Over at EvolutionBlog, Jason Rosenhouse has responded to Mooney’s “part two” critique of my views on accommodationism. It’s a superb analysis, and, as before, I couldn’t have written it better myself. If you’ve been following these debates, this is required reading.
As I said yesterday, I’ll wait until Mooney finishes his posts before I reply in one final salvo. But just a note or two in passing.
First, it’s refreshing to see someone who’s actually read what I had to say about accommodationism. Mooney says he’s read my New Republic screed on this, but he doesn’t seem to have grasped it. He gets my views on philosophical vs. methodological naturalism completely wrong; Rosenhouse gets them right. Likewise, as I’ve said ad nauseum, not every form of faith is incompatible with science. In my New Republic article, I claim that pure deism (which accepts a hands-off God who doesn’t intrude into the workings of the Universe) is absolutely compatible with science. The problem is that hardly anybody is a pure deist. It’s when you get into theistic faiths — those in which Gods tweaks the world from time to time — that we find the incompatibilities. Rosenhouse understands this; Mooney apparently does not.
About court cases: yes, judges can state that evolution is compatible with some faiths, but they needn’t accept this to ban the teaching of creationism. Perhaps the most cogent legal decision ever levied against creationism was that of Judge William R. Overton in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, the famous 1982 decision in which Overton threw out a “balanced treatment” law promoted by creationists. As far as I can see, Overton says exactly nothing about accommodationism. His decision was made, as legal decisions have always been made in the last several decades, on the basis of the Lemon test of whether a law or statute violates the First Amendment. As Overton notes, a law that threatens the Establishment Clause is constitutional only under the following conditions:
First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion …; finally, the statute must not foster “an excessive government entanglement with religion.” [ Stone v. Graham, 449 U.S. at 40.]
This says nothing about whether religion and science have to be compatible before creationism is thrown out. On the contrary: if creationism violates the above statutes, it’s unconstititional, period.
By the way, the peroration of Overton’s decision still moves me every time I read it:
The application and content of First Amendment principles are not determined by public opinion polls or by a majority vote. Whether the proponents of Act 590 constitute the majority or the minority is quite irrelevant under a constitutional system of government. No group, no matter how large or small, may use the organs of government, of which the public schools are the most conspicuous and influential, to foist its religious beliefs on others.
The Court closes this opinion with a thought expressed eloquently by the great Justice Frankfurter:
We renew our conviction that “we have stake the very existence of our country on the faith that complete separation between the state and religion is best for the state and best for religion.” Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. at 59. If nowhere else, in the relation between Church and State, “good fences make good neighbors.” [McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203, 232 (1948)]An injunction will be entered permanently prohibiting enforcement of Act 590.
Finally, in case you missed it, Joshua Slocum posted the following on both my site and Richard Dawkins’s. It’s worth repeating here.
Cross-posted from Richard Dawkin’s site. For context, I’m responding to a commentor who noted that years of accomodationism simply haven’t worked, but robust confrontation of the positions of the religious is actually opening up the conversation.
All this nervous nellie simpering over people being “rude” or “confrontational” to the intellectually deluded (I’m talking to you, Ken Miller) reminds me of the years I spent listening to this same argument over gay rights:
“Well, see, some people, um, just can’t accept you, so, um, it’s so much better not to push them. I mean, if you’re deferent enough, they won’t feel threatened, and they won’t vote against you having equal rights. Just don’t be too flamboyant, mm’kay? And, really, don’t push your points too hard – even though you’re logically and ethically correct, they just can’t handle it, and they’ll shut down.
Isn’t it so much nicer just to get along quietly, and accept their largesse for allowing you to exist, without forcing them to be grown-ups who face the intellectual and moral consequences of their public pronouncements?”
Hell no it isn’t.
And you’re absolutely right, [commentor]: it’s *precisely* about short-term political expediency. Mooney knows that, and if he doesn’t, he’s fooling himself and compartmentalizing his views so he doesn’t have to face them. Maybe because it’s easier to get along with his friends on the accomodationist end of the spectrum, who make their bread and butter splitting the baby.
This whole issue is so baffling. How can so many very intelligent people (Mooney is among them, you can’t take that away from him) blithely go along acting as if there’s something so peculiar, so special, about American discourse that we cannot, ever, ever, ever, get over our special pleading for religion? Why do they think America, as a society, is incapable of moving on the way most of Europe has? Why are they so content with – so insistent on maintaining – the pessimistic view that America will always be burdened with this intellectual handicap?
One could say something similar about the civil rights movement of the sixties. I was there, and clearly remember people telling activists not to make a lot of noise because it would be counterproductive, alienating those who were sympathetic. Now accommodationists like Mooney tell us the same thing about religion. Bosh. I am absolutely confident that some time in the distant future, we will put away our childish things and religion will disappear in America. To those like Mooney who say that this is ridiculous, I point to Europe, where religion in all but the formal sense is almost gone. Have a look at Society Without God, by Phil Zuckerman — a sociological study of how Denmark and Sweden have become almost atheistic countries, but retain their social conscience, morality, and many good things we don’t have in the US.
There have been so many cogent replies to Mooney — on this site, on Richard Dawkins’s site, on Mooney’s own site, and on Jason’s site — that I hardly need to reply personally. It’s good to know there is a lot of clear thinking out there.