Following Felix Baumgartner’s successful space jump, and the shooting of a 14 year old girl in Pakistan this week, Ricky Gervais tweeted:

Dear Religion, This week I safely dropped a man from space while you shot a child in the head for wanting to go to school. Yours, Science.

Gervais’ tweet is the kind of light-hearted comedy we expect from Gervais, but the quote also reflects a common approach to the science-religion discussion in which science and religion are somehow cast as opposites. Here, Gervais lauds science for achieving something spectacular while religion is blamed for violence, presumably to show that science is better and religion should be rejected.

Andrew at A Borrowed Flame, however, responds to the Tweet, astutely arguing that Gervais’ use of the words ‘religion’ and ‘science’ is fundamentally flawed:

Firstly, it anthropomorphs two different things as if they are the same kind of thing (a category error). Religion is false plural. You can no more say that ‘religion’ does something than you can say that ‘politics’ does something. You might talk about what a particular religion has done (or its adherents, e.g. the Taliban, evangelical Christians) just as you could talk about particular political parties or ideologies (e.g. socialists, liberals) , but the way Gervais uses it hear (and indeed, as it is often used by New Atheist writers) is simply fallacious.

And this:

It is also mistaken to suggest that science does anything. We do science. Even when we say things like ‘science tells us that…’ it’s a kind of shorthand for ‘our scientific experiments have led to think that…’. Indeed, the firearms which the Taliban use are just as much a product of scientific endeavour as balloons which float to the edge of the atmosphere, jump-suits and parachutes. We do science, and we use knowledge gained via the discipline of science to do other things.

Read the rest here.