Tom Flynn - The Science vs. Religion Warfare Thesis
Posted: 22 February 2008 02:47 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Tom Flynn is editor of Free Inquiry Magazine and director of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum. He also directs traditional video operations at the Center for Inquiry. He is editor of The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief and author of three books: the science-fiction novels Galactic Rapture and Nothing Sacred and the polemic The Trouble With Christmas.

In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Flynn details the history of the idea of science and religion being at war, including details about the founding exponents of the idea, John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White. He explains the unintended growth of the idea, and its consequences. He explores Stephen Jay Gould’s response to the Warfare Thesis, Gould’s NOMA theory, and reaction to it. Flynn also explains his own views on the conflict between science and religion, and how science may be continuous with social progress.

http://www.pointofinquiry.org

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Posted: 22 February 2008 09:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_noma.html

Stephen J. Gould:

This resolution might remain all neat and clean if the nonoverlapping magisteria (NOMA) of science and religion were separated by an extensive no man’s land. But, in fact, the two magisteria bump right up against each other, interdigitating in wondrously complex ways along their joint border. Many of our deepest questions call upon aspects of both for different parts of a full answer—and the sorting of legitimate domains can become quite complex and difficult. To cite just two broad questions involving both evolutionary facts and moral arguments: Since evolution made us the only earthly creatures with advanced consciousness, what responsibilities are so entailed for our relations with other species? What do our genealogical ties with other organisms imply about the meaning of human life?

 

As a moral position (and therefore not as a deduction from my knowledge of nature’s factuality), I prefer the “cold bath” theory that nature can be truly “cruel” and “indifferent”—in the utterly inappropriate terms of our ethical discourse—because nature was not constructed as our eventual abode, didn’t know we were coming (we are, after all, interlopers of the latest geological microsecond), and doesn’t give a damn about us (speaking metaphorically). I regard such a position as liberating, not depressing, because we then become free to conduct moral discourse—and nothing could be more important—in our own terms, spared from the delusion that we might read moral truth passively from nature’s factuality.

[emphasis mine]

[ Edited: 22 February 2008 10:01 PM by MANO ]
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Posted: 23 February 2008 12:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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At the very end Tom Flynn brought up a concept that I find extremely useful: intersubjective:

In contrast [to religion] science gives us this wonderful intersubjective technique where numbers of people can come together and overcome, as a group, these cognitive weaknesses.

That’s what makes science so categorically superior to mere systems of belief: its methods actively safeguard against self-deception and are both transparent and communicable to others. Anthropologist David Eller whose book Natural Atheism I highly recommend (http://naturalatheism.us ) made a good point in one of his talks about that when he mentioned by name a few theological concepts among Australian aboriginal tribes he studied. They have some word or concept for something or other but it has no correspondence to anything in, say, Christian or Jewish theology. For Westerners, it’s just a vacuous uttering, not something intersubjectively communicable. Scientific concepts, however, really do represent physical reality and stand for something.

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Posted: 25 February 2008 12:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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moreover - 23 February 2008 12:30 AM

At the very end Tom Flynn brought up a concept that I find extremely useful: intersubjective:

In contrast [to religion] science gives us this wonderful intersubjective technique where numbers of people can come together and overcome, as a group, these cognitive weaknesses.

That’s what makes science so categorically superior to mere systems of belief: its methods actively safeguard against self-deception and are both transparent and communicable to others. Anthropologist David Eller whose book Natural Atheism I highly recommend (http://naturalatheism.us ) made a good point in one of his talks about that when he mentioned by name a few theological concepts among Australian aboriginal tribes he studied. They have some word or concept for something or other but it has no correspondence to anything in, say, Christian or Jewish theology. For Westerners, it’s just a vacuous uttering, not something intersubjectively communicable. Scientific concepts, however, really do represent physical reality and stand for something.

The term intersubjective is also really useful when discussing science with post-modernists, since they think objectivity doesn’t exist.

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Posted: 25 February 2008 12:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Shows like this weeks make me extre-grateful for the Point of Inquiry podcast.

Though I disagree with Flynn about boycotting christmas, I found so much of his reflection delightful.

Personally I think the warfare analogy is inspiring. I often talk about the “culture war.”

But I worry that its off-putting to theists, but as much as I worry I do not hesitate to speak this way.

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Posted: 25 February 2008 09:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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MANO - 22 February 2008 09:18 PM

http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_noma.html

This was a great interview.  Thanks to D.J. and Tom Flynn.

