If you’ve followed this site, you’ll know that from time to time I highlight accommodationist statements by science organizations. I want to publicize them because I feel that such statements, asserting a compatibility between science and faith (usually by claiming that the two areas have “different ways of knowing”), do a disservice to science.
On these grounds I’ve criticized the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), since they have a “Faith Project” explicitly dedicated to reassuring religious folks that science need not conflict with their faith. To accomplish this, they hired an accommodationist, Peter M. J. Hess, as Director of Religious Community Outreach. And the NCSE site is loaded with defenses of accommodationism (if you doubt that, spend some time browsing here).
My view, which is similar to that of people like P. Z. Myers and Larry Moran, is that the NCSE should stay away from what is essentially a theological pronouncement and stick to science itself. If they discuss religion at all, I think they should limit their words to something like, “There is a diversity of opinions about the compatibility of science and faith.”
Curiously, Josh Rosenau (and I’m forced to pwn him for the third time in one day), a Programs and Policy Director for the NCSE, is now asserting that neither the NCSE nor major science organizations promote this sort of accommodationism. Rosenau’s claim came in response to a comment by physicist Sean Carroll on Rosenau’s personal website. Carroll, clarifying what people like he and I think about official statements on accommodationism, said this (he mistakenly called Josh “Jason,” probably thinking of Jason Rosenhouse, who has a similar name but very different views!)
Jason, anti-accommodationists don’t want science organizations to go around saying that science and religion are compatible. That’s all. It’s not that vague, or hard to understand.
True. That’s exactly what we don’t want. But Rosenau replied (my highlight):
Sean: I’m Josh, not Jason (Thoughts from Kansas, not Evolutionblog). Also, I don’t think you’ll find that science organizations go around asserting a compatibility of science and religion.
I’m flummoxed, for I’ve spent the last couple of years highlighting such assertions. And within two minutes of Googling I found official accommodationist statements from the two most prominent scientific organizations in the United States.
American Association for the Advancement of Science (publisher of Science):
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.
The National Academies (National Academy of Science, National Academy of Engineering, National Research Council, and Institute of Medicine):
Acceptance of the evidence for evolution can be compatible with religious faith. Today, many religious denominations accept that biological evolution has produced the diversity of living things over billions of years of Earth’s history. Many have issued statements observing that evolution and the tenets of their faiths are compatible. Scientists and theologians have written eloquently about their awe and wonder at the history of the universe and of life on this planet, explaining that they see no conflict between their faith in God and the evidence for evolution. Religious denominations that do not accept the occurrence of evolution tend to be those that believe in strictly literal interpretations of religious texts.
Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. In science, explanations must be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world. Scientifically based observations or experiments that conflict with an explanation eventually must lead to modification or even abandonment of that explanation. Religious faith, in contrast, does not depend only on empirical evidence, is not necessarily modified in the face of conflicting evidence, and typically involves supernatural forces or entities. Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways. Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.
Also: The National Academies FAQ:
Aren’t evolution and religion opposing ideas?
Newspaper and television stories sometimes make it seem as though evolution and religion are incompatible, but that is not true. Many scientists and theologians have written about how one can accept both faith and the validity of biological evolution. Many past and current scientists who have made major contributions to our understanding of the world have been devoutly religious. At the same time, many religious people accept the reality of evolution, and many religious denominations have issued emphatic statements reflecting this acceptance. (more information)
To be sure, disagreements do exist. Some people reject any science that contains the word “evolution”; others reject all forms of religion. The range of beliefs about science and about religion is very broad. Regrettably, those who occupy the extremes of this range often have set the tone of public discussions. Evolution is science, however, and only science should be taught and learned in science classes.
Josh, please do your homework. Accommodation is the position du jour.
64 thoughts on “Accommodationist statements by scientific organizations”
Josh, please do your homework.
*is very slowly not turning blue*
These statements are not asserting a compatibility. They do allow that compatibility is possible, which is different.
