Accommodationists are often schizophrenic: they want to claim that religion and science are completely separate spheres of inquiry, but at the same time argue that “sophisticated” theology shows scientific processes to be perfectly comprehensible as god’s way of creating his world. And as for the mutually helpful “dialogue” between science and faith, I have yet to hear about anything that faith does for science. Science, of course, does plenty for faith: it shows that its doctrines are ridiculous. Do religious people then reconsider their faith? Well, some of us—as we saw on yesterday’s thread—do: many atheists gave up belief in god because the facts of physics and biology made belief insupportable. But most religious people simply regroup and tinker with their dogmas. Ultimately, no facts—even the horrors of the Holocaust—can dispel true faith.
The best example of theology making scientific necessities into theological virtues is Darwin’s idea of natural selection. As natural selection demolished Abrahamic faith’s most important empirical evidence for god, the faithful simply regrouped and, after a frenzied confab, began claiming that, don’t you know, natural selection was not only god’s tool for making life and humans, but it was in fact a much better tool than simply creating ex nihilo. It was all natural! Driven by laws instead of constant intervention! God could just set evolution in motion (making sure, of course, that it would eventually cough up humans), sit back, and enjoy. Of course, there were all those nasty “natural evils” to deal with: all the suffering, extinctions, and other byproducts of evolution. This has lead to theology’s cottage industry of reconciling the waste and suffering of selection with the plan of a benevolent god.
These reconciliations are laughable of course, and not convincing to any sentient being. What appalls me, though, is that some atheists, perceiving these problems, try to help theologians with this reconciliation! There are two examples this week: Michael Ruse writing at HuffPo, and Josh Rosenau posting on his blog and commenting at Jason Rosenhouse’s website, EvolutionBlog.
I briefly considered critiquing Ruse’s piece, but I couldn’t stomach having to read it more than once, especially after he called Jason and I “junior New Atheists.” (Ruse is the most obviously jealous critic of Gnu Atheists like Dawkins and Sam Harris: he’s always whining about how poorly his books sell compared to theirs. Has he ever wondered why?)
So, after this long preamble, let me just point you to Jason’s labor-saving critique, “Evolution and the problem of evil,” focusing specifically on natural selection. Ruse, for instance, argues that god chose to “create through law” (i.e., natural selection). Jason responds:
I’m afraid I don’t see how this makes any sense at all. Imagine the state of the universe at some moment shortly after evolution has produced modern human beings. God, presumably, could have created the world supernaturally in a state that was identical in every morally relevant way. That world would contain free human beings embedded within a natural world adequate for their needs. Had He done so we would have been spared the millions of years of evolutionary bloodsport that has horrified everyone who has ever considered it. That universe would differ from ours only in that it would lack that awful history, which seems to me a clear improvement over the world we have. There would be no evidence of evolution to erase because evolution would never have occurred.
Furthermore, the whole idea of “creating through law” needs to be clarified. Whatever you think God did, it seems clear that He did certain things supernaturally and allowed certain other things to unfold by natural law. The only question is the balance He employed. In Ruse’s version God’s moment of supernatural intervention ended with the Big Bang. My version simply has God fast-forwarding the tape and letting natural laws take over from a later stage. What theological purpose was served by Ruse’s scenario that would not be served by mine?
I would note, incidentally, that for most of Christian history people thought that humans were created supernaturally and instantaneously, without noticing, apparently, that such a notion was theologically problematic. Ruse, writing a short blog post, can be forgiven for not exploring these details. But if you would care to read his two books on this subject you will find that he provides scarcely more detail in either one of them.
Rosenau, on the other hand, helpfully tells the faithful that their problems are considerably ameliorated if one assumes god isn’t omnibenevolent. Jason’s response:
But I do think it is incorrect to claim that the problem of evil does not present itself unless we assume an omnibenevolent deity. Such an assumption only seems necessary if you are putting forth the logical problem of evil (that there is a logical contradiction entailed by the statements, “God exists” and “Evil exists”). The inductive argument (that evil is strong evidence against God) can get by with something less. God is often said to be perfectly just, for example, which is not the same thing as perfectly good but which would certainly make us wonder about what justice is exemplified by letting animals suffer simply as links in an evolutionary chain. We could also point to the sheer profligacy of evil and suffering in natural history and argue that any God presiding over this is not only not perfectly good, but is actually downright sinister.
Thanks, Jason, for saving me a lot of work. It’s bad enough that accommodationists dip their toes into theology by repeatedly arguing that evolution can be easily reconciled with faith, and that many denominations agree. But it’s far worse for them to try to help the faithful reconcile God and science by propping up their theodicy. Why on earth would atheists engage in such puffery? Only, I think, so they can appear “reasonable.” It’s a betrayal of their own beliefs, and a form of intellectual cowardice. After all, there are presumably reasons why these people are atheists.
I swear, when you read this kind of stuff coming out of the mouths of professed atheists, you finally want to ask, “Why don’t you just go to church?”