Saturday, March 20, 2010

Michael Ruse: Confused Accommodationist, and Proud of It!

 
Michael Ruse has published some articles on The BioLogos Foundation website. Recall that this foundation was set up by Francis Collins and its mission is very clear.
The BioLogos Foundation is a group of Christians, many of whom are professional scientists, biblical scholars, philosophers, theologians, pastors, and educators, who are concerned about the long history of disharmony between the findings of science and large sectors of the Christian faith. We believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. We also believe that evolution, properly understood, best describes God’s work of creation. Founded by Dr. Francis Collins, BioLogos addresses the escalating culture war between science and faith, promoting dialog and exploring the harmony between the two. We are committed to helping the church – and students, in particular – develop worldviews that embrace both of these complex belief structures, and that allow science and faith to co-exist peacefully.

BioLogos represents the harmony of science and faith. It addresses the central themes of science and religion and emphasizes the compatibility of Christian faith with scientific discoveries about the origins of the universe and life. To communicate this message to the general public and add to the ongoing dialog, The BioLogos Foundation created BioLogos.org.
Got it? This is a group of people who think that science and religion (e.g. evangelical Christianity, Roman Catholicism) are compatible with science.

Michael Ruse's essay fits right in to this theme [Accommodationist and Proud of It, Part I] Problem is, Ruse doesn't understand why he's an accommodationist.
And yet, I am excoriated at every turn. Why? Simply, because I am an “Accommodationist.” I think that some kind of intellectual meeting is possible with religious believers, including Christian religious believers. As it happens, I believe that in America it is tremendously important politically to bring evolutionists together with people of religious commitment, but I absolutely and completely would not argue for a position that I thought wrong because it was politically expedient to do so. I would not say that emotion plays no role in my position. It does indeed. That helps me to take a stand that I think right against folk with whom I would much rather be a friend than a scorned enemy. But I think one can make a sound case for the position I have taken and still accept strongly today. In this essay, I try to explain what I believe and why I believe it. Why I am an “Accommodationist,” whatever that might mean, and proud of it.

Please understand: this piece I am writing now is not so much a response as a reaction. What I mean by this is that I don’t want to whine about being mistreated or misunderstood or whatever. As I have already intimated, in a way to respond in such a way would be almost hypocritical, because I rather like the fact that I stir people up so much that they want to strike out as they do. But I think there is some value in trying to see where I have come from, what I believe at the moment, and why I have fallen out (or raised the ire of, because frankly it was not I who started the quarrel) of people who in most respects you would think would be my natural allies. I am going to write this in a rather personal way because above all it is rather personal. I think, however, even those of you who think writers should never reveal anything of themselves will be able to strain through the personal and see the arguments underneath.
Oh dear! Ruse is terribly confused.

The accommodationist term was made up to describe atheists who go out of their way to defend religious beliefs as being compatible with science.1 They claim that religion is a way of knowing separate from science. They claim that science can't investigate the important claim of religion so it's perfectly okay to be a scientist and, at the same time, believe in life after death, miracles, and humans who are the son of God. They are accommodationsts because they pretend there's no conflict between science and many religious beliefs.

Accommodationists are NOT defined as people who have Christian friends and who are willing to ally with their friends on common causes like keeping creationism out of the schools. Those are traits shared by those of us who believe that science and religion are incompatible. Believe it or not, I have friends who believe in God and so does PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins. (I suspect Jerry Coyne probably has such friends as well.) Bringing that up only confuses the issue.

I can't believe that Ruse is ignorant of this distinction because he's written many articles about the compatibility of science and religion. Is he being deliberately misleading on the BioLogos website?

Perhaps he'll clarify this point and demonstrate that he understands the difference between being an accommodationist and being a friend and ally of people who believe in the supernatural. There are going to be more essays, but you can skip Part II [Accommodationist and Proud of It, Part II: A Christian Childhood]. There's nothing worth reading there.

P.S. Michael Ruse complains a lot about being misunderstood. The remedy is not to blame his opponents—although we are rarely blameless—but to try and write more clearly.


[HatTip: Jerry Coyne - Weekend Accommodationism]

1. They were originally called Neville Chamberlain Evolutionists, as Ruse points out in his article. That term has been dropped but you get the idea. Accommodationists describe otherwise intelligent atheists/evolutionists who compromise their principles when it comes to dealing with the beliefs of some (but not all) believers. They do this in order to maintain the peace.

13 comments :

  1. At times, I think Dr. Collins will eventually grow a pair and face those doubts that he most assuredly must have. But then, I read this article.

