All Science vs. Religion Conflicts are Essentially and Primarily Political Conflicts

In a recent post, my SciBling Jason Rosenhouse with whom I usually agree on these matters, voices a strong disagreement with this quote (from Thomas Dixon’s book Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction, published by Oxford University Press in 2008):

Historians have shown that the Galileo affair, remembered by some as a clash between science and religion, was primarily about the enduring political question of who was authorized to produce and disseminate knowledge.

Jason counters that Galileo affair, as well as the more modern Creationist wars, are primarily and perhaps entirely science vs. religion wars, not political. He writes:

Afficionados of science/religion disputes will recognize in this a standard gambit of the genre. Specifically, the attempt to recast situations that are obviously conflicts between science and religion into conflicts about something else.

Another SciBling, Mike Dunford, disagrees with Jason on the Creationism wars:

The conflict arises when creationists attempt to force their religious views onto the children of other people, who do not necessarily share those views. That’s not a dispute over what the most authoritative source of knowledge is; that’s a dispute over the exercise of secular authority. In other words, it’s a political conflict.

The commenters on both posts then lose the sight of forest for the trees and get bogged down in the historical minutiae about the Gallileo affair. Not very constructive. Let me cut through all that and come out strongly on the Thomas Dixon side. Step by step. This way:
1) Every conflict is about power. Ergo, every conflict is essentially a political conflict. Who gets to be the boss. Who gets the money. Who gets first dibs at the pretty peasant girls from the village that feeds the nobles in the castle. Who gets to kill whom. Who gets to invade whom. Who gets the territory.
2) Conflicts require troops. Better the troops are motivated, more likely the positive outcome will be for the power-hungry leader. In many conflicts, the leaders motivate the troops by recasting the conflict in terms of “You are wrong, we are right, thus you die”. Those are conflicts over facts: who has the better facts. If those facts relate to the way the world works, then those facts are amenable to empirical testing.
3) Throughout history, including today, the conflicts over facts have been conflicts over religious facts. While the core reason for the conflict is power for the ruling class, religion serves wonderfully to unite the troops around a common idea, common symbols, a shared destiny. Religion probably evolved to aid group cohesion in early human societies and can be wonderfully used to aid group cohesion when a battle needs to be waged, even today.
4) Most of these fact-based conflicts pit one set of religious “facts” with another set of religious “facts”. We call these conflicts “religious wars” despite religion being just an excuse for a power-grab or invasion or civil war. Both sides’ facts fail the empirical tests, but the “You are wrong, we are right, thus you die” is still the battle cry for both sides.
5) In some, more recent conflicts, facts of one side actually pass the empirical test. These are wars between reason and superstition. We like to call them wars between Science and Religion. Often they are not waged with real weapons, but with other political means: battles over control of the classrooms, the goverment, the military, etc. Clearly, religion is a troup-motivator for one side, but the goal is obviously political power. In the USA, the two sides have over the past three decades or so clearly aligned with the two major political parties. Democrats are generally realistic and ignore the pseudoscientific extremists from the far left who have zero influence on policy. Republicans are anti-scientific and anti-reality at the core – that is what defines their party, their platform and their conservative ideology – the most extreme anti-science forces from the far right ARE the party leaders, their members in Congress, and their most visible representatives in the public eye. It is them who write the policy, while the realistic conservatives are marginalized or kicked out of the party.
6) Creationism is just one of many weapons in a unified anti-reality political platform of the Right. Some Creationists are just indoctrinated, scared folks who provide ground troops in this conflict. Other Creationists are part of the power-hungry elite of the party who use Creationism as a motivator for a particular segments of their ground-troops (other populations are motivated in other ways, with other tools, e.g., greed, or fear of terrorists, etc.). The Science vs. Religion aspect of the conflict is just window-dressing – the essence of the conflict is political: it is all about Power.
To summarize:
Every conflict is a political conflict.
Some conflicts are also superficially about facts about the world.
Some of these conflicts happen to pit correct facts against incorrect facts.
Creationist wars, just like all Science vs. Religious wars, are thus a subset of a subset of a subset of all conflicts. And they are all essentially and profoundly political conflicts. Which is why I wrote this dissertation-long post the other day – read it.

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45 responses to “All Science vs. Religion Conflicts are Essentially and Primarily Political Conflicts

  1. Lassi Hippeläinen

    The short version: churches are political parties.

  2. Used to be. Now they are more likely to be organs of a broader political party (other organs being “think tanks”, partisan “media”, etc.).

