The great accommodationism debate

I’ve stayed away from the current round of accusations and counteraccusations about accomodationism between religion and science. This is because I am a wishy washy Chamberlainist fencesitting Laodicean. But I am impressed by a few bloggers’ posts on the matter. First, what’s the background?

For many years there has been a divide between those who are not religious but think that promoting science should not exclude the religious, and those who are not religious and think that no defence of science should ever admit a religious believer at all. That is not quite the way they would put it of course, but the divide is between “accommodationists” and “exclusivists”.

Accommodationists hold, for various reasons, that when defending science, such as evolution (but not always), defenders should not assert that science is in opposition to religion. Instead, they should merely defend science.

Exclusivists, on the other hand, hold that science and religion are incompatible, and that to defend science one must, perforce, assert this incompatibility.

Each has a story about the motives of the other. Accommodationists think that exclusivists are being, variously, aggressive, militant, fundamentalist or just strategically stupid. Exclusivists think that accommodationists are being, diversely, incoherent, cowardly, stupid, or dishonest.

Much fun all round. So before I list the posts that I think approach the matter sensibly, a few points from moi:

  1. It is not the task of those who are not religious to find ways for the religious to harmonise their religion with science. That is the task of any religious adherent who wishes to live in the real world. But one may discuss whether it is possible, and if it is, conceptually, point out how, without thereby taking an advocacy role for religion. This is something that exclusivists think is just wrong. If I, as a non-religious person, think there is no evidence for some religious belief, I must therefore, on pain of self-contradiction (or self-immolation, or something) insist that nobody else can make the claim that their religious belief is consistent with science. Accusations of being a “religion lover” are uncomfortable echoes of previous intolerance.
  2. This is not just about strategy, but it is in part about strategy. The fact is that most people in society – whose taxes fund science, and whose governments decide on what science to fund – are religious or favourably disposed towards religion. A religious milieu is part of the ecology of science, so to speak. Making science the enemy of religion is going to have a single outcome, one that we can all predict. It won’t be the death of religion.
  3. As a point of fact, many people who are scientists are, actually and honestly, religious. Many religious are in favour of science. Why, then, should I insist that they give up one or the other? If I am trying to convert them to my way of thinking, that might be the way to go, but converting people to or from religious positions is not science; at best it’s philosophy, and at worst it is religious proselytising. Sure, atheism is not-pro-religion, but that doesn’t mean it is automatically not a religious position, and science, so far as I can tell, can only talk about empirical matters and their implications. So if to be religious means one admits of miracles, and science cannot either disprove miracles or accept them, one exceeds the bounds of science to insist that no miracles ever happen.
  4. All that notwithstanding, I fully concur with those who think that a science-defending institution or professional association, should make no assertions that science is compatible with religion either. That is, as I said in point 1, for the religious to sort out. Coincidentally, many religious bodies have done exactly that.
  5. Science and religion are not both seeking knowledge of the same things. The religious often make that assertion, that they are different epistemes or ways of knowing. If religion knows anything qua religion, it is nothing that can be investigated empirically, and when religion and science coincide on a view, it is an accident on religion’s part (or just common sense). In every case when a religious authority has asserted something about the physical world that is testable and novel, it is wrong. I know of no contrary examples. So what religion knows, if anything, is its own domain and topics, not those of science.
  6. Science and religion have never had “non-overlapping magisteria”. I know why Gould invented this, as a pluralist trying to effect a rapprochement, but it is just false. But likewise, there has never been a “warfare of religion against science”. The fact is, religion and science are like dancers on a crowded floor; sometimes they jostle each other for space, sometimes they are aware of the other and try to avoid conflict, and sometimes there’s just a bar brawl. Scientists often make religious pronouncements that are well outside the domain of their competence qua scientists, and theologians and clergy much more often make claims about science that are so silly they are funny, or would be if religion didn’t have the kind of political power that it usually has.

So, what’s set off the current round of claim, accusation and abuse? Jerry Coyne, a noted evolutionary biologist, wrote a piece in the New Republic and Chris Mooney, a science journalist who I like even if I don’t fully agree with everything he says, responded. Coyne is an exclusivist. Mooney a strategic accommodationist. The toing and froing can be found at their respective blogs (Coyne is a rare bird – a leading scientist who blogs). Mooney has been criticised by PZ Mashedpotato, Larry Moran at Sandwalk*, and various others.