    As a believer, I had to take a dangerous 'risk'. I had to risk that fear of 'hell', hunt down the truth, and finally stop lying to myself. What I saw could not be unseen. Happy to be free of entanglement!

    The cognitive dissonance. It BURNS.

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  2. I often wonder if the 'tension' between religion and science is not so much down to myth versus reality, or faith versus rationality but something more basic.

    As I understand it most believers assert they have a social relationship with their god. In their social network god is their best (omnibest?) mate. Belief in god is one on one personal, and subjective. There are very few people who believe
    in in an impersonal god (e.g. Deists, Spinoza, Einstein).

    Scientists want their hypotheses to be tested and their theories to be accepted by other unknown (to them) people. Science, through methodological naturalism, tries to be impersonal and objective.

    Because of the clash of the subjective and objective world views I am not surprised that trying to accommodate both worldviews appears to be attempting the impossible. Subjectivity undermines the basis of science, and objectivity erodes the basis of faith. A case of the Supreme Force meeting the Obdurate Object?

    Now I could see some accommodation possible between science and belief in an impersonal god. This would be more like the Indifferent Force not even interacting with the Untouchable Object. You do wonder what the point would be, beyond a refreshing outbreak of universal civility.

    God free, and thankful.

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  3. As an aside, when I was taught physics, chemistry and biology in school (rather a long time ago now) I was told to write up the experiments I did in the third person - "A beaker was placed on a tripod and filled with 100cc of distilled water; the water was heated to a temprature of..."

    My sons were taught to write up experiments in the personal voice - "I put 100cc of distilled water into a
    beaker and I heated it until it reached a temperature of..."

    I was always uncomfortable with this change of voice. I wondered if I was just being an old fogey, but now I realise that my concern was for the lack of objectivity being promoted. It also says something about the nature of modern science teaching in the UK, but that is another debate entirely.

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  4. I'm not sure if Ruse is actually confused about accomodationist positions, but I am from reading this post.

    Okay, so we start with:

    "The accommodationist term was made up to describe atheists who go out of their way to defend religious beliefs as being compatible with science."

    Okay, "go out of their way" might be a little strong, but they would have to accept that religious beliefs and scientific beliefs either are or might be compatible. Moving on:

    "They claim that religion is a way of knowing separate from science."

    Um, do any accomodationists have to think that religion is a way of knowing at all? I don't consider religion to be a way of knowing any more than I consider a viewpoint on what characters are best at a particular point in a video game is a "way of knowing". I consider religion to be a collection of propositions, not necessarily a way of knowing them, and that's not, to me, what religion is for. Religion may ADOPT "ways of knowing" to evaluate those positions, and some of THOSE may be outside of science, but to make the definition of accodationist subject to Larry Moran's particular focus really seems odd to me. Especially since I don't share that view about religion and am not sure how many accomodationists actually do.

    Next:

    "They claim that science can't investigate the important claim of religion so it's perfectly okay to be a scientist and, at the same time, believe in life after death, miracles, and humans who are the son of God. "

    Um, do all accomodationists have to accept NOMA? It seems that even some of the ones quoted here hold a different view, in that they hold that religion must conform to science, and so if religion and science conflict over a scientific fact science wins. However, they also have argued that the current scientific theories at least leave room for their and some religions. The whole idea of "quantum level allows God to interfere" is PRECISELY that sort of view. It's clearly accomodationist, I think, but clearly not NOMA either.

    Finally, the restated summary:

    "They are accommodationsts because they pretend there's no conflict between science and many religious beliefs."

    "Pretend" implies that they don't really believe that, and so is useless in a definition, since some clearly do. However, they clearly do feel that there is no conflict inherently between science and at least some religious beliefs and think, for whatever reason, that there isn't any irreconcilable -- to catch the non-NOMA guys above -- conflict between CURRENT science and at least some religious beliefs.

    Hmmm. Put that way, I don't see what's wrong with it. At least there's a clear way going forward and discussion points ...

    But as to Ruse:

    "Accommodationists are NOT defined as people who have Christian friends and who are willing to ally with their friends on common causes like keeping creationism out of the schools."

    True. But Ruse does go a step further in his article than just that:

    "And yet, I am excoriated at every turn. Why? Simply, because I am an “Accommodationist.” I think that some kind of INTELLECTUAL MEETING is possible with religious believers, including Christian religious believers."