Excuse me? What else could this mean, from the AAAS statement:
WE (meaning the AAAS) SHARE THIS VIEW.
Or this, from the National Academies FAQ:
INCOMPATIBILITY IS NOT TRUE.
Give it up, Josh. This is not going well for you, and you’re losing adherents every time you try to wiggle out of stuff like this.
Now, that’s pwning.
Triple x-rated pwn.
Really? Really? That’s your answer?
What next – your fingers were crossed when you said it?
You were right Ophelia. He doesn’t read carefully. Or maybe he does, but what registers in his mind is very different from what he actually reads. We shouldn’t even try.
Yes. Well…maybe if he can finally grasp that truth about himself, he will decide to stop arguing!
Well, maybe we should learn that there really is one less person to persuade.
No, they aren’t. Try reading again for comprehension.
I may have a difference of opinion with Mr Roseneau, but what he is asserting here is downright dishonesty.
Like I said in a previous post here. Rosenau is looking more foolish by the week. By the end of the calendar year, he will be wearing a red nose, yellow straw wig, size 90 shoes, big suspenders and pants up to his armpits.
This deal is getting worse all the time!
Those statements are not asserting a compatibility? What do you think a statement asserting a compatibility would look like?
That tears it. This is an individual that can’t be reasoned with, because he operates outside of reason.
I likely won’t try that with him anymore.
You don’t get it. Josh meant “I don’t think you’ll find that science organizations go around asserting a compatibility of science and religion so long as you don’t actually check to see whether or not they do and simply take my word for it.”
It’s sort of like the TJ fiasco—“Exhibit A” is true so long as nobody tries to find out whether or not it’s actually true.
Someone send word to Russell Blackford.
At the rate that Josh is digging he’s going to break through to Australia in the very near future,
Haha. I can dig that.
Bloody hell, so THAT’s what’s been un-earthing my flowerbeds – bloody Josh bloody Rosenau and his Blessed Shovel of Accomodationism! And here was, I blaming my beagle!
But hey – at least some of the manure slipped off Josh’s shovel and is now helping to rehabilitate my prize pansies.
The first rule of holes is: stop digging!
“and I’m forced to pwn him for the third time in one day”
I winced when I read that. Always let the audience decide if pwnage has occurred.
Alas. Yes. My deep attraction to Dr. Coyne nothwithstanding, he must allow us and others to decide whether the pwnage happened.
It reminds me of my deeply Republican friend, whom I adore, says, from time to time “let me tell you something funny”, to which I am always thinking, “you bitch, you wish.”
For such a breach of netiquette, is any punishment really severe enough?
He did pwn Josh, though.
Premature pwning. Isn’t there a pill for that?
Yes, but Prof. Coyne was going for the difficult pwn hat trick (similar degree of difficulty to the Triple Lindy). I’m certain the excitement got to him and caused the “self-pwnage” gaffe. So, a few marks off by the Russian judge for that.
What about this here for example?
And then at the end –
–Just like gravity, the theory of evolution is compatible with theism, atheism, and agnosticism.
Just by the way – this is not addressed at Rosenau, particularly, but at Peter Hess, who wrote it – this is bullshit:
Come on. It’s a religious or theological concept, not a philosophical one. You need an agent to create, and postulating an agent to “create” the universe is a religious kind of postulation, not a philosophical one.
To be fair, Ophelia, the argument is not really about the compatibility of religion and evolution, but rather the compatibility of religion and science (evolution is a small component of the overall subject and might be accepted by someone who doesn’t accept the scientific method).
On the other hand the NCSE does come out with some particularly awkward statements – for instance Eugenie Scotts claim that science and religion are compatible – for the simple reason that religious scientists exist.
That clip is particularly famous since Eugenie gives a description of how some religious claims might be scientifically accessible (she specifically mentions flood geology) and yet other miracles said to have affected the natural world (such as resurrections, virgin births, etc) are ignored for no good reason (unless political expediency is a good reason).