  3. Troops, not troops.
    It’s a false dichotomy. All religious conflicts are political in one way or another, but the question with Galileo was who got to interpret the Bible. This was not science v. religion; this was modernism v. conservatism in the religious context. Galileo undertook to tell the Pope how to read Joshua. Had he not done that, he;d not have gotten into trouble. In short, if he’d stayed out of church politics, which make real politics look like a nice cup of tea over chess, there would not have been conflict. Let’s not forget that Copernicus had been uncensured for a century or so.

  4. Err “troops, not troups”… :-)

  5. Unless I’m mistaken, “Galileo undertook to tell the Pope how to read Joshua,” could also be written as “Despite logic, reason, and facts, the Pope still believed that the sun stood still for Joshua because he asked his magical sky-daddy to freeze it there so he could kill more people that day.” And the end result? Astronomy set back while people who wouldn’t even know which end of the telescope to put to their eye debated the “heresy” of facts. Sigh, the whole affair is ridiculous to me, but that’s cause I don’t care whether it was politics or religion, either way it’s the 10 millionth nail in the coffin for the idea that religion is enlightening.

  6. Sweetwater Tom

    A minor point on the Republican party: It seems to be the party that wants to reduce the influence and power of the federal government. Religious conservatives resent the government contradicting their dogma. Businesses (Capitalists?) don’t like the government putting restrictions on their activities. Some people don’t like being taxed at a higher rate than their less well-to-do neighbor. Some just don’t like Big Government, for whatever reason. Rifts between these factions are starting to show. Will be interesting to see what happens.

  7. Sweetwater Tom

    There is a difference between conflicts with a religious component and other conflicts. The side(s) with religion will not compromise. They are *right* (God said so!) and anyone with a differing view must be *wrong*! To compromise is to fail. They may compromise temporarily to gather strength and battle again. It also seems that the ends (god’s victory) justifies any means. This quality gives religious conflicts an essential quality of their own.

  8. Tom, we are talking about the Republican party in the US right? Reduce influence and power of the federal govt.? The party that put the Patriot Act in place? The party of the TSA and their oh-so-effective screenings? The party of extraordinary rendition and Guantanamo? Barry Goldwater may have been the kind of Republican who wanted to reduce federal power, but his kind is long dead. I guess it stands to reason that businesses don’t like restrictions, although I would say that businesses dislike ALL restrictions, whether they make sense or not (hey it’s cheaper to dump pesticide down the drain than dispose of it properly). And isn’t it a bit of a ridiculous argument to complain about tax rates on rich v. poor? I mean really, the tax rates on the rich have been going down the past few decades like they had a lead weight attached to them, and compared to other countries, the well off here pay a pittance. Not to mention those tax rates went down even as we started spending on two wars, so we got ourselves into a mountain of debt. At some point, some politicians are going to have to make the hard decision that I and everyone else (as an individual) makes every day: you have to pay for what you owe. Personally, I think we need to start increasing the tax on money people don’t work for (stocks etc.) and reducing the tax on work (payroll tax and other stuff). Let’s make it easier for those in charge of businesses to hire someone and harder for them to just make money by letting it sit around.

  9. Some assertions in this are so laughably wrong it’s hard to know where to begin.
    Let’s start with this gem: “Democrats are generally realistic and ignore the pseudoscientific extremists from the far left who have zero influence on policy.
    Really? How about all our whacko environmental policies predicated on the idea of Gaia? Or global warming nonsense having to be hidden with “tricks,” untracked computer code and deleted data?
    Then there’s this: ” Republicans are anti-scientific and anti-reality at the core.
    Really? Pro-life Republicans want nothing more than to argue the scientific, undeniable biological facts pertaining to the fetus in the womb or the potential of adult stem cells, yet we get in response all sorts of blather about “choice” as if that nebulous concept trumps every other consideration.
    I could go on, but I wonder how fruitful it is to argue with someone who doesn’t know the difference between “troups” (go Vaudeville!) and “troops” and whose brain works only in convenient, pre-packaged thought-boxes.

  10. Just to parse the talking points:
    Not wanting to pollute the shit out of our water and air is “whacko” and based on Gaia? Seriously? Maybe it’s just that we know CO2 is a greenhouse gas and lead causes birth defects so we shouldn’t just let them into the environment. Gasp! Industries might have to actually be clean! Oh noes! And try actually reading about the “tricks” thing and you might understand why everyone who knows anything dismisses it as bs.
    The biological facts of fetus in the womb? WTF? Democrats aren’t arguing against the facts, they just think women have a right to decide whether or not to have a baby. It’s Republicans who would rather extra embryos be incinerated than use them to cure diseases. Democrats aren’t opposed to using adult stem cells, they just don’t want restrictions on using embryonic ones. If you’re so opposed to embryos being destroyed, start petitioning against in vitro fertilization clinics.
    Well I definitely wouldn’t worry about your brain being enclosed in a THOUGHT-box, that’s for sure.

