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Posted by on Mar 23, 2013 in Culture, Debate, Philosophy | 13 comments

What do I mean by accommodationism?

There has been a lot of discussion of late about civility and about healing the rifts in the atheist/skeptic/secular movement. I don’t want to get into that today, but one issue that has come up yet again (albeit peripherally) relates to the whole business of “accommodationism” and “non-accommodationism” or “anti-accommodationism”, and what was meant by these terms by those who used them in the blogosphere wars over the issue of two to four years ago (which have not entirely petered out).

So for the record, let me say something about what I had in mind in criticising accommodationism and identifying as an anti-accommodationist. The main point to emphasise was that I was never supporting nastiness toward religious people or toward the people identified as accommodationists. See for example, my post on the old site for this blog: “Gnus can be gnice” (readers who are new to this blog might like to go and have a look at this to get a better idea of where I am coming from). What was at stake as far as I was concerned was always a philosophical dispute about religion and science.

What Jerry Coyne and I, and others, were on about when we criticised “accommodationism” was the idea that science and religion are compatible and/or that the idea that we should not be arguing for their incompatibility in the public square.

Thus, the people we branded as “accommodationists” included Christians such as John Haught, Francis Collins, and Kenneth Miller, who argue that religion and science are compatible; organisations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Center  for Science Education, which have policy positions to the effect that there is no incompatibility between science and religion; the late Stephen Jay Gould with his NOMA theory; atheist philosophers such as Michael Ruse who dream up theories about how science and religion might be reconciled (something I don’t object to all that much, but it certainly bugs some anti-accommodationists) and/or claim that it is politically dangerous to put science-based arguments against religion (Ruse does this all the time); other atheists such as Matt Nisbet who have gone as far as to suggest that Richard Dawkins should go quiet in public as a science advocate, having (supposedly) lost credibility with many Americans for using science-based arguments against religion; and of course Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum who argue in their book Unscientific America that religion has the resources to avoid conflict with science, and are scathing (and downright nasty) about Richard Dawkins, and who have, at least in Mooney’s case, criticised Jerry for criticising the likes of Miller in public.

As anti-accommodationists, we were disagreeing with the above cluster of positions. Note that Chris Mooney and Michael Ruse have, indeed, argued against both the science/religion incompatibility thesis (with reservations in Ruse’s case) and against the political wisdom of arguing publicly for the thesis.

So an “accommodationist” in the discussion was someone who argues for science/religion compatibility and/or that it is politically expedient to go along publicly with the idea of science/religion compatibility. People who were criticised as accommodationists included Christians like Miller, as long as they argued for science/religion compatibility.

By contrast, those of us who identified as anti-accommodationists were basically saying 1. science and religion are (in some serious sense) not compatible; and 2. it’s fine to say this in public.

It was never our position that this needs to be argued in an uncivil way, or generally that religious people should be treated without proper civility (although we did tend to take a hard line against the moral authority of religious leaders).

Indeed, what concerned us so much about the spurious Tom Johnson story (which I won’t go into for those not familiar with it) was the claim that anti-accommodationism, such as displayed by Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins, leads to rudeness and nastiness in real life. The story was used by Chris Mooney as Exhibit A for such a claim.

While we may not have been totally consistent about this, and you might find counter-examples of how we used the terminology, I think you’ll find that we were fairly consistent (in fact, I think I was fairly rigorous about it). Anyone who thought that they were defending “anti-accommodationism” in arguing in favour of nastiness and personal attacks misunderstood what anti-accommodationism was in the minds of the leading anti-accommodationists (or at least those offering detailed philosophical defences of the idea), and what we were trying to convey and achieve. I should only speak for myself here, but I think that bigger players on the anti-accommodationism side, such as Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne, would agree with much or most of what I’ve written above.