What strikes me as regrettable is that this got personal very quickly. I’m not pointing fingers, but it does seem to me that exclusivists attack at the drop of a hat, calling people unscientific, ignorant, stupid and the like very quickly, for no more reason than that the person concerned disagrees with them! Okay, that’s perhaps what passes as debate these days – I blame debating rules as taught in schools – but such punditry does nobody any credit.

It is my opinion, for what it’s worth, that those who are accommodationists are not being cynical. I say this as an obvious accommodationist; it’s something I have argued for for years. We hold that it is better to not try to make science do what philosophy cannot, and eliminate all possible arationality from public debate by force majeure. And we hold that many good people, who think as well as the best of us and better than most, honestly think there is no conflict between science and religion. Sure, it is also the case that we should not alienate voters/funders/possible allies, but that’s not the main point.

Only those who are completely without self-knowledge think they are entirely rational on every subject, and that this licenses attacking others for their perceived failings in that respect. I know I won’t change their mind either.

Finally, let me say that the answer to the problem is not to shut anyone up. Exclusivists should put their case forcefully. Accommodationists should likewise. As I once said about public atheists, they should say as much as they can. I’m a Millian liberal, and free exchange of ideas is the best solution for society, not the suppression of any view. So when accommodationists or exclusivists insist the “other side” should be quiet, I demur. The more voices, the better.

Some good posts:

Coyne lists the posts to that time here.

Mooney lays out his creed here.

Josh Rosenau gets all sensible here and here.

Quodlibeta likewise.

Lawrence Krauss lays out the exclusivist argument well here.

* Yes, he who thinks I am an asportist, when in reality I am an anexercisist. I wish people would get the distinction straight…

176 Comments

Filed under Censorship, Education, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science, Sermon

176 Responses to The great accommodationism debate

  1. articulett

    Wilkins goes out of his way to miss the point. All we ask is that science be allowed to treat religious superstitions the way we treat all superstitions–the way that believers would want us to treat the beliefs that conflict with theirs.

    This may be the very best way to encourage believers to keep their faith private so that it stops infecting the masses with it’s promises of salvation for “believing” the “right” unbelievable story. This is possibly the kindest way to lead humanity forward out of their “demon haunted” imaginary worlds. Without the masses declaring how fabulous it is to be able to see the Emperor’s new clothes, more people will finally admit to themselves that they’ve been fooled by a naked guy and their imagination.

    The religious lie is a delusion which inspires discrimination against atheists. The atheist makes the theist realize that their beliefs are no more tenable than the beliefs they readily dismiss and so their minds are desperate to find a reason to vilify the messenger and miss the message. Wilkins sounds like he is asking scientists to be part of this enabling without giving a coherent reason as to why. This is the meme that Dennett refers to as “belief in belief”.

    I want no part of the lie that faith is a means of knowledge. It isn’t. It’s just a mind trick so that people feel ennobled for believing unbelievable things.

    • ckc (not kc)

      Science treats superstition as it treats everything outside its purview – it ignores it. (Not so all scientists as scientists, unfortunately, in my opinion.) How “believers want us to treat the beliefs that conflict with theirs” is really no concern of science, unless there are attempts to introduce these beliefs into science (through peer reviewed literature or science education). The former is a robust process; the latter may need some legal protection, sadly.

      • ckc (not kc)

        (Of course, some scientists believe that there is nothing outside the purview of science, which is a valid position – which I do not (currently) hold.)

    • jeff

      This may be the very best way to encourage believers to keep their faith private so that it stops infecting the masses with it’s promises of salvation for “believing” the “right” unbelievable story.

      In the US, we have this thing called “the Constitution” that explicitly guarantees freedom of religious expression, as well as freedom of speech. You certainly have the right to express your personal beliefs as well, including ridicule or mockery if you like. However, if any government agency or employer were to discriminate against, mock, or attempt to silence a scientist who openly expressed his religious views, they might very well find themselves on the losing side of a lawsuit.

  2. J.J.E.

    So, no reply, John? I think a good faith dialogue must at the very least acknowledge my replies after how you fumbled the ball by accusing me of “attacking” (I did no such thing, I merely asked for clarification) and suggesting I didn’t read your post.