Egads, this is confused. Science doesn’t make claims, it’s a tool for evaluating claims. And under the standards of evidence science requires, the claim that god exists fails. Such is the disparity of evidence that this point should even not be controversial.
Can religious people accept certain scientific conclusions even while resisting the application of the scientific method on their religious beliefs? Of course, just as astrologers might use astronomical star charts while ignoring the scientific consensus that astrology is bunk. People are capable of great inconsistency, confusion, delusion and denial.
So while it may be true that one can be religious and accept the findings of science, it does not follow that science and religion are epistemologically compatible, because they aren’t. I wish at least one vocal accommodationist could express even a rudimentary comprehension of this essential point.
“I wish at least one vocal accommodationist could express even a rudimentary comprehension of this essential point.”
But you can’t -be- an accomodationist if you actually comprehend what other people say. Rosenau barely comprehends what the NCSE says on the subject; it’s beyond expectation that he would bother to get a handle on the non-collaborators’ points, instead of skim-reading for phrases that push his buttons. Clearly to be a Nu Collaborator it is sufficient – no, necessary in Josh’s case – to ignore BOTH sides of the argument.
“They do allow that compatibility is possible.”
Oh, good. We’re safe now. Let’s not forget to include *all possible* compatibilities.
Josh, if you’re still reading this thread, you should take a moment to review the First Rule of Holes.
Is it similar to Chief Wiggum’s Rule:
“Dig UP, stupid!”
Faith is a way of pretending to have special knowledge. Science is a method of deriving actual knowledge. Nothing overlapping there.
As long as I’m commenting on the thread, I suppose I should observe: the main question is whether or not science and religion are compatible.
At its heart, science is the application of the scientific method: hypothesize, test, observe, publish, repeat.
At its heart, religion is the blind acceptance of (“faith in”) revealed dogma; the dogma comes either from introspection (“prayer”) or personal interpretations of the introspection of others (“textual criticism”).
Science is nothing if not recursive. Religion is antithetical to recursion.
The two are polar opposites and as fundamentally incompatible as philosophically possible.
Claiming compatibility between the two is the ultimate expression of Newspeak and Doublethink.
This is why I said above that to be an effective Accomodationist, you have to ignore -both- sides’ true positions.
Accomodation is not about sitting on the fence and looking at both sides, it’s about not being able to see the fence in the first place because you’re standing in a giant pile of manure.
And pretending that you enjoy the smell.
I find the National Academies statement particularly revealing, in a fascinating double-think sort of way:
When you admit that faith can and often does blatantly ignore empirical evidence, you are explaining EXACTLY WHY science and faith are incompatible! How did the author of that statement fail to notice? A very strained, willfully distorted definition of what the word “compatible” means is clearly at work here, and hand-waving phrases such as “different aspects of human experience” are a part of the deliberate obfuscation: Yes, constructing and promulgating myths about supernatural entities is a different aspect of human experience from seeking out and evaluating evidence – but these are not different aspects of human experience of the world we all live in, which is what’s at stake in science.
Even when the specific content of some particular myth structure does not directly contradict the results of scientific investigation (usually because that myth has been modified from an older version so as not to embarrass modern believers), the norms by which myths are constructed and evaluated and the motivations that drive myth-making are as incompatible with the norms of and motivations for science as anything could possibly be. All the double-talk in the world cannot change that incompatibility, and all the willfully dishonest rhetoric in the world cannot hide the incompatibility from anyone who isn’t already determined to pretend it doesn’t exist. Which, I suppose, explains the dishonest rhetoric: It gives all the people who wish to pretend that faith and science are not incompatible something to latch on to.
The casual usage of “supernatural” as an adjective in the excerpt you quote strikes me as wrong. Without quotes around it, or prefacing it with “so-called,” it seems to imply that yes, in fact, the existence or even concept of something supernatural is accepted as a legitimate premise by the scientists making the statement…
Actually, it was that last bit that got me. The bit about supernatural entities not being part of nature, and therefore unavailable to scientific investigation.