One of the references seems to be available online:

History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science by John William Draper

Here is the section relating to ancient Greece.  Fun to read.

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Posted: 26 February 2008 06:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Jackson - 25 February 2008 09:30 PM
MANO - 22 February 2008 09:18 PM

http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_noma.html

This was a great interview.  Thanks to D.J. and Tom Flynn.

One of the references seems to be available online:

History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science by John William Draper

Here is the section relating to ancient Greece.  Fun to read.

Thanks, Jackson

I learned quite a bit from this episode. I’ve been a long time reader of free inquiry and really appreciate Tom Flynn’s work. On that note, in one of the more recent email newsletters from the CFI, David Koepsell said he was leaving the Center. It wasn’t clear what his plans were, but he will surely be missed by me. 

 

David Koepsell is Executive Director of the Council for Secular Humanism and a regular columnist for free inquiry.

[ Edited: 26 February 2008 09:03 AM by MANO ]
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Posted: 27 February 2008 04:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I enjoyed this podcast immensely but Tom Flynn’s words at the end could not have been put in a more elegant fashion.

I think the principle issue here when you really get down to it has to do with the way that scientific methods help human beings overcome some of the natural shortcomings in their own ways of thinking and gathering information about the environment, in this broad sense, most traditional religions accept and celebrate some of the by-products of human thinking that aren’t so great, such as our tendency to anthropomorphize, to over generalize, to have very poor understanding of statistical issues, and so on. In contrast, the scientific method gives us this wonderful intersubjective technique where numbers of people can get together and, as a group, overcome these cognitive weaknesses that are part of our human heritage.

I have friends that are anti-science because they feel it strips of us of our humanity and I’ve been trying to say something like Flynn has said right here. I’m going to use this. Another reason I really appreciated this line is that I’m halfway through Keith Stanovich’s “Robot’s Rebellion” and he is relentlessly pouring through these cognitive biases.

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Posted: 03 March 2008 07:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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First:
I missed the newsletter bit about David Koepsell leaving CFI.  I’d very much like to know why, if this is so.  I found Mr. Koepsell’s writing particularly interesting and often highly persuasive.

Second:
For me,  Tom Flynn’s latest POI interview was especially timely because I’d just finished listening to a Teaching Company course called Science and Religion.
The speaker/professor in that course, Lawrence M. Principe of Johns Hopkins University, devotes his second lecture to an argument that the “Warfare Thesis” of science/religion interaction is invalid.  He cites Draper and White with scorn, saying their writings regarding science and religion were dishonest and are now thoroughly discredited.

Here are a couple of quotes from the course guidebook:

“In this lecture, we examine one formulation of the historical relationship between science and religion—the warfare or conflict thesis.  Loudly advanced in the late 19th century by two men—John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White—it has continued strong in popular thought down to the present day.  We will examine how this formulation rests on very shaky (and sometimes fabricated) foundations and was contrived largely for quite specific political professional, and racist purposes.”...Serious modern historians of science have unanimously dismissed the warfare model as an adequate historical description.”

And regarding Draper, the course guide, prepared by Principe, says, “[His] book is not good history: historical “facts” are confected, and causes and chronologies are twisted to the author’s purpose.”

Needless to say, this estimation differs from Mr. Flynn’s, who said in the POI interview that, “Draper was right” and that Draper’s book was a “fairly solid work of history.”

As to White, Principe writes, “Despite appearances, White’s arguments are scarcely better than Draper’s.” and “White uses fallacious arguments and suspect or bogus sources.”

In the recorded lecture, Principe also derides Carl Sagan’s use of either White’s or Draper’s work (at the moment I can’t recall which).

I’m generally a big fan of the Teaching Company courses.  A great many of their courses are truly excellent and have allowed me to pass countless hours on the road in my car productively and pleasurably.  However, “Science and Religion” seemed far below the company’s usual standards.  In short, the course scarcely mentioned any of the current day issues and figures in the area, and the lectures were excessively oriented toward Catholic apologetics.  Principe, a clear believer, seems unable to notice that his presentation is based on his assumption that the Catholic/Christian deity exists, rendering it entirely one-sided.  For example, as the course proceeded he repeatedly touted (stop reading here if you’re prone to teeth grinding) “high-end theology” as the obvious and unassailable counter to religious doubt and “scientism.”

I would have found the course interesting and even worthwhile if the course description or even the published description of the lecturer’s background had made plain that the content would be slanted toward a Christian/Catholic world view.  But an objective survey of science and religion it is definitely not.  I’ve called the Teaching Company to express my disappointment with the course and I’m returning it for a refund as soon as I have time to get to the Post Office.

