Friday, August 27, 2010

 

Richard Dawkins, Accommodationist


The Greatest Show On Earth has finally risen to the top of my "to read" pile. While I'm not yet deep into it, it has all the lucid prose and ability to simply expound complex issues to lay audiences that we've come to expect from Dawkins.

But this caught my eye:

It is frequently, and rightly, said that senior clergy and theologians have no problem with evolution and, in many cases, actively support scientists in this respect. This is often true, as I know from the agreeable experience of collaborating with the then Bishop of Oxford, now Lord Harries, on two separate occasions. In 2004 we wrote a joint article in the Sunday Times* whose concluding words were: 'Nowadays there is nothing to debate. Evolution is a fact and, from a Christian perspective, one of the greatest of God's works.' The last sentence was written by Richard Harries, but we agreed about all the rest of our article. Two years previously, Bishop Harries and I had organized a joint letter to the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, which read as follows

Dear Prime Minister,

We write as a group of scientists and Bishops to express our concern about the teaching of science in the Emmanuel City Technology College in Gateshead.

Evolution is a scientific theory of great explanatory power, able to account for a wide range of phenomena in a number of disciplines. It can be refined, confirmed and even radically altered by attention to evidence. It is not, as spokesmen for the college maintain, a 'faith position1 in the same category as the biblical account of creation which has a different function and purpose.
The issue goes wider than what is currently being taught in one college. There is a growing anxiety about what willbe taught and how it will be taught in the new generation of proposed faith schools. We believe that the curricula in such schools, as well as that of Emmanuel City Technology College, need to be strictly monitored in order that the respective disciplines of science and religious studies are properly respected.

Yours sincerely

The Rt Revd Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford; Sir David Attenborough FRS; The Rt Revd Christopher Herbert, Bishop of St Albans; Lord May of Oxford, President of the Royal Society; Professor John Enderby FRS, Physical Secretary, Royal Society; The Rt Revd John Oliver, Bishop of Hereford; The Rt Revd Mark Santer, Bishop of Birmingham; Sir Neil Chalmers, Director, Natural History Museum; The Rt Revd Thomas Butler, Bishop of Southwark; Sir Martin Rees FRS, Astronomer Royal; The Rt Revd Kenneth Stevenson, Bishop of Portsmouth; Professor Patrick Bateson FRS, Biological Secretary, Royal Society; The Rt Revd Crispian Hollis, Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth; Sir Richard Southwood FRS; Sir Francis Graham-Smith FRS, Past Physical Secretary, Royal Society; Professor Richard Dawkins FRS
Bishop Harries and I organized this letter in a hurry. As far as I remember, the signatories to the letter constituted 100 per cent of those we approached. There was no disagreement either from scientists or from bishops.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has no problem with evolution, nor does the Pope (give or take the odd wobble over the precise palaeontological juncture when the human soul was injected), nor do educated priests and professors of theology. This is a book about the positive evidence that evolution is a fact. It is not intended as an anti-religious book. I've done that, it's another T-shirt, this is not the place to wear it again. Bishops and theologians who have attended to the evidence for evolution have given up the struggle against it. Some may do so reluctantly, some, like Richard Harries, enthusiastically, but all except the woefully uninformed are forced to accept the fact of evolution. They may think God had a hand in starting the process off, and perhaps didn't stay his hand in guiding its future progress. They probably think God cranked the universe up in the first place, and solemnized its birth with a harmonious set of laws and physical constants calculated to fulfil some inscrutable purpose in which we were eventually to play a role. But, grudgingly in some cases, happily in others, thoughtful and rational churchmen and women accept the evidence for evolution.
While Dawkins goes on to lament that the bishops' congregants are slow to take their lead, he was willing to work with the bishops toward a common goal and even allow his name to be appended to a bit of theological fluff as a spoonful of sugar to help the congregants' medicine go down.

Now, the people who are called "accommodationists" by the people who are called "New Atheists" have a variety of views ... just as the Gnu Atheists do, many of whom don't much like being lumped together with everyone else who happens to share some of their views.

There is a place for making soothing sounds in the direction of theists to help them accept the results of science -- particularly by organizations attempting to spread scientific education -- that does not preclude the criticism of religion -- particularly by individual scientists.

It's not so clear that there is any place for the labels.

___________________________________________________

* "Education: questionable foundations," Sunday Times, June 20, 2004
.

Comments:
The man understands the politics of the situation. I don't know if he likes dealing with the religious to do what must be done, but at least he'll do it.

I believe that he shut down a lot of bitching about the NCSE as well when he went off and visited them (pleasantly, so we are assured), at a time when a lot of American puritan atheists were, well, demanding purity.

It's ok to have red meat atheism, of course. But when it's shooting at its science allies because they aren't quite pure enough in their whole lives, well, that's when sane people like Dawkins step in.

Glen Davidson
 
I used that quote in a somewhat different context back when I was reading TGSoE.
 
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john you are going to be exterminated. you little idiot....
 
john you are going to be exterminated. you little idiot....

Yeah, yeah. I'm quaking in my boots. Someone who has so little imagination as to keep posting the same drivel over and over again really poses a threat.

I'm still curious as to why you want me to turn on comment moderation, though. Care to explain? There's zero chance I will unless you do.
 
Cujo:

While I have no problem with with some parts of that context, there are others I do. (I also would not lump Josh with Mooney.)
 
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john makes no difference...

you are an enemy of God and you will be destroyed....
 
john makes no difference...

Then why do you bother to go on making a fool of yourself?
 