    This implies to me a more accomodationist position in that he seems to think that there is intellectual debate and possibly even merit to religious beliefs. This is reading in a bit, but I think not unfairly. It's certainly more than "Ally for causes", but to consider that religious beliefs might be intellectually worth looking at in and of themselves, an idea that "All should be science" and "Religion is incompatible with science" CANNOT hold.

    But maybe I'm trying to take "accomodationist" as a useful term describing a position and not just as a pejorative, and hence my confusion ...

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  5. "And yet, I am excoriated at every turn. Why? Simply, because I am an “Accommodationist.”"

    No, you are excoriated because you consistently go out of your way to gratuitously insult New Atheists and then obsessively whine about how they excoriate you.

    Why, it's almost as if you were deliberately grandstanding in order to highlight your usefulness as a potential Templeton Prize winner.

    But that can't be right because as you, for some unknown reason in an essay purportedly about morality and Darwin, told us that we New A5theists are:

    "as in just about everything [else], they are completely mistaken.

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  6. Allen: Um, do any accomodationists have to think that religion is a way of knowing at all?"

    It's relevant because well-known accomodationists make that argument in support of accomodationism.
    If you have a problem with it, Chris Mooney and Josh Rosenau both run their own blogs.

    Allen: "Religion may ADOPT "ways of knowing" to evaluate those positions, and some of THOSE may be outside of science..."

    I have to ask, what constitutes a "way of knowing" outside of science?

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  7. caynazzo,

    The problem is that the post is claiming that Ruse is getting what it means to be an accomodationist wrong, and claims that considering religion a way of knowing is what it means to be an accomodationist. So I'm asking if that has to be the case. So, since you didn't mention Ruse, is it possible for myself or Ruse to not hold that religion is a way of knowing and still be accomdationists in some sense? If yes, then that isn't part of the definition, and so is irrelevant to the charge against Ruse that he doesn't understand what it means to be an accomodationist. And if the answer is no, could it be, then, that Ruse does not hold it and so is RIGHTLY puzzled about being called one?

    As for other ways of knowing, I think it is clear that some branches of philosophy use ways of knowing that are not scientific, but are still ways of knowing. At any rate, though, that's the question, and if you don't define all ways of knowing as being scientific we certainly have the room to start talking about possible ones.

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  8. Allan C Cybulskie says,

    The problem is that the post is claiming that Ruse is getting what it means to be an accomodationist wrong, and claims that considering religion a way of knowing is what it means to be an accomodationist.

    The important thing about being an accommodationist is thinking that there's no inconsistency between believing in the supernatural and being scientific. In addition, you must believe that however you arrived at being an atheist, that line of reasoning is no more valid than the kind of reasoning that leads to belief in souls and life after death.

    That's what compatibility is all about. The logical underpinning of accommodationism has to be that your atheistic way of thinking is no better than that of a typical Roman Catholic.

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  9. Allan: "So, since you didn't mention Ruse, is it possible for myself or Ruse to not hold that religion is a way of knowing and still be accomdationists in some sense?"

    It seems you're taking issue with a term whose definition is generally accepted among the differing camps. Moving forward it would help if you said what you think it means to be an accommodationist.

    The point of this post, as I read it, is in challenging Ruse's redefinition of accomodationist to include something trivial and uncontentious.

    When there is disagreement with accomodationists it has to do with the reasons Larry described:
    1. NOMA
    2. "science can't investigate the important claim of religion"
    3. Theistic scientists, therefore religion and science compatibility!

    There is also a characteristic common among many accommodationists Larry left out: New Atheists hurt science education by making people think science leads to atheism.

    Broadening the definition, as Ruse does, to include forming religious allies is trivial because, as Larry pointed out, his strongest critics do the same. In fact, suggesting that such behavior is unique to accomodationism is insinuating that your critics are unwilling to do the same, which is a falsehood.

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  10. "The important thing about being an accommodationist is thinking that there's no inconsistency between believing in the supernatural and being scientific. In addition, you must believe that however you arrived at being an atheist, that line of reasoning is no more valid than the kind of reasoning that leads to belief in souls and life after death."

    I agree with the first part (definitionally) and am curious about the second part. Do you use the term "accomodationist" to only apply to those who are atheists and claim that religion might not be incompatible with science? Because obviously any person who believes in evolution and is still a member of a religion will probably think that there are no significant conflicts between them, and there are a number of religions that don't have a problem with evolution. The argument of "At the quantum level, God could impact and guide actions and evolution" is, to me, a view consistent with evolution that is certainly an attempt to reconcile the two, and yet it seems a view that theists not only CAN have, but are more likely to have.