Still, I wonder if Mr. Flynn, or anyone else, might be able to tell us more about which aspects of Draper and White’s work Principe was likely referring to as confected, fallacious, bogus, and twisted?

[ Edited: 03 March 2008 07:49 AM by Trail Rider ]
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Posted: 03 March 2008 07:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Interesting information, and thanks, TR. I also enjoy the Teaching Company series, although clearly any given lecturer may have differences of opinion from oneself. At the very least I do learn things from them. I’d be interested in knowing a bit more about what Prof. Principe thought was particularly wrong with the warfare thesis. It’s not so much that I am really interested in arguing for it, but rather I’d like to hear what he thought was wrong with it. Was his problem something specific to Draper and White’s work? Or was it something about the whole approach? IIRC, Flynn did make clear that Draper and White’s historical work was not up to the highest standards; perhaps that is what Principe was getting at.

Further, what does Principe suggest in the place of the warfare thesis? Does he suggest a sort of SJ Gouldian non-overlapping magisteria? Or something else?

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Posted: 03 March 2008 11:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I don’t mind anyone, especially someone I hope to learn from, having views that differ from my own.  I enjoy being intellectually challenged and certainly hope to discover those views I hold that are faulty. Isn’t that the most basic difference between a skeptic/rationalist and a believer, anyway?  We hope to learn: they seek to assert and convert.  What irritated me about this course was the impression I’d received from the promotional literature that it would be an objective survey of the relationship between science and religion.  That did not turn out to be the case.  The course would have been far better labeled, “Catholicism and Science from the Catholic Perspective.”

Principe offers three “models” of science/religion interaction:
1)  The conflict or warfare model, which he rejects, largely by pointing out that in ages past, much scientific endeavor was accomplished by either the clergy or by faithful lay persons, like say, Newton.  Draper and White are presented simply as self-interested, deluded, or dishonest nut jobs who managed to instill in the public a false or at least way overblown view that science and religion were incompatible.  That is very different from Mr. Flynn’s description of the two men and their work. 

Principe clearly believes that there is no significant difference between the historical nexus of scientific endeavor and faith, and the relationship between science and religion today - as long as we’re talking about his “high-end theology,” especially of the Catholic variety. He suggests that the fundamentalist / Biblical literalist anti-evolutionary cries are only a side-show, having nothing to do with sophisticated believers.

2)  The “separate realms” model, which is essentially Gould’s NOMA.  In dismissing this theory, Principe outlines its problems with the standard arguments - religion does make claims about the natural world, etc.

3)  The “complexity thesis,” which he favors, involves discussing complex interactions between science and religion over history.  This theory basically places faith on the same level as reason as a means to arrive at conclusions.  It also depends heavily on Papal and other Catholic pronouncements, which are presented as objective, and are the primary source of “high-end theology.” 
Principe spends two lectures just absolving Catholicism of any responsibility for suppressing the astronomical discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo.  Turns out that the chaps who ran the Inquisition were really pretty decent, after all.  And Galileo was a devout believer, himself, don’t ya know!


By the way, is David Koepsell really checking out from CFI?

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Posted: 03 March 2008 12:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Interesting. Yes, it doesn’t sound like an approach I’d consider particularly congenial. It also makes more historical sense pre-Darwin, when most liberal scientists accepted the argument from design.

As for Koepsell, I don’t know. He has come by the forum in the past from time to time.

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Posted: 03 March 2008 03:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Trail Rider - 03 March 2008 11:59 AM

3)  The “complexity thesis,” which he favors, involves discussing complex interactions between science and religion over history.  This theory basically places faith on the same level as reason as a means to arrive at conclusions.  It also depends heavily on Papal and other Catholic pronouncements, which are presented as objective, and are the primary source of “high-end theology.” 
Principe spends two lectures just absolving Catholicism of any responsibility for suppressing the astronomical discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo.  Turns out that the chaps who ran the Inquisition were really pretty decent, after all.  And Galileo was a devout believer, himself, don’t ya know!


By the way, is David Koepsell really checking out from CFI?

I was the one who mentioned David Koepsell’s recent announcement that he is leaving CFI. I unfortunately have long deleted the email newsletter that holds the info. I have looked on the CFI web site, but no luck finding anything of any help. As a side note, I think it would be a good idea to offer the newsletters on the CFI site at some point. Perhaps just post them the following month of the original date of the email.