  11. Yeah, that “troups” was driving me crazy (not entirely fairly)… but this is a good post. It’s all about power, and (let’s make this explicit) conflicts can be both science vs. religion AND political conflicts — these are tools wielded by those seeking/defending/expanding positions of power.
    JSW:

    This was not science v. religion; this was modernism v. conservatism in the religious context.

    This is also a false dichotomy, isn’t it? Wasn’t Galileo using the tools of science?

  12. It’s not just science vs religion, it’s religion vs religion, too. The iconoclastic controversy was really about the political power of the bishop of Rome vs the eastern patriarchs, the reformation was about moneys collected by the inquisition, etc etc.

  13. Sorry for the “troups” – written at 1am by someone for whom English is a second language.
    Republicans don’t really know what the word ‘Government’ means when they ask for less of it. But Rob Monkey has already tackled the silly unreality-based arguments by the wingnut commenters – thanks.

  14. Rob Monkey
    Nice try, and nice straw man, but no cigar. No one argues against basic environmental laws such as keeping lead and other toxins out of the environment. But causing a man-made drought in central California and throwing thousands out of work over a 2-inch fish on the theory that loss of any non-human life is a net reduction in our global biological diversity and thus a threat to the overall “life” of the planet is just absurd. Ditto for the spotted owl, Prebbles Meadow jumping mice (scientific fraud involved there), lynx (nice fraud involved with that, too, in Colorado) and other species shows that the whacko environmental Left controls much of our public policy.
    And consider what you’re saying: Democrats aren’t arguing against the facts, they just think women have a right to decide whether or not to have a baby. So even if the facts show that it is fully human, you still should be allowed to kill it? Yeesh, talk about whacko extremism.
    And there are plenty of people trying to regulate IVF clinics on the belief that they create too many embryos “just to be sure”; just because they haven’t been successful at that regulation doesn’t mean they haven’t tried.
    Finally, you can rationalize the global warming “trick” all you want. It’s fraud, plain and simple, as any look at the so-called “hockey-stick” graph shows. (The line tracking data that would pull that upward swing down mysteriously ends right when it would start to make a difference.)
    If man-made global warming were such a sure scientific “fact,” why all the shenanigans to suppress dissent? If you’re so sure of yourselves, why resort to censorship? Why delete data? Why not publish your computer’s source code?
    Because it’s not science; it’s politics.

  15. Buzz, where do you get your buzz, on Limbaugh show?
    I cut my nails, thus killing cells that are human. The whole idea that “life starts at point X” is ridiculous, unscientific, yet politically powerful. This is how the GOP power-hungry leaders rally the trOOps to work and vote for them.
    If GW denialism was scientific why all the shenanigans of hacking computers, quoting out of context and inventing false doubt where none exists? Another way for GOP leaders, out of ideas (every idea they used to have, once put into practice, was shown to be demonstrably disastrous, so now they have to invent idiocies out of thin air) to rally the troop by bambadoozling them.

  16. Coturnix
    If you can’t tell the difference between fingernails (dead tissue, by the way) and a human infant mere inches from birth, you’re not much of a scientist.
    And the East Anglia data wasn’t hacked; it was leaked. (It was data and e-mail covering many years all pulled into a single folder, the sure sign of an inside job.) An honest scientist at U.East Anglia was sick of the rampant fraud and dishonesty he saw and let the world know about it. Nice job of not addressing the central issue, by the way: suppression of dissent.
    And let’s try to hold down the obfuscation: even if there is evidence of global warming, there is precious little if any evidence that man is causing it (cf. Medieval Warm Period, which the East Anglia gang tried to suppress, and the Little Ice Age that was ending just as we started to keep consistent records of global temperatures.)

  17. If you really believe any of that, you are beyond recoverable. You have fallen for the lies that the overlords are feeding the troops to fight their political wars for them. Reminder – you are not meant to share in the loot if by any chance your side wins.

  18. Your non-response response speaks volumes.

  19. Your request for spoonfeeding info that is readily available is trollish.
    - “infant mere inches from birth” is an image found only on posters by hysterical doctor-killers who are a part of the GOP propaganda machine. Nothing to do with reality of abortion.
    - East Anglia computers were hacked by a company located in Siberia, paid by someone from China, just weeks before China derailed the Copenhagen talks. I assume you have never read the eye-witness article in the Guardian about it.
    - Nothing in the e-mails puts the science of climate change into question, including that it is man-made. People with brains, including people who have read all the e-mails, understand that. That is, except for frothing-at-the-mouth hysterics by the conservative talk-show hosts and their docile idiotic listeners. Are you paid by oil/coal industries to promote their lies?

