Baggini acknowledges that science is focused on how questions, and religion on why questions, but contests the non-overlapping magisteria view of the late Stephen J. Gould--that religion and science deal with two completely different kinds of questions that do not impinge on one another--and correctly so. This is, in fact, one of the places in which the New Atheists are correct: you can't place religion and science in two hermetically sealed compartments and expect them never to get mixed:
This means that if someone asks why things are as they are, what their meaning and purpose is, and puts God in the answer, they are almost inevitably going to make an at least implicit claim about the how: God has set things up in some way, or intervened in some way, to make sure that purpose is achieved or meaning realised. The neat division between scientific “how” and religious “why” questions therefore turns out to be unsustainable.So far, so good. There are claims made by Christianity that are empirically testable: That Christ was born without a human father, lived at a particular time, spent his life in particular place as a member of particular tribe who performed specific miracles, was executed on a particular mountain under the reign of a specific governor of Judea, and was raised after a specified number of days from the dead and seen afterwards by hundreds of people. And that his disciples went around afterwards preaching and baptizing and performing some of the same miracles as Jesus did in His name.
Now you can believe those claims or not, but they are the claims Christianity makes (in fact, its central claims) and they are "scientific" in the broad sense of being explicitly empirical and subject to proof or disproof by the methods of whatever empirical discipline would apply to them, which, in this case, happens to be history. Some are only empirical in theory and are not practically verifiable, but others of them are subject to at least some empirical scrutiny.
There are also philosophical or metaphysical claims made by Christians (but not necessarily by Christianity per se) who are operating in the realm of natural theology that are subject to proof or disproof. Examples of this would be the traditional proofs for the existence of God. These arguments can philosophically prove particular theistic beliefs, such as the existence of God, but if someone were to disprove any one of them, it would not affect the central claims of Christianity itself--it would only prove that some particular Christians (St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, etc.) were mistaken.
Despite the fact that he is a philosopher, Baggini says nothing about these metaphysical issues which are neither strictly theological nor empirical. In fact, Baggini seems to somewhat confuse the two when he speaks of "an evidence-led, rational examination of a view." A view could be "evidence-led" and not rational, or rational and non "evidence-led." The traditional proofs for the existence of God (or for that matter certain theorems in mathematics) are rational, but not "evidence-led," at least in the sense of being empirically testable.
But the main problem with Baggini's piece is that he seems to see every case in which religion makes an empirical claim as a case in which science and religion are in conflict:
[H]ow easily science and religion can rub on together depends very much on what kind of religion we're talking about. If it is a kind that seeks to explain the hows of the universe, or ends up doing so by stealth, then it is competing with science. In such contests science always wins, hands down, and the only way out is to claim a priority for faith over evidence, or the Bible over the lab.Coyne too chimes in too, shaking his pom-poms:
This, of course, is just another take on something many of us have long maintained: any theistic religion—that is, one that posits a God who is active in the universe—must perforce make claims that can in principle be empirically examined or tested. And that is a “how” question. On the level ground where science and faith must compete to answer such questions, religion always loses, and always will.The fact that two approaches may happen to focus on the same subject does not automatically put them into conflict. Conflict only comes when one approach says one thing about it and another approach says something contradictory. If historians say that historical records show that there was a comet in the sky in 627 B.C. and astronomers say there wasn't, that's a conflict. But if they both approaches conclude there was a comet in the sky at that time, then there is not conflict. The two are perfectly compatible.
If science is "incompatible" with theology because they arrive at truth through different methodologies, then science is also incompatible with history, and with ethics--and with philosophy, Baggini's own discipline.
There is really no sense in talking about whether whether science and religion are compatible. If they look at the same alleged fact and come to differing conclusions about it, then so be it. Let it be decided using the methodology that is appropriate.
If the subject is the chemical makeup of something, then apply science. But if it is the existence of God, then science is going to have to bow to philosophy; if it is the genuineness of a historical event, then it's going to have to bow to history; and if it is the nature of the doctrine of justification, then it's going to have to bow to theology.
From the earliest times, Christianity has made empirical claims as evidence of its truth--largely having to do with miracle and prophecy. If scientists like Baggini and Coyne want to dispute them then let them have at it.
But so far they not only don't seem to have refuted them: they're too busy talking about whether magisteria are overlapping to even try.