Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Science Or Philosophy

And so it continues ...

Richard B. Hoppe has restated his position on "accommodationism" with, as he says, "(a little) less snark, fewer red herrings, and the admission of a change of mind in one respect." PZ and Jerry Coyne have responded graciously to Richard's restatement.

Actually, however, Richard appears to have made two changes in his position.

First, while he previously defended the National Academy of Sciences' book, Science, Evolution, and Creationism, and its treatment of the compatibility of science and religion by saying:

NAS has not taken a "philosophical" position that I can see. ... The NAS statement points out two plain facts: some good scientists are believers and some denominations do not see a conflict between their version of Christianity and evolution.
... he now says:

The latter two [NAS and AAAS] are organizations of professional scientists, and it's reasonable to expect them to focus solely on science advocacy in their public efforts.
His second change was in regard to the National Center for Science Education:

I think (writing now as a Life Member) that NCSE has recently made a mistake in going beyond simply pointing to individuals and organizations who have somehow reconciled their science and religious beliefs to counter the creationist equation of evolution with atheism. In the essays by Peter M. J. Hess that apparently are the basis of the NCSE Faith Project, there is an endorsement of a particular view of the relationship, an adaptation of Gould's Nonoverlapping magisteria with a dose of complementarian thinking.
These are among the examples brought forth by Jerry Coyne which I previously expressed my doubts about.

I have to say that Richard is right about the second change but I can't agree with the first. Last time I looked "science advocacy" involved a considerable amount of "down in the trenches" political work. It's no accident that the President was speaking at a NAS meeting the other day. If there is something incompatible in the air right now, it's the notion of scientific purity going with science advocacy.

Science education, particularly in evolution, is deeply political and largely rests at that most vicious level of politics: the local school board. And as with every other area of American politics, it is thoroughly entangled with religion. To have our most prestigious scientific organizations retire like monks to their abbey to preserve their "purity" is to concede the field to the likes of Answers in Genesis and the Discovery Institute, who will take full advantage of the vacuum.

Contrary to one claim made by Coyne, our success in court decisions over the years is aided by the NAS stance. If a court were to accept as true the constant drumbeat from AiG and the DI that "Darwinism" and atheism are one and the same, it would have to relegate evolution education and perhaps all of science to comparative religion or civics classes, since it is just as violative of the First Amendment to teach that atheism is true in public schools as it is to teach that Christianity is.

As Massimo Pigliucci points out, the distinction between methodological and philosophical naturalism, on which this entire kurfuffle ultimately rests, is a valid demarcation of the limits of science. The philosophy of science is certainly a valid subject for any science organization.

If Coyne and PZ and Dawkins disagree with that philosophical position of the NAS as to the nature of science -- if they want to turn science into philosophical materialism -- they have the right to agitate for a change in science's definition -- at least as much right as the DI does. But if they succeed in having it redefined as philosophical naturalism/materialism, they will guarantee that it can no longer be taught as true in American schools.

Absent that outcome, the NAS statement is a correct explanation of the philosophy of science that it can and should make.


Well said.
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