Thursday, June 03, 2010

Accommodationism and Controversy

 
The accommodationists are sometimes accused of wanting to silence their opponents. They don't like the idea of vocal atheists advocating that science and religion are incompatible. This is offensive to people of religion and it may turn off allies in the fight against fundamentalist creationism. (Theistic evolution shouldn't be attacked.)

The World Science Festival is sponsoring an event on Faith and Science this Saturday. One of the sponsors is The Templeton Foundation.
For all their historical tensions, scientists and religious scholars from a wide variety of faiths ponder many similar questions—how did the universe begin? How might it end? What is the origin of matter, energy, and life? The modes of inquiry and standards for judging progress are, to be sure, very different. But is there a common ground to be found? ABC News’ Bill Blakemore moderates a panel that includes evolutionary geneticist Francisco Ayala, astrobiologist Paul Davies, Biblical scholar Elaine Pagels and Buddhist scholar Thupten Jinpa. These leading thinkers who come at these issues from a range of perspectives will address the evolving relationship between science and faith.
One of the missing "perspectives" is the idea that science and religion are not compatible. Sean Carroll (Cosmic Variance) and Jerry Coyne (Why Evolution Is True) both think this panel is a silly idea because that perspective will not be represented. They are correct. This is a "World Science Festival"—you should not take it as a given that supernatural beings exist in order to have a discussion about the compatibility of faith and science. It's called begging the question.

You might think that defending such a panel would be a tricky problem for an accommodationist. After all, I assume they are as interested as I am in getting at the truth. Not so. Chad Orzel at Uncertain Principles [Extremists Aren't Interesting] and Josh Rosenau at Thoughts from Kansas [Talking Sense] take the same position. Non-accommodationist atheists shouldn't be allowed on the panel because they are extremists who can't discuss anything calmly and rationally.

Francis Ayala is only one of many scientists who have strong opinions about the compatibility of science and religion. Others are Ken Miller and Francis Collins. For some reason, their strong opinions aren't viewed in the same light as the strong opinions of those who think science and religion are in conflict. For some reason, the accommodationists think that it's okay for people with strong opinions about their faith to have a platform but it would be disruptive to allow the other side to have a say. Does that make sense?


16 comments :

  1. Perhaps Ayala, Miller and Collins are a bit less likely than Myers or Coyne to say things like "So is Ayala claiming that evolution is not a product of god's actions? Or is he just a goddamned dimwitted airhead?", or "I wish to God Templeton would keep its filthy mitts off the World Science Festival—indeed, off science, period—but that’s not going to happen so long as the Foundation has deep pockets and there are scientists with outstretched hands."

    Why would anyone think folk who reckon those who differ from them must be goddamned dimwitted airheads or corrupt bribe-takers, folk who seethe with contempt for those who just won't agree with them wouldn't be conducive to actual discourse.

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  2. Mike,

    I understand objecting to an atheist participant if there's good reason to think they wouldn't discuss in good faith. But even if we suppose that would exclude Myers and Coyne, surely you don't think it would exclude every atheist who belives religion and science are incompatible?

    Here we have a panel consisting of two openly theistic scientists and two religious scholars, discussing whether science and religion can have a comman ground. Of course they'll agree.

    The event promoters are being quite disingenuous. There's no reasonable "range of perspectives" here. It's like a debate where both sides argue "For." The incompatibilists may be discourteous, but at least they're honest about it.

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  3. The modes of inquiry and standards for judging progress are, to be sure, very different.

    Yes, very different. Very very different. Very very very different. Very very very very very very very very very different.

    So different that one might conclude that they are engaged in different kinds of "pondering" and that the one that begins and ends with "pondering" really has nothing much to contribute to the one that goes on to do something a little more productive, and thus that Templeton is just copping some easy epistemic status by pretending to be somehow relevant to science.

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  4. Accomodationists have not problem calling creationists dimwitted airheads. Why is that not considered an extreme position?

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  5. qetzal,

    I weas actually addressing the specific remark about people with 'strong views' and thought I'd demonstrate why some folk with strong views might be unwelcome.

    "There's no reasonable "range of perspectives" here. It's like a debate where both sides argue "For."

    That dichotomous approach may not be what the organizers wanted. From your POV, all compatiblists may be much the same (certainly folk like Coyne and Myers these days make little distinction in their disdain between YECs and, say, Ken Miller) but from the POV of folk within the compatiblist camp, there may be what they consider a wide range of views even if it does not appear so to you. A panel discussion is not necessarily a debate nor is it necessary the participants exhibit a fundamental disagreement, even if you'd prefer this one did.