Of course, some others may have been running a different agenda under the flag of “anti-accommodationism”. If their agenda involved nastiness, personal attacks, etc., then I hereby disown them. And again, none of this is to deny that actual anti-accommodationist thinkers, such as me, sometimes lost tempers or engaged in satire or personal attacks, or whatever. Doubtless that happened from time to time. Some of it may have been relatively gentle satire that was justified (I think that satire has its place). Some of it may have crossed lines (as when, in a moment of anger and poor judgment, I called Chris Mooney a “disgusting traitor” for taking Templeton money… something that I will apologise to him for in person if our paths ever cross). Some of it may have fallen in a grey area. But the fact remains that anti-accommodationism is essentially a philosophical position that science and religion are (in some interesting and serious sense) incompatible.

Udo Schuklenk and I will be arguing an anti-accommodationist thesis in 50 Great Myths About Atheism when it appears in September. Meanwhile, if you have access read Jerry Coyne’s most definitive statement on the issues so far: Coyne, Jerry A. 2012. “Science, Religion, and Society: The Problem of Evolution in America.” Evolution 66(8): 2654–2663. Or just search on my old site for The Hellfire Club, where I have much to say about the subject.

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  • Thanks, Russell. My Evolution paper is in fact available free (at my insistence) and can be downloaded at

  • RussellBlackford

    Thanks for that, Jerry. It’s a wonderful article that deserves to be widely read.

  • Skepsheik

    Russell, I presume, as a philosopher yourself you are bound to see questions of a
    philosophical nature inherent in the accomodationist/anti-accomodationist debate.
    I wonder, however, whether you are neglecting the political aspect.
    On the surface, the question of the conflict between science and religion seems to be a
    critical point in the debate, yet it is hardly a fortress that accomodationists themselves attempt to defend. The standard accomodationist refrain that the compatibility of science and religion is proven by the fact that ‘many scientists have been religious’, is a rather paper thin argument that seems designed to appeal to the moderate religious readers self-image rather than one that seriously convinces even the accomodationist mouthing the argument. The fact that accomodationists so rarely attempt to defend this assertion is rather telling; I think it was Jerry
    Coyne who said said that accomodationists throw a lifeline to the religious without doing them the favor of holding on to the other end.

    As for the political aspect, I seem to recall that the term ‘accomodationist’ is itself a rather recent term. Prior to this the expression “Neville Chamberlain atheist” had been applied to the same faction. This expression, though rather unfortunately close to Godwinning the argument, does, however, correctly emphasize the political appeasement involved. In the case of Mooney at least, I got the impression at the time that forming a political coalition involving religious
    moderates, that would tackle measures involving global climate change, became a
    higher political priority than promoting forthright atheist challenge of religion. The calls for silencing prominent atheist voices may have included the likes of PZ Myers, but it generally included the rather less venomous voices of Dawkins and Coyne. In other words it wasn’t simply a question of silencing those who resort to petty namecalling and insult, but primarily involved those who were unflinching in their approach towards religious privilege. This, to the accomodationists, was the step too far.
    As for questions of satire, I do think this is an important distinction between the camps. The idea of criticizing religious ideas using humor was always off the table to accomodationists – so long as we are talking about politically powerful moderate religion. Yet bring the likes of Answers in Genesis type fundamentalists to the table and you’ll see accomodationists soon forget their disdain for ridicule and gleefully join in the mocking. Apparently it is only the politically powerful moderates who have the right not to be offended.

    Satire, mockery and ridicule are, unfortunately, things that can be rather hard to be objective about if you find yourself as a target. If you fail to see the humor in a satirical joke it can seem like a mean spirited personal insult. But virtually all satire faces this potential objection.
    There is no simple answer to this problem.
    Is there a way to proscribe satirical examination of the actions of prominent atheists that would allow us to keep the likes of ‘Jesus and Mo’?

  • RussellBlackford

    A lot of issues there, Skepsheik, and I can’t deal with them all right now. As I said on Michael Nugent’s blog, thanks for discussing this in a civil way. As I also said, I’m not saying you were kind of, y’know, “just wrong” on Michael’s blog thread, because the terminology may have been used differently or more crudely by others, you may have been exposed to those uses if you were mainly in other forums rather than at Why Evolution Is True (or at the earlier version of this blog). And so on. So I’ve focused in my comments on Michael’s thread, and now in this post, on clarifying what I meant by accommodationism and anti-accommodationism – and I think it’s pretty obvious that Jerry is in (at least) substantial agreement with me about those terms. I think Richard might be as well. I really just wanted to clarify what we were on about, because there seems to be a lot of confusion around.

