Questionable Motives

March 6, 2011

What’s the problem with science/religious compatability?

I have been described as a bitter individual who thinks that there is only one way to view this world. You scream, verify, prove, facts, figures. Wow. You (sic) view is coloured by extremists who think their religions are right and you try just as hard to scream that your way is the only logical way. Well, I suspect it would not be wise to ask this person for a character reference any time soon.

Of course, I don’t see my views this way. I try to explain that it’s important that we – not just I – respect what’s true, what’s knowable, and hold great esteem for the method of inquiry that allows us to find these answers, that provides us with a foundation upon which to build not only practical technologies that work but a way of inquiring into every nook and cranny of the universe… including ourselves… on an equal footing independent of our perspectives and world views. I’m sorry if I screamed that too loudly, but let me reiterate: I respect what’s true and I don’t think that is an extremist position at all.

What never fails to amaze me is how people who hold their faith-based preferences to be equivalent with what’s probably true, probably accurate, probably correct see themselves and their attitude somehow removed from the ongoing problems resulting from this widespread generous allowance to respect faith-based beliefs, and assume that anyone who disagrees (and provides good evidence for that disagreement) is some kind of fundamentalist or extremist. I take issue with that absurd caricature and I do point out the effects such allowances have in the public domain of the real world and at the expense of real people. That – apparently – makes me not only strident but militantly so. How is it that respecting what is true and holding others to that same standard is so often considered unreasonable if it interferes with the preference for equivalency of faith-based beliefs to what is actually true? Well, I think the answer goes back to the assumption that faith-based beliefs are magically superior to human knowledge as long as it places god at the top of some knowledge hierarchy. In a nutshell, this is the heart of the probelm of asserting compatibility between science and religion.

An excellent example is how someone with knowledge is held in contempt for enunciating that knowledge and whose life is actually threatened by those who assume a faith-based belief is not just equivalent but superior to what the method of science reveals. God’s truth – whatever the hell that means – is superior in this belief system to what the human mind can understand is true based on honest inquiry, verification, and its practical validity. Surely this cannot be the case here at home in technologically advanced society that relies on this science for its functioning infrastructure, can it?

It can. And does.

What does this respect for faith-based beliefs look like in a secular western democracy? The examples are many – legion, in fact – but I shall select merely one.

From The Independent with bold added:

A prominent British imam has been forced to retract his claims that Islam is compatible with Darwin’s theory of evolution after receiving death threats from fundamentalists.

Dr Usama Hasan, a physics lecturer at Middlesex University and a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, was intending yesterday to return to Masjid al-Tawhid, a mosque in Leyton, East London, for the first time since he delivered a lecture there entitled “Islam and the theory of evolution”.

But according to his sister, police advised him not to attend after becoming concerned for his safety. Instead his father, Suhaib, head of the mosque’s committee of trustees, posted a notice on his behalf expressing regret over his comments. “I seek Allah’s forgiveness for my mistakes and apologise for any offence caused,” the statement read.

And what offence did Dr Hasan commit? What exactly was this mistake?

Masjid Tawhid is a prominent mosque which also runs one of the country’s largest sharia courts, the Islamic Sharia Council. In January, Dr Hasan delivered a lecture there detailing why he felt the theory of evolution and Islam were compatible – a position that is not unusual among many Islamic scholars with scientific backgrounds.

Really? This was the offense, the mistake, reiterating this knowledge. But the good news is that this statement of knowledge is not unusual with Islamic scholars who apparently are qualified to judge science, we are assured. Phew. What a relief that this scientific knowledge meets with religious approval. Compatibilists everywhere must be breathing easier, right? Not so fast…

Most Islamic scholars have little problem with evolution as long as Muslims accept the supremacy of God in the process. But in recent years a small number of orthodox scholars, mainly from Saudi Arabia – where many clerics still preach that the Sun revolves around the Earth – have ruled against evolution, declaring that belief in the concept goes against the Koran’s statement that Adam and Eve were the first humans.

These are folk qualified to judge, eh? And compatiblists are seemingly okay with this.

Ah yes, we can’t have knowledge – the ‘good’ kind, that is – without getting the order right: god-approved knowledge first, meaning whatever knowledge doesn’t compete with faith-based beliefs about that god, and all scientific knowledge second. And therein lies the explanation why science and religion are incompatible methods of inquiry:

What’s true, accurate, and correct is a secondary consideration in this compatiblist mind set. And that’s what makes faith-based beliefs that science and religion are compatible a bald-faced lie: we either respect what’s true and knowable first, or we respect what we believe must be true for our faith-based beliefs and preferences to remain unchallenged and supreme. Faith in the latter is a virtue but a failure in the former. These two positions are simply not compatible because of this and those who would like to pretend that they are are not only deluded but continue to grant intellectual respectability to those whose faith-based beliefs contrast honest knowledge. These are the people who need to be taken to task for this capitulation of intellectual integrity to respect that which deserves none: faith-based beliefs.