  20. Damn Coturnix, you really kept the good fight going! Sorry, was doing some work in the basement for a bit there ;) Love this week off blog reading and house project time. Buzz, honestly, you should take a look sometime at the similarities between the tobacco “scientists” who denied the link between smoking and lung cancer and the global warming denialist “scientists.” Basically, you either have to believe that there’s a giant conspiracy of scientists, or a smaller conspiracy of obfuscators involved in industries that would be regulated. One of those is slightly likely, one of them is batshit insane. Were those tobacco scientists brave mavericks who bucked convention? No, they were shills. Plain and simple, they traded their credibility for the tobacco industry’s proverbial 30 pieces of silver. Frankly, I’m not even opposed to smoking, but I think everyone who does it should damn well know how it affects them and shouldn’t have those facts hidden from them. As for the short and sweet answer about the “trick” used, here it is: they replaced tree-ring data with actual thermometer readings. Because tree-ring data has less accuracy than a thermometer. No shit. That’s the full trick! Is that really something to be doubting? That thermometers are a better indicator than a secondary biological phenomenon? Look at where the profit lies in denialism and try to not get distracted by shiny objects on the way.

  21. How about all our whacko environmental policies predicated on the idea of Gaia?
    Name ONE such policy. You can’t, can you? Wonder why? Probably because your entire worldview is based on simpleminded bigotry and made-up facts.
    The above sentence is sufficient in itself to sink Buzz’s credibility: he obviously has no idea what he’s talking about.

  22. One more question, Buzz: how does it feel to be a mouthpiece for the oil-based Wahabbi-dominated royal family of Saudi Arabia? Are you being paid well for echoing their self-interest word for word? Or were you too dazzled by the opulence of their harem-chambers to mention a price?
    (Did they have a telethon to raise money for denialists like yourself, like they did for the families of the 9/11 hijackers?)
    Oh well, I hope for your sake they respect you in the morning. But given how they treat their guest-workers, that’s not very likely.

  23. Facts regarded having value are regarded as possessions worth fighting for, as anything else with value.
    When an argument is over who disseminates facts about the world, it will always degenerate from empirical debate to legal dispute.

  24. Sorry, Bora, but your reasoning here seems pretty muddled.
    You seem to be taking a side in the is-it-religion-or-power debate, when the answer is pretty clearly that it is about both religion and power.
    By way of analogy, consider a Mafia don paying a contract killer to kill someone.
    Who did the murdering? Was it the don, or the contract killer?
    Clearly it was both. And it’s not that they are each 50 percent to blame. It’s that they areeach 100 percent to blame. Neither is half a murderer. Both are fully murderers, and both are fully responsible. There is no law of conservation of blame.
    If you ask which one is “the real problem,” you clearly don’t get it.
    Continuing with the analogy, we often do ask which is essentially to blame about such things as mafia hits, but if we’re reasonable, that’s just a shorthand for asking which should we do something about? And often, which is it hopeless to try to do something about, such that we should focus on a different link in the causal chain?
    In the case of mafia hits, we might decide that we can make it harder, more dangerous, and less rewarding for contract killers to ply their trade. Without a market for their services, there would be less contract killing. Or we might decide that’s not feasible—it’s already a capital crime, and it’s expensive to try to enforce the law against murder much more effectively.
    We might therefore work harder to pin murders on mafia dons, or just interfere with their business in other ways—e.g., prosecuting them for money laundering and income tax evasion.
    When it comes to religion vs. science, I think it’s pretty clear that both religion and power politics are to blame, in a mutually reinforcing way. Politicians—especially but not exclusively conservative ones—can use religion as a hit man to go after their political opponents, whether they themselves sincerely believe that stuff, or are just cynical manipulators. (Or both.)
    But likewise, religion exploits politics to perpetuate and empower itself.
    The accommodationists like to make it sound as if it’s not religion that’s calling the shots, but simply power politics with a religious veneer.
    But that’s false. Look at what’s happened to the Republicans lately—they created a fundamentalist monster that is going further than the cynical exploiters of religious paranoia wanted it to, and seriously damaging the party. Religion actually has a lot of power, and is calling political shots to a greater degree than many Republicans (and former Republicans) are comfortable with.
    The New Atheist position is that it’s reasonable to attack the problem there, by attacking religion fairly broadly, so that respect for religion and religious “morality” is diminished, and the balance of power shifts toward rationalism and a sound basis in reality. That’s arguably what you have to do in the long run, in order to make it harder for politicians to rationalize irrational policies. Pandering to religion may more or less work in the short run, but in the long run it’s giving away the store.
    You say

    1) Every conflict is about power. Ergo, every conflict is essentially a political conflict. Who gets to be the boss. Who gets the money. Who gets first dibs at the pretty peasant girls from the village that feeds the nobles in the castle. Who gets to kill whom. Who gets to invade whom. Who gets the territory.