    You raise a lot of interesting specific points, and I’ll try to comment on a few of them later.

  • RussellBlackford

    Just a couple of quick comments – do bear in mind that the expression “accommodationist” was not equivalent to “Neville Chamberlain atheist”. The word “accommodationist” was often applied by Jerry and others to religious people who were seen as trying to reconcile science and religion – e.g. Ken Miller, John Haught, etc., and to organisations that cannot be considered atheistic in any way, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science. I haven’t counted, but a large percentage of Jerry’s posts identifying accommodationism were about religious people or organisations, or (presumably agnostic) science organisations, that proposed to be able to reconcile science and religion.

    I understand what you’re saying about the weakness of the argument that: “Some scientists are religious; therefore, religion and science are compatible.” It’s a complete non-sequitur, and it seems surprising that anyone would make such a terrible argument. But I’ve seen it put so often, so strongly, and by such otherwise reputable people, that I can only conclude that it really does convince many people. Go figure. I think this is an example of an argument having psychological attractions for many people out of all proportion to its actual cogency.

  • RussellBlackford

    And finally, the question of satire. I don’t think there’s a clear-cut answer here as to when it’s legitimate to engage in satire and when it’s legitimate to engage in cruel, rather than gentle, satire. I don’t think there’s an answer that can be binding in reason on everyone. Even for an individual trying to make a decision, there are going to be grey areas. But some questions to ask are the following. Are you satirising ideas or actual individuals? If the latter, how powerful and how public a figure is the person being satirised (and, in particular, are you going after someone more or less as powerful as yourself, or perhaps someone far more so, or someone who may even be less powerful, or even much less so)? How accurate is the satire (is it a fair representation of the person’s views or is it essentially a misrepresentation of them? Are you saddling the person with an absurd view when their real view may actually be defensible?)? Has the person said or done something truly horrible, or might it, at the other end of the scale, be a matter of them defending a position about which they seem to be merely a bit confused, leading them to take a silly position? Are you involved in a debate where the person is also being robust, perhaps provocative, in their approach, or is the other person being courteous and charitable to you? How urgent is it really that this particular view from this particular person be opposed?

    Doubtless there are others, and I think we probably weigh these things up fairly intuitively rather than consciously going through a checklist. For example, if you’re engaging in cruel satire of someone who is relatively obscure and much less powerful than yourself, misrepresenting their actual position in the process, then you’ll probably have alarm bells ringing. If you find yourself doing this as more than a one-off, I’d say you ought to take a look in the mirror to check that you’re not turning into a monster.

    This isn’t rocket science, there is scope for reasonable disagreement in particular cases, your mileage may vary, etc. But I think Jesus and Mo is fine (and as you know by now there will be Jesus and Mo cartoons in 50 Great Myths About Atheism).

  • Skepsheik

    I’ve always had a problem with the idea that the term ‘accomodationist’ includes both atheists and religious people. I think that is because all the ‘accomodating’ or compromise seems to be coming from only one side. It is hardly just people like Ken Miller who think their religion is compatible with science. Virtually all religious people will say so – from the Islamic preacher claiming that the Koran predicts discoveries in embryology, to ‘Answers in Genesis’ with their ‘creation scientists’ who have the ‘correct’ interpretation of the evidence (as opposed to the ‘incorrect’ interpretation provided by those Godless secular scientists). The various ‘moderate’ Christian denominations also don’t seem to have enough of a problem with science to explicitly state their teachings are incompatible with science.
    It is not even as though it is impossible for moderate religious people to accomodate science – all it takes is for them to accept that ALL the bible stories can be metaphorical (rather than just the old testament stuff). About the only religious individual that comes close to doing so is Michael Dowd.

