Religion and Evolution: Part III

THE “accommodationalist” debate continues, between those who see religion as unalterably opposed to science (especially evolution) and those who disagree. Our previous two commentaries are here Religion and Evolution, and here Religion and Evolution: Part II. They’ve gone unnoticed, so naturally we’ll jump in again.

PZ Myers, who disagrees with the accommodationalists, has posted his latest contribution: I may not be perfectly rational, but my magic invisible monkeys are! It’s risky to excerpt just a bit from PZ’s essay, but:

… to imply that we can therefore have no license to criticize irrationality is to claim that no one can say anything ever against foolishness. It’s an abdication of intellectual responsibility.


I’m going to insist that it is fair game to attack the obvious failings of religion.

Francis Collins is an example of the other side: Religion and Science: Conflict or Harmony? This is from the introduction to Collins’ remarks:

Francis S. Collins, the former director of the Human Genome Project, discussed why he believes religion and science are compatible and why the current conflict over evolution vs. faith, particularly in the evangelical community, is unnecessary. Collins, an evangelical Christian, talked about his path from atheism to Christianity and his belief that science provides evidence of God.

But we don’t think this is a situation that offers a pure dichotomy. There are positions for a science advocate other than opposition to religion and accommodation with it. Our own suggestion isn’t a compromise that attempts to reconcile the warring camps. Rather, it’s yet another option, one which probably won’t appeal to either those who agree with PZ or to those who agree with Collins. But some may find that it suits them.

Our position is to totally disregard what we consider to be a sectarian disagreement among various denominations about whether scripture should be read in a manner to deny verifiable information about reality. One might describe our position as including both curiosity that such disputes exist, and indifference as to whether the disputants ever figure it out.

We become concerned only when a reality-denial sect threatens to go malignant, seeking to forcefully spread its dogma beyond its own voluntary membership. Absent such malignancy — which requires vigorous opposition — why should we care about theological debates among denominations? And why should we involve ourselves in their disagreements?

Don’t misunderstand — we’re not impartial. We prefer a world in which everyone thinks and behaves rationally, and we approve of scientific research and education. We humbly endeavor to achieve to those ends. (What else is this blog?) But we recognize that such efforts are unappreciated by some groups. Their choices are not our concern — unless they are literally a threat to our freedom. Should that happen, and it does, you’ll hear from us, and you do; but such are exceptional situations.

So how does our policy of indifference manifest itself? It’s analogous to our attitude regarding the Super Bowl. We don’t follow professional sports, so we don’t care about such contests. Often we don’t even know who the contenders are. On the other hand, we don’t chastise those who are keenly interested in such matters.

Another example: Suppose you’re driving down the street and you pass by a church to which you don’t belong. It doesn’t matter why you don’t belong to it. Maybe you prefer a different denomination, or maybe you don’t belong to any church. Our question is, having noticed the church, what do you do? Do you slam on the breaks, jump out of your car, and dash inside to engage them in debate? No, you probably don’t even give them a thought. There are all kinds of churches, and you don’t care for this one. So you just keep on driving. That’s our policy in action.

Here’s an example of how our policy of indifference might play out in the science arena. Suppose you’re an astronomer, and your research is about distant galaxies, dark energy, etc. Fascinating stuff. Suppose further that a TV “journalist” invites you to participate in a panel discussion about your work. You naturally ask who the other panelists will be. If informed that they have invited an astrologer, an exorcist, a moon-landing denier, and the shoe-bomber to appear on the panel with you, what would be your reaction?

Perhaps you’d be polite, and ask why the others were invited. The “journalist” replies that their presence is necessary to give a balanced presentation of all sides. How do you react? Our reaction would be to say: “That’s very journalistic of you. However, I’m not interested in debating my work with those people. Therefore, I decline your invitation”

No debate. No controversy. No accommodation. Simple.

Update: See also Creationism: The Debate About The Debate.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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16 responses to “Religion and Evolution: Part III

  1. For me, it’s enough that religious and non-religious methodological naturalists fight on the same side.

  2. longshadow

    FWIW, since science is based on an attempt to understand reality, it can never be expected to “accommodate” anything that is at odds with reality.

    Therefore, whatever accommodations there are will have to come from the theological side — they must at some point accommodate reality, or risk being deem utterly irrelevant.

    Entertaining non-natural causation isn’t an accommodation by science; it’s an overt capitulation to an untestable, and thus unscientific, way of thinking.

  3. Longie says:

    FWIW, since science is based on an attempt to understand reality, it can never be expected to “accommodate” anything that is at odds with reality.

    Of course, but why bother arguing with them? Unless they get aggressive, just leave ’em alone.

  4. Curmy said: “Do you slam on the breaks,…”

    That depends on whether one wants to break something or brake something.

    I went to PZ’s and to Wilkin’s blogs and read what has been written by both. It seems to me that the accommodationists are addressing a strawman as are the anti-accommodationists.

  5. A personal policy of indifference usually works for me. At least until a Jehovah’s Witness comes knocking at my door (which seems to be an annual event in my town). There’s no having a rational discussion with some people.

    However, I’m concerned about the wider significance of indifference in general. We may be keeping religion out of our public schools and government for the most part so far but, that still leaves a lot of room for religions to try and expand their ideas and influences. Don’t most religions think part of their ‘job’ is to “spread the word”? When kids are taught an anti-scientific bias in church, get it reinforced by their parents and other media sources (there are as many religion only TV stations in my area as there are regular network stations), how many of them are going to become the scientists we will need in the future?

    A policy of indifference may be fine on a personal level but, I don’t think it’s a good idea on a national or world level.

  6. The Curmudgeon asks:

    You naturally ask who the other panelists will be. If informed that they have invited an astrologer, an exorcist, a moon-landing denier, and the shoe-bomber to appear on the panel with you, what would be your reaction?

    I’d wonder why the Discovery Institute was holding their annual Board Meeting on television…

  7. I reckon the whole issue gets way too much air time – somehow legitimizing a non-argument.

  8. Dr. Arv Edgeworth

    Religion is never opposed to real science …

    [Blather deleted]

    Evolution is a fairy tale for grownups that are scientifically challenged.

  9. ” For me, it’s enough that religious and non-religious methodological naturalists fight on the same side.”

    Ditto James.

  10. Good heavens…Dr. Edgeworth thinks the world’s scientific community is scientifically challenged.

  11. Sorry your comment was delayed, James. Mentioning “Edgeworth” triggered the filter.

  12. No worries…it’s a good rule of thumb.

  13. Ah, but that is an accommodationism. I think

  14. John says: “Ah, but that is an accommodationism. I think…”

    In the words of the Godfather: “When have I ever refused an accommodation?”

  15. “Make him an offer he can’t care about…”

  16. “So long as religion is freed from authoritarian institutional forms, and conceived in personal terms, so long as overbeliefs are a source of innocent joy, a way of overcoming cosmic loneliness, a discipline of living with pain and evil, otherwise unendurable and irremediable, so long as what functions as a vital illusion or poetic myth is not represented as public truth to whose existence the once-born are blind, so long as religion does not paralyze the desire and the will to struggle against unnecessary cruelties of experience, it seems to me to fall in an area of choice in which rational criticism may be suspended. In this sense, a man’s personal religion justifies itself to him in the way his love does. Why should he want to make a public cult of it? And why should we want him to prove that the object of his love is the most lovely creature in the world? Nonetheless it still remains true that as a set of cognitive beliefs, religious doctrines constitute a speculative hypothesis of an extremely low order of probability.”

    – Sidney Hook