If you’ve followed this site, you’ll know that from time to time I highlight accommodationist statements by science organizations. I want to publicize them because I feel that such statements, asserting a compatibility between science and faith (usually by claiming that the two areas have “different ways of knowing”), do a disservice to science.
On these grounds I’ve criticized the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), since they have a “Faith Project” explicitly dedicated to reassuring religious folks that science need not conflict with their faith. To accomplish this, they hired an accommodationist, Peter M. J. Hess, as Director of Religious Community Outreach. And the NCSE site is loaded with defenses of accommodationism (if you doubt that, spend some time browsing here).
My view, which is similar to that of people like P. Z. Myers and Larry Moran, is that the NCSE should stay away from what is essentially a theological pronouncement and stick to science itself. If they discuss religion at all, I think they should limit their words to something like, “There is a diversity of opinions about the compatibility of science and faith.”
Curiously, Josh Rosenau (and I’m forced to pwn him for the third time in one day), a Programs and Policy Director for the NCSE, is now asserting that neither the NCSE nor major science organizations promote this sort of accommodationism. Rosenau’s claim came in response to a comment by physicist Sean Carroll on Rosenau’s personal website. Carroll, clarifying what people like he and I think about official statements on accommodationism, said this (he mistakenly called Josh “Jason,” probably thinking of Jason Rosenhouse, who has a similar name but very different views!)
Jason, anti-accommodationists don’t want science organizations to go around saying that science and religion are compatible. That’s all. It’s not that vague, or hard to understand.
True. That’s exactly what we don’t want. But Rosenau replied (my highlight):
Sean: I’m Josh, not Jason (Thoughts from Kansas, not Evolutionblog). Also, I don’t think you’ll find that science organizations go around asserting a compatibility of science and religion.
I’m flummoxed, for I’ve spent the last couple of years highlighting such assertions. And within two minutes of Googling I found official accommodationist statements from the two most prominent scientific organizations in the United States.
American Association for the Advancement of Science (publisher of Science):
The sponsors of many of these state and local proposals seem to believe that evolution and religion conflict. This is unfortunate. They need not be incompatible. Science and religion ask fundamentally different questions about the world. Many religious leaders have affirmed that they see no conflict between evolution and religion. We and the overwhelming majority of scientists share this view.
The National Academies (National Academy of Science, National Academy of Engineering, National Research Council, and Institute of Medicine):
Acceptance of the evidence for evolution can be compatible with religious faith. Today, many religious denominations accept that biological evolution has produced the diversity of living things over billions of years of Earth’s history. Many have issued statements observing that evolution and the tenets of their faiths are compatible. Scientists and theologians have written eloquently about their awe and wonder at the history of the universe and of life on this planet, explaining that they see no conflict between their faith in God and the evidence for evolution. Religious denominations that do not accept the occurrence of evolution tend to be those that believe in strictly literal interpretations of religious texts.
Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. In science, explanations must be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world. Scientifically based observations or experiments that conflict with an explanation eventually must lead to modification or even abandonment of that explanation. Religious faith, in contrast, does not depend only on empirical evidence, is not necessarily modified in the face of conflicting evidence, and typically involves supernatural forces or entities. Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways. Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.
Aren’t evolution and religion opposing ideas?
Newspaper and television stories sometimes make it seem as though evolution and religion are incompatible, but that is not true. Many scientists and theologians have written about how one can accept both faith and the validity of biological evolution. Many past and current scientists who have made major contributions to our understanding of the world have been devoutly religious. At the same time, many religious people accept the reality of evolution, and many religious denominations have issued emphatic statements reflecting this acceptance. (more information)
To be sure, disagreements do exist. Some people reject any science that contains the word “evolution”; others reject all forms of religion. The range of beliefs about science and about religion is very broad. Regrettably, those who occupy the extremes of this range often have set the tone of public discussions. Evolution is science, however, and only science should be taught and learned in science classes.
Josh, please do your homework. Accommodation is the position du jour.