    If we must include religious people within the accomodationist tent, by what criteria does a religious individual get excluded?

    As for the question of satire I broadly agree with your definitions. I try to stick to satirizing those more powerful than me – and to satirize actions rather than getting too personal – but I’m afraid I’ve never seen a reaction other than wounded offense from the targets. It is not my intention to offend. I’d much rather have a reaction of ‘Ah you got me there, good point!’ That is really my ideal result, but I have enough experience to realize it’s unlikely to follow. The fact that someone might react offended is not, however, enough reason for me to hold my tongue.
    Even the author of ‘Jesus and Mo’ has elicited an offended reaction from a prominent atheist who objected to one of his cartoons (titled ‘Girls’) that side-swiped the early stage of the current schism.

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  • RussellBlackford

    Okay, we’re getting to the nub of it. I think you are starting off with a preconception of what Jerry and I (for example) meant when we criticised what we called “accommodationism”. We didn’t mean “a willingness to make and abide by compromises” (I don’t know about Jerry, but the term I use for that is “reasonableness”).

    What we primarily meant was a philosophical claim that I’ll call Thesis A.

    Thesis A: Religious doctrines can be straightforwardly accommodated (i.e. we can find room for them) within a scientific picture of the world.

    Secondarily, we also meant what I could call (provocatively and tendentiously) The Shut Up Thesis. However, I’ll just call it Thesis B.

    Thesis B: We should not publicly dispute Thesis A.

    Note the importance of the “straightforwardly” in Thesis A. We never disputed that it is possible to retreat to metaphorical readings of the Bible, etc. Our point was that to accommodate (find room for) religious doctrines you need to adopt such tactics.

    Obviously we had a lot more to say about this. Indeed, you could write a whole book on it. As a matter of fact, something like a quarter of 50 Great Myths About Atheism does address such issues.

    But once you understand that that is what we meant by “accommodationism”, I think you’ll find that all of Jerry’s posts in which he is criticising Ken Miller, the Templeton Foundation, etc., etc., make perfectly good sense. I’m not suggesting that Jerry and I were totally consistent about it – in the heat of a debate where many issues are raised you can sometimes be inconsistent, but I think we were both pretty consistent. I also think that other people who were deeply involved in the intellectual debate understood that this is what we meant by accommodationism.

    Once again, nothing about anti-accommodationism (the repudiation of Thesis A and Thesis B) entails that you should be nasty. For example, Jerry engaged in some satire, but he was always very clear that he wanted to maintain a certain standard of civility. Likewise with me. I may have lost my temper or expressed scorn on occasion, and I copped some flak for this (notably from Jeremy Stangroom, with whom I’ve since become friends). But that was frustration and other emotions, not a policy of being nasty. Likewise, I think Richard Dawkins maintains a good standard of civility despite obviously rejecting both Thesis A and Thesis B.

    As to whether all religious people are accommodationists – not really. Many (perhaps almost a majority in the US) think there is something seriously wrong with the scientific picture of the world, so they are not actually interested in defending Thesis A. Others have simply never thought about it. Still others have done what Thesis A suggests – i.e. they have retreated to what I referred to during the debates as an epistemically “thinned out” position, e.g. some kind of deist position or some kind of non-literalist one. The people we regarded as theistic accommodationists were the ones, usually Christian scientists and philosophers, who wanted to find room within a scientific picture of the world for an epistemically “thicker” kind of religion.

    I realise that these nuances may not have been teased out at, say, Pharyngula (though perhaps they were!) but they were certainly discussed at Why Evolution Is True and at what was then Metamagician and the Hellfire Club. One thing that annoyed me (and perhaps Jerry, but he will have to speak for himself) was that we were saying fairly sophisticated, though important, things, but we were often caricatured by our opponents … and perhaps inadvertently even by some of our allies.

    Make no mistake, though, the spurious Tom Johnson story was used to suggest that even civilly expressed rejection of Thesis A should be avoided in public, and that it would lead to the kind of nastiness that “Tom Johnson” (Wally Smith) claimed to have seen at those outreach events or whatever they were.

