AAAS also engages in accommodationism

April 23, 2009 • 9:58 am

Several alert readers have apprised me that the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), another powerful and important scientific organization, has also published accommodationist literature. One of their publications, The Evolution Dialogues: Science, Christianity, and the Quest for Understanding, which can be found here (be sure to download the free study guide and the preview of “Angela’s story.” Here is a summary from one alert reader (thanks!)

The AAAS published The Evolution Dialogues in 2006 (I’m sure the University of Chicago must have a library copy). It is a book of 206 pages, and I was surprised that none of the science blogs at the time discussed it. It is very similar to your WEIT book in that it presents all of the evidence for evolution. But its main purpose is to serve as propaganda for the cause of harmonizing evolution and religion, and its intended readership is the religious citizenry. To make their point, each chapter has what I call a “running soap opera”; a serial story of about 1,500 words about a fictitious biology student named “Angela Rawlett” and her biology advisor “Laurel Dunbar” working together to overcome her fears of science destroying her faith. When you finish the book you have also finished the soap opera (the several parts of Angela’s story), and learn how Angela has reconciled evolution and her religion. It ends with Angela announcing to one of her biology classmates that on their fossil collecting field trip to South Dakota she intends to hold a “sunrise service”.

I have ordered this book and will file a report after I read it. It appears to be about Christianity alone; I don’t know if there are other editions for the little Mohameds and Moishes whose faiths are also challenged.

14 thoughts on “AAAS also engages in accommodationism

  1. The efforts of the AAAS, like that of the NAS and NCSE, are countermeasures against the creationist strategy to equate evolution and atheism. To be fair, I haven’t read this particular book, but if it’s anything like what is produced by the AAAS, NAS, and NCSE on the subject, the point will be that evolution need not be in conflict with religion, not that religion as a rule nurtures one’s appreciation of evolution. As long as they stick to the former point and not the latter, they’re making a statement of fact. If these organizations promoted the position that acceptance of evolution is not compatible with religion (ironically, the creationists’ position), the creationists would be handed a means to challenge science education on the grounds that it violates the Establishment Clause.

    In a kind world, yes, AAAS and NAS wouldn’t have to make any statements regarding science and faith compatibility – the NCSE would also be superfluous. Even the overwhelmingly non-theist membership of the NAS, however, doesn’t seem to have much in the way of objections to the “accommodationist” position. All that being said, there must be a loyal opposition if a position is to develop and improve – ultimately the goal of defending evolution education is shared by all.

    1. Aren’t scientists taught to operationally define their terms before trying to prove or disprove them?

      So what gives with this failure to define terms like “compatible” and “ways of knowing” before launching into an argument about them?

      It doesn’t make much sense to argue back and forth about whether religion and science are “compatible,” without first agreeing on what is meant by “compatible.” The word is obviously open to more than one interpretation.

      Accommodationists can reasonably argue that there’s a meaning of the word “compatible” whereby it’s empirically true that science and religion are compatible: both sets of beliefs can co-exist in one brain, and there are people who both hold supernatural beliefs and accept evolution and are competent working scientists in their chosen area.

      So, Jerry, instead of trying to get accommodationists to admit that science and religion aren’t “compatible” (which would require them to agree that your definition of that word is the only reasonable one – a bit of a stretch) why not formulate a well defined proposition that you can empirically demonstrate to be true, and that captures precisely what you mean by “science and religion are incompatible”?

      Then, you could advocate for scientists and science organizations to always include an acknowledgement of that proposition any time they say publically that science and religion are compatible.

      As a bonus, if you took this approach, you’d be using the scientific method to further your argument.

      1. Sorry, james, I “mis-filed” my comment above – I didnt mean it as a reply to yours – I meant it as a reply to Jerry’s post.

  2. Jerry is on a roll!!! I am with you all the way.

    James F: If you read WEIT, then you will see how the evidence of evolution does conflict with religion. Those organizations are wrong if they state otherwise.