    It’s not that simple. You make it sound like all conflicts are over tangible resources or liberties, contended for by parties in question trying to get those things for themselves.
    Some conflicts are actually over ideas, and imagined resources and liberties, or about resources or liberties for people (or non-people)who are not doing the contending.
    For example, the abortion conflict is sort-of “about” who gets to live or die, but not mostly about whether the people doing the fighting get to live or die. The abortion foes think that someone else’s fetus (or even zygote) is a person that they should protect. Many abortion proponents think that a fetus (or just a zygote) is not a person yet—it’s an individual organism of the human species, but still a proto-person, or just a pre-person or potential person in much the same way a sperm and egg pair are before uniting. (I’ll mostly gloss over the issue of a woman’s right to control her body if a zygote or fetus is considered a person; that’s tremendously important, too, but not relevant to my point here.)
    That is very much a conflict of religious and irreligious ideas, which isn’t just a thin veneer of religion on top of a basic fight for resources.
    Most orthodox religion in the US says that a zygote is a person, because it has a soul, and a soul is what makes a person a person. (Even many liberals believe this, sorta, but think a woman’s right to control her body trumps that person’s right to life.)
    Science says pretty much the opposite. Developmental biology, neuroscience and cognitive science have made it pretty clear that a zygote may be a human organism, but it’s not much like a person at all. The traditional “immaterial soul” appears not to exist, and what makes a person a person is information storage and processing in a meat machine. (If there’s a soul in there too, which we can’t quite rule out, it’s not much like the orthodox conception of the soul.) A zygote doesn’t do much information processing, and a fetus doesn’t do much person-like information processing for the first few months at least, so most fetuses (and certainly zygotes) appear not to be persons.
    Religion systematically confuses issues like life, morality, and personhood, so that people fight over nonexistent rewards and resources—e.g., spreading the Gospel so that people can go to Heaven, restricting others’ sexual behavior so that they’re less likely to fall into “sin” and maybe go to Hell, giving rights to non-people at the expense of actual people and/or other potential people, etc.
    As another example, consider condom distribution in HIV-afflicted subsaharan Africa. Conservative Catholics and Evangelicals have severely restricted funding for condom distribution, and religious leaders have spread lies about the effectiveness of condoms.
    That’s going to kill tens of millions of extra people over the next few decades.
    Perhaps that’s partly just a cynical ploy to undermine birth control so that the faithful will increase in number, and empower religious leaders.
    Somehow, I don’t think that’s most of it. The big story is that a lot of people, including many religious leaders, actually believe that sex is something designed by a Creator for a particular purpose—rather than what science says it is, i.e., an evolved behavior that has several evolutionary functions, but no greater purpose.
    They are willing to promote disastrous policies, not to empower themselves, but because those policies are based on prescientific religious ideas that have a life of their own—that zygotes have souls, God designed penises and vaginas to incubate ensouled things, God doesn’t want penises and vaginas used just for fun, etc.
    (Similarly, the mess with embryonic stem cell research has roots in the same prescientific religious ideas.)
    Religious ideas generally obscure important truths, and that makes reasonable politics much harder. Powerful religious institutions defend those ideas against science and reason, and ally themselves with political parties in a symbiotic power relationship, but the ideas themselves still matter a whole lot. They are central to how the power symbiosis works—distorting values with imaginary entities, opportunities, and costs. That symbiotic power relationship will always be there as long as the ideas themselves are not subject to effective attack.

  25. The evocation of God or gods has been used by numerous religions and political systems, perhaps even from their very beginnings, as an excuse to met out punishments to those who have transgressed the law. Science and its pursuit have no such attachments or influence at this level of social order, and if it did, the last thing it could ever be called is science.

  26. Buzzzzttt – wrong!

    But causing a man-made drought in central California and throwing thousands out of work over a 2-inch fish on the theory that loss of any non-human life is a net reduction in our global biological diversity and thus a threat to the overall “life” of the planet is just absurd.

    Nope. Empirical evidence that hyperbolic language is your major weapon. The delta smelt has only a tiny fraction of 1% of our global biological diversity. It is an indicator species for the biological health of the delta ecosystem. If the smelt goes, then there will be saltwater intrusion into the region – poisoning groundwater which will then ruin most of the wildlife and many farms and towns. So, you ruin the rice farmers in the delta to satisfy the farmers 200 miles to the south so they can resume planting water-thirsty crops like cotton in the semi-desert, that is the western portion of the San Joaquin valley.

