Friday, December 31, 2010

 

Ruse de Guerre


I had meant to blog about this before but now John Wilkins, with his usual perspicacity, has done so already.

Anyway, a mini war against Michael Ruse has broken out over his article, "From a Curriculum Standpoint, Is Science Religion?" Mark Perakh, Jerry Coyne and Ophelia Benson have all disparaged Ruse for his suggestion that, when a prominent scientist, such as David Barash, says "anyone who claims to espouse both science and religion is being intellectually dishonest or else lazy, and is necessarily short-changing one perspective or the other," then you have to:

... ask yourself. If "God exists" is a religious claim (and it surely is), why then is "God does not exist" not a religious claim? And if Creationism implies God exists and cannot therefore be taught [under the US Constitution], why then should science which implies God does not exist be taught?
Jason Rosenhouse weighed in with a much more nuanced response. After noting that Barash "went overboard," Jason says:

When I read someone like Ken Miller, for example, I fail to see how he is shortchanging either science or religion. When he talks about evolution he sounds much like Richard Dawkins. When he talks about his faith it is clear that he is not describing some watered-down version of the real thing. Personally I don't think his religious beliefs are very plausible, but surely that's a matter of opinion. Disagreements should not automatically lead to charges of dishonesty.
Jason goes on to state, quite correctly from a constitutional perspective:

It is obvious that the standard cannot be that it is unconstitutional to teach anything that conflicts with anyone's religious beliefs. That would render public education impossible, since anyone could then form a religion of one to object to any particular bit of the curriculum.
But there is a subtle though, perhaps, I admit, ultimately unimportant distinction to be made here. It is quite true that the mere fact that scientific results overwhelmingly argue against, for example, a 6,000 year old Earth, does not prevent, under the US Constitution, our teaching the results of science about the age of the Earth.

Some scientists are not content with that, however.

Jerry Coyne, for example, wants to dub "science" as a "worldview" that cannot be held (consistently) with theism*, much as Barash does. Larry Moran thinks that science can go beyond merely reporting the facts of the world, which may, or may not, imply things about god(s) but, instead, can directly address the question of the existence of god(s).

Ruse's question was, of course, addressed to the latter sort of scientists. To be clear, Ruse's position, if deemed an argument, instead of a conditional, is a sort of argument from consequences and, therefore, a logical fallacy. On the other hand, it is also true that a majority of scientists, as Jason (and, recently, Coyne, apparently) hold, would reject the notion that "science" does any such thing. It is not a logical fallacy to engage in an reductio ad absurdum to show that the positions of others are faulty.

So, Ruse, taken at his word, is not asking if science can be taught if it has implications for the existence of particular god(s), but, whether, the implications some scientists draw about the results of science makes the scientific enterprise a philosophy/theology that cannot be taught as science.

Fortunately, the legal analysis of what is constitutional in this regard is neither as simplistic as Ruse'.s question nor the philosophy of those who prompted the question. A few scientists regarding science as a "worldview" is not enough for American courts to rule it as such. Naturally, that is not, as Jason notes, any guarantee as to what the courts will do in the future and Ruse is right to hope that scientists will learn more about philosophy.

__________________________________________

* In fairness, Coyne has recently exhibited a possible backing-away from that position.
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Comments:
I imagine, if it comes up in a court case like Dover, those defending science would give the judge the option of labeling such a worldview as a kind of scientism, allowing the judge to draw a firm line between science and philosophy.
But I think it would be painful to watch that happen as I don't believe science or the profession of scientists would look as good as they did in Dover.
That reportedly Coyne is backing away from that position is a good thing, then.
 
I imagine, if it comes up in a court case like Dover, those defending science would give the judge the option of labeling such a worldview as a kind of scientism, allowing the judge to draw a firm line between science and philosophy.

It's not like the DI hasn't noticed and is unprepared to raise the words of Coyne, Moran, Barash, et al, et nauseum, in any future court case against good science education. We certainly used their words against them. The best strategy to deal with it is not clear to me, except to point out that that the majority of science organizations, despite the complaints of the scientists among the Gnu Atheists, have not adopted their views of science.

And, no, Larry, I'm not telling Gnu Atheists to "shut up." I'm wishing that thay'd think before they speak.
 
When Coyne says that religion is nuts, I mostly agree with him. When he says that religious people are nuts, I cringe. Sure, some of them are nuts, but many aren't.

I sometimes think Coyne is just overstating his own position. He does seem to indicate that when it comes to his students, he tries to respect that they may have religious views, and he sticks to the science and leaves the anti-religion out of it.

You are spot on with your comment about "world view". Science is a way of forming an accurate view of the world, but it is not itself a world view.

I did understand Ruse to be arguing that science should not itself become a religion. On the other hand, I thought that he chose a poor way of arguing that position.
 
As an aside, I am curious about the constitutional status of this "Spiritual Fitness Test" imposed by the US Army as reported by Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars

http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2010/12/mandatory_us_army_survey_says.php
 
I am curious about the constitutional status of this "Spiritual Fitness Test" imposed by the US Army as reported by Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars

I think it is clear that, if it is used to discharge soldiers who are not believers, used in promotion decisions or otherwise used to determine personnel decisions in regards to individuals, it is unconstitutional. It's less clear that it fails constitutional muster if it is anonymous and informational only, though, even there, it is at least problematical, especially if commanders are "encouraged" to something about the religious beliefs of those under them.

In short, it is what is done with the results that is most important from a constitutional standpoint.
 
"... ask yourself. If "God exists" is a religious claim (and it surely is), why then is "God does not exist" not a religious claim?"

For the same reason "The sun preceded plants" is not an unconstitutional religious claim if taught in public school but "Plants preceded the sun" is an unconstitutional religious claim if taught in public school.

"...And if Creationism implies God exists and cannot therefore be taught..."

"A few scientists regarding science as a "worldview" is not enough for American courts to rule it as such."


That is wrong. Creationism cannot be taught because it does not have a primarily secular purpose. What it implies about theology is secondary.

Things currently taught in schools disprove some gods, and this is not a problem because they serve non-theological purposes. Even if every scientist thought that science necessitated certain philosophical positions, it would not be unconstitutional to teach it.
 
Sorry, Brian ... you don't understand the Lemon test (not that anyone does -- but it's more complex than that!).

For one thing, if the motives of IDers were relevant (as Judge Jones found ... though some think he was wrong) then the motives of a unanimously anti-theistic scientific community would be relevant.

But I don't have the time to instruct you in the nuances of Constitutional law.
 
Speaking of worldviews, I've been finding James McGrath's discussions on Agnostic Christianity interesting

http://bit.ly/fIx6hG

Reminds me that there are credible and compelling worldviews out there that haven't been considered in this whole conversation.
 
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