Wednesday, February 20, 2013

On science and religion, and angry fundamentalists

After a Christian student was relieved to hear that his faith was okay with evolution, physicist Max Tegmark wondered whether religion really is unfriendly to science.
This gave me the idea to start the MIT Survey on Science, Religion and Origins,.... We found that only 11 percent of Americans belong to religions openly rejecting evolution or our Big Bang. So if someone you know has the same stressful predicament as my student, chances are that they can relax as well....

So is there a conflict between science and religion? The religious organizations representing most Americans clearly don't think so. Interestingly, the science organizations representing most American scientists don't think so either: For example, the American Association for the Advancement of Science states that science and religion "live together quite comfortably, including in the minds of many scientists." This shows that the main divide in the U.S. origins debate isn't between science and religion, but between a small fundamentalist minority and mainstream religious communities who embrace science.
In a followup, Max describes how he was prepared for an angry response to his news that most faith groups are actually pretty okay with evolution.
The vitriolic responses poured in as predicted. But to my amazement, most of them didn't come from religious people, but from angry atheists!...I have three criticisms of these angry atheists:
1) They help religious fundamentalists:
A key point I wanted to make with our survey is that there are two interesting science-religion controversies: a) Between religion & atheism b) Between religious groups who do & don't attack science.

Some forces pushing for creationism in US schools try to conflate the two so that they can pretend to represent the majority, and taunting religious groups that don't attack science can play into their hands. In contrast, I think that drawing attention to b) is the most effective way to weaken the anti-scientific fringe and improve the prospects for future generations.… 
2) They could use more modesty: 
If I've learned anything as a physicist, it's how little we know with certainty. ... 
3) They should practice what they preach: 
Most atheists advocate for replacing fundamentalism, superstition and intolerance by careful and thoughtful scientific discourse. Yet after we posted our survey report, ad hominem attacks abounded, and most of the caustic comments I got (including one from a fellow physics professor) revealed that their authors hadn't even bothered reading the report they were criticizing.

Just as it would be unfair to blame all religious people for what some fundamentalists do, I'm obviously not implying that all anti-religious people are mean-spirited or intolerant. However, I can't help being struck by how some people on both the religious and anti-religious extremes of the spectrum share disturbing similarities in debating style. 
You think? I'm not surprised, there is considerable anti-religion antipathy in some of more-rabid atheists. But frankly most of us are happy to live and let live, and don't really care what you believe as long as you don't inflict your beliefs upon us.

And then there's the angry Christian fundamentalists. When erstwhile religious dating site e-Harmony were sued and so put together a same-sex site, says their founder,Neil Clark Warren
we literally had to hire guards to protect our lives because the people were so hurt and angry with us, were Christian people, who feel that it's a violation to scripture. 
 Yup, nothing says Jesus-follower like death threats.

Fundamentalism is by its nature intolerant.  We see this lack of tolerance and respect throughout society, ranging from anti-gay to anti religion.  But the step beyond that into threats of violence, is deeply, deeply disturbing.  And it boggles the mind that followers of the "prince of peace" ever resort to  violent rhetoric  (previous examples here here and here ), when confronted by anyone different.


Counterlight said...

I'm not surprised either. I'm only surprised that Max Tegmark was surprised.

Walter Zimmerman said...

The Crusades. The 16th Century witch hunts. The Spanish Inquisition. Russians repressing the Raskolniki. The recent intra-faith attacks in American Amish communities. There are myriad examples of the most obscene violence being done in the name of the "Prince of Peace".
What I continue to find odd, myself, is how vitriolic some atheists can be, about their own tenets. It's almost as if they have their own secret God, called 'No God', which they will go to any lengths to defend.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Nor am I surprised. The two extremes are mirror images of each other. I agree with Walter. the fundamentalist atheists defend something that they are desperate to hang on to, and it seems not to be nothing.

JCF said...

My usual blog-stop after FoJ's, is JoeMyGod. Once again, I'm sure I will try to (I hope, gently) confront&educate the myriad anti-theists there, w/ Another Perspective...

[This citation will help. Thanks to my Favorite Non-theist, IT! {Mwah!}]

JCF said...

Le Sigh. For my efforts today * at Joe.My.God., I was told (and I quote) "Fuck you, you lying asshole. Dishonest cunt."

It's really not easy being an LGBT Christian. Le Sigh.

* Saying that the Bible does NOT call for the death of LGBTs (contrary to bigoted Christianist translations/interpretations).

IT said...

JCF, a link that helps: