John Wilkins has a post on the debate over at Evolving Thoughts. Now, John is a mate, and he makes some good point in this post, but the trouble is that he seems to misunderstand the character of the recent debate. Accordingly, he characterises himself as an accommodationist when he is clearly an anti-accommodationist, as that term has been understood throughout the debate that's gone back and forth in the blogosphere. He says:
Accommodationists hold, for various reasons, that when defending science, such as evolution (but not always), defenders should not assert that science is in opposition to religion. Instead, they should merely defend science.
Exclusivists, on the other hand, hold that science and religion are incompatible, and that to defend science one must, perforce, assert this incompatibility.
But that is not how the argument has generally being going. The correct situation is this:
Anti-accommodationists hold, for various reasons, that when defending science, such as evolution (but not always), defenders should not assert that science is compatible with religion. Instead, they should merely defend science.
Accommodationists, on the other hand, hold that even if science and religion are incompatible, it is politically expedient to deny this incompatibility when defending science. Moreover, for reasons of political expediency, no one should bring up the incompatibility even while doing things other than defending science.
Actually, we anti-accommodationists are even more liberal than this. We don't mind individuals asserting that science is compatible with religion when they defend science. We merely reserve our right to criticise them. If they put ideas out in the public domain that involve some kind of reconciliation of science and religion, we won't tell them to engage in self-censorship, but we may criticise their actual arguments. Moreover, we are likely to point out that some of their ideas are highly speculative and should not be understood as part of mainstream science - an example is the idea that God directs evolution by manipulating quantum-level events. Still, they can say what they like. It's only organisations such as the AAAS and the NCSE that we insist be neutral on the issue of whether science and religion are compatible. Such bodies should not, for example, explicitly or implicitly support doctrines such as Gould's non-overlapping magisteria.
I still don't see what is so unreasonable about the position that we non-accommodationists are taking.
If John’s definition were correct, I’d be an accommodationist (so would Jerry Coyne, as far as I can see). But I’m not. The position that I take is the one I’ve just set out as anti-accommodationist. The position that I keep criticising is the one I’ve defined as accommodationist. An accommodationist will, for example, say that the incompatibility of science and religion should not be mentioned even if one is doing something other than defending science, such as writing a book review or criticising the political influence of religion.
I am certainly not what John calls an exclusivist, and I find it difficult to think of anyone who is. Perhaps they can identify themselves. The only person I can think of who may be is Sam Harris, but even he might deny taking such a position. I don’t know him, except for having exchanged a tiny number of emails on a different subject, and obviously can’t speak for him. But apart from Harris, I can't think of any serious player in this debate who takes the so-called exclusivist line. I don't think that Richard Dawkins does. I don't think PZ Myers does.
Maybe I'm wrong and there really is a "harder" line than the anti-accommodationist one that I subscribe to (and which John also subscribes to!). Right now, though, I can't see it. Again, any genuine exclusivists can speak for themselves, but I'll state unequivocally that I am not one.
John laments that the debate got nasty very quickly, but he blames this on the so-called exclusivists. Again, I just can't see it. The recent phase of the debate began when Jerry Coyne wrote a civil, substantial, and very thoughtful review of books by Karl W. Giberson and Kenneth R. Miller in The New Republic. Jerry has also criticised science organisations for at least hinting at the compatibility of science of religion (John agrees with Jerry on this point; i.e. John agrees that science organisations should not do this).
For his pains, Jerry was attacked very trenchantly by Chris Mooney. Worse, Barbara Forrest said that Coyne should shut up. She said that "secularists should not alienate religious moderates" and gave Coyne's book review as an example of alienating the these people. If that is not telling someone to shut up, I don't know what is. Chris Mooney expressed full agreement with Forrest (as he represented her - I'm relying on his representation of what she said).
If Forrest said what she is represented as saying, then she believes that Coyne should not have reviewed the books by Giberson and Miller the way he did. Only a completely favourable review would have been appropriate, and Coyne should have self-censored. If that is so, I could not have written my review of Francisco Ayala's recent book in the way I did in Cosmos magazine last year. I should have censored myself. We would all have to censor ourselves, and not express reservations, whenever reviewing a book by what Forrest calls a religious moderate. Surely it is not unreasonable when we anti-accommodationists point out the absurdity of such a position.
Mooney also headed his post in a way that suggested that the people who thus "alienate" the faithful are not civil, though he later disclaimed the implication that Jerry Coyne had been uncivil in his review. But the clear implication was that Coyne's review was an example of incivility (and it also follows that my review of Ayala's book would be such an example).
It is this call to the anti-accommodationists to shut up - to engage in self-censorship and not even write honest book reviews - that has produced anger and inflamed the debate. Mooney keeps denying that he is telling the non-accommodationists to shut up, but it's clear that that is what he represented Forrest as saying and that he totally agreed with her.
The only thing that I can imagine taking the heat out of all this is an unequivocal apology from both Forrest and Mooney.