Haught, Coyne and the accomodation thing

by Neil Rickert

I usually prefer to stay away from the religion wars.  However, Larry Moran has raised the question in an interesting form.  His recent post arises from the public discussion of the debate between John Haught and Jerry Coyne.  Larry asks:

Here’s the question. Is it okay for those scientists and philosophers, and their supporters, to fight back (e.g. Jerry Coyne)? Or is it considered “bad form” to attempt to refute the arguments of one of the “good guys”?

If Larry says something that I disagree with, then I may well post my disagreement on his blog (as a comment) or here.  If Jerry says something that I disagree with, I may well express that disagreement as a comment on Jerry’s site or in a post here.  I consider myself to be on the same side of the evolution wars as Jerry and Larry, but that won’t prevent me from expressing my disagreement.  The same should go for John Haught.  In a way, we owe it to our friends to help them see their mistakes.  That someone is our friend is no reason to pull punches.

The particular issue that was under debate between Haught and Coyne, was the question of whether religion and science are incompatible.  Jerry Coyne thinks they are incompatible, while John Haught believes that they are compatible.  For myself, I am inclined to think that they are perhaps compatible, but only barely so.  Many religious advocates make assertions that directly contradict science.  And for a scientist, any acceptance of religion is likely to be an uneasy one.  It’s not so much that science directly contradicts central claims of religion.  What makes for an uneasy arrangement, is that it is the nature of science to question everything, while it is the nature of religion to accept a lot of theological claims without questioning them.  Many years ago, I made my choice against religion.  But I do not criticize the attempts of some to find a way to have a foot in each of those worlds.

While I won’t criticize those who try to fit into both the religious and the scientific worlds, I will still feel free to criticize bad arguments that they happen to make.  I have occasionally disagreed with Jerry Coyne.  I often disagree with creationists and ID proponents.  However, I must admit that Coyne argued very clearly and persuasively in his debate with Haught.  By contrast, Haught’s presentation seemed to be an exercise in muddy thinking.

In his recent post, Larry Moran quotes a discussion, where I believe Haught was one of the participants.  It’s a sad attempt to blame materialism for everything that religionists don’t like about science.  If that, indeed, was Haught, then it would seem that he is using “materialism” as an oblique way of referring to science, and that puts into question the claim that he sees science and religion as compatible.

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