Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Atheist Faithiest

Faithiest. Accommodationist. One har har perjorative and one mildly insulting. I guess put me squarely in the accommodationist camp. As if we unbelievers have a choice. I'm talking about the controversy raging  in the science blogs between those who consider religion the enemy of science and maintain that a person cannot justify holding religious and scientific methodologies in the same cranium ( the True Unbelievers) amd the Accommodationists (yay) who believe it is possible to be religious and a good scientist and, more importantly, that is necessary to reach out to people of faith and explain that it is possible to maintain their faith and accept the results of scientific inquiry, particularly regarding evolution. Of course, this ain't possible with a Young Earth Creationist. But they're setting up their own separate but unequal systems of "education" and "science". On the True Unbeliever side we have bloggers like Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, Abbie Smith and Larry Moran on the Accommodationist side we have Josh Rosenau and John Wilkins. In the middle we have openly religious scientists like Ken Miller and Francis Collins, taking hostile fire from the Creationists and friendly fire from some of the science bloggers. Now Miller and Collins are big boys and I'm sure they were aware that they were going to take some shit for coming out with their weird fusion of science and religion. But that's their philosophy, not their science. As far as I can tell, no one in either camp has faulted them on their scientific work. I became aware of the controversy when ERV wrote a post slamming the appointment of Collins to head the NIH. The objections seem to stem from his professed evangelical faith and fear of what he might do rather than looking at what he has actually done. This smacks of ferreting out any sign of belief, even if it doesn't appear to influence the work. We have the spectacle of the True Unbelievers sniffing out any sign of belief, even in other unbelievers. Remind you of any other particular group? As Wilkins says (and, ahem, I have said) it is silly to argue whether a person can be religious and a scientist at the same time. We have thousands of examples that this can happen. The only points worth arguing are which questions can be tested and belong to science.


  1. Well, it's no longer fears about what Collins might do, since he is using his appointment to promote his faith. As PZ points out, imagine an atheist elevated to such a position doing the same- think he'd still have a job?

    My concern would be that Collins will (unintentionally, mostly) promote an understanding of science similar to Deepak Chopra's, where the edge of science is played up and transformed into a platform for...woo.

    I'd say faith and science can coexist and can find plenty of common ground, but they're not really compatible.

  2. "As PZ points out, imagine an atheist elevated to such a position doing the same- think he'd still have a job?"

    Probably not. And that's unfair. But the NIH has little to do with researching the origins of the universe so Collins is free to blather on about God and the universe as much as he wants. Has he used his position as administrator to promote faith based woo in place of science based medicine? I don't think so. Can the practice of science be tainted by faith based preconceptions? Probably, but there are ways of dealing with that when and if it happens.