  27. Bora -
    I agree with a lot of what you say here, but we also have some disagreements. If you are interested, I just posted a lengthy reply to you and Mike Dunford.
    I do want to clarify one thing, however. I emphatically do not deny that the Galileo affair had a very large political dimension to it. I do think, however, that we are still justifed in saying it is a dispute primarily about science and religion. Had the church not arrogated to itself the right to hold forth on the natural world based on its interpretation of scripture, then Galileo would have been no threat to them at all. In that case, all the political pressure in the world would have been irrelevant.

  28. Good run, but at the quintain. If you are wrong from the start that “every conflict is political” then your argument falls. Clear to me is that the civil and criminal courts are full daily of conflicts that are not political, though some cases are political. The conflicts in the divorce court, are they political? Probably some are. Juvenile court? So is it fair to define political so broadly that it takes in every conflict?
    Einstein versus Neils Bohr, was it political? Only if political is defined backwards to match whatever, and defined extremely broadly. What about Feynman on the Challenger panel? Oh Boy that was definitely political but did he know or care when he put the o-ring in the ice water for the truth?
    Science versus religion is a valid conflict. Religion is fighting science by means of politics. It’s no more complicated than that. What motivation you might have for casting the argument in such broad terms as “every conflict is political” has not occurred to me though I tried.
    I like your blog. I couldn’t do it. So just take this as added support for most everything else even tho it disagrees with you on this.

  29. The problem with this line of argumentation is that you have defined “a conflict between science and religion” in such a way that there can never be a conflict between science and religion. You say all conflicts are political. Therefore, there can never be a conflict between one thing and another thing unless both are political.
    My wife and I never have any conflicts. It’s always just a political struggle. Sheesh…

  30. I find it interesting that a few of you do not like the premise that all conflicts are essentially political. On the other hand, I find it liberating and eye-opening, and helpful in preventing myself from focusing too much on the details of the struggle and thus missing the forest for the trees.
    Yes, when my wife and I have a conflict, it’s a political conflict. In the end, one of us will make a political move of deciding this fight is not worth fighting and will let the other one “win”. The other one’s opinion or choice then “rules”.
    When baboons fight over the position of an alpha male, that’s a political struggle. They work on it hard – who to groom, with whom to share food, who to fight.
    Only very recently (last couple of millennia) we have started having governments (and states, not to mention the very late arrival of nation-states just a couple of centuries ago) and thinking in terms of governments when we talk about politics. But politics is mostly local, and personal. Presidential campaigns in the USA are just the ones most covered by the glitzy media.
    Understanding that a particular conflict is a political conflict is an excellent tool for analysis – stepping back from the oral arguments that the two sides are putting forward, it allows one to see what the real goals are for each side, what each would do in case of becoming a winner, how would one “rule”.
    So, of course there are Science vs. Religion conflicts – they are a subset of political conflicts in which one side employs wishful thinking about the world because it is more comfortable to think that way, or because it perpetuates a certain hierarchy. The opposing side (and “Science” here is a misnomer – science is a method – it should rather be called a struggle between Rationality and Irrationality) prefers to analyze the world as it is and use that knowledge to improve the policies for the betterment of the society.
    A rational, realistic, pragmatic view of the world is likely to also be more egalitarian, but not necessarily so. It was interesting to read in Jared Diamond’s ‘Collapse’ about the case of old Japan, in which an iron-fisted rule by the Emperor saved the country from an ecological collapse while a more egalitarian society, at the time, would have likely ended up like Easter Island. I am not saying that the old Emperor was scientific (just a mix of being lucky and being wise) – I am just saying that the analysis of societies – what works in which environment – may lead us to decide NOT to have an egalitarian regime in particular places in particular times because our understanding of the world tells us that this is, in the end, the best and most lasting solution.
    The struggle if the rational, realistic, pragmatic view of the world will win, or the irrational, superstitious, dogmatic view of the world will win, while easily sub-tagged as “science vs. religion” war is really a misnomer and is essentially a struggle for power, i.e., a political conflict.

  31. The struggle if the rational, realistic, pragmatic view of the world will win, or the irrational, superstitious, dogmatic view of the world will win, while easily sub-tagged as “science vs. religion” war is really a misnomer and is essentially a struggle for power, i.e., a political conflict.

    But why do you keep setting up political fights over power as an alternative to the idea that these are science /religion fights, as if it is one or the other? Why not just say these are political fights over power that arise as a result of conflicts between science and religion?