    • John

      I suppose you don’t sleep. I have to, sometimes. Don’t forget, I am (i) on the other side of the world from you, and (ii) not at your beck and call 24/7.

      • J.J.E.

        For what it’s worth, I’m GMT+8. So, yeah, you were probably still asleep as you are 2 hours ahead of me, but I noted bracketing posts at different times.

        This isn’t a dis, but I find it puzzling how quick you were to pull the American timezone trigger. Don’t Australians and Kiwis read your blog as well? (I am coincidentally American, but I’ve lived abroad for 3 years.)

      • John

        The bulk of my respondents are American, especially after a Pharyngula deluge. I should not have assumed you were. But as it happens I sleep rather oddly, right now, as I have no set timetable. So I am awake through much of the Australian night, and I’m never entirely sure who I am chatting to, or where they are.

      • J.J.E.

        My brain is fried. That you were 2 hours ahead makes it less likely for you to be asleep, but the fact that I woke up at 5 am this morning (for special reasons, I’m not a massochist usually) makes it likely that any normal person wouldn’t be replying to a blog at that un-godly hour. In any event, sorry for the presumption. I get excited sometimes.

  3. articulett

    I understand the constitution quite well, Jeff…

    It seems that theists are very fond of using it to promote their “freedom of speech” and discrimination against those who don’t share their beliefs– while screaming “hate speech” and “intolerance” when someone expresses their opposing viewpoint similarly– particularly atheists.

    For this reason, religionists ought to be encouraged to keep their beliefs as private as their fetishes and what people do and don’t believe should not be part of public discussion. A science should never have to worry about hurting feelings for relaying facts or doubting faith as a means of knowledge.

  4. ckc (not kc)

    …while screaming “hate speech” and “intolerance” when someone expresses their opposing viewpoint similarly– particularly atheists.

    …A science[sic] should never have to worry about hurting feelings for relaying facts doubting faith as a means of knowledge.

    I think you’re confusing (or conflating) atheists and scientists. As a scientist, I never worry about hurting feelings when I present my work (faith doesn’t arise).

    It’s not that science (or its knowledge) doesn’t conflict with “popular” viewpoints, and stimulate screaming (in addition to creationists, there are anti-vax, anti-GMO, anti-pesticide, etc., etc.) It’s that the screaming is a not a scientific issue, but a political/social/legal one. Fight, but don’t fight a scientific battle (that’s not what your opponents are fighting – and science doesn’t care.)

  5. I agree with most of your points, especially 2, but I fear your asymmetrical assignments of accommodation duties is politically self-defeating. You seem to think that the burden of making religion and science compatible falls squarely on the shoulders of the religious. Why shouldn’t secularists also share responsibility? Unless you think religionists and secularists are not ceteris paribus epistemically on a par. But if you don’t think that, why the concession of cognitive territory to religion at all? Why allow religion to have its own domain and methods? Why not just bite the bullet and hold that religion has no place?

    It seems to me that, as the ultimate concerns of religion are also the ultimate concerns of life, sometimes the conflicts between religion and science indicate deeper conflicts between science and ultimate concern.

    • ckc (not kc)

      “Accommodation” is basically a misnomer. Science accommodates only science – but if others have have other ways of “knowing”, they are welcome to use them and encourage their use (and that includes scientists, in a non-professional capacity) – just don’t call it science. Epistemic parity is fun (!) to argue, but ultimately, the influence of any particular “way of knowing” is a political decision. As to the ultimate concerns of life, I know what mine are (details on request), but I suspect that that’s another whole argument.

  6. articulett

    I agree with Darth Happyface. I don’t think religion has a place at the knowledge table. It belongs in the “magisteria” of the other “woo”– superstitions, bigfoot believers, new age thought, etc.

    It should be treated with the same respect (or dismissal) as we treat other supernatural notions. It is not worthy of deference or special respect–no more so than it gives to conflicting supernatural claims. If believers don’t want to hear the scientific opinion of their beliefs, they should really keep it to themselves.

    Science cannot really support the proposition that “faith” is a way of knowing something without opening the door to all “woo”.

    As a science teacher, I’d like to be able to teach the fact that my students share a common ancestor with their pets (and other awesome tidbits) without having to worry about whose religious toes I might step on.