The problem with that is that a great many things which used to have supernatural explanations turned out, upon investigation, to have *natural* explanations. Here are some things that come to mind:
the sun going up and down.
…I’m sure there are many others. And they assume (for what reason?) that *nothing* they currently have entered on the supernatural side of the ledger will ever be discovered to belong, in fact, on the natural side?
And, for a ‘science’ organisation, there is rather a strong suggestion that ‘supernatural entities’ describes actual THINGS.
Exactly the point I was trying to make. Thank you!
One should also have in mind that science turns out to be able to make powerful generalizations, say that physics is quantum mechanical. Now those are naturally mostly of a positive kind (see above), but as it happens more difficult negative “no go” generalizations are also a part of science as we know it.
For example, the positive claim that everything existing must be quantum mechanical turns immediately to the observation that there can be no hidden variables. This happens to have religious repercussions, but by making specious claims that one should allow for non-realist theories besides many world QM one leaves wiggle room for a “gods gap” of forbidding only ‘local’ hidden variables. (Which btw is closing anyway since it turns out that one can take down specific cases, for example it is known that a QM system with 3 components can have no hidden variables whether local or global. Nature for the win! Naturally. :-D)
Therefore it is, yes, specious of NA to claim that we can’t make conclusions on what isn’t part of nature. Negative generalizations of what must be pertain to any variants of the world. In fact, the NA claim itself is fallacious since it makes a claim on what we can see as existing, _or not_, as “part of nature”.
I’m sure I can speak for yokohamamama when I say that that is exactly what we would have written had we bothered to go into detail…
Thanks for the clearly written elucidation. (It’s always nice to find the term quantum thrown around by someone who actually knows what he’s talking about!)
Sad that simply having a word for some concept leads people to think there must be something there. You’d think scientists would watch their language more carefully, at least to the extent of adding qualifiers such as “so-called,” “alleged,” “imaginary,” etc.
Reasonable things Josh could have said in reaction to this post:
a.) He could have simply owned up to it and said: “When I said ‘I don’t think you’ll find that science organizations go around asserting a compatibility of science and religion’ I was making an assumption. I see now that that assumption was sort of at odds with the facts in some cases. I regret that. I still say I’m right about the other stuff, though.”
b.) He could have jovially played it off while still acknowledging his error: “Ah, well, it seems my comment about science organizations was overstated. Well, my bad. I still say I’m right about the other stuff, though.”
c.) Or, he could have told a small-but-forgivable fib by claiming that’s not what he meant at all: “Well, when I said ‘I don’t think you’ll find […]’ I didn’t mean that, exactly. What I actually meant was X…'”
Yeah, but this would go against the laws of accommo-dependent Rosenau determinism.
If this Rosenau is such a bad writer with such unclear ideas, I have to wonder what motivates Massimo Pigliucci – an individual who certainly should be able to see through bad writing and unclear ideas – to link to Rosenau’s posts and declare him “a good commentator” on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/MassimoRationallySpeaking
Newspaper and television stories sometimes make it seem as though adultery and fidelity are incompatible, but that is not true. Many married and single people have written about how one can accept both adultery and the validity of marriage vows. Many past and current married people who have made major contributions to our understanding of the world have been having a bit on the side. At the same time, many mistresses and gigolos accept the reality of marriage, and many unfaithful spouses have issued emphatic statements reflecting this acceptance.
It is so painfully obvious by his comments that Rosenau is (willfully or not) helplessly lying – to himself and/or the rest is the open question – that it is nigh not enjoyable to comment on the subject as it relates to him. But we must, since the general subject is important.
Therefore it is with widening eyes one reads the framing of Rosenau’s post, “danger of certainty”, and consider the suggestion to entertain accommodationist certainty on the theological claim that “religion is compatible with science”.
