Monday, June 01, 2009

What Should Scientific Organizations Say about Religion?

The poll has closed and here are the results.

A slight majority say that organizations like AAAS (amd NAS) should say nothing about the compatibility of science and religion. I think that's the correct choice.

What's surprising (to me) is that 31% of you said these organizations should say that science and religion are incompatible. I believe this is true but I still think that scientific organizations should not say anything. They don't speak for their members on this topic.

I'm glad to see that only 14% of Sandwalk readers support the unsupportable statement that science and religion are compatible.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I think that scientific organizations should not need to state their position on that question, as religion should not be a major enough factor in society to even merit asking it.

    In the case that the question is being asked though, the situation is very similar to the "vaccination controversy", global warming denialism, homeopathy, etc., and just as much as the position of scientific organization needs to be clearly stated there, it also has to be stated in the case of religion. Even if just because the harm caused by the latter is many orders of magnitude larger...

  4. This notion of "(in)compatibility" has been bothering me lately (especially when used in this rather fuzzy sense of the word). For starters, a number of scientists and scientific organizations have a responsibility to speak up when individuals or organizations say blatantly false things (or worse, when others move to act upon such false notions) - it's their job in some cases, or it is simply negligent for them not to. This, of course, is the case whether or not these acts are done in the name of religion or otherwise. I think most religions are rife with demonstrably false B.S., but this poll is a little too black and white! Pick particular religions, branches of science, and specific topics on which to ask the same question and you should get some interesting results!
    (PS: I'm decidedly not a religious/spiritual person - just playing a bit of devil's advocate.)

  5. I am of the opinion that IF scientific organizations are going to say something about religion, what they say should not be a matter of philosophy, but rather should be - Dear God - what actual modern science has to say about religious claims.

    And I don't think it would be pretty. The disciplines of archaology and forensic linguistics would say that the likelihood that Jesus Christ, Moses, and Muhammad ever existing is extremely unlikely.

    Modern physics would lay waste to the religious claim that gods, heaven, hell, the human soul, demons, angels, or miracles have any relationship to reality as we know it.

    If science is to be true to its premises and scientific organizations value honesty and veracity as inherent to the scientific method, then what they should have to say about religious claims is that they are equivalent to claims about the healing power of crystals. That they have the same predictive accuracy as astrology. That God is precisely as likely to exist as is Russell's teapot. That religious claims are bunk.

  6. Bayesian Bouffant, FCDTuesday, June 02, 2009 1:03:00 PM

    This post has not been removed by the author.

  7. It depends greatly on the nature of the organization speaking. If the organization represents and purports to speak for scientists, it should say nothing. No other course of action would be representative of its constituents. If, on the other hand, the organization's goals centre more around science itself, and it does not have an obligation to represent members' views on such matters, it would be more permissible to say that the two are incompatible.

    The AAAS, for example, seems to fall more in the second category. One item of their mission statement is to "Provide a voice for science on societal issues"; this might suggest that a statement about the harm done by superstition wouldn't be out of place. Still, I agree that silence is probably best overall.

    My snarky side would love to hear a statement such as "Intelligent Design? Sorry, we'll only comment on scientific matters," though.