Angry Atheists Arrogate Authority in Science
Can science contribute to religious studies? Only to destroy it, think some atheistic scientists. “In reality, the only contribution that science can make to the ideas of religion is atheism,” announced Matthew Cobb and Jerry Coyne in a letter to Nature.1
Cobb and Coyne were taking issue with Nature’s editorial July 17 about John Templeton’s legacy.2 Though the editorial had stated that “This publication would turn away from religion in seeking explanations for how the world works, and believes that science is likely to go further in explaining human moral impulses than some religious people will welcome,” and “Thus it shares a degree of suspicion with many in the scientific community at any attempt by religiously driven organizations to fund science,” this was not enough for the correspondents, because at the end, Nature said, “critics’ total opposition to the Templeton Foundation’s unusual mix of science and spirituality is unwarranted.”
Nothing short of total opposition was good enough for Cobb and Coyne. “Surely science is about finding material explanations of the world,” they asserted, drawing a comparison that spirituality is to religion as intelligent design is to creationism. “There is a fundamental conflict here, one that can never be reconciled until all religions cease making claims about the nature of reality.” In their view, science can study what makes people religious, but religious people have nothing to say about the external world. They made suggestions for scientific research projects of religion. “One could consider psychological studies of why humans are superstitious and believe impossible things, and comparative sociological studies of religion using materialist explanations of the rise and fall of the world’s belief systems.”
Over at CERN in Switzerland, the search for the “God particle” is beginning with the commencement of the new Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The LHC sets a new record for energy in its particle collision capabilities. Scientists hope to catch the theoretical Higgs boson, a particle alleged to have emerged in the Big Bang that holds matter together. Peter Higgs, 79, who predicted the particle, will be very puzzled if it doesn’t exist. News Daily said that, as an atheist, he angrily rejects the designation “God particle” for his theoretical entity. Even the name of God seems to rub him the wrong way.
It would be hard to find a religious person with as much antipathy for science as some scientific atheists have for religion. Evolution News reported that P. Z. Myers, author of the anti-creationist blog Pharyngula, wanted to desecrate the Eucharist in his latest hate campaign against all things religious. Commentator Michael Egnor pointed out that Christians typically grant free speech rights to such people, no matter how repellant their views, while Myers seeks to legally coerce those on the other side, such as Christian doctors unwilling to perform abortions, to violate their moral convictions.
Some atheistic evolutionists are less bellicose, but just as stalwart. An example is David Sloan Wilson, who was interviewed for the River Cities Reader. His “Darwin Project” is out to convince everyone that evolutionary theory is the best explanation for all things natural. Whether there is anything outside of material nature, he was clear. Religion has a horizontal component and a vertical component, he said, but the vertical component (man’s relation to God) is “100% social construction.” In other words, the self-admitted atheist holds out no space for arguing about the possible existence of God. Rather than fight religion directly, though, Wilson tries to defuse concerns by stressing that most of religious activity involves the horizontal component, which he thinks evolutionary theory explains nicely. Wilson doesn’t use his atheism as a battering ram. He calls atheism a “stealth religion,” something to sneak into people’s minds while disarming them with illustrations of the explanatory elegance of evolution (see 12/21/2005). Whether the tactic be hardline or diplomatic, though, the results are the same: evolutionists view religion as an evil to be conquered by a “scientific” worldview that only admits atheism.
Maybe science can study religion in a non-combative way. News Daily reported that the Dead Sea Scrolls are going online for the first time. Unreadable fragments are becoming decipherable thanks to NASA technology developed by a JPL retiree that can image previously unreadable fragments with spectral analysis. Bible Places Blog quoted a portion of a New York Times report. The most famous of the Dead Sea Scrolls was the complete Isaiah Scroll, copied well before Jesus was born, with its well-known and detailed Messianic prophecies such as those in Isaiah 9 and Isaiah 53. Lee Strobel recounts in the film The Case for Christ that the chance of one person fulfilling just 48 of the dozens of specific Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament is one chance in a trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion. Mathematics is, they say, the language of science.
1. Matthew Cobb and Jerry Coyne, “Atheism could be science’s contribution to religion,” Nature 454, 1049 (28 August 2008) | doi:10.1038/4541049d.
2. Editorial, “Templeton’s legacy,” Nature 454, 253-254 (17 July 2008) | doi:10.1038/454253b.
Historians of science know, sadly, that the “warfare thesis” that science and religion are hopelessly at odds is a mistaken and indefensible myth propagated by a vocal minority of religion-hating dogmatists in the late 19th century (01/06/2008 commentary). Too bad leading scientists today haven’t learned their history.
Remember that some communist prison guards converted when they saw how patiently Christians endured inhumane treatment. Jerry Coyne and P. Z. Myers are playing a useful role. Their rhetoric is so over the top, out of control, hateful and irrational, it makes great advertising for their opponents. Consider some of the gems Coyne has given us in the past.
Coyne said evolution was useless (08/30/2006). He argues with his evo-devo opponents but oversimplifies natural selection (06/29/2005). He said his job was to fight creationism (10/05/2004) but even he was startled by the amount of vitriol Dawkins had against religion, calling him a fierce advocate of scientism (04/23/2003). Later, though, he teamed up with Dawkins to call creationism laughable (09/02/2005). Yet his own book on Speciation could not explain the origin of species (07/30/2004). He admitted that evolution is a “science of generalizations” with few specific “laws of evolution” (12/18/2007). He said “Like evolution itself, there are no general rules that apply to the origin of species” (11/13/2003). Most recently, he fought in the Dumb vs Dumber brawl between evolutionists while wearing a CISsy T-shirt (08/11/2008). Now he is backed into a corner trying to defend the claim that evolution is science, yet he has the gall to claim religion is superstition. This is the guy who was as shook up at the collapse of the Peppered Myth as a boy finding out that Santa Claus was his dad (07/05/2002).
Yes, Jerry, keep talking. Bystanders are beginning to wonder. Meanwhile, CEH will silently continue citing infractions for impersonating a scientist (09/30/2007 commentary), and politely rapping the knuckles of those who filch from the smorgasbord of Christian presuppositions without paying the bill.