Now that I've read the infamous 8th chapter of Unscientific American (by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum--see here for background), I'm still on board with the basic idea, but not sold on some of their subarguments. The basic idea is that science educators, who are less religious than the average American, should avoid religion-bashing. The important thing is to get people to accept evolution, climate science, etc., not to get them to renounce religious ideas that are central to their lives. That's the important thing because sound public policy in this country hinges on having a scientifically well-informed populace. And religion-bashing is likely to alienate people, in a very religious country like the US.
But now what about the subarguments? CM and SK think "the new atheists" are guilty of a very basic error about the relationship between science and religion. Dawkins & Co. are misguided in supposing that the two are incompatible. As the authors see it, they are not only compatible but rather obviously so.
They start to make their case with some examples of famous scientists who have been religious. But that's underwhelming. It's like arguing that abolitionism and slave ownership are compatible by pointing out that Thomas Jefferson had slaves. Then there's a point they make about the difference between methodological and philosophical naturalism. They think science just eschews religious hypotheses as a matter of methodology. It takes no position on religious entities and processes. CM and SK quote the philosopher of science Rob Pennock as saying that science is methodologically naturalistic in the way plumbing is. People "do" science and plumbing without gods and fairies and the like, but that doesn't mean scientists and plumbers can't believe in gods and fairies.
But hold on. It could be very odd to "do" science and plumbing naturalistically, depending on what you think gods and fairies are up to. Why spend the whole day looking for a block in the drainage pipes, if you think the pipe fairies might be at it again? Why be determined to find natural causes for diseases and disasters, if you think there's a god out there who sometimes punishes people for their sins?
It's a Very Hard Question whether science and religion are compatible, not one that CM and CK can settle quickly, or that atheists are necessarily getting wrong. In fact, it's this hardness that the authors could have used in their argument. Science educators should stick to transmitting science--evolution, climate scientists, neuroscience, etc. etc. It's not their job to teach what are in fact extremely contentious philosophical theories about science and religion. Don't teach incompatibility, don't teach compatibility, I'd say. Stick to teaching science.
That would be my prescription. And now I will get back to cursing the coqui frogs, which have started their nightly singing. (See previous post.)