  1. From Furious Purpose (the name of the spaceship for those who might be unaware):

    Now, let me see if I can sum up the gnu atheist position in a few words : They care about truth, not tone, and they think that religion and science are fundamentally incompatible. I don’t think it is a false dichotomy, or an oversimplification, to divide atheists and secular humanists into basically two camps, with regards to how each camp thinks we can achieve our common goals(improving science education, promoting reason and rationality, and reducing religion’s influence in society) in the most effective way.
    Those who argue that we ought to engage the religious in polite discussion, and stay away from any topic that might make them uncomfortable, while emphasizing the need to find common ground, are called accomodationists, while those who value truth over tone, and who argue that we should not take bullshit politely just out of concern to offend, are these days called the gnu atheists. Most gnus, I imagine, would agree that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible(note: not in the NOMA sense, as AC Grayling said, “science and religion have a common ancestor, ignorance’). Science is based on evidence and rigorous testing of claims, whereas religion is the big goalpost-shifting machine that posits the extraordinary and never provides and evidence at all. Most gnus would also agree that the accomodationist stance hasn’t curbed religion’s influence for 2000 years, because, well, it’s the best thing that can happen to a deluded person or a religious organisation, when the people who critisize your position are falling over themselves to not make you uncomfortable or have you challenge your beliefs!

    Accomodationists like Chris Mooney are any organised religion’s wet dream, in that they are content to grant religion it’s status quo, avoid challenges to their dogma, and try to find “common ground”. They see themself as a kind of mediator I assume, but by pandering to the religious, and by “framing” issues, they effectively become co-conspirators. This is a fundamentally insincere approach in my opinion. If we want to curb religion’s influence, promote reason and rationality and protect our children’s science education, we must value truth, not tone, and that’s why we need the gnus.

    Comment by tildeb — March 6, 2011 @ 8:48 am | Reply

  2. Well tildeb, Im glad you could use my words for your most recent work. Very scientific as they are probably true. Again, you miss what I am saying or you completely ignore what I am trying to say. So let me try and make this perfectly clear. I am TOTALLY anti theology. I believe theology has NO place in forming or informing our governments. I believe that SECULARISM should be the driving force of my western society. I think all science education should be COMPLETELY theology free. Yet……..


    Comment by Titfortat — March 6, 2011 @ 9:38 am | Reply

  3. Because nothing we have to date is definative. And the world that I see has a creative process, which from my limited view seems pretty intelligent. Afterall, its still producing, right? So with that said and my agreeance with you on the Secular idea, why not suppose that? Who do I hurt or what do I damage with just supposing that? Remember what I am suggesting is not definative(as in theology). Explain with logic and facts how that belief damages the world? Though, make sure you do not link my belief with religion.
    This should be good. 🙂

    Comment by Titfortat — March 6, 2011 @ 1:45 pm | Reply

    • The problem lies with your suggestion of a creative process, for which there is no evidence. It is a suggestion empty of merit. Let me explain.

      For example, let’s say I am thunderstruck by the beauty and majesty of a particular gorge with a waterfall and a spectacular river at its bottom. I marvel at it. When I ‘suggest’ that erosion has a creative process because I see a result that is magnificent, what I am really suggesting is that the process itself has a goal rather than simply effect. But does it? Does erosion really have a goal at all?

      You are suggesting some kind of pre-planning by this process if you hold erosion to be a ‘creative process’, a process that requires a plan to ‘create’ something, and this suggests agency, a purpose, a direction. This suggests that erosion is somehow guided rather than simply a mechanism of physics, a mindless process that involves gravity, an undirected, unintended, naturally occurring process that sometimes produces remarkable formations. To suggest this process is ‘creative’ rather than mindless stands in direct contrast to our understanding of the process itself. It is not an equivalent suggestion to what is known about erosion but a contrasting opinion that requires more than simple assertion to be taken seriously. Of course you can believe that erosion is a creative process in the same way you can believe that pixies live in your garden but this is not rational. There really is a significant difference between assuming agency versus understanding an unguided process. To suggest it is rational to believe in pixies or a creative process without evidence to inform either suggestion makes the person’s reasoning abilities be drawn into question.

      Comment by tildeb — March 6, 2011 @ 2:09 pm | Reply

  4. tildeb

    Who do I hurt and how to I damage the world by supposing this? Oh, by the way, you dont know for certain that the process is mindless. You suppose that(even if you have more evidence of that supposition). I suppose you are probably right though, so I should now consider that you have educated me properly on the subject and my reasoning ability is greatly improved by your logic. Thanks.
    Lmao, and youre not extreme. 😉

    Comment by Titfortat — March 6, 2011 @ 2:30 pm | Reply

    • You show little respect for what is probably true, probably correct, probably accurate, and replace it with a supposition that is probably not true, probably not correct, probably not accurate… surprised that any one might take issue with this favoured substitution. You think it is a matter of personal taste and preference that hurts no one to pretend that what’s true doesn’t really matter if you care to replace it with something that is not and think it cannot possibly have any negative effects.

      Wake up. This is the kind of thinking that empowers others to falsely think that their faith-based beliefs of preference are equivalent to what is probably true, probably accurate, probably correct. The harm in total is immense.

