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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Accommodationist Debate

I wish I were going to be in Los Angeles next weekend at the Secular Humanism Conference.

I would definitely attend this session ...
Science and Religion: Confrontation or Accommodation?

How should secular humanists respond to science and religion? If we champion science, must we oppose faith? How best to approach flashpoints like evolution education? A wide-ranging examination featuring a spectrum of distinguished panelists:

* Jennifer Michael Hecht (moderator)
* PZ Myers
* Eugenie Scott
* Chris Mooney
* Victor Stenger
I sure hope it's going to be on YouTube!


  1. Finally get a chance to ask direct questions to some prominent accomodationists. I would love to see that!

  2. I really hope it goes up on Youtube too, looks to be a good panel.

  3. When Genie Scott inevitably says that faith is another way of knowing, somebody please ask her if it's a way of knowing objective truths or subjective truths.

  4. Will someone go and write Tom Johnson on their name tag and stand next to Chris Mooney for a picture?

  5. I hope PZ is well enough to attend after his recent heart scare. I've never heard Vic Stenger in a debate setting so it would be good to get a recording of the session.
    We are bound to get NOMA produced as a trump card against the anti-accomodationists but I'd like to see that addressed properly. So long as you ignore Gould's idea that religion rather than science is associated with questions of morality the NOMA is actually a decent argument since it separates the natural world from an unknowable supernatural realm (and one that cannot communicate with the natural world, hence no opportunity for theistic revelations).

  6. Sigmund,

    How exactly is NOMA a decent argument?

    Does religion postulate things that are inconsistent with naturalism? If so, the magisteria are very much overlapping.

  7. Will someone go and write Tom Johnson on their name tag and stand next to Chris Mooney for a picture?

    That's deliciously evil and I wish I had thought of it first.

  8. Mike asked:
    "How exactly is NOMA a decent argument?
    Does religion postulate things that are inconsistent with naturalism? If so, the magisteria are very much overlapping."
    The NOMA argument, strictly speaking, suggests that science deals with natural phenomenon - essentially with anything that can be empirically measured or which directly alters other things in the physical world.
    It also suggests that religion has a domain that is not overlapping with the scientific domain. In other words religion deals with a realm that does not alter things in the physical world. In fact, by its very definition it means that the religious domain CANNOT affect anything in the physical world.
    The logical implication results in a pretty toothless role for religion as pertains to human affairs. Strict NOMA means that there can be no role for revelation, no miracles, no contact between any God and this world. It reduces theism to the level of fanboy fiction - similar to those who are experts in Star Trek or Lord of the Rings. One can have an expertise on the character of Kirk or Gandalf but their motivations and desires have no bearing on how the rest of us live our lives and the same thing should be true of Jesus or Allah.
    OK. That is strict application of NOMA and is not what most of us are used to seeing whenever NOMA is introduced in a debate. It is usually introduced by accomodationists as a dishonest ploy to get atheist scientists to stop commenting on religion "stick to the scientific domain". It is almost never used (well I have never seen it applied that way) as a way to stop theists from telling us what their God wants us to do.
    NOMA is a double edged sword for theists and some, like Francis Collins, explicitly reject is as being too restricting for theism.
    Gould was wrong to suggest religion rather than science had some sort of monopoly on questions of morality - he had no evidential reason to grant this question to religion, however the rest of the NOMA argument has a lot in its favor.

  9. Hold on. I thought when these debates took place only accommodationists were allowed to speak. Didnt the organizers of the Secular Humanism Conference get the memo?

  10. Somebody obviously screwed up. You're not supposed to challenge people like Genie Scott and Chris Mooney because the issue has already been decided by that well-known scientist-philosopher, Judge Jones, back in 2005.

  11. Sigmund,

    As you say, that's not the form of NOMA that is most frequently used. In fact, the form of NOMA you're talking about uses a definition of religion that I'm not sure I've ever seen in practice. Are there Christians who don't believe in miracles? Are there Muslims who don't believe that Mohammad ascended to heaven on a winged horse?

    If you strip away both the miracles (i.e. the influence of the supernatural on the natural world) the moral teachings from religion, what more do you have left?

    NOMA is garbage for the plain reason that virtually all religions make explicit claims about how one or more gods may, on occasion, interfere with the workings of the natural universe. If science tells us that human beings cannot walk on water, and the Bible says that some humans can, there is a disconnect; religion is interfering in the natural world.

  12. Don't claims about how God (or any other supernatural entity) interacts with the natural world violate the fundamental assumptions of NOMA and therefore fall outside of its purview?