Worldviews

The last incompatibility that Coyne talks about in “Faith vs Fact” is what he calls a conflict of methodology. In short, religion doesn’t use the same methods to arrive at truths or beliefs as science does. But, again, this isn’t actually a very interesting incompatibility, nor does it actually even imply an interesting incompatibility. If we see different ways of knowing as tools that we use to come to reasonable beliefs, then it is quite possible that we will need different tools to deal with different domains of belief, or to serve different purposes. If that’s true, then that we have two different ways of knowing or even approaches to belief that do things differently is no more any incompatibility than having both a screwdriver and a hammer in one’s toolbox is. Now, of course, Coyne doesn’t think that there’s more than one way of knowing, and that’s science, broadly construed. If he’s right, then again all that happens is that we were wrong that there were other ways of knowing, but that doesn’t get to an interesting incompatibility. Again, it does not make sense to argue that religion is incompatible with science because it is wrong; you really should stick with “It’s wrong”.

What this demonstrates, though, is the sort of incompatibility that Coyne and others are really after. The main objection over method is that scientists in particular and people in general have to compartmentalize; they act as if science is “correct” most of the time but don’t use science at all when dealing with religion. If we see science and religion as appealing to different domains that require different methods that’s not any kind of problem, and is in fact encouraged. So to elevate that to any kind of real conflict that requires compartmentalization, you have to elevate science and/or religion to the next stage, and that stage is that of the worldview. In short, you have to accuse someone of adopting a worldview that, say, precludes one or the other and then them having to compartmentalize the other so that it is protected from contradicting their actual worldview. Thus, it seems to me that the conflict is at the worldview level, not at the level of method, outcome or philosophy.

So, what kind of worldviews could actually have this sort of conflict? The most obvious one is a naturalistic worldview. If you hold that the only things that exist are natural, and that God is supernatural (and/or that religion necessarily involves the supernatural), then there is no place in your worldview for gods or religions. To try to include them would introduce an unresolvable conflict, one that could only be solved either by abandoning the naturalistic worldview or by compartmentalization of the bad kind. But as we’ve already seen, the evidence for philosophical naturalism is too weak to support making it such a major plank in a worldview — or, at least, to do so in any way that makes you more rational than those who don’t — and methodological naturalism cannot cause the sort of conflict they’d want, because it would accept that supernatural things might exist, but that’s not the way to go about looking at the world, at least in general.

Which gets us to the second kind of worldview, one which I’ll call “scientistic”, a worldview that insists that science is the only way of knowing. Coyne clearly holds that this is true, and it definitely seems like he holds this as a worldview commitment. This doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, just that Coyne holds it as being something more than simply a proposition that is true or false, because otherwise he could not get his incompatibility argument off the ground. All he would be able to say is that people who think that there are other ways of knowing are wrong, not that there’s an interesting incompatibility. Later, I’ll look in more detail at his discussions of ways of knowing and how he knows that the only way of knowing is science, but for now it is useful to note that for Coyne this can’t be merely a discussion over whether there are or can be other ways of knowing than science, but that it has to be a worldview commitment if he wants to insist that science and religion are incompatible based on that. In short, Coyne must not be merely asking us to accept the truth of a statement, but to accept a worldview commitment as well.

For me, my worldview is not naturalistic, but it is not supernaturalistic either. I have no worldview commitment to either there being no supernatural entities or to there being supernatural entities. I also don’t have a scientistic worldview, but don’t have an anti-scientific one either. I accept fully that science is a way of knowing, but believe that we have at least two others: everyday reasoning and philosophy. As such, my worldview is much less limited than what I believe Coyne’s is, as whether or not any supernatural thing exists is simply a matter of fact, and whether or not there are any other ways of knowing than science is also a matter of fact, not a matter of worldview commitment. Thus, if Coyne is right about naturalism or about scientism, all that means is that I was wrong, not that my worldview has been dramatically overturned and needs to be rebuilt.

In the next post, I’ll look at some really bad philosophical mistakes that Coyne makes, focusing on his discussions of Plantinga.

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