Making accommodations


Answering the Accommodationists isn’t really etiquette-oriented (it’s mainly a discussion of how far the promoters of evolution education should go in reaching out to religious types who might want to ban it). But it does tie in to the subject of this blog, which involves deciding just how far to accommodate oneself to the reality of a world where most people are religious, and even some of the nicest ones have a deep-seated prejudice against atheists. Here’s a particularly relevant passage:

“The accommodationist strategy implicitly validates the very prejudice it seeks to counter: that faith is superior to science and should win out if the two conflict. This would be like a person who lived during the suffragist era conceding the anti-feminist argument that women are intellectually inferior to men, but arguing that they should get to vote anyway, because after all, we don’t make men pass intelligence tests to vote, do we?”

That last bit strikes me as interesting, and probably wrong. Was nobody in those days making an argument along those lines? Really?

IIRC, lots of abolitionists (and Abe Lincoln, who wasn’t exactly an abolitionist, but was close) believed whites were superior to people of other races, but simply felt that slavery was cruel. Lots of people think lab rats have the same rights as humans, but I doubt those people think lab rats are equally as capable as humans. And surely nobody thinks everyone with a right to vote is intelligent enough to vote sensibly. I’d bet money that there were suffragists (perhaps even suffragettes) who were happy to concede that men were more intelligent.

But I’m getting off track here. Perhaps the anti-accommodationists are as well, and/or the accommodationists.

One group is focused tightly on the teaching of evolution (properly) in schools, and happy to distance themselves from, or even write off entirely, atheists (especially the more militant ones). Ignore Dawkins and his ilk, they say — we’re not all like them, and lots of us are religious. Belief in God and Jesus and even the Bible (interpreted the right way) isn’t threatened one bit by modern science.

The other group is fighting to promote understanding and acceptance of atheism, and perfectly willing to alienate the devoutly religious by stating baldly that such a worldview is starkly incompatible with a reality-based view (including, but not limited to, the fact that we evolved from apes and that our ape ancestors evolved from much more primitive forms, etc.).

One problem with this schism, a problem that plays right into the hands of creationists, is that it creates the impression that the accommodationists are lying, that they’re hiding the incompatibility of science and religion as part of a devious plot to lure impressionable youth into the “science” camp.

Creationists can claim that the accommodationists’ real objection to Dawkins et al isn’t that they’re strident or alienating, but that they’re giving away the secret. Perhaps there’s a bit of psychological projection going on here — creationists assuming that their enemies practice the same strategies and tactics as themselves.

Certainly there are religious movements (including some very large, very mainstream ones) that cloak the sillier and nastier aspects of their worldview behind innocent-seeming platitudes, and wait until new converts are firmly hooked before getting into the nitty-gritty details of what their theology really states and implies.

But I’m getting off track again. Overall, I have to say my gut feeling is that we should at least show respect (whether we feel it or not) for diverse views (no matter how silly), and surely the world is big enough not only for both religion and atheism, but for accommodationism and anti-accommodationism, and for even those who are certain they’re right to admit that there’s at least a slight possibility that they might be wrong.

After all, if creationists and other Christians want to complain about the “dogmatism” of some atheists, why don’t the rest of us agree to drop the dogmatism — and suggest the Christians do the same?

(Creationism cartoon via Pharyngula)

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2 responses to this post.

  1. If the accommodationists were merely pushing the message that atheism is not the inevitable result of accepting evolution, and that believers can be scientists as well, I’d happily leave them be. However, their real message is something very different: that atheists are harming the cause of science education when we criticize religion, and that we should therefore stop speaking. Needless to say, I take offense at the idea of silencing myself for the sake of political expediency (even if one accepts the accommodationists’ thesis as true, which I don’t).


    • Posted by brachinus on July 15, 2009 at 8:05 pm

      That’s my view as well. If Christians can tolerate their own intolerant folks, surely even those atheists who view some atheists as intolerant can tolerate them (and proudly defend their tolerance of them).


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