Sunday, October 04, 2009

Is Richard Dawkins an Accomodationist?

Richard Dawkins was recently interviewed by Newsweek: Darwin’s Rottweiler. Here's an excerpt.
Are those incompatible positions: to believe in God and to believe in evolution?
No, I don't think they're incompatible if only because there are many intelligent evolutionary scientists who also believe in God—to name only Francis Collins [the geneticist and Christian believer recently chosen to head the National Institutes of Health] as an outstanding example. So it clearly is possible to be both. This book more or less begins by accepting that there is that compatibility. The God Delusion did make a case against that compatibility in my own mind.
I interpret this to mean that in Dawkins' own mind the two are incompatible as he explained in The God Delusion, but that there are many scientists, like Francis Collins, who think that science and religion are compatible.

But on reading this, the real accommodationists had a conniption. Josh Rosenau thinks that Dawkins may have converted to his side and the side promoted by NCSE (who back Collins over Dawkins) [Richard Dawkins, accommodationist?].
This, for what it's worth, looks like the position NCSE has taken, and is, to the best of my knowledge, the sort of rhetoric Matt Nisbet and Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum have been calling for from folks like Dawkins. It matches my own views, too, though I've been less vocal in these debates than many others.

It will be interesting to see whether the usual suspects go after Dawkins with quite the same vehemence that has met others advancing similar lines of argument.
Matt Nisbet is delighted because he's been saying all along that Dawkins needs to re-frame his argument to conform to the Nisbet rules for talking about evolution [Is Dawkins Re-Framing His Position on Science & Religion?]. Chris Mooney—who hasn't completely abandoned the bizarre views of his former colleague (Nisbet)—is also jumping on the bandwagon [Richard Dawkins, Accommodationist].

Sheesh! Come on guys, get a life.

Dawkins wasn't very careful about what he said in that interview but to assume that he's all-of-a-sudden become an accommodationist is really stupid of you.

Now we have the makings of a really Alice-in-Wonderland (or Woody Allen) scenario. Jerry Coyne is currently in Los Angeles at a meeting with Richard Dawkins. He (Coyne) showed the Josh, Matt, and Chris postings to Richard and here's what Coyne wrote on his blog [Richard Dawkins is not an accommodationist].
Well, I know Richard Dawkins. I am at a meeting with Richard Dawkins. I just discussed these accusations of accommodationism with Richard Dawkins. And I can tell you, Chris, Sheril, and Josh, that Richard is not one of you.

Right now I feel like Woody Allen in Annie Hall. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember that in one scene Allen is in a movie line with Diane Keaton, and becomes annoyed by some pompous guy trying to impress his date by nattering on about the work of Marshall McLuhan. Allen goes behind a movie sign and pulls out McLuhan himself, taking him over to confront Mr. Pomposity. McLuhan coldly eyes him and says, “Excuse me, but I am Marshall McLuhan, and I couldn’t help overhearing what you said. I have to tell you that you know nothing of my work!” Allen turns to the camera and comments, “Don’t you wish life could be like this?”


  1. For a person "to believe" in God and evolution simultaneously, a la Francis Crick, is not the same question as whether religion and science are mutually incompatible disciplines. Dawkins was addressing the former, but did not clearly communicate in that quote that the God Delusion addressed the latter.

    I don't think Rosenau has got Dawkins right on this point and he seems overeager in his interpretation that Dawkins has actually repented from his non compatibility position stated quite clearly in The God Delusion, in order to bolster the position of the NCSE, Matt Nisbet, and Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum.

  2. Dawkins does manage to verbally step in it from time to time, but IMO this isn't one of them. This time, I blame the framers: it's not reasonable to expect someone to give all the careful definitions, caveats and nuances every damn time they get interviewed on the same question. At some point, the audience should be expected familiarize themselves with the person's full views, beyond the media sound-bites.

  3. Just posted

    "Richard Dawkins is not an accommodationist" at

  4. The theory of evolution is one result of the scientific method - the same way that the theory of electromagnetism is another result of the scientific method.
    The fact that a particular religion accepts one of these theories is NOT the same as saying that the same religion is compatible with the scientific method (otherwise the Raelian, Scientology and Mormon religions could be said to be compatible with science because they all accept the idea of electricity).
    The NCSE and their minnions are forced to adopt a 'Clintonian' regard for language ("I am not having an affair with that woman") in order to stay on the right side of theistic evolutionists like Collins who really do think their religion is compatible with the scientific method.

  5. Dawkins was interviewed today (Oct 4) on CBC Radio's Tapestry. The host, Mary Hynes, specifically asked Dawkins to clarify his position in relation to the Newsweek article.

    Basically, Dawkins said that he meant that there doesn't seem to be any physical incompatibility between believing in god and in evolution, ie. one person is capable of simultaneously holding both beliefs, like Collins does. He did not mean to imply that evolution and god are compatible on a fundamental level.

    You can download the podcast of the Tapestry interview here: under the Podcasts section. The broadcast date was Sunday Oct 4, 2009 at 2:00pm. The question comes up about 3/4 of the way through.

  6. OK, we've lost Dawkins, but the battle is not over.
    Larry, we're relying on you to save the day.
    Answer us the one and only question that conclusively demonstrates whether science and religion are compatible:
    'Is it possible to be a working scientist and to also be religious?'

    (please Larry, say it ain't so, don't let us down!)

  7. Sigmund asks,

    'Is it possible to be a working scientist and to also be religious?'

    Yes. There are working scientists who are Young Earth Creationists, for example.

    It's also possible to be a working scientist and believe in astrology, alien abductions, bigfoot, or homeopathy.

    And your point is ....?

  8. "And your point is ....?

    I thought you Canadians could get sarcasm.

    Anyway, I've frequently made the same point on Josh's blog about it being possible to be a scientist and be religious and pointed out, like many others have, that it is ridiculous to use this as evidence that science and religion are compatible.
    It's also a dangerous path for the NCSE to thread if they want to keep saying that creationism/ID is incompatible with science.

  9. Dawkins said that he mainly targets creationists and not Darwinist cafeteria Christians -- he said, "I think there is a certain justified irritation with young-earth creationists who believe that the world is less than 10,000 years old. Those are the people that I'm really talking about." That is accommodationist. He also called Darwinist cafeteria Christian Francis Collins an "intelligent evolutionary scientist." That is also accommodationist. So how is Dawkins not an accommodationist?

    Also, the Darwinist cafeteria Christians have it reversed -- the bible's creation story actually makes more sense than the gospel. Both the creation story and the gospel require belief in the supernatural, but the creation story is fairly straightforward whereas the gospel is full of illogic, inconsistencies, ambiguities, and unintelligibility. Also, the creation story is consistent with the idea of an all-powerful god whereas the god of the gospel is a weak, limited god who must struggle against Satan for control of the world.

  10. Oh good, it's everyone's favourite anti-evolution, Holocaust denying lunatic, Larry Fafarman.

  11. Larry has come over here because arguments on his own blog have ceased. Since he has been unable to ever win a logical argument, he has been censoring every post he is unable to answer in complete contradiction of his stated policy on his blog. It has deteriorated to the point that there is only one sock puppet "Jim Sherwood" posting there.