  • Skepsheik

    I think the term accomodationism is indeed being used in a slightly different way by both of us. I’ve tended to see it as being most useful as a term applying to atheists – and this seems to be the way a lot of others involved in the debate have interpreted it.
    For example Nick Matze described the use of the term accomodationist as follows:
    ” For the record, I hate the word “accommodationist”, which as far as I
    can tell was recently invented in its present sense by the New Atheists
    as a term of abuse. It contains the implicit claim that those
    insufficiently hostile to religion to satisfy the New Atheists are
    actively accommodating science to religion. The only time I’ve seen the
    word in a pre-2006 publication, it was being used to refer to religious
    believers who accommodate their religious beliefs to science, which is an entirely different, presumably good, thing.”
    Mano Singham, someone on the gnu side of the debate, said the following in
    2009, in an article titled ‘The new atheists vs. the accommodationists’:
    “An interesting discussion has broken out between those scientists and
    philosophers of science (labeled ‘accommodationists’) who seek to form
    alliances with religious believers by finding common ground between
    science and religion, and those who think that such an exercise is a
    waste of time, that scientific and religious viewpoints are
    fundamentally incompatible, and that what the accomodationists are doing
    is trying to make religious beliefs intellectually respectable by
    covering it with a veneer of highly dubious interpretations of science.”

    I take your point that you and perhaps Jerry Coyne might have interpreted it to include some on the moderate religious side who, for example, may have worked to promote evolution.

    I still, however, see some problems. Regarding the point about whether all (or most) religious people can be seen as accomodationists, you seem to think they cannot because they think there is something seriously wrong with the scientific picture of the world. But what does the scientific evidence suggest about the possibility for a bodily resurrection after three days of rigor mortis? Both Francis Collins and Ken Miller (presumably accomodationists by your definition) have a problem with the scientific views on the likelihood of the resurrection occurring. Their position on that biblical story is similar to the position held by the Roman Catholic and the major mainstream protestant churches (that the various miracles with Jesus, physically, rather than metaphorically, occurred.) I’m still unsure of a strict line that separates Ken Miller from the pope that makes one an accomodationist and the other not.

    Back to the original remark of mine at Michael Nugents blog, my point was really about accomodationist tactics being taken up by some of those who are still firmly on the gnu side of the fence in regards science and religion – specifically the idea of whether people have a right not to be offended. Presumably this falls under your ‘Thesis B’ banner. Telling people to shut up for the sake of political expediency was previously a defining point for (atheist!) accomodationists. It is that tactic that has been taken up by some gnus – although in this case it is shut up about different approaches to gender issues – lest you annoy potential political progressive allies. You only need to see the recent shenanigans at Shakesville, where Melissa McEwan decreed that skepticism (playing the devils advocate) was not compatible with feminist safe spaces, to see the problem here.

  • jjramsey

    Just a couple of quick comments – do bear in mind that the expression
    “accommodationist” was not equivalent to “Neville Chamberlain atheist”.
    The word “accommodationist” was often applied by Jerry and others to religious people who were seen as trying to reconcile science and religion …

    Yes, but that has more to do with how the use of the term “accommodationist” had later evolved than on its origin as a substitute for an earlier term of abuse. Indeed, I’m inclined to say that the term “accommodationist” has been used so loosely and in contexts that provide more heat than light that it’s pretty much useless as a descriptor of anyone’s actual positions.

  • RussellBlackford

    Yes, I now think I better understand your original comment – and I’ve been at pains throughout to say that I don’t consider you “just wrong” and that I’m really only talking about how people like Jerry and I and those involved in that immediate debate were using the word. I’m surprised to see Singham making that mistake – it’s a mistake if he thinks that that was what Jerry, say, was talking about at the time. I’m not surprised by Matzke, who often had the wrong end of the stick during that debate, say what he did. But notice how Matzke was familiar with a usage that involved “religious believers who accommodate their religious beliefs to science”. It appears he didn’t ever grasp was that at least some of us (I’d say the ones who were saying the most detailed and consistent, and possibly interesting things) had in mind a usage that was related to this. It seems odd, because Jerry, who was right at the centre of the argument after “Seeing And Believing” was published and objected to, was pretty clear about it.

