed.

Personally I would like to see some good data

What is the public perception?

Do the public really think scientists are hostile to religion?

Is it based on misinformation from creationists and intelligent design proponents?

Is it really a perception of religious hostility to science rather than vice versa (Creationist/intelligent design hostility to science)?

Is the public still motivated by historical events like the Galileo affair?

Is there anything in the militant Christian claim that the “new atheists” like Richard Dawkins and Victor Stenger have promoted this myth?

Has there been a huge swing in public perception as a result of best sellers like Dawkins’ “The God Delusion?”

And why should this be, given that the numbers of “new atheist” books are minuscule compared with the numbers of those supporting religion?

Or is it based on expectations that science must be based on the real world, not myths or faith? That such conflicts are therefore inevitable?


Postscript

Well I have now finished the book.  And on the 4th to last page I find Eckland’s only reference to any quantitative estimate of the public concern with science that she appears to have assumed: “according to a recent national  survey, nearly 25% of the American public think that scientists are hostile to religion.”*

Bloody hell – “nearly 25%”! And for this she is warning that the public may resist future funding and support for science?

This figure is relatively small – considering that over 45% of the US public regularly oppose evolutionary science in surveys. Surely this indicates that despite ideological pet beliefs, which may interfere with public understanding on a few issues, the US public still overwhelmingly respects science. And is not concerned with the fact that some US scientists are non-believers. Over 75% of the US public do not think scientists are hostile to religion. That’s about the same proportion of the New Zealand population that accepts evolutionary science.

My conclusion

The whole issue is full of myths. Just like a Matryoshka doll the Christian militants’ claim that the science-religion conflict is a myth promoted by “atheist scientists,” is itself a myth. As is the story that atheist scientists, and current scientific personalities,  are turning the public away from science and therefore threatening future public funding and support. A myth within a myth.

These are myths within the apologists’ overall myth about the relationship between science and religion.


* This survey was the 2006 “Science and Engineering Indicators” developed by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Science Resources Statistics.  (There is a similar survey for 2010). I have had a brief read through the report and actually can’t find the relevant statistic. Eckland has possibly calculated it from the other data in report though.

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21 responses to “Myths within a myth

  1. You seem like an intelligent man. One who enjoys deep thought. That’s the only reason I’m commenting on your post. I won’t comment on the rantings of atheists who don’t sound as though they have an intelligent argument. I have 2 degrees in science; 1 in chemistry and 1 in biology. Let me point you to a great book that has some real, hard scientific reasoning. In fact, it’s difficult for most people to understand because the science is so technical on a chemical and physical (physics, not the human body) level. Check out “In Six Days” edited by John F. Ashton. This book isn’t for everyone, but for intelligent people who understand higher thinking and I think you fit the bill to read it. Also, have you looked at the purpose of the beginning of science? Most “scientists” as we call them today, or “naturalists” as they were called in the 1500s-1800s studied the world around them to try to gain an understanding of God’s world.
    Think about the word “atheist” too. Doesn’t that mean the you know without a doubt that there is no God? By someone calling themselves an atheist aren’t they claiming that they therefore have infinite knowledge to know that God does not exist? Aren’t they then claiming to be God in a way due to their infinite knowledge? Just some thoughts for you.

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  2. christsavesme – I don’t see the relevance to my post about the Christian apologist myth of a conflict myth?

    Are you opportunistically promoting creationism? That is – attacking science?

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  3. Oh goody!
    A new chew toy.

    I won’t comment on the rantings of atheists who don’t sound as though they have an intelligent argument.

    Then don’t.

    I have 2 degrees in science; 1 in chemistry and 1 in biology.

    So what?
    Seriously, why do you mention this? This is the internet. Hello? EVERYBODY has two degrees in science. The world is littered with scatty nutjobs with half a dozen Phd.
    Nobody will give you a medal or pat you on the back for boasting about your edumacation. It just makes you sound disconnected with reality.

    In fact, it’s difficult for most people to understand…

    Then aren’t we all lucky that you’ve come along in the nick of time to tell us unworthy ones all about it. You really are too kind and gosh darned wonderful. You are very special.