    1. The point is whether or not acceptance of evolution is compatible with religion, and the official position of several religions is that there is no conflict between acceptance of evolution and their respective faiths. If the AAAS, NAS, and NCSE claimed that science and religion are compatible in all areas then I would agree that they would be wrong, but to my knowledge they have constrained their official position to views relevant to creationism.

  3. Who at AAAS would endorse such hogwash? I’m looking forward to your report–I doubt I could wade my way through all 206 pages of a soap opera about keeping faith and studying science.

  4. Once again, we face the question of whether or not the emerging scientific image of the world is compatible with any of the religious images of the world that are currently on offer. It’s a highly controversial philosophical question on which individual scientists are entitled to have views (though it’s not a question that can be resolved within one specialised science), It is emphatically NOT something that an official organisation can settle by fiat.

    As a philosopher who argues against the supposed compatibility, I am annoyed to see official organisations representing science taking an official stand on such a contentious matter. Individual scientists who agree with my philosophical position or something like it – and, clearly, there are plenty of those scientists – ought to be even more pissed off, because these organisations are supposed to be representing THEM.

    If it comes to that, religionists should feel pissed off at scientists telling them, through their official organisations, what theological positions to take.

    The various solidly-corroborated bodies of scientific theory, including evolutionary theory, are simply what they are. Their main propositional claims should be accepted as factual. It’s really up to the religionists to alter their views to bring them into line with science. Or not. That’s not the problem of bodies such as the AAAS.

    Science bodies should stick to the point that such and such is what gets revealed by systematic, rational investigation of the world, supported overwhelmingly by several lines of converging evidence. The science bodies should be “religion blind”; they should present the evidence for the emerging scientific picture, but should not comment on what specific theological positions are or are not compatible with it.

  5. If these organizations promoted the position that acceptance of evolution is not compatible with religion (ironically, the creationists’ position), the creationists would be handed a means to challenge science education on the grounds that it violates the Establishment Clause.

    But the science is what it is, for example incompatible with YEC. As long as science doesn’t support (“respect”) one specific establishment of religion, it wouldn’t violate the EC AFAIU the later.

    Now, the claim that science is compatible with religion is a philosophical statement of theology, not an empirical fact of science, so science organizations shouldn’t make it or support it in any way.

    And since it is falsified by AFAIU all actual religions, say any that in practice or theory claim that natural processes aren’t enough for explaining origin of life or universe, it is even worse to pretend that it is science.

  6. The most egregious example of accommodationism I know of is the AAAS Statement on the teaching of evolution 2006.

    I cannot fathom how the final paragraph ever got into print. In particular the last two sentences: “Many religious leaders have affirmed that they see no conflict between evolution and religion. We and the overwhelming majority of scientists share this view.”

    I asked the AAAS for evidence to support the last statement but they never replied.

  7. The final paragraph from the AAAS Statement on teaching of evolution, 2006:

    “The sponsors of many of these state and local proposals seem to believe that evolution and religion conflict. This is unfortunate. They need not be incompatible. Science and religion ask fundamentally different questions about the world. Many religious leaders have affirmed that they see no conflict between evolution and religion. We and the overwhelming majority of scientists share this view.”

    Given that the proposals referred to by the AAAS would totally undermine the teaching of evolution in biology class and originate from people whose religious views do conflict with evolution, this paragraph is simply perverse.

    There is no problem emanating from religious groups who have no problem with how evolution is taught: namely, groups who believe that evolution is compatible with their religious faith. The problem comes only from those groups who believe that evolution is incompatible with their faith. The lunacy is that the AAAS understands perfectly well that evolution is incompatible with the faith of those who want to change how evolution is taught!

    The swerve into talk about religious leaders who don’t have a problem with evolution is irrelevant, fatuous bollocks. The final sentence is mind numbing. How did it happen?

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