In my view, the proper posture is to stand firmly and uncompromisingly on freedom of religion or belief or whatever you want to call it. The rest is just a question of style.

That means that no one, be it state or otherwise, shall be able to impose their preferred belief on others against their will without infringing on that right.

It means that those who want to set up Discovery Institutes or Uncommonly Descended blogs to espouse and promote an unsavory blend of creationism and facade science shall be free to do so.

It means that those who wish to live their lives free from any such beliefs should be free to do so.

It means that students should be free to learn all about the various religions in the world but free from any attempt to have one particular faith promoted as true above all others on the state's authority.

It means that any attempt to restrict that freedom, whether by believer or non-believer, should be viewed as the thin end of a very nasty wedge and resisted as such
 
Well put ... and an occasion to trot out my (via Justice Black) 10 Commandments of the Separation of Church and State.
 
It's not so clear that there is any place for the labels.

It sometimes seems to me that part of the problem is this intra-secularist debate keeps getting carried on in terms of labels and abstractions, eg. "accomodationist", "faitheist" (I am not forgiving Coyne for that, um, "coynage"), "militant", "dickish", etc. And yet, all but the most fanatical and the most timid acknowledge that different tones and approaches are appropriate in different circumstances. What one should say in one-to-one conversation is not the same as what a public spokesperson like Dawkins or PZ should say in their blogs and books.

Also: anyone who is not out burning down churches is, to some extent, and accommodationist. The entire Western program of modern secularism is, as I see it, an exercise in accommodating different views so we can have a peaceful functioning society. We're still allowed to fight over religion and politics, but only in certain ways and arenas.
 
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Yep, yep. you are quaking in your boots.
Someone? a robot is someone?
who has so little imagination as to keep posting (comment difers from posting in your exquisite anglo-sax or anglo-sex, no?)

the same drivel over and over again really poses a threat.....well is less damaging
than the drivel that you are
posting...

I'm still curious as to why you want me to turn on comment moderation, though.
Care to explain?
well ameri can's und limmies are
good at censorship

There's zero chance I will unless you do....pity
 
terms of labels and abstractions, eg. "accomodationist", "faitheist


mad dog, dawkinist...

und so weiter....
 
Well put ... and an occasion to trot out my (via Justice Black) 10 Commandments of the Separation of Church and State.

Perfect!

If they MUST display commandments at courthouses, THOSE are the ten, not the other lot.
 
john you are going to be tortured and executed without mercy, you little idiot...
 
You can't even think up a new rant. I'm supposed to be scared?
 
...I'd like to be tortured and executed with mercy, please.
 
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DM said...

makes no difference whether you are scared or not... you forfeit your right to live....


Of course it does you twit! The whole point of making threats is to make the threatee afraid. Otherwise you are doublely wating your time.
 
Why are you bothering to argue with someone who's shown about the same level of sanity as the Time Cube guy?
 
Why are you bothering to argue with someone who's shown about the same level of sanity as the Time Cube guy?

I'm not arguing ... it's more like mocking ... and it's for my own amusement (which obviously comes easily).
 
Are you sure there's not a place for labels in this particular commentor's situation?
 
"Also: anyone who is not out burning down churches is, to some extent, and accommodationist."

Which means that the "don't be a dick" crowd's pretensions of superiority are merely that, and nothing more.

And it is wholly appropriate to have a separate term for such a crowd, such as "accommodationist", "faithiest", or "tone troll", since they distinguish themselves with their unique brand of prattle.
 
Which means that the "don't be a dick" cconfusedrowd's pretensions of superiority are merely that, and nothing more.

Well, now I am confused. If recommending a strategy is an assertion of superiority, then what does the Gnu Atheists recommendation of "harsh criticism" of religion amount to? I thought it was part of "critical thinking" to disagree and state that disagreement. Is it only your brand of disagreement that is allowed?

Where have I heard that before?
 
There is no faction saying that only dickish criticism of religion is worthwhile. The "be a dick" crowd's position is to sometimes be a dick, and sometimes not. In the face of this common sense intruded the "don't be a dick" prattle.

That speech included straw men such as "the randomly yelling, in your face atheist" and stupid assumptions such as that only persuasion of the person being spoken with matters.

No one ever gave a speech telling people they *had* to be sarcastic, mocking, provocative, etc. so there is no parallel between the two sides. It's *not* the side that has *not* made a major statement that is saying only its brand of disagreement is allowed! As you point out: Dawkins (who is not a purse clutching faithiest tone troll) uses different strategies depending on the audience, as in the original post.
 
No one ever gave a speech telling people they *had* to be sarcastic, mocking, provocative, etc. so there is no parallel between the two sides.

Well, I finally looked at the video and I still don't see your point. Plait, at least, wasn't saying that you *had* to be a non-dick. He was arguing that, *if* your goal was convincing society at large to be rational critical thinkers, then it is better not to be a dick. If that's not your goal, then his advice is obviously irrelevant. You can also disagree with his advice but then it's incumbent to come up with arguments for a different approach but simply labeling people (such as "purse clutching faithiest") is *not* an argument.

The "be a dick" crowd's position is to sometimes be a dick, and sometimes not.

I missed the part where Plait said that you can *never* be a dick. He started out by explaining that he was concerned by what he perceived as an *increase* in dickishness. Again, he was arguing for a consideration of your goals when dealing with others, not with absolute prescriptions. Don't let the use for rhetorical effect of a cute phrase like "don't be a dick" blind you to what he was really saying.
 
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