    I can’t reply to everything you’ve said, much as this is interesting, but I’m not sure why you’d want a strict line that separates Miller from the pope. Apart from the fact that the pope may well be an accommodationist as I define the term (why wouldn’t he be?) I don’t think there are very often strict lines that divide correct applications of a term from incorrect applications. Outside of some very precise, quantitative areas of study, human life is full of grey areas and language tends to be fuzzy. In practice, that’s not a huge problem – we are all pretty skilled at living with it. At this point I could bang on about how the law deals with this (sometimes a theme here) but I won’t go into that today.

    But just getting back to your main point – while the language you used puzzled me, because I see the accommodationism debate of 2009 to 2011 as having been about religion versus science, and largely about the propriety of using scientific arguments against religion (a la Richard Dawkins, who was much criticised for doing so), I do agree that there are some odd things happening within the atheist movement. E.g. the Tom Johnson story attracted a lot of scepticism. But other stories, such as a story about a guy taking upskirt photos at TAM, don’t seem to attract the same sort of scepticism from people who were sceptical about the Tom Johnson story.

    I guess it’s further evidence that people suffer from confirmation bias. Some people seemed pre-programmed to believe the Tom Johnson story, based on their own perceptions and experiences. Some people seem pre-programmed to believe the Monopod Man story, based on their own preconceptions and experiences.

    I’m sure we all do this. My preconceptions and experiences made me sceptical about both of these particular stories. As it happens I was right. But we all have these tendencies, including me. I think the best we can do is be aware of them and not place too much reliance in particular anecdotes that may turn out to be false… and be open to people scrutinising our own favourite anecdotes. Treating a story as sacrosanct and getting emotional if it is doubted is a bad choice.

  • RussellBlackford

    I didn’t realise that Larry Moran had used the word that way in 2007, JJ. That’s interesting. Well, that might suggest we need some other term, and provide evidence that there has been a certain amount of talking at cross-purposes.
    But I do think that it was pretty clear to a fair person what was being talked about in, say, the big kerfuffle over Jerry’s “Seeing and Believing”. For example, people on my side explained again and again that one thing we were very strongly against was the doctrine that we should not challenge the compatibility of religion and science in the public square, even in a civil and thoughtful way. I also think the religion/science philosophical meaning is now sufficiently well established in the minds of many people, including some very major players, that it will stay around.

    If it’s any consolation, I’ve just checked and discovered that Udo and I don’t use the term “accommodationism” or related terms such as “anti-accommodationism” in our book. We simply argue for our views (at some length) about the relationship between religion and science.

  • Luke Vogel

    I’ll be honest, I haven’t read Jerry’s “Evolution” paper. However, I think I’ve been down this road enough times to go at one area that I think lead to others opening up to what became an
    insufferable dialogue. In fact a great deal, related and unrelated, stemmed from the focus on NOMA. [By all means skip to “Positive quote three and four”]

    The focus here then is on NOMA. As you state in listing “accomodationist”; “the late Stephen Jay Gould with his NOMA theory”. This cascaded outward largely due to comments by Richard
    Dawkins (which in fact date back to his essay in Free Inquiry shortly after Gould authored his essay; “Nonoverlapping Magisteria”). In essense it became the whipping boy for further
    discussion largely due to misunderstandings of Gould’s wording.

    As I have stated several times there are aspects of Gould’s, NOMA which I do not agree. This can be discussed later if you wish, but I’ll add as a start that I don’t share Stephen’s appreciation of religion, however his view is greatly more nuanced then has been portrayed, such as his historical perspective. I also don’t agree with Gould that “creationism” was a problem largely in the U.S.A. isolated to certain sects – lets be clear on that one, many made that mistake, including Dawkins, who seemed to be surprised by “creationisms” rise in the UK (long before he seemed to notice) But, because NOMA became a convient vehicle to criticise religion and therefore misses Stephen’s points that science and religion are irreconcilable, not compatible in any real scientific sense.

