This past Sunday I had the pleasure of hearing Massimo Pigliucci give a presentation titled, “What’s Science got to do With It? When Scientists talk Nonsense about Science and Religion”. Pigliucci is a professor of ecology and evolution at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, is an outspoken critic of creationism, an advocate of science education, and has a doctorate in genetics, a Ph.D. in botany, and a Ph.D. in philosophy. He writes for the Skeptical Inquirer, Philosophy Now, and also maintains the blog rationallyspeaking.org.
Pigliucci discussed scientists who have had something to say about religion.
The first is Frank Tipler. Pigliucci concentrates on Tipler’s book, The Physics of Christianity, poking fun (and holes) at the arguments Tipler presents for how Christianity is validated by science.
Pigliucci tackles Richard Dawkins next, explaining how he thinks Dawkins gets some things right, yet others terribly wrong.
Speaking specifically about The God Delusion, Pigliucci agrees with Dawkins on the free criticism of religion. However, he faults Dawkins for several reasons.
Pigliucci also discussed Dawkins’ statement about the current pope being “stupid” (referring to the pope’s erroneous comments about condoms). Pigliucci argues that the pope is not “stupid”, but his comments were. He urges skeptics to avoid attacks like this because they solve nothing. It reminds me of the Christian mantra “hate the sin not the sinner.” Perhaps we should hate the ideology not the ideologist.
Finally, Pigliucci discusses Richard Feynman and “the real problem between science and religion.” I don’t recall which quote he used, but this one from The Meaning of it All is appropriate.
"The exception tests the rule." Or, put another way, "The exception proves that the rule is wrong." That is the principle of science. If there is an exception to any rule, and if it can be proved by observation, that rule is wrong.
The problem, then, between science and religion is the different attitudes regarding them. While science says, “question question question”, religion says, “believe without question.” Science requires proof, while religion is proof without requirement; and as long as this attitude about religion is sustained, it will forever butt heads with science.
One question from the Q&A also interested me. Someone wondered how Europe and the U.S. could be so culturally similar yet so religiously different. Pigliucci theorized that it might be because Europe was the birthplace and center of the Enlightenment, and that the United States has never hosted an Inquisition.
Do you think Pigliucci’s answers are valid? Do you have another explanation? Or do you even agree that the U.S. and Europe are very different concerning religion?