Thursday, April 23, 2009

Truckling to the Faithful

Jerry Coyne blasts the accommodationists: Truckling to the Faithful: A Spoonful of Jesus Helps Darwin Go Down:
[T]he accommodationist position of the National Academy of Sciences, and especially that of the National Center for Science Education, is a self-defeating tactic, compromising the very science they aspire to defend. By seeking union with religious people, and emphasizing that there is no genuine conflict between faith and science, they are making accommodationism not just a tactical position, but a philosophical one. By ignoring the significant dissent in the scientific community about whether religion and science can be reconciled, they imply a unanimity that does not exist. Finally, by consorting with scientists and philosophers who incorporate supernaturalism into their view of evolution, they erode the naturalism that underpins modern evolutionary theory. ...

The NAS is saying that most religious people and scientists have no problem with evolution and faith. Given that 40% of Americans reject evolution outright (almost entirely on religious grounds), while 92% of NAS scientists reject the idea a personal god, the National Academy is clearly pushing its agenda in defiance of evidence. ...

In his accommodationist books God After Darwin and the more recent Deeper than Darwin, [NCSE website contributor John Haught] espouses a teleology in which evolution is ineluctably drawn by God to some future point of perfection. ... But any injection of teleology into evolutionary biology violates precisely the great advance of Darwin’s theory: to explain the appearance of design by a purely materialistic process — no deity required. ... If we’re to defend evolutionary biology, we must defend it as a science: a nonteleological theory in which the panoply of life results from the action of natural selection and genetic drift acting on random mutations. ...

If natural selection and evolution are as powerful as we all believe, then we should devote our time to making sure that they are more widely and accurately understood, and that their teaching is defended. Those should be the sole missions of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Center for Science Education. Leave theology to the theologians.

Also read PZ Myers, Larry Moran and Richard Dawkins on this important position.

The only way that religion can be compatible with science is to suck all the meaning out of "religion": To hold the position that God is a vague deity, with vague properties and no effect whatsoever on the world, neither physical nor moral; to hold an Einsteinian "God" as a metaphor for the nonteleological physical laws that govern our world. The vast majority of self-described religious people do not hold such a vacuous view of God: they see God has having some influence on the world, many see God as having a profound and continuing influence. I cannot imagine how those few self-described religious people who do talk about a "God Who Makes No Difference" (Greg Egan's phrase) and really mean it can muster up the energy to regularly meet.


  1. If God is to be identified with some features of the world, in the case of Einstein, then presumably God *does* have affects in the world. Responding to these features with a sense of gratitude, piety does not seem vacuous or irreligious. And since it seems more reality based, it made be even more efficacious than religious responses made to a sky daddy. I think that is up to those religious communities which seek some reconciliation with science to do that work and a case can be made for neutrality on the part of the Nat'l Accademy of Sciences.

  2. I agree that philosophical accommodationism is bankrupt. But tactical accommodationism seems unavoidable, particularly for a scientific entity that relies on taxpayer largess.

  3. Coynes point is that the NSA/NCSE is going beyond a tactical position to a philosophical one. There's a point at which you just have to stand and fight.


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