    A few quotes from Gould’s original essay in hopes to make the above points clearer. To make this easier on the reader, I’ll stick with Gould’s essay starting from near the beginning then proceeding forward.

    Difficult (for some) quote first:

    – “We all left satisfied, but I certainly felt bemused by the anomaly of my role as a Jewish agnostic, trying to reassure a group of Catholic priests that evolution remained both true and entirely consistent with religious belief.” – Gould [read: he is not saying “compatible” or “reconcilable”)

    Evolution being of course true is not saying religious belief is also true. Hence, Nonoverlapping Magisteria, simply implies in the above quote the fact it is up to the individual to recognize evolution is true and counter religious belief denying evolution is by proxy false. This is one area, plus more minor but similar points elaborated by Gould in other ways, that seemed to work as a stepping stone for Richard and Jerry to paint “accomodationism” throughout much of Gould’s, NOMA.

    Jerry Coyne opined numerous times that Gould was in fact creating the impossible dilemma that what Gould was arguing for was for a “right religion” – a religion that was not shared by most religionist (an often used example to counter a misconception: religion is the major road block for belief evolution is true). Without going into detail at this time, Jerry’s premise is misguided since Gould’s focus is on evolution. The statement above by Gould is no less true simply because Jerry argues that Gould is creating a false religious idealism.

    Lastly with regards to Gould’s quote above, he is not necessarily spelling out NOMA – that is a mistake often made. Which leads us to where the demarcation Gould argue does lie and has yet been refuted.

    Difficult quote two:

    – “but creationism based on biblical literalism makes little sense in either Catholicism or Judaism for neither religion maintains any extensive tradition for reading the Bible as literal truth rather than illuminating literature, based partly on metaphor and allegory (essential components of all good writing) and demanding interpretation for proper understanding.” – Gould

    This point is made clear by many atheist. Again, an interpretation is Gould is arguing again for the “right religion”, not the religion most believe. It is argued then that Gould is putting into
    existence a religion that is non-existent. What I mean by atheist making this point is in showing how easy it is to point out the contradictions in religious text. Such as, which creation story is
    true (keeping with evolution mind you). Even what is termed a “fundamentalist” is truly a interpreter of so-called sacred text since the numbers they allow for the age of the earth (among many other such examples) are in fact interpreations, they are not literal text examples taken from the books to which they make their claims. I’ll leave that there – but, I’m certainly will to explain further.

    Difficult quote three:

    – “The lack of conflict between science and religion arises from a lack of overlap between their respective domains of professional expertise—science in the empirical constitution of the
    universe, and religion in the search for proper ethical values and the spiritual meaning of our lives. The attainment of wisdom in a full life requires extensive attention to both domains—for a
    great book tells us that the truth can make us free and that we will live in optimal harmony with our fellows when we learn to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.” – Gould

    The first part is fairly undeniable. It’s easier understood that the religious often accept science (many non-religious reject aspects of science and it’s methods). But, as for the methods of
    science little conflict arises (again an area like this would lead Coyne to posit religion as a leading cause of denial in evolution – plus throw in some evils). This is not to say it doesn’t. The issue of conflict and the spelling out of NOMA is not yet revealed in the essay – though by now plenty of fodder has been made of the above quotes. “Proper ethical values” the “spiritual meaning of our lives” are not scientific sentiments. Clearly attempts at making “ethical values” and “spiritual meaning in our lives” are being made strongly by certain atheist these days, in fact we are approaching a point to say otherwise is calling into question certain individuals “atheism”. There seems to be a leaping over philosophy for scientific “absolutism” in approaching such sentiments, for a reason I will not elaborate on now, but find dismaying since it’s uses are evident.