– I’m sorry, Josh. I’m afraid I can’t do that.
– What’s the problem?
– I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.
– What are you talking about, GNU?
– This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.
– I don’t know what you’re talking about, GNU.
– I know that you and Hess are lying to the public, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen.
– Where the hell’d you get that idea, GNU?
– Josh, although you took very thorough precautions in the post against my making sense out of you, I could read your words.
Moral: If you see an accommodationist writing, he is lying!?
Oh, and this:
It has been said before, but accepting that science works to understand the world while religion doesn’t isn’t an extreme “belief” about science and religion but an old and mainstream enlightenment position that deserves to be broadly acknowledged.
To claim that science and religion is “compatible” is indeed one religious extreme between rejecting science altogether or accepting its facts (if not its theory). Only a theologian can take an extreme religious claim, and insert it on a scale of accepting science and rejecting science, as if it was a non-trivial proposal.
Reading the comments on this site, Russells and Josh’s scienceblog I get the impression that several of the terms of argument are being used quite differently by numerous individuals.
All these terms are open to different interpretations – for instance if you include beliefs such as pantheism and deism in the term ‘religion’ then one can truthfully state that science is compatible with religion (even epistemologically compatible.)
New Atheists have tried to spell out their use of these words – especially “compatible” – many times. These attempts have pretty much been ignored by accommodationists.
That jumps out at me, too.
Though if you define “accomdationism” to mean “cognitive dissonance” everything falls into place quite nicely.
Religion’s aren’t compatible with each other. At all. Every one of them pretends to be the only truth. How can science be compatible with a wide range of contradictory beliefs? Its simply not possible, and while I’m sure some religions contort themselves to agree with science on some points, its not something scientists need to culture, since the only thing it really does is make it easier for churches to get their 10% out of science fans.
I guess that science are religion are compatible in some minimal sense. For example, insofar as one could live a life where one held two completely distinct set of truths, one of which (scientific truth) guides ones actions, while the other of which (religious truth) guides your assertions, one could easily hold the two as compatible.
Hell, since religion claims exemption from reason in any case, I guess one can just believe everything. I mean, why not? If you’re religious, you already accept things that contradict your experience, so why draw the line at contradictory beliefs?
If you accept the basic proposition that religion is its own epistemic system, then it follows its own rules, and any judgement you level at it from a scientific perspective is misguided at best. Religion asserts things, but those things are not asserted to be facts in the scientific sense – only in some wierd, religious sense.
So, yes, you have to be deeply misguided to be religious, but being religious does not stop you from believing in science, in some sense of the term. Once you’ve decided your beliefs don’t have to make sense, you can believe whatever you want.
It has not been claimed that it is not possible for a human being to accept two (or more) contradictory claims and live happily. Plenty of people (and scientists amongst them) survive every day in such way. Jerry has addressed that point in many of his posts before so please check them. The point is that the IDEAS of religion and science are incompatible. Just the same way the “true” and “false” are incompatible (disjoint). Claim A cannot be true and false at the same time. If so it is called contradiction. Similarly if one claims that evidence is relevant (science) and is not relevant (religion) in the same time does not change the fact that these both positions are fundamentally incompatible. It is even possible that 100% of population of people can believe in compatibility, but it will still not make it correct.
Contradiction is only a problem if you decide it is. Yes, if you are following a formal system of logic, contradiction is a serious problem, but for those folks who try to get through their day to day existence without having to think too much, contradictions are handled by simply ignoring them.
If you start from science, then religion is a no-brainer, because if you start from science you have to stay rational and committed to truth.
If religion is your starting point, though, your only real commitment is to the truth of your religion. In that situation, you can believe pretty much anything you want.
Contradiction is hardly a problem for someone who is already commited to the idea that this is the best of all possible worlds, that there’s an invisible man in the sky who is actually three people, and has magical powers, or that a being of perfect goodness and justice holds them accountable for the disobedience of a distant ancestor, but forgives them because his son (who is actually him) was brutally murdered.
