Remember our great beacon of communication and bridge building with a penchant for blaming scientists as arrogant know-it-alls responsible for today’s crop of cranks and quacks and whose journalistic integrity runs out as soon as he’s given a story he wants to hear, even if it’s made up? And do you remember that one of his rewards for all the scientist and atheist bashing was a good chunk of change, plus a stay at Cambridge this summer thanks to the Templeton Foundation? Just in case you were wondering about what the wealthy theists who used their billions to co-opt the National Academy of Science in their game have been thinking about the need for reconciling science and religion, the Chronicle of Higher Ed gives us a peek at a talk given by Carlin Romano during his fellowship experience about the proper way to deal with cosmology. According to him, Hawking’s pronouncements about the absence of a need for a deity in physics aren’t a stark reminder of how different science and theology are in practice, but evidence that Hawking is an intellectual lightweight.
Well, I’ll give Romano some credit for not pulling a Greenfield on the physicist, but I’m certainly not going to be so generous when it comes to his argument. You see, it seems to be a recent trend in the apologetics world to drop the typical misguided arguments about morality, and go straight for the ad hominem as exemplified by the recent reaction to the Pew poll which found that atheists are actually quite knowledgeable about theist beliefs, ideas, and history. Now, rather than just being selfish and misguided, atheists are being ridiculed as dunces who just can’t grasp the sheer sophistication and depth of the word salad science from today’s trendy theologians. Romano’s entire talk revolves around praising the piety of two philosophers and repeating that a world famous and accomplished physicist who actually tries to solve the mysteries of the universe is just too stupid to know what he’s talking about, unable to grasp the discoveries of navel-gazers who repackage pretty much the same vacuous tripe while dressing it up with the hottest scientific buzzwords of the day. It’s not just condescending and ridiculous, it’s also nothing but a typical, Ayala-style Templeton dodge.
Nowhere does Romano even try to venture into specifics or make any tangible claims and chooses to reduce his entire argument to "atheists are stupid so don’t listen to them" while waxing poetic about how often some philosopher knelt down to pray before bedtime and showering the verbal equivalent of sloppy kisses over all the supposedly elegant and masterful philosophical treatises they’ve composed to rebut Hawking’s remarks from the grave. Though again, he doesn’t even manage to produce anything but vague, non-committal quotes from the works he cites other than those scolding scientists for not being as wise as philosophers. Now if he were to actually bring up a real world example of how he thinks science justifies a deity, as one past recipient of the Templeton Prize attempted to do, he would be venturing on the ground where Templeton doesn’t dare thread despite being ran by adamant Evangelical Christians. When talking about empirical proof, a scientist would have the advantage of data, tests, experiments, and mathematics. Romano would have feelings and a few pretty or witty quotes, which as Voltaire famously taught us, prove nothing.
What you’re seeing isn’t an uprising of wise and worldly philosophers against scientists who just don’t get it, no, what you’re seeing is an act of intellectual cowardice by navel-gazers and high brow proselytizers trying to shout down scientists and skeptics by calling them stupid, all while being scared witless of debating facts as they try to appease everyone in the theist camp. You see, Templeton wants equal praise and respect from the fundamentalist Bible-thumper who’s sure the Earth is 6,000 years old and anyone who says otherwise is just a demon sent by Satan to deceive her, and the nebulous theist who ponders vague deism, and sees faith as a cultural and historical tradition more than anything, even though he believes in a god. Should they actually get off their rhetorical pedestals and try to address the curious masses on the ground, pontificating on specifics, they will have to pick a place in the theist spectrum and immediately alienate all those who believe their views can only be described as blasphemous. No wonder Romano’s column is as breezy and fact free as it is. He can’t afford to actually start offering facts. They’d be subject to both scientific and theological scrutiny.
And so the simpering and impotent pundits in Templeton’s employ limit themselves to offering the trademark sneering, condescending comment about scientists once in a while, and do their best to steer clear of actual debates. To teach this skill to the likes of Mooney and Romano, they’re willing to pay millions of dollars while squeaking about the need to reconcile science and religion (read: subjugate scientific pursuits to a religious dogma of their choice, whenever they finally manage to decide what it would be). What a waste of money. And what a waste of time and effort on their part, and to be objectively fair, the skeptics’ as well.
[ illustration by Denis Zilber ]