Stephen Suh responds to the discussion of Stephen Johnson, the creationist EPA administrator:
Stephen Johnson, Bush’s EPA Administrator, doesn’t see a “clean-cut division” between religion and science.
Suh proceeds to say that:
Faiz Shakir and Brad Johnson at ThinkProgress have a problem with this thinking, as does PZ Myers and Josh Rosenau. To them, this lack is what allows Johnson to reject the scientific consensus on global warming, advocate for the teaching of Creationism in public schools and generally allow corporations to do as much damage to the environment as they want.
Which is why I’m surprised that Stephen thinks I need to be advised:
to define the problem in the context of elevating religious opinions above scientific thought rather than there being a problem with a lack of distinction between science and religion per se.
So, on evolution, he rejects scientific evidence in favor of the opinion of his authority figures. On climate change, he again rejects the scientific evidence in favor of the opinion of his authority figure. On the ethics of human testing of pesticides, on the appropriateness of using atrazine, on the environmental risks of mega-farms, and on value of a human life in cost-benefit analyses, Johnson has consistently ignored his scientific advisors, going along with the opinions of his political superiors.
Which brings us to the really problematic bit of the attempted smackdown:
Unless, of course, everyone would like to admit that science has no ability to prove, or more importantly, disprove the existence of the Christian God or the validity of any other religious belief system. If there is a “clean-cut division” between religion and science, that would preclude either one’s ability to trump the other’s claims. This is what allows people like me to have religious beliefs while accepting the scientific consensus on things like evolution, global warming and pretty much everything else. The Bible, which is authoritative for me, simply isn’t a science or history textbook. And unlike Stephen Johnson and PZ Myers in particular, I do accept a “clean-cut division” between science and religion, elevating neither one above the other in the same way that I don’t elevate red seedless grapes above passenger-side airbags.
Again, people who want to claim that science is able to disprove religious beliefs, who want to claim on the basis of scientific advances that religious belief is inherently irrational and primitive, would do well to change the focus of their criticism of people like Stephen Johnson. Unless, of course, they’re comfortable with being guilty of exactly the same thing, just from the other side.
I see an inescapable parallel between Johnson’s willingness to reject evolution with his willingness to be swayed by the unanimous advice of his scientific staff only to reverse himself suddenly, telling the staff simply that “he had been reminded of the president’s policy preferences.”
Stephen Suh’s points about science and religion are fair and legitimate. And PZ is usually a good target for criticism on such points. But on this one, he wasn’t. This is a time for positive reinforcement. I think PZ would be a lot more effective if he took this tack on a wider range of issues. It’s possible to attack creationist nonsense and buffoonery inspired by religion without attacking religion. He did so and did so well. To criticize PZ for using this as an excuse to elevate science over religion rather seems to miss the point that PZ didn’t, and to punish his success in this instance with his failure in others.
To lump me in with that criticism makes even less sense.
Suh calls for “consistency, please.” Me, too. I don’t think science can disprove religion, nor that religion is inherently primitive and irrational. And I didn’t make the argument attributed to me.
I suspect that I got lumped in like that because scientists (and science bloggers) are stereotyped as anti-religion zealots, and sensible religious moderates feel the need periodically to decry that stereotyped being periodically.
For instance, last April, Pastor Dan of Street Prophets, responding to my praise of Obama’s statement against ID creationism in an interview with the York Daily Record, referred to me as one of those “scientistic types,” and wondered:
I am a bit baffled that this should be considered at all exceptional. This is how many, if not most, Christians think about such matters.
Bear in mind that Senator Brownback had, not long before that, penned an op-ed in the New York Times which was far less nuanced, and as with so many things, George W. Bush had already defined Presidential expectations way, way down. So one need not be scientistic (i.e., believe that science is the only form of knowledge) to find it pleasant that a candidate would take a firm stand on the matter. It’s possible that the “scientistic” reference was a joke, but in the context of Suh’s lumping me in with my more scientistic colleagues, it’s worth making clear that no one should assume that scientists and science bloggers in general are scientistic. Just as one should not assume that religious people are all science-denialists.