    I despise those who would hijack young minds with threats of hell and promises of salvation in exchange for their allegiance to a belief.

    • Oh, I am not an exclusivist. On the contrary, I think religions has much to offer, though I resist efforts to make it out to have its own methodology or aims as if it were just another research program.

      My point was basically that the political implications of the science-religion conflict are important enough to warrant resolution attempts by both religionists and secularists alike and that secularists should not simply ignore religion. That doesn’t mean, though, that scientists need to worry about or “respect” the religious convictions of their audiences, trying to sugar-coat their claims and stepping gingerly in the classroom, nor does it mean that the institutional behaviors of science need to change. It only means that effort should be made all throughout the sphere of public discourse to assimilate the conclusions of science into the concerns of religion.

  7. John, I posted much of the following over at PZ Merriwether’s. I just wanted to say I got a lot out of your comments, which I read as largely dispassionate. Given that I’m a theist, I probably can’t achieve the same level of objectivity, but here goes:

    Where you and some of the ‘exclusivists’ are concerned, it seems to me that the chief point of disagreement seems to be as follows: when one says ‘so-and-so shouldn’t say or do this’, the other replies ‘I never said such-and-such, what are you talking about?’ It’s all about perceptions. A lot of the ‘accomodationists’ react very poorly to criticism, it seems, to the point where they interpret it as a ‘demand’ or an ‘insistence.’ But this is not much different, it seems to me, from an atheist who behaves in a knee-jerk manner to any mention of religion or faith. One might as well argue over the taste of broccoli.

    To me, what it comes down to is this: the culture tends to privilege religion, but the practice of science does not. NOMA fails as soon as the consequences of religious claims are subjected to scientific inquiry. Attempts to privilege religion within science clearly threaten the integrity of the scientific enterprise. If that’s what is meant by ‘accommodation’, count me out.

    On the other hand, attempts to privilege science and the use of reason within the culture, however, are not obviously harmful to the culture as a whole…though they will definitely make it more difficult for any outfit that it attempting to privilege its views with arguments not based on reason. Again, if that’s what is meant by ‘the practice of science’, count me in.

    It should be obvious that there is no need to privilege atheism either within the practice of science or in the larger culture. I don’t see that either of those are happening for the most part, and I don’t see anyone I read regularly arguing for either position. Instead, what I hear is over-the-top rhetoric about who should be privileged and who shouldn’t. If that’s all we really mean by ‘exclusivism’, count me disinterested rather than aggrieved.

    Again, though, enjoyed the post.

  8. Science gives us the how, religion tries to answer that trickier more nebulous question of why. This is why religions are so fancifully diverse and science is so “literally” diverse. It often clashes with religion because of this when it attempts to find the “literal” in their cryptic texts. This is a big mistake. Religion functions differently than science because it has to.

    • John

      So do sports. And they answer the “why” question in much the same way: “for the team!”

      Personally, I prefer the sporting approach, because fewer people die.

      • Antiquated Tory

        For Pete’s sake, not the “wars of religion” canard. Unless you are simply saying that religion adds a powerful motivation to people fighting a war, which leads to particular wars being fiercer than if they were only fought for the other reasons. But I would say that this is one of the reasons for the success, historically, of the big monotheisms: they make their followers fight harder. But for example, would the Hugenots not have had their fights with and massacres at the hands of the majority Catholic French if there had been no Catholicism and Protestantism? Or the tensions between the coastal, industrial, external-oriented Hugenots and the internal, land-wealth oriented power centre have led to blood in any case?
        And speaking of sport, I think there’s quite enough violence over football as it is.

      • John

        Sure, but religious wars do occur, and in cases where religion is not the sole cause, it is at least a contributor to the overall dynamics. Nobody could suggest, for example, that the Muslim/Crusader conflicts were purely economic. So given that the headcount of most sports is much lower than the headcount of most religious engagements, I will stick by my comment.

      • Antiquated Tory

        Fair enough. I just wanted to say that 1) I doubt any religious wars are all about the religion, and very few are even mainly about the religion per se; 2) religion does make for nastier wars, however; but 3) barring religion, the powers that be would simply find another motivator.

  9. Being my self a exclusivist, for some years now I wonder what would happen if we bring this issue onto our own research agenda (“assert it”). It would be probably another kind of religion.

