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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Monday, December 19, 2011

Jerry Coyne's latest on accommodationism

This is a lucid and persuasive statement of Jerry's position. I agree with almost all of it (anything I disagreed with would merely be a matter of quibbling).

Just two things to add. First, it's probably my philosophical training (and partly also temperament) that inclines me to make fine distinctions, strain to find whatever merit I can in opponents' positions, interpret opponents and their position statements as charitably as possible, etc. I'd like to see more of this in blogosphere debates, but it's also possible to get too hung up about it all. Jerry sometimes does a better job than I do in skewering accommodationism simply because he's not so hung up about it.

But ... second, read what Jerry actually says. This is damn sure not a crude position that he's putting. He's making subtle, incisive points about the fraught relationship between religion and science. That's his basis for pointing out the misleading nature of the accommodationist positions that he attacks.


Anonymous said...

It's funny you pick this one as one of his better efforts. When I read it, I thought the opposite.

I think the problem is that, while Jerry's right in describing the relationship between fundamentalist/evangelical dogma and science, he seems to actively reject the idea that there are moderate/liberal believers, who don't reject science.

It's as if he wants to assert that the liberal believer, who views Christian mythology in terms of metaphor, rather than as historical fact, isn't really a Christian -- were I such a liberal believer, I imagine I'd find that just as offensive as I do today when an evangelical asserts that I secretly believe in his god, but feign atheism because I want to live in sin. It's a straw man, and only the gullible are impressed by its fall.

So, yes -- there are very many, perhaps even a majority of American Christians who reject science, and whose religion is explicitly incompatible with science, but no, that doesn't imply that all religion is incompatible with science.

I think Coyne can do better.

Russell Blackford said...

But the question isn't whether certain believers subjectively reject science. The question is what beliefs are intellectually tenable in the light of science (both the actual knowledge we have obtained from science and our knowledge about the success of the methods used by science).

Jerry says that beliefs that are basically deistic won't run afoul of science. I'd be a little bit more generous with my categories by saying that you can avoid deism by having beliefs that are non-literal or simply by thinning out your claims over time in a rather ad hoc way. Nonetheless, however much I might quibble with Jerry around the edges, science does tend to put pressure upon, or undermine, or whatever metaphor you prefer, religious belief. That's why it's misleading - and, I suggest, often politically motivated - to promulgate screeds such as the one that Jerry is criticising.