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Science & Religion: Are They Compatible?

November 3, 2011

A debate between Jerry Coyne and John Haught from the 2011 Bale-Boone Symposium series at the University of Kentucky:

Last month, as part of the University of Kentucky’s ongoing Bale-Boone Symposium series, theologian John Haught was invited to debate well-respected University of Chicago evolutionary biologist and atheist Jerry Coyne on the subject of compatibility between science and religion.

Both parties agreed to make footage of the debate available to the public, but Haught, who Coyne says “admitted his loss” and blamed it on “Jerry’s groupies,” reneged on the agreement, and refused to allow video of the event to be posted online.

Dr. Robert Rabel, who heads the university’s Gaines Center for the Humanities which sponsored the debate, honored Haught’s request, and even went a step further, refusing Coyne a personal copy of the tape so he could edit out Haught’s part.

When Coyne asked Haught in an email why he had banned publication of the tape, Haught responded that the event “failed to meet what I consider to be reasonable standards of fruitful academic exchange.”

Coyne’s supporters rallied behind his cause and managed to pressure Haught into allowing the video’s release.

Prior to his relenting, Haught posted a long explanation of his actions on Coyne’s blog, to which Coyne promptly responded.

Video and text Via

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. 4xi0m permalink
    November 3, 2011 2:09 pm

    Thanks for posting this; I listened to the whole thing, even though I usually avoid this sort of debate.
    I’m gonna side with Haught on this one. What happened here seemed to me like what would happen if President Obama and any given Tea Party candidate were asked to debate about the economy. Each disagrees with the other so fundamentally that the discussion has little chance of being productive at its outset. Additionally, we know that we can only expect one of the two to keep the discussion professional. Coyne was the Tea Party candidate here. He asserted at the end of his talk that there cannot be a productive dialogue between science and religion, which would have begged the question “Why the hell was he there?” had that question not already been answered by the rest of the talk. He was not there to engage in productive dialogue, or contribute anything to the discussion, or gain any new insight himself; he was there to ridicule the opposition in the typical Dawkinsian manner. His attitude toward Haught and his arguments was one of unmitigated condescension, as if Haught’s views were so ridiculous they merit no consideration. I’ve encountered this attitude many times before–generally emanating from the pulpit of a fundamentalist preacher. I saw nothing to indicate that Haught deserved such condescension, especially from someone unschooled in philosophy or theology, and I do not appreciate this tone when a discussion is supposed to be serious and professional. Plus, the constant derisive giggling was really annoying. Basically, the whole thing was a waste of time, and I don’t blame Haught for blocking it. If I were him I probably wouldn’t have bothered, though, since the net effect of preaching to the choir is usually zero.

  2. Troy permalink
    November 3, 2011 8:20 pm

    The behavior of both parties indicates that douchebaggery is compatible with both. The question is whether or not the Transitive Law applies.

  3. November 5, 2011 2:12 pm

    Science and religion are compatible right up until someone applies scientific rigor to a religious claim, and then suddenly they are “different ways of knowing.”

    • 4xi0m permalink
      November 8, 2011 9:33 am

      To be fair, aren’t they considered “different ways of knowing” when the religious (or metaphysical) claims in question are not amenable to scientific rigor? Seems to me that the question of whether “other ways of knowing” than the scientific method are legitimate is what’s up for debate here. Haught says yes, Coyne says no, both are pretty dogmatic about it (I’d say inappropriately so on both sides), and Coyne seems like a real jerk.

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