  10. Mike McCants

    “Only those who are completely without self-knowledge think they are entirely rational on every subject …”

    That’s a really weird opinion. How do you define “self-knowledge”? How can someone be “completely without self-knowledge”?

    “…and that this licenses attacking others for their perceived failings in that respect.”

    That’s crazy. I don’t need a “license” to “attack others” for not being rational.

    • ckc (not kc)

      Most civil societies expect there to be some license (justification) for attacking others. If you don’t feel that need, so be it.

      • Peter

        Well, sure, we might need license to attack, but we don’t need license to “attack,” if by “attack” we mean criticize. And besides, I think his point was that being irrational is sufficient license.

        Although I hope he doesn’t mean that he starts arguments with people for, like, enjoying music…but I think he probably deserves the benefit of the doubt on that one.

  11. Mike McCants

    “Making science the enemy of religion is going to have a single outcome, one that we can all predict.”

    I find your opinion to be irrational and I hereby attack it.

    But, of course, if you have simply put up a strawman, (certain Islamic countries excepted), then your opinion is not irrational, just silly.

    So the question becomes – do you really think that there is any chance that it could happen in the West that science becomes “the enemy of religion” for a significant fraction of the population? Well, would we then get what we deserve? A return to the Dark Ages where “nasty, brutish, and short” was accurate? Religion would “win” and science would “lose”?

  12. Simpleton

    “Accommodationists hold, for various reasons, that when defending science, such as evolution (but not always), defenders should not assert that science is in opposition to religion. Instead, they should merely defend science.”

    Why not?

    Do you expect law-abiding citizens, for example, to only defend civilized behavior, and not condemn, for example, vandalism?

    When religion stops assailing science, such a request would be worthy of consideration. Otherwise it is foolish to only defend science, because, in such case, we will never be rid of the dogma and the doleful influences of religion.

    Religion has enjoyed the unearned privilege of being above ridicule, when far more benign endeavors like palmistry, astrology, and numerology have been persecuted by religious people.

    Wake the f*** up!

  13. Greg. Tingey

    Shame on you, Dr. Wilkins.
    You really should know better than this
    Taking your points in order:
    1
    But far far too many religious followers are not interested in living in the real world.
    They demand that the world accomodste to their fantasies.
    Menawhile it is the DUTY of scientists to point out inconsistencies and falsehoods in the beliefs of the religious when it DOES come to the real world.
    2
    Tha’s because the legislators themselves have been brainwashed.
    And Wrong.
    The last time science was killed by religion, we had the dark ages – we just have to point this out to the politicos …..
    3
    This is called shilly-shallying.
    Unfortunately, given the recent damands for “respect” (like mafia gangsters) on the part of the religious, the only HONEST answer is: get lost.
    4
    Bullshit.
    Religious bodies have done so, only by either going for a god-of-the-gaps, or by redefining “god” to the point of nothingness.
    5
    And WHAT, precisely IS religion’s way of knowing?
    Mysticism?
    Bronze-Age Goathereder’s Myths?
    Dark-Ages Camelherders’ Myths?
    How and where and by what controllable measuring-stick is religion’s so-called “knowledge” arrived at?
    6

    Correct – AND -
    Not even wrong.
    Ther IS a war of religion against science, and the scientists are accused of aggression when they defend themselves.

  14. Michael Kingsford Gray

    Accomodationists are clearly willful liars**,
    either by omission, or direct commission.

    Some may choose that as an acceptable price to pay for the “progress” that has not happened in living memory, nor will ever occur whilst dealing with the purposefully ignorant.

    I choose to not even start down that path.
    I prefer the unvarnished truth.

    ___________
    ** The only “out” to this accusation is to plead either abject ignorance, or insanity.

    • J.J.E.

      I have to say, for someone sympathetic to an anti-accommodationist perspective, even I find this a bit much. Accommodationists are wrong in my opinion. But over much more clearcut (ie well-defined) cases in science, I see many of my colleagues with much more at stake refuse to accept being wrong on more or less honest (but misguided) grounds when it would be better to cut their losses. I don’t think it takes abject ignorance and it certainly doesn’t take insanity to be on the wrong side of an issue, especially when there are sunk costs involved. Just modal human psychology.

      Wow. One might even think this comment was written to discredit anti-accommodationists or something.

