Posts Tagged ‘science’

Sunday Sermon: Science and “spirit”

So, another atheist has added his voice to the chorus of complaint about “strident atheists” who thwart the quest to “literally rise above” the conflict between science and religion.

Astrophysicist Adam Franks writes that we need “a language for reimagining culture,” but one that includes the words “spirit” and “sacred.” He seems to be suggesting that we should pay some sort of homage to the “God of the gaps,” rather than merely acknowledging gaps:

“We do not yet have the language to express ourselves when we seek to both honor the practices of science and the experience of life justly called sacred.  We do not yet have a vocabulary that can acknowledge science and its ethic of investigation as a bulwark against prejudice and bias while simultaneously acknowledging the existence of other “ways of knowing” beyond the deployment of reason and empirical investigation.”

He also seems to think that an idea’s persistence implies some merit: “Can we see what is best in existing traditions and ask why they remain inspiring?”

Sure, but what if the answer is that science remains inspiring because it works really well at getting us closer to truth, while religion remains inspiring because it’s really good at giving people answers they find comforting, while frightening people who would otherwise reject it as utter folly?

(pic via Vampire Freaks)


angel_unicornPZ Myers gives a well-deserved shoutout to TMBG for their new album, “Here Comes Science,” and especially for the song “Science Is Real,” but misrepresents the position of more moderate atheists in a discussion of the teapot-tempest over the line about “stories of angels, unicorns and elves”:

“This is why the accommodationist strategy is doomed to failure. There is no gentle demurral from religion that will not offend someone — even fun songs about science are expected to pretend that angels are real.”

Well, no. The religious folks don’t demand that fun songs about science pretend that angels are real. They’re merely demanding (or at least asking) that fun songs about science not mention the inconvenient fact that there’s no evidence whatsoever that angels are real. That’s not quite the same thing. Indeed, it’s not even close.

An “accommodationist” can quite easily emphasize that science is “real” (including evolution, the Big  Bang and other things that give fundies conniptions) without going out of the way to deny things like angels and other things religious folks believe in.

Of course, people who support science have every right to declare that angels are just storybook characters, just as people who support religion have every right to declare that angels are real. And it’s not the science folks’ fault that singing “science is real” just has a much stronger ring of truth (not to mention obviousness) than singing “angels are real.”

(unicorn/angel pic via Zazzle)

Science Is Real

science_is_realThis is awesomely awesome: My favorite-ever band, They Might Be Giants, has a new kids’ album out, “Here Comes Science.” And in the song “Science Is Real,” they lay it all out:  “I like those stories about angels, unicorns and elves … but when I’m seeking knowledge, either simple or abstract, the facts are with science.” And they make it clear that you can’t just pick and choose: “Science is real, from the Big  Bang to DNA/Science is real, from evolution to the Milky Way.”

So, is this polite? Is it a breach of etiquette? Well, maybe. It’s perhaps a bit rude to suggest to religious folks that angels (which are mentioned in the Bible, not just in populist pablum spouted by feel-good New Age-y types) are in the same category as unicorns or elves.

But is it rude to say that if you’re seeking knowledge, you should look to science rather than religion? I don’t think so. Unless, of course, you want to argue that it’s rude to say that if you’re seeking divine/godly/spiritual/religious guidance, you should look to religion rather than science. I’m guessing most religious types don’t think it’s rude to make such a suggestion, or to say that science can’t tell us about God since science deals with the natural while religion deals with the supernatural.

So, sauce for the goose, etc. If you want people to respect what religion has to tell us about spiritual matters, then have some respect for what science has to tell us about material matters. It’s a two-way street.

Sure, Richard Dawkins says his scientific perspective tells him that there aren’t any deities (a position not advocated by most atheists), but it’s not like he’s trying to get the government to force religious preachers to stop preaching religion, or to preach scientific concepts as if they’re religion. Whereas there are plenty of folks trying to get the government to force science teachers to stop teaching science, or to teach religious concepts as if they’re science.