I did some searching around for info on Lawrence M. Principe, mainly because what you have said sparked my interest. What I found was this Natural & Supernatural: A Lecture by Lawrence Principe which is offered by the blogger Salman Hameed and comes with this description:

“As part of Science & Religion lecture series at Hampshire College, Lawrence Principe gave a lecture on Natural & Supernatural: Miracles and the order of nature on April 12, 2007. Lawrence Principe is Professor of the History of Science, Medicine & Technology and Professor of Chemistry at Johns Hopkins University. He has also done two fantastic lecture courses for the Teaching Company titled Science & Religion and History of Science: Antiquity to 1700.”

Overall I learned a bit from Prinicipe’s lecture and found it interesting, but with a huge caveat. His historical argument seems to be that the consideration of miracles placed an onus on the supernatural claim as natural explanations became more fine tuned. As an extension of this tension comes his thought that in trying to discern events as either miraculous or with naturalistic insight was a boost for scientific naturalism. He then goes further to attempt to highlight that how far one can understand events as purely natural falls into a scientific probability. It is in this demarcation that the one who holds a phenomenon as an act of supernaturalism has now accepted a faith based explanation. It is here, though to at other times, where I think he runs afoul. As an historical argument to help understand science and religion I think we haven’t crossed a line until he subtly pulls in current scientific understanding to make a case for a Biblical story. As an example he tells that at Jesus’ crusifiction there were eye witness accounts of a solar eclipse. He then uses current scientific knowledge to show that during this time there would have been no solar eclipse, this then allows us to look again at the witnessed account and conclude a miracle happened. He “unpacks this” by saying flatly “it means that a piece of scientific knowledge concerning when eclipses occur makes us look twice at an ordinary event and thereby discover that it was miraculous after all”. If you’re waiting for the punch line, sorry no dice. In fact to rub the sore he’s created he then goes right back to discussing historical circumstances. The real fault I see here is that he is only slicing off one aspect of scientific knowledge and further yet what we understand of the reliability of eye witness accounts (and the story telling of) which is even more so problematic when deciphering stories from the Bible.  To be quite honest, it is hard for me to know for sure if this is a blanket attempt to reconcile his belief system or he mistakenly jumped the temporal line after holding himself to it. My money is on the former.

But, still I did learn quite a bit. I should add that I don’t think he is placing faith claims on the same par as scientific claims, or they are equal ways of knowing. I could be wrong about that….. it’s hard to tell and that’s the problem when one does his type of historical acrobatics.

[ Edited: 03 March 2008 05:32 PM by MANO ]
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Posted: 03 March 2008 06:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Thank you, Mano, for looking for the information regarding David Koepsell.  Maybe we’ll hear more about that matter from some other CFI source.

As for Prof. Principe, you zeroed in on one of the things he does in the Teaching Company course, too.  On the one hand, he discusses how the “God of the gaps” is a flawed approach, but then in discussing miracles, suddenly he basically accepts the gap theory without saying so.  And who should be the judge of whether something unexplained immediately by reason or science is a “miracle?”  Why, the Catholic authorities, of course!

Like you, I also learned a few things from Prof. Principe.  For example, I’d not heard of J.W. Draper before listening to the course.  Ordinarily I’m grateful for anything and anyone who helps me learn new things.  In this case, I’m just steamed because the course was misleadingly described and is not at all even-handed in the treatment of its subject.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’d come to expect better from the Teaching Company and its speakers.

Oh, by the way, regarding Galileo, one of Principe’s more interesting tacks is that Galileo’s house arrest was largely his own fault.  Galileo, you see, was cranky and arrogant, if not somewhat anti-social.  He failed to be properly diplomatic with several important parties.  Therefore, he brought punishment by the Inquisitors upon himself. 
If I wasn’t really tired right now, I’d think of some funny analogies, but I’m sure it’s obvious that this proposition is beyond ridiculous, unless you’re a Catholic apologist, I guess.

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Posted: 17 March 2008 04:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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drkoepsell - 16 March 2008 05:52 PM

Yes, it’s true, I resigned as Exec. Dir. of CSH. as of Jan 31.
Thanks all for the kind thoughts.

Dr. Koepsell,
As I mentioned above, I looked forward to seeing your opinions in the CFI publications because they were not only astute but sometimes served as thoughtful counterpoint to other views.

If you’d care to share with us any of your future plans, I’m sure some of us would be interested to hear of them.

In any event, I certainly wish you all the best as you go forward!

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Posted: 18 March 2008 07:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Good luck.  smile

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