    Ultimately, my pushing on this is that I'd like the term to pick out an actual defined position, and not just be a way to insult atheists that don't agree on some topics with some other atheists. "Neville Chamberlain atheists/evolutionists" is clearly of the insult variety; is "accomodationist" any better?

    Note that one of my main objections is that if we look strictly at the "no inconsistency" angle that there are potentially a wide variety of positions that that can encompass. I've already talked about theism and atheism, but while NOMA is one of them, you can also hold religion to the standards of science and claim that if religion contradicts scientific fact, religion must bend to science. Or even take your stance that science is to be used for everything and claim that, therefore, theology is, in some sense CURRENTLY SCIENTIFIC, and just a different field with different methods, and so theological arguments do, in fact, meet the proper standards. At this point, all of these can be argued over, which is nice and gives us a decent starting ground for settling who is right, and which positions can and can't be right.

    Note that YEC that says that the Earth is 6000 years old and science just can't determine the real age is a much different position from a YEC that holds that the Earth is 6000 years old and the scientific evidence is just wrong (by the standards of science). And there's even more difference between either of those and the position of the RCC that says that evolution is correct but it is either "kicked off" by God and/or influenced by God while it is happening. The first is anti-science. The second is not anti-science, but is almost certainly scientifically wrong. The third is not anti-science and, so far, there isn't enough scientific evidence to say that it's actually wrong (although it could be called pointless).

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  11. "It seems you're taking issue with a term whose definition is generally accepted among the differing camps. Moving forward it would help if you said what you think it means to be an accommodationist. "

    Actually, I'm taking issue with things being lumped into the position that may not be required, and so might be strawmen arguments. But as for my position, I did say it earlier:

    "However, they clearly do feel that there is no conflict inherently between science and at least some religious beliefs and think, for whatever reason, that there isn't any irreconcilable -- to catch the non-NOMA guys above -- conflict between CURRENT science and at least some religious beliefs."

    Seems like that's at least the important principle that has to be held ...

    "1. NOMA
    2. "science can't investigate the important claim of religion"
    3. Theistic scientists, therefore religion and science compatibility!

    There is also a characteristic common among many accommodationists Larry left out: New Atheists hurt science education by making people think science leads to atheism. "

    I see all of these as specific arguments, not commitments of the overall idea. I think that I could reject all of those arguments and still hold that science and religion are compatible, which is what I thought was the main position. Although, I admit, it might not be; it might be a term for people who don't believe in the religious things and even think them wrong, but do claim that, for example, science hasn't proven that yet (and may never be able to). And as I've said before, looking at it that way, I don't really see what's wrong with it.

    However, 3 CAN be a good argument if used properly, since what you have are -- presumably -- good scientists who understand the science well, and also presumably also understand their religion well, and yet don't see any conflict. It's too simple to merely assert "They compartmentalize their beliefs so they don't impact each other" simply because they don't see the conflict as being as sharp -- or even existent -- as you do. So, again, we have a starting point for discussion:

    1) Why do they not see there being a significant conflict? Is it really because of compartmentalization, or is there more going on here?

    2) Are they WRONG? Is it REALLY the case that they are incompatible?

    Now, I've only read blogs about this and am a little late to the party, but has anyone actually been willing to sit down and hammer this out with the other side? From both sides? 'Cause that's what I'd like to see.

    (Note that for #2 there are issues with even the claim that faith is different; a lot of theists do argue, at least, that they are the same and exactly what faith is supposed to do is not always clear. Also note that what it means to be rational has changed wildly since the first introduction of the debate; arguing that there is a real conflict now might be akin to arguing that the Stoics wanted to eliminate volitions because they are emotions, when at the time the Stoics were writing there was no idea that basic "calm passions" a la Hume were actually or could possibly be emotions at all.)

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  12. As an update, as part of my reading on the general NAS/Templeton Prize debate I noted that the NAS indeed talked about "ways of knowing" in their discussion of compatibility. So it's more common than I thought, and while I still don't think it's required, it does seem that it's a common position. So I apologize for implying that it was just Larry Moran's specific concern.

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  13. > (although it could be called pointless)

    It “could” not be called pointless; it is precisely as respectable as belief in little grey men who descend on the nearest trailer park, anal probes held high, and an infinite cornucopia of other claims unsupported by both direct and indirect evidence.

    The “accommodationists”, as I understand the term, are those who are glossing over this for reasons of political expediency.

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