  32. Not as an alternative. As an umbrella under which specific conflicts take place, including Science vs. Religion conflicts.

  33. I see it more as a smart strategy.
    We too often focus on what they say and counter it by explaining how they are wrong. But what they say, or even what they really believe, is less important than who they are.
    It is important to know whose beliefs these are, whose ideas will become law of the land if they win, what happens to the opponents if they win, what happens to the society if they win.
    Thus, Creationism is just one of many political tools of the Troglodyte Right. It is a shiny object they put out on purpose, to divert our attention away from the real objectives – which are how they plan to get in power and what they intend to do if they win.
    While what they say needs to be counteracted, and some people are great at that, it is much more important, if we are to prevent them from reverting the society back to Dark Ages, to follow the money, investigate their personal and political connections and networks and try to disrupt them. In other words, religion is their method for a) rallying their own troops and b) diverting our attention from what they are really up to. It is a political fight.

  34. for analysis huh? like follow the money?
    We have not been plain enough. Discussion of matters in controversy is a rhetorical exercise in persuasion. It is not academic analysis pointing at first one thing then another, and then giving it a name without knowing where the persuasion is headed. It is not biology. Paul W. has set this out clearly in the discussions at one point, though not plain enough as we see. If you do not understand that rhetorical planning is involved then you are being a teeny bit naive.
    Furthermore, you guys are spoiled by having your students delivered to you and the burden on them is to understand, even for them to make sense where there is none. Dixon is relying on that, I think, and the now lowered prestige of the Oxford University Press. But in the larger world, the burden is on the speaker to make himself understood, and the burden of persuasion is heavy and entirely that of the speaker, nothing like what academics encounter in the fold.
    Dixon does not have a clue why his analysis is not persuasive; nor care perhaps; see his reply to Jason R. The analysis is rather cute talking of tribes and such but it is not going to persuade even one person off of their previous view, seems to me. You want to tell me what it’s worth then, if I’m right? Nothing. So you could try to persuade me that it’s persuasive, or even informative, but it’s not there, and it’s rheumatic in its twists.
    You guys are out of your element and out of your depth. You should listen to Jason Rosenhouse on this point, he’s on to something for you. You’ve got a lot of thinking to do on this subject.
    Arguments head for somewhere and go there. You need to look ahead. Your argument on this is a loser. A loser, plain, and self-destructive. And then, when your peroration, or summary, or closing, focuses on calling something a “misnomer” you show that you don’t catch on, yet, what the dynamic of the argument even is. You will some day. I can’t put it any plainer than that. You disagree, but at least you are exposed to some further learning, which you should do; it’s your specialty and you have the time.
    Don’t be glum. I wouldn’t bother commenting if I didn’t think you were doing a good job nevertheless.

  35. Dixon’s argument is quite clear to people who are educated and have studied the issue for a while. Many in the blogosphere have not yet reached that level, I’m afraid. Mis-defining religion. Mis-defining science. Is Dixon persuasive? Yes to those whose studies have prepared them to it. Not for those who only have personal experience (or online chatter) to rely on. One needs to do some intellectual work in order to grasp the complexities of these things – and to be open to it as there is a lot to learn: take is as a challenge, something you need for personal growth. Over-simplifying it (not Jason, but some of this commenters) is wrong and dangerous.

  36. BTW, there are several links in my post. Click on them. Read. Get context before spouting off.

  37. It is also interesting to read this post by Andrew Gelman. It is a reaction to a naive definiton of ‘religion’ that is rampant among the amateurs (or people who did not grow up atheist, but became so later in life). That primitive definition is “Religion is a belief in supernatural” or sometimes “Religion is a belief in supernatural despite the evidence to the contary”.
    But religion is a different animal altogether. Religion is a system that includes some, many, and in rare cases all of the following: official priesthood, well-defined social hierarchy, ceremonies, holidays, sacred texts, sacred art, solemn music, strict behavioral rules (often mislabeled as “ethics”) and perhaps also belief in the supernatural.
    The role of religion, what it evolved for, is group cohesion. What does that mean? That means clear delineation between Us and Them, looking down the noses at The Other, strong unified defense in case The Other attacks, and sometimes a strong, unified attack on The Other.
    In light of such understanding, this post, Dixon’s book, and Gelman’s post make sense.