  15. Veronica Abbass

    John

    The best part of this post is your statement “I am a wishy-washy Chamberlainist fencesitting Laodicean.”

    I suspect and your replies in the comments section indicate that this is not an accurate description of you.

    I would like your permission to use this expression (giving you proper credit of course). I know many people for whom this sentence is bang on.

  16. Leigh Jackson

    Not a bad idea to try to keep things concrete. Here’s what I consider to be a gross example of institutional accommodationism. Let’s remember that there is no scientific controversy about the fact of evolution. The normal kinds of dispute amongst scientists who work to improve our theoretical understanding of nature do exist; without them science would not be science. There is a religious controversy regarding evolution and there are serious questions regarding the compatibility of science with supernaturalist religion. The NAS appear to have cast in their lot with those religious who don’t reject evolution wholesale.

    “Science is not the only way of knowing and understanding. But science is a way of knowing that differs from other ways in its dependence on empirical evidence and testable explanations. Because biological evolution accounts for events that are also central concerns of religion — including the origins of biological diversity and especially the origins of humans — evolution has been a contentious idea within society since it was first articulated by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace in 1858.

    Acceptance of the evidence for evolution can be compatible with religious faith. Today, many religious denominations accept that biological evolution has produced the diversity of living things over billions of years of Earth’s history. Many have issued statements observing that evolution and the tenets of their faiths are compatible. Scientists and theologians have written eloquently about their awe and wonder at the history of the universe and of life on this planet, explaining that they see no conflict between their faith in God and the evidence for evolution. Religious denominations that do not accept the occurrence of evolution tend to be those that believe in strictly literal interpretations of religious texts.

    Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. In science, explanations must be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world. Scientifically based observations or experiments that conflict with an explanation eventually must lead to modification or even abandonment of that explanation. Religious faith, in contrast, does not depend only on empirical evidence, is not necessarily modified in the face of conflicting evidence, and typically involves supernatural forces or entities. Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways. Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.”

    The first two paragraphs are unobjectionable apart from what sounds very much like an endorsement or even a declamation of the view that evolution can be compatible with religious faith, rather than a neutral observation of the fact that many religious people believe that evolution is compatible with their faith. The third paragraph needs close attention. Without realising it the NAS has wandered into a philosophical quagmire by introducing the nature-supernature dichotomy.

    “Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. In science, explanations must be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world.”

    Science and religion often address different kinds of questions in different kinds of ways from one another. Sometimes they can address the same or similar kinds of question, but do so in different kinds of ways. In science, explanations must be based on empirical evidence. The effect of talking about science drawing on evidence from the natural world may be to unconsciously legitimise the notion that there is, or may be, or can be a supernatural world. Many people question or deny the existence of the supernatural exists and one could question the whether the notion of the interaction of the natural with the supernatural is epistemologically coherent.

    “Scientifically based observations or experiments that conflict with an explanation eventually must lead to modification or even abandonment of that explanation. Religious faith, in contrast, does not depend only on empirical evidence, is not necessarily modified in the face of conflicting evidence, and typically involves supernatural forces or entities.”

    Again, insufficient care with words has been taken. This could be read as the assumption or even assertion by the NAS of the existence of the supernatural.

    “Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways.”

    Yet again, this reads literally as an acceptance of the existence of the supernatural. The supernatural cannot be investigated by anyone if it does not exist. In this sense science addresses what is known to exist and religion addresses something whose existence has not been demonstrated. Supernaturalist religion does not investigate the existence of the supernatural: it asserts the existence of the supernatural.
    Science has found no evidence to substantiate supernatural beliefs or claims but has found explanations for many phenomena once attributed to supernatural forces or entities. Science and religion are clearly distinct from one another today in a way which they were not in the past. Scientists once had to serve the interests of faith and not challenge the authority of the Church.

    “Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.”

    Controversy is part of human life. Attempts to pretend that there is nothing in the very different natures of science and supernaturalist religion which can possibly give rise to controversy between them is ridiculous accommodationism. At the very least the compatibility of science and supernaturalist religion is a wide open and inviting question.