    I am amused at the degree of certainty that you show, implicit in your belief that only dishonesty can explain the organisers taking a different view of what constitutes 'a range of perspectives'. I'm not a big fan of folk taking their views as the only ones worthy of consideration so they attribute others' differing from them to perfidy, as you do here.

    "The incompatibilists may be discourteous, but at least they're honest about it."

    In the ones I named, it's more than merely being 'discourteous', they are downright hostile and utterly contemptuous of anyone who isn't themself an incompatiblist. Of course, they may be willing to dissemble their contempt in the presence of compatiblists, but that would then disappoint the next part of that sentence.

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  6. "Accomodationists have not problem calling creationists dimwitted airheads. Why is that not considered an extreme position?"

    Which accomodationists?

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  7. Go read Josh Rosenau.

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  8. Mike,

    OK, fair enough. Perhaps to the folks at the Templeton Foundation, that panel represents a really broad range of perspectives. (Especially since they've already rejected the possibility that science and faith ma be inherently incompatible.) But to me, it's a bit like a discussion of the relationship between the environment and deep water oil drilling, where all the biologists involved work for BP.

    And FWIW, while I don't consider my views to be privileged, I do think the promotional language is disingenuous. They ask "is there a common ground to be found" between science and religion, but their panel omits anyone who might argue "No." And considering that this is the World Science Festival, that strikes me as disingenuous. If that amuses you, all the better.

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  9. Mike

    The question asked is a yes or no question. The debate will therefore be between people who say yes, or yes.

    For the purposes of that specific debate they are actually the same.

    Any discussion between them will be about why they essentially agree, which isn't fruitful.

    Aside from this quite frankly your first post is all about tone and not substance. If you cannot deal with the substance of Coyne or Myers' statements then moaning about their tone simply demonstrates that fact.

    It further demonstrates a basic hypocrisy, as while name calling is not in and of itself an ad hominem what you launched there IS.

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  10. Imagine there was to be a panel at this World Science Festival that was to discuss whether there was treasure to be found at the end of a rainbow. Then imagine the only people invited to take part are those who believe there is treasure to be found at the end of rainbow, and that people who argue there not only is no treasure, there is also no meaningful concept described by the term "end of the rainbow".

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  11. Mike from Ottawa -

    certainly folk like Coyne and Myers these days make little distinction in their disdain between YECs and, say, Ken Miller

    That's just flat-out false. Coyne has said repeatedly - I think he said it yet again just a couple of days ago - that Ken Miller is a good scientist. (I don't mention Myers only because I don't know - he's so prolific I can't keep up with him! Except I do in fact know that in general he does distinguish between YECs and scientists who are also religious; I just don't have any specific recent quotes in mind, whereas in Coyne's case I do.)

    You really ought to withdraw that remark.

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  12. "The question asked is a yes or no question. The debate will therefore be between people who say yes, or yes."

    I've read the blurb on the session and there is nothing that states there is one question involved.

    Presumably you are focusing on the sentence "But is there a common ground to be found?" but miss that the actual description of what will be discussed is "These leading thinkers who come at these issues from a range of perspectives will address the evolving relationship between science and faith." which does not actually dwell on any "question" never mind on only one "question".

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  13. Ophelia,

    If you are taking me to have meant that, in general as opposed to in the context only of the compatiblity of science and religion, Coyne does make more than little distinction between YECs and Miller, I can say that was not my intended meaning (though it is a possible meaning of the words).

    I do maintain that in the contempt he expresses for accomodationists there is little distinction made between the contempt for those who view science and religion as compatible as 'creation scientists' do and those who view them as compatible in the way Miller does.

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  14. It is my understanding that "creation scientists," by dismissing entire fields of science as false and evil, emphatically do not view religion and science as compatible.

    And wasn't it Miller who said religion must agree with science...whereas creationists have it the other way around?

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  15. One of the big problems with complaining that the anti-accomodationists aren't represented -- the claims of some accomodationists not on the panel notwithstanding -- is that Coyne himself has been invited before, and declined the invitation:

    "The Festival has had a Templeton-sponsored faith-and-science-accommodation panel every year since at least 2008 (I turned down an invitation in 2009), so this is not a one-off thing."

    It's kinda problematic for Coyne to complain that people that share his views aren't on the panel when he turned down an invitation previously. Maybe they tried, and no one would accept. Is that their problem, and does that demonstrate that THEY aren't looking for open and honest discussion?

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  16. Allan: "It's kinda problematic for Coyne to complain that people that share his views aren't on the panel when he turned down an invitation previously."

    I don't think Coyne said that. He said the panel is loaded with Templeton-funded accommmodationists, which would still be the case if he accepted the invite.

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