    This book isn’t for everyone, but for intelligent people who understand higher thinking…

    Yeah, anybody who doesn’t “get” this book is clearly an idiot and they suck.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Most “scientists” as we call them today…

    Oh, scare quotes! Scare quotes are scary.
    “They” (whoever they are) are not real scientists. Oh no, they’re “scientists”. Nice. You are a real piece of work.

    Think about the word “atheist” too. Doesn’t that mean the you know without a doubt that there is no God?

    Um….no. It doesn’t. Take your own advice and think about it.
    Here’s some hints for you:

    Doesn’t that mean the you know without a doubt that there is no Bigfoot?

    Doesn’t that mean the you know without a doubt that magic doesn’t work?

    Doesn’t that mean the you know without a doubt that there is not Flying Spaghetti Monster?

    By someone calling themselves an atheist aren’t they claiming that they therefore have infinite knowledge to know that God does not exist?

    Hmm, clearly more hints are needed:

    By someone calling themselves an atheist aren’t they claiming that they therefore have infinite knowledge to know that Vishnu does not exist?

    By someone calling themselves an atheist aren’t they claiming that they therefore have infinite knowledge to know that Baal does not exist?

    By someone calling themselves an atheist aren’t they claiming that they therefore have infinite knowledge to know that Ah Puch does not exist?

    Rather than just playing guessing games, would it really kill you to actually, y’know, ASK FIRST? How hard can it be? Are your religious beliefs so fragile that you have to create a caricature of “the enemy” to make it easier to knock them down?
    Creating a strawman is a big, fat hairy clue that your postion is weak.

    We are all atheists about most of the gods humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” – Richard Dawkins

    Loki’s Short List of Past Gods In Alphabetical Order

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  4. Oh but it gets better…
    So much better.

    Thought 3:
    Should I do anything to prepare for radiation that should be reaching our part of the country by Monday?
    What could I do to prepare besides keep everyone indoors for a day or two and not let anyone go outside?
    The amount will be dissipated greatly by the time anything reaches us,
    but when you have children, you will think of whatever you can to protect them from what may, in the future, have horrible results.

    (stunned silence)

    Ok, let’s do this slow and simple for you.
    Find a map of the Earth.
    Find your home town on the map.
    Find Japan.
    Look at the blue bit between your home town and Japan.
    Say the name “Pacific Ocean” to yourself slowly and carefully. Roll it around on your tounge. Pacific Ocean. Look it up.

    Yet there’s even more…

    March 11, 2011
    tags: homeschool, curriculum review, science review, Biblical world-view, homeschool science, answers in genesisby christsavesme
    .This was our fist year homeschooling our children. I am a science teacher. I have been teaching since 1991 with 3 years off to stay home when I had our youngest 2 children. The years led me through teaching every science subject from eighth grade to twelfth.
    The Answers in Genesis God’s Design for Science series is well thought out and very sequential….

    It’s impossible to do a parody of this.
    Somebody claiming to be a science teacher (with two degrees folks!)
    They are homeschooling their poor children to make sure they get the proper “Biblical world view”.
    And how does she do that? She gets her teaching materials from (wait for it, WAIT FOR IT) Answers in Genesis.
    Ghastly.
    Awful.

    Creationist Homeschooling Is Educational Incest

    I have a question for you, Christsavesme.
    How old do you think the Earth is? ( a rough number will do just fine)

    Evangelist mom on global warming, evolution, creationism

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  5. It’s a sad day when 2 people can’t have a respectful discussion with 2 opposing views. I wasn’t trying to pick a fight with you. You stated you wanted some hard evidence. I gave a reference that gives some hard, scientific, interesting thoughts. I’ve never read your blog before and happened upon it while surfing. I wasn’t attempting to be militant or push anything upon you. I was being respectful. You, on the other hand, are the one being militant. Forget it.

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  6. But christsavesme you made no comment on my post. You still haven’t despite my request for clarification.

    Clearly you are opportunistically using this to promote a religious book quite irrelevant to my post except being anti-scientific.

    I don’t think your position is honest or principled.

    I am not picking a fight – I am asking for a relevant discussion – no0t to be treated as an idiot susceptible to creationist rubbish.

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  7. I wasn’t attempting to be militant or push anything upon you.

    Oh, so your ever-s0-innocent mention of a book and total failure to engage with Ken’s article was just some “gosh darn it and shucks” misunderstanding?
    Urk.