  38. Ah, we seem to have struck a nerve.
    You assume far too much. My degrees exceed yours in number, length of study, both academic and non-academic experience. In other words you made up your whole spiel, out of your head. It was a wish fulfillment for you. You couldn’t stand to read what I wrote.
    Your condescension is misplaced, also out of your head. I stick with what I said, you guys are out of your element and out of your depth, and your argument is a loser. Your reply is:
    “One needs to do some intellectual work in order to grasp the complexities of these things – and to be open to it as there is a lot to learn: take is as a challenge, something you need for personal growth.”
    In other words you are saying that you are the teacher. That confirms what I accuse you of. You don’t know what you are talking about on this subject and you rely on some imagined superiority.
    It’s stuff like what you just wrote that feeds anti-intellectualism.
    You want to tell me it’s too complex for me to understand. You are part of the problem of stupidity in the US then. We already have people who go all day long believing there are things beyond their understanding, like their religion and the instructions for appliances and Fox news.
    Science versus religion is real. You have also made up some sidetrack spiel about an ‘us versus them’ mentality that I am to be thrown into. How can you do that? I go to church. You are imagining more.
    Seems you have shown a great divide here. However, you have not shown me why I would want to see things the way you do, or should, and you have not supported your argument, just repeated it.
    Marvelous showing. Thanks.

  39. I am irritated, david, because you just won – twice in a single day – the contest for the longest comment with absolutely no meaning. This distracts others, takes the conversation off-topic. Not an argument, not even a rant. Just a huge block of text, words from English language, organized in something that superficially looks like grammatically correct English sentences, but the sum total of meaning equals zero. I bet even you have no idea what you were trying to say, except for a hint that you were trying to be mean to me – just a bunch of black squiggles on white background….on MY blog (which is not a public place but my virtual living room, watch your language, kids are present).

  40. I understand, and it is your blog. I will go elsewhere. I don’t want someone telling me, ‘He was doing just fine until he ran into you.’
    That you see only black squiggles in what I write is a teeny hurt, but it takes all kinds.
    Cheers

  41. “But religion is a different animal altogether. Religion is a system that includes some, many, and in rare cases all of the following: official priesthood, well-defined social hierarchy,”etc.
    IOW, conservatism.
    My observation is that ideology is the story we use to justify who we are and what we do.
    Rigid ideology is almost always a cover for self interest, fear, ego. Otherwise why lie and threaten? Why deny facts? Of course, we don’t threaten torture to get people to confess anymore,..Oh, wait…
    Maybe ideologues are just jerks with an ideology.
    Gruff

  42. Coturnix:
    You lost control of the thread.
    Over at Jason’s blog, the discussion is much more focused because he clearly keeps the subject as the Galileo-Church conflict.
    About three comments in I began to wonder -”what the hell are we talking about here?” We got the church, GOP vs Dems, the abortion issue, the history of religion, the toboacco/anti-AGW/denialist debate, tit-for-tats between people arguing about the quality of their posts…holy smokes??!!
    Oh, wait a minute…I got it!
    It’s about who is right and who is wrong. And therfore, who must DIE!
    Well, let’s settle the matter once and for all – I’M RIGHT AND YOU SUCKERS IS WRONG. SO YOU MUST DIE! BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!
    Sorry, I can’t provide any supporting documentation for my position, but hey, when you know you are absolutely right, by God, who needs documentation?

  43. As I wrote in my post:
    “The commenters on both posts then lose the sight of forest for the trees and get bogged down in the historical minutiae about the Gallileo affair. Not very constructive.”
    I think their comment threads have been bogged down in the minutiae of this one single (though famous) example, instead of looking at the bigger picture and the meaning of it all. My post was designed to remedy that.

  44. There’s an excellent and amusing book by Stephen Potter called “One-Upmanship: How to Win Life’s Little Games Without Appearing to Try”, and it’s primarily about winning arguments – political arguments, essentially, as defined in your article above – by whatever means are effective: tricks, jokes, hierarchy-climbing, etc. This collection of tactical conversation and arguing gambits is known as ‘one-upmanship’.
    The last thing it says in the book is something like this: “There’s only one thing that can trump one-upmanship, and that is complete sincerity.”
    It strikes me that the whole Rationality vs. Irrationality argument is of this sort: Irrationality is all about one-upmanship, with all its tricks, fallacies and ‘cognitive puns’, whereas science and the rational method is all about honesty: just wanting to help mankind.
    Rationality can easily reveal the flaws in Irrationality, and is demonstrably more effective at coming to a clearer understanding of the world, but Irrationality is more powerful in a day-to-day sense on most human brains, unfortunately.

  45. Im probably gonna be slated for this but I believe science vs religion is dangerous and causes a lot of problems but the fact is everyone has something in the back of their mind telling them there is something bigger out there and more than likely that can never be explained scientifically, you can never fully prove the big bang theory even though it is probable that it happened. Science likes to think it is based on fact until you cant prove something.