For those who haven't yet seen it, Jerry Coyne has a New Atheistish article in USA Today. I especially like the way he uses Ecklund's work on the religiosity or otherwise of American scientists. The data provided by Ecklund are often used in a rather desperate manner to try to show that religion and science are compatible - on their face, though, they cause a big problem for that thesis: for whatever reason, American scientists are far less religious, on average, than the American population as a whole. Now, you could try to rationalise away that inconvenient fact if you want. For example, you could try to prove that non-religious people are disproportionately attracted into science, as opposed to a knowledge of science tending erode people's faith. There could be an interesting argument about that, no doubt, and we probably need more information to settle it. But what you can't honestly do is use the data to argue that there's not a problem.
Near the end, Jerry concludes:
Why does this matter? Because pretending that faith and science are equally valid ways of finding truth not only weakens our concept of truth, it also gives religion an undeserved authority that does the world no good. For it is faith's certainty that it has a grasp on truth, combined with its inability to actually find it, that produces things such as the oppression of women and gays, opposition to stem cell research and euthanasia, attacks on science, denial of contraception for birth control and AIDS prevention, sexual repression, and of course all those wars, suicide bombings and religious persecutions.
Now that may not be the whole of the story. In my series of pieces on Kitcher, I'm looking at what genuine concerns there may be about "militant atheism", and I think I know what Kitcher would say about this. For example, he'd suggest that a lot of religious people don't have faith in the sense that Jerry means and are not opposed to progressive stances on the issues he lists.
I'll soon be getting to part 3 in my series on Kitcher's views, but for now it's worth pointing out yet again that much of the opposition to stem cell research and euthanasia, almost all the denial of contraception for birth control and AIDS prevention, a great deal of the sexual repression, and plenty of the religious wars and persecutions of the past can be attributed to the supposedly "moderate" Roman Catholic Church. I'm not going to let any of the religious off the hook too quickly.
The genuine moderates are, unfortunately, not as common as we should like to see, and they're not winning the world-wide war for the hearts and minds of the faithful. By and large, there's still a good argument that we'd be better off without religion entirely.
But we'll come to that issue in another post.