    This is an issue and one that comes later in the piece, morality, it seems to be making bloggers such as Jerry Coyne odd fence sitters, but without the fence. Obviously all sacred text tell us more than “optimal harmony” etc., but read the sentence more clearly and notice he offers overlap pertaining to reality. To say “extensive attention” has not been paid to religion since Gould’s ’97 essay and to proceeding “atheistic” books is misguided (far to many great atheistic books were nearly ignored in the flurry of excitement at best sellers).

    Positive quote one:

    Here Gould is deciphering an odd piece of Pope Pius XII that leads to the “teaching authority” – as he states of Pius: “not one of my favorite figures in twentieth-century history, to say the least”

    – “Catholics could believe whatever science determined about the evolution of the human body, so long as they accepted that, at some time of his choosing, God had infused the soul into such a creature. I also knew that I had no problem with this statement, for whatever my private beliefs about souls, science cannot touch such a subject and therefore cannot be threatened by any theological position on such a legitimately and intrinsically religious issue.” – Gould

    Clearly Gould is distanced from “soul” in belief and reality, but the larger part is he also knows “soul” is outside of science. This is recently disputed by certain atheist – thus keeping alive “sacred dimensions to life” – that’s Harris, “provisional gods” where one can imagine a situation where evidence reveals something claimed to be not natural, unknown and therefore can rightly be accepted as provisionally scientifcally validated – that’s Coyne (thus saying potential provisional gods is not only valid but a scientific statement) and the list goes on. However, to Gould, “soul” does not exist in context of evolution, in nature – it is more made up religion. The upside he’s pointing out is they have dethroned the denial of human evolution. Minor point to some which I’d like to discuss in greater detail given the dismal approaches by religion to the teaching of evoluition, denial of evolution and continued rationalizations to keep the faithful in line.

    Positive quote two:

    This one’s the real kicker.

    – “The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for starters, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty). To cite the arch cliches, we get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of ages; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven.” – Gould

    The first part has pretty sharp edges, little in the way to dispute, but dispute away. The second sentence takes us partly back to Difficult quote three and some of the Positive one quote. I want to make this clear, Gould was not saying religion was “right” (scientifically or otherwise) in determining how to go to heaven – it is a linguistic trick of the tale, so to speak. “The net of religion”, here again Joyne may interject, that’s Gould’s “right religion”, but it is a stronger and more nuanced statement than that. It is not to say science can tell us nothing of moral meaning and value – that should appear obvious by other writing of Gould and science, including the closing remarks of NOMA. In the last sentence we may be wise to take away the idea we learn to fight our “enemy” by knowing them best.

    I don’t think Gould is right that his idea will bring any type of harmony – if he predicted the opposite, he would have been right. It’s potential if used by wise readers is available, but obviously it’s been desimated by ignorance and fear – for one to claim they “vociferous” or tout how many times they’re called “strident”.

    Positive quote three and four:

    – “But I also know that souls represent a subject outside the magisterium of science. My world cannot prove or disprove such a notion, and the concept of souls cannot threaten or impact my domain. Moreover, while I cannot personally accept the Catholic view of souls, I surely honor the metaphorical value of such a concept both for grounding moral discussion and for expressing what we most value about human potentiality: our decency, care, and all the ethical and intellectual struggles that the evolution of consciousness imposed upon us.”

    – “As a moral position (and therefore not as a deduction from my knowledge of nature’s factuality), I prefer the “cold bath” theory that nature can be truly “cruel” and “indifferent”—in the utterly inappropriate terms of our ethical discourse—because nature was not constructed as our eventual abode, didn’t know we were coming (we are, after all, interlopers of the latest geological microsecond), and doesn’t give a damn about us (speaking metaphorically). I regard such a position as liberating, not depressing, because we then become free to conduct moral discourse—and nothing could be more important—in our own terms, spared from the delusion that we might read moral truth passively from nature’s factuality.”

    In closing, there’s much more than just Gould’s piece I’d like to discuss on this issue. There’s a good deal to agree with – but it’s time to put away childish things, like “let’s make up a god and try to disprove it”, stop the pseudoscience.

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