Over at EvolutionBlog, Jason Rosenhouse alerts us to a new post by Michael Ruse on his Chronicle of Higher Education site: “Prayer, menstruation, and the Toronto District school board.” Ruse’s nominal topic is the fact that Muslim religious dictates are creating a bad situation in Toronto’s public schools. Since Muslims are required to pray five time a day, several of those prayers must take place in school.
The thing is, though, that menstruating girls aren’t allowed to join the boys in prayer, although they can at other times. Here’s a photo, from an editorial in the Star, showing two forms of segregation: the boys are bowed in prayer in the first rows, and the non-menstruating girls are praying behind them (I’ve seen this segregation in mosques many times). And behind them all, not praying, is a group of girls having their periods:
Now I’m not sure that Canada has anything like our First Amendment, forbidding public prayer during school hours, but they do have a gender-equity policy in schools, which is being shamelessly violated in two ways: girls must pray behind the boys, and can’t pray at all when they’re “unclean.” The Toronto District school board won’t intervene, and Ruse rightly calls them out for their cowardice.
Does any accommodationist want to defend this despicable religious practice? It’s not limited to Muslims, either: I’m ashamed to say that in many Orthodox Jewish synagogues, women can’t pray on the main floor with the men, but are segregated in the rear, often behind screens. And Orthodox women must immerse themselves in a ritual bath at the end of their periods. This, of course, is all based on Jewish law, and justified by the Old Testament.
This is why Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom (coauthors before their unfortunate schism) called their book, Does God Hate Women? If you go by religious scripture and practice, the answer, of course, is “yes.” Talk about misogyny! But you’ll rarely hear accommodationists raise their voices against such practices—they’re too busy criticizing atheists.
What is curious about this article, though, is that Ruse, the walking definition of accommodationism, starts off his piece like this:
There are days when, I swear to God, I am all set to enroll under the banner of Richard Dawkins and anathematize all religions and those who subscribe to them. I take a lot of criticism from my fellow atheists, including my fellow Brainstormers, for arguing that science and religion are compatible. I still think that, but increasingly I cannot for the life of me see why any decent human being would want to be religious, and increasingly I think one should be ashamed to be religious.
Jason thinks that’s an excellent statement, and it is, but what about Ruse’s other days? For on the very page where he proclaims this, he also mentions his new book, Science and Spirituality: Making Room for Faith in the Age of Science. I haven’t yet read this book, but it seems to push the kind of NOMA accommodationism Ruse has customarily espoused, as in his earlier book Can a Darwinian be a Christian? (see my TLS review here). One review of Science and Spirituality summarizes Ruse’s thesis:
It seems likely that he also prefers most or all of the Gospel miracles to be naturally explained (people were shamed into sharing their private picnic baskets, rather than that Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, and Jesus’s disciples were weirdly encouraged and enlivened by his execution rather than that he really rose from the dead), though he acknowledges that many Christians take a stronger line. He also acknowledges that some Christians (and other believers) think “natural theology” (that is, the use of reason to uncover divine truths) is possible and even obligatory, but himself prefers to present Christian beliefs as based entirely “on faith”, with only the proviso that they do not contradict the results of “science” (that is, the use of reason to uncover truths about this world here). . . The point of Ruse’s volume is presumably to persuade believers that they need not be opposed to the scientific enterprise and unbelievers that they need not be so vitriolic in their condemnation of “religion”.
As he so often does, Ruse seems to be enabling faith here, in the sense of trying to tell Christians how to forge a theology consistent with science. But this strategy is completely at odds with his statement that “I cannot for the life of me see why any decent human being would want to be religious, and increasingly I think one should be ashamed to be religious.” I doubt he expresses that sentiment in his new book. And if that’s what he really believes, why does he devote so much time trying to help religious people keep their faith?
To paraphrase a review of a book by Dick Lewontin, Ruse is not so much sitting on the faith/science fence as he is pirouetting on it. It’s hard to praise him for the good stuff that comes out of his mouth when it’s immediately followed by nonsense.