      Comment by tildeb — March 8, 2011 @ 7:14 am | Reply

      • tildeb

        I stand corrected, afterall, youre probably right. 🙂

        Comment by Titfortat — March 8, 2011 @ 8:10 am

      • Oh by the way, we both know you probably wont prove it in this lifetime. So enjoy being right in your mind.

        Comment by Titfortat — March 8, 2011 @ 8:13 am

  5. yeah, i don’t like those types who rage and are all fundamentalist on things. so i really appreciate “I’m sorry if I screamed that too loudly, but let me reiterate: I respect what’s true and I don’t think that is an extremist position at all.”

    what i’m hoping to argue here is that religion may serve a useful purpose and hold some truth to the human condition. if you’re dedicated to truth, i think it wouldn’t be too hard for you to explore this thought. where have science and religion agreed? have they ever?

    i too am frustrated by the fundamentalists. i too think they do more harm that good and wish i could figure out a way to break them of their thinking.

    Comment by zero1ghost — March 7, 2011 @ 1:39 pm | Reply

    • If you honestly wanted to have religion seen as having a useful purpose that served in revealing some truth to the human condition, you would be faithful to that goal. You would respect what is true and do your service to it.

      But you don’t.

      You do your service to religion, to the preferences of beliefs held aloft from honest accountability and verification to what’s true. You serve that which imposes a tyranny of mind, a narrative that demands submission and respect to it rather than what is true. You want to enjoy the quality of wine from good deeds and charity and sense of community without appreciating that you do so from a poisoned chalice.

      Religion does indeed serve many a useful purpose but it also causes untold suffering. Religion addresses many aspects of the human condition but yields no knowledge about it. Religion has agreed with science but pretends it is the master and exempt from the conclusions science reveals and it does so by sacrificing respect for what is true on the alter of what is believed to be true.

      You would try to have us think that religion comes to us as a benign institution concerned with human welfare. But we know better. We see such presentations now only since religion has been forced out of dominating power that once had the civil authority to demand our obedience and subservience. Now we see the spokesmen of religion come to us … with ingratiating smirks and outspread hands, like an unctuous merchant in a bazaar. They offer consolation and solidarity and uplift, competing as they do in a marketplace. But we have a right to remember how barbarically they behaved when they were strong and were making an offer that people could not refuse. [god is not Great, 67] And we see this played out around the world as religion battles those who would grant their primary allegiance to what is true. We see religion causing suffering in the name of religious virtue, causing human degradation in the name of god, attacking and undermining the fruits of human reasoning from human rights and dignity of personhood to the method of honest inquiry we call science, and we are now asked by the faithful to have respect and tolerance not for the pernicious negative effects such belief causes but for the very thinking that empowers their continuance. And the faithful do so for the positive effects they attribute to be caused by such beliefs. This is the fundamental hypocrisy of the religious mindset: take credit for the positive and assign those effects to the beliefs but attribute the negative and assign those effects to the failure of people, all the while rejecting the possibility of determining if that assignment is actually true and demanding that we accept this belief as if it were true.

      If you want to break the fundamentalists of their thinking, you first need to recognize what is and is not fundamentalism. Respecting our ability to come to know what is true through a strict process of verification and reliability is not by any stretch of the imagination a kind of fundamentalism, not some extreme and simplistic version of easy answers we prefer. Demanding people to accept preferences based on faith to be equivalent of what is true and knowable is relativism of the worst kind, and claiming the rejection of this demand to be fundamentalism in need of breaking is a call to elevate ignorance to respectability. If by fundamentalism you mean those who have the audacity to actually believe what scripture tells them, then the breaking of that thinking does not reside in pushing for widespread respect for the hypocrisy of religious belief. It resides in replacing faith in preferences with primary respect for what is knowable and true. I do not see your efforts used in this regard in spite of your intellectual hand-waving towards accommodating what appears to you to be agreement of religious belief with the results of science and so I sincerely doubt you honestly wish to break ‘them’ of ‘their’ thinking because as far as I can tell from what you’ve written you are one of ‘them’ and determined to remain so with your primary allegiance to the tyranny of god left intact.

      Comment by tildeb — March 8, 2011 @ 8:58 am | Reply

  6. Utterly shocking that this man has had his life threatened.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — March 13, 2011 @ 4:43 am | Reply

    • But you’ll notice the order believers maintain to determine what’s true: does evolution agree with the religious belief, as if religious belief has any right to be the determinate.

      It doesn’t. And that’s the fact of the matter.

      As long as religious belief is held by anyone to be intellectually respectable without accountability to what’s factually true, then this kind of problem – that so many moderate godheads fluff off simply another extreme version of a particular faith by extreme members of this religious cult or that – will always be front and centre acting as the central impediment between religion and science, between what is believed to be true and what IS true. Even if the order of what determines what is true is held to be equally respectable ways of knowing, then those who capitulate their epistemology to knowledge do so as co-conspirators with this kind of intellectual obscenity.

      Comment by tildeb — March 13, 2011 @ 12:09 pm | Reply

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