What should we say to Jerry Coyne, P.Z. Myers and others who claim evolution and Christianity are incompatible? Coyne has been arguing that organisations that promote evolution, like the National Centre for Science Education (“NCSE”) should be neutral on the issue and say nothing to promote accommodationism. This reminds me of the pleas of creationists that schools should be neutral on the issue whether Darwinism or intelligent design are true.
By the way, ‘accommodationism’ is the term now used for the argument that there is no reason why a Christian cannot be a Darwinist. Christian Darwinists, like me and Ken Miller, obviously believe that this is the case. So do some atheists like Michael Ruse. Jerry Coyne disagrees, as he is entitled to do. But he goes further and says that educational and scientific organisations should stop using accommodationist arguments in their campaign to promote Darwinism on the grounds that he and some other atheists disagree with the philosophical foundations of accommodationism.
There are two issues here. The first is whether or not Coyne is correct to say that evolution and Christianity are irreconcilable. The second is whether we should stop using accommodationist arguments to promote Darwinism and combat creationism. I’ll deal with the second issue in this post.
It would be a poor reason for abandoning accommodationist arguments because Jerry Coyne says we ought to. And abandoning them because P.Z. Myers says we should is a downright bad idea. They have whinged that the NCSE does not reflect their dissenting views. Again, they sound just like the Discovery Institute complaining that Intelligent Design is never given a fair crack of the whip. If accommodationism appears to be a useful tactic for promoting Darwinism, we should use it. We should not fail to use it because extremist atheists or fundamentalist creationists think that we should not.
When a dispute comes down to whether something is permissible because it is useful or forbidden because it is doctrinally impure, it is the fanatic who refuses to compromise on the grounds of utility. I think accommodationism is true. But even if I didn’t, I’d recognise that my own views were unhelpful for the campaign against creationism. I’d also note that some Christians are very good scientists and so if there is an incompatibility, it probably doesn’t matter much in practice. So I’d respect the opinion of those who disagree with me and help promote Darwinism in some other way. Only if I was more interested in campaigning for atheism than evolution would I take the line of Coyne and Myers that accommodationism should be removed from the anti-creationist arsenal.
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