Interpretation is what ensues when a literal meaning conflicts with what is known to be true from other sources of knowledge. As the ancient rabbis taught, accept the truth from whoever utters it. Religious people, or many of them, are not idiots. They have always availed themselves of many sources of knowledge. They know about philosophical argument and figurative language. Medieval and modern religious thinking often relied upon the science of its day. Rationalist currents flourished alongside anti-rationalist currents, and sometimes became the theological norm. What was Jewish and Christian and Muslim theology without Aristotle? When a dissonance was experienced, the dissonance was honestly explored. So science must be defended against nonsense, but not every disagreement with science, or with the scientific worldview, is nonsense. The alternative to obscurantism is not that science be all there is.
This is a fairly clever red herring/strawman. Nobody (or at least, nobody I've ever heard of) is suggesting that science could be all there is, let alone that it should be. The problem is not, and never has been, about the idea that philosophical and religious beliefs could be true. It is about the lack of factual evidence to support those beliefs. And by that, I do not mean hijacking scientific evidence and claiming that it could be evidence for the existence of some god.
If there were unambiguous facts that showed that a god actually existed, there would be no problem with such beliefs. But there are not and never have been. Belief in gods is very largely fueled by a lack of understanding, usually of natural phenomena. And it is this that is nonsense. If a person claimed that they could control lightning or cause earthquakes, most people
would expect them to demonstrate that they could before believing them. But if a person claims that it is instead their god that controls lightning or causes earthquakes, suddenly a much larger percentage of people is primed to believe them without demonstration or proof.
I know that not all theists succumb to this, but enough do that it is a serious problem, and one that cannot be ignored or given cover by those who do not.
The second line of attack to which the scientizers claim to have fallen victim comes from the humanities. This is a little startling, since it is the humanities that are declining in America, not least as a result of the exaggerated glamour of science. But some scientists and some scientizers feel prickly and self-pitying about the humanistic insistence that there is more to the world than science can disclose. It is not enough for them that the humanities recognize and respect the sciences; they need the humanities to submit to the sciences, and be subsumed by them. The idea of the autonomy of the humanities, the notion that thought, action, experience, and art exceed the confines of scientific understanding, fills them with a profound anxiety. It throws their totalizing mentality into crisis. And so they respond with a strange mixture of defensiveness and aggression. As people used to say about the Soviet Union, they expand because they feel encircled.
Excuse me, what? First off, his declaration that the humanities are declining in large part because of the "exaggerated glamour" of science needs facts to support it - facts which are utterly absent in his response. Second, I think that his attitude that science requires other things (such as the humanities) to submit to it is more than a little ridiculous. It seems that his statement is largely based on a so-called "scientism apologetic" by Steven Pinker, which, after having read it, is anything but.
Pinker's basic premise is that 'scientism' (as he calls it, an ill-defined term which can mean just about anything, depending on the speaker's intentions) has two basic premises - that the world is intelligible and can be explained by general principles, and that it is difficult to acquire an understanding of those general principles. Neither of these are in question. It is what follows that causes problems with a lot of people, uncomfortable with the implications. I think they would be perfectly happy if science stayed in the business of producing things like medicine and computers, and left morality and philosophy alone. But that is not reasonable. It is nothing less than asking scientists to practice cognitive dissonance, to pretend that their knowledge doesn't have any application in other realms of human thought. In other words, it is exactly what theists like Weiseltier are accusing 'scientism' of doing with the humanities.
Understanding the biological nature of faith doesn't require that one abandon it. Understanding the physical nature of a sunset does not prevent one from appreciating its beauty. Understanding how morality evolved over the thousands upon thousands of years that humans have existed on this planet doesn't turn it into a scientific theory. And so on and so forth. And this is Pinker's point. Having an understanding of how science intertwines with the humanities doesn't weaken them, or turn them into the "handmaiden of the sciences...dependent upon the sciences for their advance and even their survival". It simply allows one to have a greater understanding of those humanities. It uplifts them, rather than assimilating them.
Weiseltier would have us believe that 'scientism' is like the giant cube-ships of the Borg, arrogantly assimilating everything in sight and enmeshing them in a cold, unfeeling framework. But that is not at all true. Science helps to enrich the human experience, and provides a much more solid basis for it than theistic beliefs, most of which are based on ancient superstitions, justified by philosophical thinkers. Trying to keep science out (except in purely materialistic matters) causes many problems and solves none.
Indeed, Pinker makes a strong case for the primary reason that the humanities are in trouble - because many of them are trying to keep things the way they have always been, rather than adapting to a changing reality. This does not mean that they must adopt science in all its particulars - that would be silly. Instead, they should be open to new ideas, whether from 'scientism' or from tradition, and not simply attempt to fortify themselves in bastions which only serve to cut them off the rest of the way.