    I was being respectful.

    You horrid little sanctimonious liar.

    …the rantings of atheists who don’t sound as though they have an intelligent argument…

    Rantings. Nice. How “respectful”.

    In fact, it’s difficult for most people to understand …

    Yeah, but you do ’cause you’ve got an edumacation.

    This book isn’t for everyone, but for intelligent people who understand higher thinking…

    Yep, if you don’t “get” this book you are clearly not intelligent nor understand “higher thinking”. Feel the “respect”.

    …have you looked at the purpose of the beginning of science?

    Oh pity those who have not looked carefully enough like you have.

    Most “scientists” as we call them today…

    Yeah, those durned “scientists”.

    Think about the word “atheist” too. Doesn’t that mean…

    Hmm, why do those poor atheists not think about the meaning of the word “atheist”? Silly athiests. Bad atheists.

    By someone calling themselves an atheist aren’t they claiming…

    How come atheists don’t understand what it is that they are claiming? Silly atheists. Bad atheists.

    Aren’t they then claiming…

    Dear oh dear. It’s a real mystery.

    “Respectful”, my arse.
    Look up the word “respect” in the dictionary.

    An inconceivable Montage

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  8. @ Christsavesme.
    How old do you think the Earth is? ( a rough number will do just fine)

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  9. Ken,
    Sorry, I was referring to the other guy leaving comments. I didn’t intend for my 1st comment to come off that way. I am not trying to use your blog to promote one idea or another; I enjoy a good discussion and thought that your blog was thought provoking. I have not read the book you reference, but it seems to me that the public is not highly religious and does not oppose science. After teaching 120 high school students everyday for 17 years (that represents quite a few families), I didn’t see that many of them were highly religious. Like you, I have found that atheist and theist scientists work together without problem. I’d like to talk with you more, but I won’t be leaving anymore comments due to Cedric and his rudeness. I do believe that people on both sides of the argument need to study both points of view. No one will change anyone’s mind by beating them over the head with any idea or making fun of them. Whatever belief anyone holds, it must be a personal decision. I respect someone when they can explain why they believe what they believe whether we believe the same or not, rather than ranting and acting childish. Examine all sides of the issue. Just like politics. I don’t care who someone votes for, but can they explain why they voted for the candidate? Hope you have a nice evening.

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  10. So why mention your creationist book? And why the offensive remarks against atheists?

    We are all human and don’t deserve such prejudice.

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  11. I’d like to talk with you more, but I won’t be leaving anymore comments due to Cedric and his rudeness.

    Oh how you suffer.
    Somebody calls you out on your sanctimonious prattle and disrespect and…and….(sniff) they were mean to you. They used sarcasm and…(sob)…irony and….(dry heave, dry heave)…hyperbole!
    And, and this was all on the Internet too. People should be polite to people on the internet. That’s the way it works.
    Oh woe. Not even the early Christians thrown to the lions had to endure such beastly torments.
    You are a true martyr for Christ and will get an extra-special mention from St Peter in heaven.
    No, really!

    No one will change anyone’s mind by beating them over the head with any idea or making fun of them.

    Not true. Most children quickly stop defending the idea of Santa Claus being really real when the other kids in the class start sniggering. Works very quickly.

    I respect someone when they can explain why they believe what they believe whether we believe the same or not, rather than ranting and acting childish.

    Take your own advice and ditch the fake, oh-so-innocent “just asking questions” routine and the book peddling.

    Hope you have a nice evening.

    Hmm, yeah, whatever.
    So um…tell us, Christsavesme.
    How old do you think the Earth is? ( a rough number will do just fine).
    Don’t be coy now.🙂

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  12. Richard Christie

    You maybe should have played your line a little longer before attempting to embed any hooks Cedric.
    It looks as if this one has bolted for quieter waters.
    A pity.

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  13. Well, perhaps she will pray about it and come back. The Lard moves in mysterious ways. Maybe, just maybe, we might even her to mumble something about Lame Craig whose wonderfully managed to prove the existence of magic sky man via pinching 9th century Muslim theology?
    That would be a novel approach-not.

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  14. Anyone with an ounce of common sense would not engage Cedric in full diatribe mode. Rational arguments are left in the dust of the ad hominem blitzkrieg against christsavesme. It rather detracts from the reasonable tone of the OP.

