Thursday, June 25, 2009

Accommodating Coyne

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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14 comments:

Noons said...

I haven't heard Coyne and Myers argue that Evolution is incompatible with Christianity specifically. I've read them say it is incompatible with "religion." And they argue that as an extension of the argument that science and faith are incompatible ways of thinking. However, at that point they're getting into philosophy, and are essentially arguing for logical positivism.

I think they take the positivist route because they already know that the question of whether Evolution and Christianity are compatible is a Christian issue, not a Scientific issue. To argue specifically against Evolution and Christianity would require making statements about the interpretation of scripture and Christian tradition, which they know little about and would make them look silly.

I get frustrated that people like Coyne and Myers never go head on against Christianity specifically, but I can understand why they won't.

bobxxxx said...

All of science, not just evolutionary biology, conflicts with religious stupidity, including the idiotic Christian death cult. It's for a good reason the top scientists in the world are virtually all atheists (93% of the National Academy of Sciences).

"To argue specifically against Evolution and Christianity would require making statements about the interpretation of scripture and Christian tradition, which they know little about and would make them look silly."

The only thing anyone has to know about Christian tradition is it's all bullshit. 100% pure bullshit.

I don't have to know anything about astrology to know it's all nonsense. Christianity and all other religions are the same. It's all childish nonsense for the insane and the stupid.

bobxxxx said...

"Several months later, I very reluctantly accepted Christ."

You accepted JEEBUS.

I'm really sorry, but you're a fucking moron.

Turoldus said...

Expletives, proud ignorance and insults: the New Atheism in all its splendor. Thank you Bobxxx for reminding us who the real f**** morons are.

P.S.: Bede, you really should consider moderating comments. We don't need this kind of stupid blather.

Humphrey said...

http://www.guardian.co.uk/users/bobxxxx/comments

Nice comments there Bob.

Truly the product of a beautiful mind.

If you hate the 'magic God fairy' worshippers so much why did you move to Florida?

Noons said...

WOW. 0_o

I admit I once pretended to be a crazy fundie atheist on a PZ post. It got old fast. This guy with this many comments...I'm tempted to try to reason with him, like pointing out the simple fact that the God question is still debated in Philosophy circles in the Ivory tower all over the world...but I think its a waste of my time.

Michael Fugate said...

The biggest problem is both sides are acting on a lack of evidence because of the difficulty in performing experiments to test how best to lead people to accept evolution. Steven Verhey tried to get at this in a study published in 2005 (Bioscience), but it suffers from several problems. Verhey may well have been influenced by the work of Craig Nelson at Indiana University (who I think has some good things to say on pedagogy). We do know that in the states many more people are attending and graduating from college, but the acceptance of evolution has not changed much as a result.
I think major science organizations would be better served by funding research on effective teaching methods than on producing "slick" brochures touting accommodation. If people are more likely to understand and accept evolution after reading or watching materials highlighting theistic biologists who claim no incompatibility exists, then we should consider using this approach.
If any of you have come across other studies on this, I would be very interested in the references.

Humphrey said...

Hi Michael

I don't know of any studies on this. My reading is that theistic evolution is seen as a weak option, or some sort of 'capitulation' to the 'evil darwinists'. Really I think the key is transferring the progress made in theology into the mainstream. This can only be done by the accommodationists becoming more vocal and touting what they believe without the science suffering. At the same time I think the teaching could be better; we should be raising the subject and tackling it head on rather than skirting around the issue. Michael Reiss tried to start a conversation around this in the U.K but was rewarded by being forced to resign.

Ilíon said...

So, how does this work? I mean, how does it work rationally and logically; I think I know how it works sociologically/politically.

'Modern evolutionary theory' -- the one non-negotiable commitment of which is "Even if there were a god, it had nothing to do with what exists" -- is compatible with Christianity? How?

Science’ isn’t even about truth, in the first place; and ‘scientific statements’ may be true, or they may be false and yet remain valid as ‘science;’ and ‘science’ cannot help us to distinguish which valid ‘scientific statements’ are actually true from which are not -- but, nonetheless, hoi polloi need to “accept” “science” as The TrVth?

Humphrey said...

"Even if there were a god, it had nothing to do with what exists"

I don't think that statement is necessarily entailed in modern evolutionary theory. It might be a legitimate philosophical inference from modern evolutionary theory, in which case it has to duke it out with the theological interpretation (comic fine tuning, fitness of the environment etc..) and one has to infer to the best explanation.

Ilíon said...

Humphrey: "I don't think that statement is necessarily entailed in modern evolutionary theory."

I didn't say that it's a conclusion of, a logical implication of, 'modern evolutionary theory,' I said that it's the core and non-negotiable assumption; that it is the starting point. That it's *generally* not explicitly stated doesn't change reality.

The atheistic "Darwinists" begin with "There is no god; all that exists is accidental and wholly unintended."

The "theistic" "Darwinists" begin with "There is a God; but, of course, he had nothing to do, or as close to as makes no difference, with the history of the universe or of living entities."


And, by the way, the reason I always write it as 'modern evolutionary theory' (in quote marks) is because it's neither particulary modern, nor really evolutionary, nor actually a scientific theory. Sort of like the quip about the Holy Roman Empire being none of those.


Humphrey: "... and one has to infer to the best explanation."

And what does "best" mean? What is the criterion? And, does "best" equal true? And if "best" does not equal true, then why should I give a damn about it (except, perhaps, to mock it and to mock the efforts of those who advocate it)?

Importantly, when this duking out is done, if it ever is done, all we have left is, at best, a collection of 'scientific statements.' Though, as we're talking about 'modern evolutionary theory,' what we have, at best, is a collection of statments made by some scientists. In any event, 'scientific statements' do not equal truth; the truth-value of any particular 'scientific statement' cannot be established via 'science.'

Once again, whence comes this need (is it a moral obligation?) of hoi polloi to "accept" "evolution" (whatever you may mean by that word)?

Humphrey said...

The "theistic" "Darwinists" begin with "There is a God; but, of course, he had nothing to do, or as close to as makes no difference, with the history of the universe or of living entities."

Are you sure that's what they are arguing?. That doesn't sound much like Theistic Evolution to me, which is essentially saying the universe (in the words of Fred Hoyle) is a 'put up job'.

Anonymous said...

You wrote:

"By the way, ‘accommodationism’ is the term now used for the argument that there is no reason why a Christian cannot be a Darwinist."

Two things:

1. Why are these 10 dangers of theistic evolution valid? See: http://creation.com/10-dangers-of-theistic-evolution

2. Are you able to satisfactorily answer these 15 questions for evolutionist: http://creation.com/15-questions

These are reasonable and fundamental questions for evolutionists.

Anonymous said...

my bible says " let us make man in our image." which god made us then?