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Why I Hate the Science and Religion Discourse

May 22, 2010

No offense to James McGrath (who I like very much), but I really do not like the science and religion stuff. Here’s a few thoughts on why.

  • “Science” is not just one thing, and neither is “religion” a monolith. Not all science vs. religion discourses imply this, but most of them do. Those things grouped under the terms “scientific” and “religious” are incredibly diverse and sometimes even overlap.
  • The agenda of this discourse is largely set by Christians whose tradition has been shaped or challenged by the European enlightenment. The concerns of the science vs. religion discourse are not universal, either in time or space, although the discourse pretends as if they are—as if “science” and “religion” have been battling forever and will continue to battle for eternity. However, there are billions of people out there who could give a shit, and I would say most of the people in human history would find this discourse to be irrelevant to them and their lives.
  • The discourse often amounts to either Christian apologetics or responses to Christian apologetics. (This seems to me to make the science vs. religion debate fundamentally unscholarly, since I take it for granted that religious studies scholars are not supposed to have their research agendas straightforwardly set by the people they study.)
  • The discourse often treats “religion” as a series of true or false propositions, much like the new atheists do. Focusing on the truth or falsehood of an ideology fundamentally misses the social work accomplished by that ideology. The proper response to Mein Kampf is not (primarily) to point out logical contradictions, but to point to the social effects of its racist ideology. In my opinion, the best response to creationism is not to attempt a demonstration of its falsehood, but to show what sort of ideological function it might serve for those communities that support it.

These are just a few thoughts I had off the top of my head, and I’m open to revising them. In fact, it’s quite possible that I’m attacking a straw man. What do you think?

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. May 22, 2010 11:52 am

    I didn’t know James was blogging on it. I hardly ever look because I’m not interested in what bloggers watch on television or the over inflated ‘tv culture’. Aside. I wonder if the science and religion discourse is a predominantly american phenomenon where fundamentalism and new atheism, while so alike, are so polarised. A small mediating circle trying to operate in the centre… It’s dull.

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    May 22, 2010 12:01 pm

    I find it extremely dull as well. I imagine you might be right: perhaps it is a distinctly American phenomenon.

  3. Deane permalink
    May 22, 2010 10:47 pm

    On your first point – the ‘non-overlapping magisteria’ supporters who really get my goat. Non-overlapping?! Where? When? Who? Maybe in some abstract Western liberal ideal, but it all falls down in almost any real situation.

    On a not-completely-unrelated note, there is a bunch of scholars in India, dubbed the Om Team, conducting scientific research into the soundwave properties of the Om mantra. They’ve released six academic papers on it.

    The Guardian, of course, takes the piss:

    ‘the researchers explain: “It may be very fast…. Or it may be slower…. Or it might become extremely slow….” The important technical fact is that no matter what form of Om one chants at whatever speed, there is always a basic Omness to it.’
    – Mark Abrahams, ‘Improbable research: The repetitive physics of Om’, 3 May 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/may/03/repetitive-physics-om-improbable-research

  4. May 23, 2010 2:01 pm

    “The proper response to Mein Kampf is not (primarily) to point out logical contradictions, but to point to the social effects of its racist ideology. In my opinion, the best response to creationism is not to attempt a demonstration of its falsehood, but to show what sort of ideological function it might serve for those communities that support it.”

    While I agree that this is an appropriate — and effective — response, I think several levels of responses are required, including a response that deals with data-evidence and which is framed in a coherent (i.e., logical) narrative aimed at demonstrating whether the claims are true or false.

    Although I agree (with Nietzsche) that all things are perspectival, this does not mean we cannot arrive at an approximation of something like “truth” (emphasis on the small “t”), as opposed to “The Truth,” which is an a priori given and usually rests on some combination of faith, bias, hate, ignorance, illogic, and/or pathology.

    Who knows, it might have helped if some able German scholar had attacked Mein Kampf in the way I have suggested. Nietzsche would have been perfect for that task; too bad he wasn’t around when it might have mattered.

    And I agree with Deane’s comment on NOMA. It gets my goat also, and I just attempted to sacrifice that goat today over at my blog.

  5. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    May 23, 2010 2:37 pm

    Cris, I agree that we can (and in many cases should) get at “the truth” (as long as that’s appropriately qualified). It’s just that sometimes I feel like the anti-creationist stuff looks like someone trying to mount hard evidence that Santa Clause doesn’t exist. It’s so dumb. I’m gonna check out your blog now …

  6. Deane permalink
    May 30, 2010 11:32 pm

    On non-overlapping magisteria…

  7. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    May 31, 2010 10:22 am

    That’s awesome Dean!

  8. May 31, 2010 11:44 am

    The weird thing was, when he posted it on facebook, it was so plausible, in despair, I assumed it was true. It wasn’t til I returned much later I noticed the onion. Anything can happen in amerikaaghh.

Trackbacks

  1. Science and Religion Discourse « The Book of Doctrines and Opinions: notes on Jewish theology and spirituality

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