On religious allies

Josh Rosenau has a new post, concerning tactics for countering anti-science. My point here is not to respond to this post, which I think raised several valid points, particularly concerning the time since most high-school teachers last received biology training. Add in that many surveys show that younger people tend to be less creationist than older cohorts, and perhaps there are indications of progress. I’d be fascinated to see how these ratios are changing over time.

Another worthwhile point is the generally narrow focus of many science outreach programs. However, I would think that books with authors who do appeal to a broader audience – including those who have done so by taking either a pro- or anti-religion stance – do well on this. While there is an unfortunate trend for absolutely everyone who interviews Dawkins about The Greatest Show on Earth to carry on as though they’re interviewing him about The God Delusion, is it possible that “a new book by the author of The God Delusion” sells better than “a new book the author of The Selfish Gene” or “a new book the author of The Ancestor’s Tale”?

I just want to raise one point of contention, though, in response to this (emphasis added):

This sort of argument is quite common from Coyne, PZ, and a range of others in that camp (“New Atheists,” if you will). It argues that public opinion on evolution has been fairly constant for the last 30 years, therefore current approaches to evolution-defense/advocacy have failed, therefore we should do something different, therefore we should stop treating pro-evolution religious people and groups as allies.

I don’t think this is a fair statement of the non-accommodationist position. Indeed, in The Greatest Show on Earth, Dawkins emphasizes the efforts that he has made to collaborate and ally with religious leaders.

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…

I don’t think many non-accomodationists would disagree with Dawkins about this sort of thing. It is not that we should necessarily not ally ourselves with religious people, but that we should reserve the right to criticize our religiously-minded allies where we do disagree with them.

Militant Accomodationism

Over at The Intersection, Chris Mooney has made one of the most aggressive peace efforts that I’ve yet seen.

To quote:

How could this change? Well, first of all, I’m highly skeptical that it can. But if I were to suggest the conditions in which it might, I would say that a serious dialogue cannot resume without an end of name calling, ad hominem attacks, and extensive misrepresentation of positions. If there is no interest in getting basic views right, understanding them, or admitting those views are based on evidence and not unreasonable, there is no way a two-way dialogue can be had.

As you’ll notice, he gives examples of where he figures he’s been wronged, without acknowledging that there may be problems with his own position. Now, personally, if I was trying to end a dispute with a compromise, I’d start by trying to compromise, rather than attack.

Eventually, when called on this, he admits that maybe he did misrepresent Dawkins once, but immediately take the opportunity to go on the attack on that front as well:

I believe we have been much more seriously misrepresented than this, however, with far less responsiveness than I have shown. See for example here:

Were I more cynically minded, I might suspect that Chris Mooney’s intent here was to be able to claim that he tried to make peace after this inevitably goes nowhere. But no. I suspect he simply doesn’t realize how militant and strident he’s being.


The next three weeks: a test, an exam, three four assignments, and the rest of a thesis. And maybe a paper too. Someone had better tell my boss I’m going to be taking a bit of leave…

On the plus side, after I get this thesis written, maybe I can get back to blogging the Beagle, eh? It’s only been about five months…