    It would have been more constructive to point christsavesme in the direction of Amazon reviews of her book, and suggest alternate reading. But that’s not as much fun as venting your spleen.

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  15. Forget about Cedric ropata if you don’t wish to engage with him. But christsavesme refused to engage with me after making some very unpleasant assertions.

    Perhaps, in the interests of encouraging respectful discussion, you could list your comments on the book she was advocating. She herself said nothing of substance about it so I guess she actually may not be interested in your opinion either.

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  16. From memory the book is a collection of 40 or so essays from US scientists questioning the standard scientific account of a 15 byo universe. To do so they severely critique existing astronomy, biology, geology and create a strange alternate theory of a 6000 year old earth. Some of the essays are indeed thought provoking but their young earth conjectures are obviously silly.

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  17. Yeah – they advocate 6 days!!

    Bloody hell – that just can’t be justified scientifically. What a farce.

    Surely you can’t take that sort of rubbish seriously. Its biblical myth.

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  18. From memory the book is a collection …

    Woah!
    Wait a minute. You read that book? You actually bought it and…you read it?
    Was it by mistake or were you into that kind of thing at the time?

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  19. FWIW I didn’t detect any rudeness in what christsavesme wrote, quite the opposite. Nor did she especially advocate young earth creationism, simply suggested it as a thought provoking challenge. Of course the Genesis creation story is not a scientific account, its genre is myth but not in the fictional sense, it is ‘true myth’ in that it relates the who and why of creation and man’s place in the universe.

    Cedric, priorities change…have a long backlog of books to read, have started on Hawking’s latest missive (pretty lightweight so far) among a dozen or so others cluttering my room

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  20. Perhaps because the offense wasn’t against you ropata.

    I quote:
    “You seem like an intelligent man. One who enjoys deep thought. That’s the only reason I’m commenting on your post. I won’t comment on the rantings of atheists who don’t sound as though they have an intelligent argument.”

    Anhd;
    “This book isn’t for everyone, but for intelligent people who understand higher thinking and I think you fit the bill to read it. Also, have you looked at the purpose of the beginning of science? ”

    And:
    “Think about the word “atheist” too. Doesn’t that mean the you know without a doubt that there is no God? By someone calling themselves an atheist aren’t they claiming that they therefore have infinite knowledge to know that God does not exist? Aren’t they then claiming to be God in a way due to their infinite knowledge?”

    The book she was promoting was a silly 6 day creationist book.

    When asked to elaborate (“christsavesme – I don’t see the relevance to my post about the Christian apologist myth of a conflict myth?

    Are you opportunistically promoting creationism? That is – attacking science?”) she refused to and accused me of “picking a fight” and being “militant.” She then pretended offense and ran away.

    I hoped she would engage in a discussion – but she turned out to be one of those arrogant Christians who think that such simple statements are sufficient proof for their crazy ideas.

    I think that is rude – but I was happy to discuss these issues with here. She is the one that ran away.

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  21. Cedric, priorities change…

    All right. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about that part of your life then fair enough. Just curious.

    Of course the Genesis creation story is not a scientific account…

    Ah, you’re one of “those” Christians. You probably haven’t even handled any snakes yet. Humph!

    …its genre is myth but not in the fictional sense, it is ‘true myth’…

    Hmm. Myth but not fictional. Ok. Does this apply to all creation myths or just your personal brand?

    myth 
    –noun
    1. a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation, especially one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature.
    2. stories or matter of this kind: realm of myth.
    3. any invented story, idea, or concept: His account of the event is pure myth.
    4. an imaginary or fictitious thing or person.
    5. an unproved or false collective belief that is used to justify a social institution.

    Myth
    “The main characters in myths are usually gods or supernatural heroes. As sacred stories, myths are often endorsed by rulers and priests and closely linked to religion. In the society in which it is told, a myth is usually regarded as a true account of the remote past. In fact, many societies have two categories of traditional narrative, “true stories” or myths, and “false stories” or fables. Myths generally take place in a primordial age, when the world had not yet achieved its current form, and explain how the world gained its current form and how customs, institutions and taboos were established.”

    Ancient Egyptian Creation Myth

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