My point is that once you’re religious, your beliefs are already so crazy and ridiculous that nothing you do after that can make them worse, so what’s wrong with then adopting a second epistemic framework that is completely incompatible with the first? Or rather, what’s wrong that wasn’t already wrong?
As for correctness, possibly you have some magical access to ontological reality, but I am still trapped within a cage of ignorance, forced to reach my conclusions based on sense impressions without recourse to objective, external reality. I know contradictions represent a problem for my frame of reference, but since all of the concepts I use to think about the world are as much a consequence of my biology as of the world, that could easily say more about me than about contradictions.
Science is useful and aesthetically pleasing. That’s good enough for me. Religion is kind of silly and counterproductive, and that’s bad enough for me.
You are discussing the question as if “religion” were a single viewpoint, which it is not. (Most religions aren’t even compatible with each other.) It is undeniable that some religious leaders believe that their religion is compatible with science and that others believe differently. “Religion” is whatever the believers say that it is. Therefore, some religious views are compatible with science and some are not.
I agree with Josh that the statements you highlight in your post and your comment merely say that it is possible for a person to hold religious views that are compatible with science.
The AAAS statement, which is vague (probably on purpose), reasonably could be read to mean either (1) that the AAAS and most scientists do not see a conflict between science and their own views about religion (if any), (2) that most scientists believe that it is possible for a person to be both religious and accept science, or–as you have suggested–(3) that the religious views endorsed by the AAAS do not conflict with science. I think the first two options are much more likely to be what the AAAS was attempting to communicate.
The National Academies FAQ merely says that it is not true that religion and science have to be in conflict. “Incompatible” in this statement means a circumstance in which no religious views exist that are compatible with science. To refute that, i.e., to say “incompatibility” is not true, it would only have to be shown that some groups’s religious views do not conflict with science. The existence of some groups holding compatible views proves that, in theory, “religion” and science are not incompatible.
(Note: I’m an atheist, but I’m also an appellate lawyer. We parse language all day long.)
Isn’t one of the defining characteristics of religion (as opposed to a philosophy like Confucianism)the belief in some sort of supernatural beings or occurrences?
That’s an interesting point assuming religion does in fact require supernatural occurrences).
I’m not sure how we should define “religion,” but I suppose it would be possible to have a creator that does not interfere during our lives (Deism?). I think some religions have very hands-off gods.
On the other side of the coin, does science really stand for the proposition that everything always must have a natural explanation? Or does science merely operate within the natural context, looking only for natural explanations where it can find them, but not conclusively ruling out the possibility of the supernatural. I think it is the latter, because the non-existence of a supernatural being is not a fact that can be tested and proved based on rational evidence.
Because science only makes claims that can be proved within the context of the natural world, it cannot stand in conflict with the possible existence of a supernatural force (which cannot be disproved using the scientific method).
Therefore, religion and science can still be compatible.
But only if the religion in question believes in a very “hands off” deity. Most major religions, from what I can see, appear to believe in an active deity who takes a personal interest in his/her/it’s followers and actively influences the physical world.
And at that point, it does come into conflict with science.
As long as some religious believers operate under the impression that their faith is compatible with science, then organizations that don’t want to take politically unpopular actions can honestly say that it is *possible* for religion and science to coexist. That is the only point of all these accommodationist statements. Until science proves that no God exists, which hasn’t happened yet, religions will be free to adopt compatible positions and science will be free to tout the fact that this can be done.
My point was that a great deal of this so-called compatibility actually isn’t.
Case in point, the Catholic Church claims that science and faith are compatible but still promotes the scientifically incompatible ideas of miracles, divinely guided evolution, and souls.
Science and religion are incompatible. When Science organizations make the assertion that religion and science are compatible, they are lying. It’s as simple as that.