    A non-accommodationist (neutral) rewrite of the last paragraph would look something like this:

    Science and religion often address different kinds of questions in different kinds of way from one another. Sometimes they address the same or similar kinds of question but do so in different ways. In science, explanations must be based on empirical evidence. Scientifically based observations or experiments that conflict with an explanation eventually must lead to modification or even abandonment of that explanation. Religious faith, in contrast, does not depend only on empirical evidence, is not necessarily modified in the face of conflicting evidence, and typically involves beliefs or claims about supernatural forces or entities. Science has found no evidence to substantiate supernatural beliefs or claims but has found explanations for many phenomena once attributed to supernatural forces or entities.

    Science and religion have a very different relationship today than they have shared in the past. Scientists once had to serve the interests of faith as well as reason and were not allowed to challenge the authority of the Church to decide on the theological implications of what scientists said. Scientists were censored by the Church if they did not exercise sufficient self-censorship.

    The compatibility of science and supernaturalist religion today is an open question.

    • TB

      ” “Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways.”

      Yet again, this reads literally as an acceptance of the existence of the supernatural. ”

      That’s not how I read this at all. It is actually quite consistent with the testimony given by Robert Pennock at the Dover trial:

      http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/dover/day3am.html

      It simply takes no position on the matter of whether the supernatural exists or not. It is not scientific.

      But, your position seems entirely consistent of those pushing for philosophical naturalism instead of methodological naturalism being the minimum requirement for all things scientific.

  17. thonyc

    Greg. Tingey posted the following mind bogglingly stupid comment:

    The last time science was killed by religion, we had the dark ages – we just have to point this out to the politicos …..

    I have posted a somewhat longer reply to this inanity on my own blog.

  18. J

    But science CAN disprove miracles.

  19. Leigh Jackson

    TB, the mere act of talking in this manner – by expounding on the supernatural as if it exists in any shape or form sufficient for science to have any thought whatsoever about – is for science to give the notion basic street cred. Against all the evidence of science which has time and time again found testable explanations for phenomena which have been deemed inexplicable and in need of an invisible intelligent cause. My point is this: science should religiously avoid the G and S words. There is no need to say a word about the subject. From the point of view of science we should act not as if there is no supernatural, we should act on the basis that to think or talk in terms of the supernatural is to talk gibberish. We should not allow the word supernatural into scientific discourse.

    I wish also that accomodationsists would relinquish their fetish for philosophic jargon amounting to the fixed and untouchable doctrine of MN v PN. Let’s talk about science in a way which eschews all religious and philosophic doctrines. I am not pushing any “ism”. I want science to defend science by means of science. I don’t want science pushing “isms”.

    We know that ID is shit science. Full stop. We only need to explain why it is shit science: there isn’t a scrap of evidence for it – it’s consists entirely of being evolution-negative rather than being ID positive. For example it cannot show how it’s better at explaining the whole of biology than evolution. Or better at explaining the fossil recored and genetics; or more productive or predictive etc etc. It can’t do sweet scientific FA, as we all know. No need to talk about the supernatural or methodological naturalism at all. Only have to talk about science.

    What science should avoid is any talk about anything metaphysical or anything philosophical at all. Just don’t talk about it. To get involved in talking about metaphysics is to be diverted from talking about science. Not philosophy of science but science.

    Individual scientists can talk as much as they like about religion and philosophy, cookery, football and anything else; but scientific institutions should not go there.

    Darwin said it best “I am not sure whether it would not be wisest for scientific men quite to ignore the whole subject of religion.” Darwin to Hooker, 8-10 September 1868.

  20. ckc (not kc)

    …we should act on the basis that to think or talk in terms of the supernatural is to talk gibberish

    …yeah, that’ll do the trick.

    What science should avoid is any talk about anything metaphysical or anything philosophical at all.

    “Science” doesn’t talk about anything – scientists do. Good luck in keeping scientists from talking about anything metaphysical or philosophical. Such a boycott might protect science in the short run, but the real (human) world will force its way in sooner or later (they’re paying for the science, to be perfectly blunt about it).

    • John

      Avoiding any talk of anything metaphysical implies not talking as if the supernatural is gibberish.

    • John

      If the claim is “the supernatural talk is gibberish”, that is a metaphysical claim (or more properly, a claim about metaphysical talk). So avoiding “any talk about anything metaphysical or anything philosophical at all” means one must avoid the claim “supernatural talk is gibberish”.

      It’s called a “self-defeating claim” in philosophy, and it’s what killed logical positivism c1935.

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