Jerry Coyne dissects it pretty well but the paper, and his commentary reminded me of a clip from one of my favorite youtube videos. In it, Phil Hellenes discusses the amazing insight science provides and how it provides an amazing connection. As he puts it
When I looked at the galaxy that night, I knew the faintest twinkle of starlight was a real connection between my comprehending eye, along a narrow beam of light, to the surface of another sun. The photons my eye detects, the light I see, the energy with which my nerves interact, came from that star. I thought I could never touch it, yet something from it, crosses the void, and touches me.This inspiring and moving feeling is all too common among scientists, and as Coyne and Hellenes rightly point out, that's precisely what the authors of the new study seem to be abusing. Again quoting Hellenes
That night under the Milky Way, I who experienced it, cannot call it a religious experience for I know it was not religious in any way. I was thinking about facts and physics, trying to visualize what is, not what I would like there to be. There's no word for such experiences that come through scientific and not mystical revelation. The reason for that is that every time someone has such a "mindgasm" religion steals it simply by saying, "Ah. You had a religious experience." And spiritualists will pull the same shit. And both camps will get angry when an atheist like me tells you that I only ever had these experiences after rejecting everything supernatural.This is right on the money. It's not that these scientists are necessarily "spiritual" in the traditional sense, that they believe in supernatural "spirits", but rather, they stand in awe at the beauty of our universe, recognizing it as completely natural. When asked if there's "something larger" than them, the honest answer is "yes". It's called the universe. But it's not mystical nor magical. It's real and we can observe it.
But saying these things allows for the words to be taken out of context and usurped by those trying to shoehorn the religious gibberish together with the empirical reality. They can piggyback on these terms because our language lacks the tools to separate the secular emotions that well up within us from observation as compared to the ones we invoke through fantasy. This gives rise for sneaky shills like Ecklund a perfect opportunity to muddy the waters through equivocation.