I met Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, at the FFRF meetings in Hartford. As most of you know, Dan was an evangelical preacher (and a writer of Christian songs) for nearly 20 years, served as a missionary in Mexico, and then became an atheist. He wrote a great book, Godless, about his conversion; do read it.
Taking advantage of my newfound acquaintance, I decided to write Dan, asking him what he thought about the accommodationist claim that promoting compatibility between religion and science could turn the faithful towards science. Dan wrote a nice response and, with his permission, I quote our correspondence.
Be aware that these were emails not intended for publication, so our tone is informal, and I haven’t edited anything. Thanks to Dan for his response and permission to put it up.
I wonder if I could ask you a question that draws on your experience as a preacher. There are many “accommodationists”—some of them atheists—who claim that we have to stress that science and religion are compatible, for if they think they’re incompatible, or that science leads to atheism, they’ll reject the science. (This is particularly stressed for the acceptance of evolution.) Yet in my whole career as an evolutionist, and in three decades of fighting creationism, I’ve never met one person who said anything like, “Hey, you know, I totally rejected Darwin, but when Ken Miller told me that evolution and religion were compatible, I suddenly accepted evolution.”
I know of many cases (lots are at Dawkins’s “converts corner” on his website) in which forthright atheism has turned people not only against their faith, but toward science, but not one instance of someone becoming science-friendly because of accommodationism.
I’m writing, then, to ask what you think of the acccommodationist argument, and whether you think comporting science and religion is of any value in moving the faithful toward science.
It was great to meet you at the FFRF convention.
I think you are right. I don’t know of anyone whose views on creationism changed as a result of hearing other religionists champion evolution. (Though I don’t doubt that could have happened. Well, I think it must have happened, given that some people do go through transitional processes, within religion and out of religion.)
I think the reason you are (mainly) right is that few believers hold much respect for the authority or opinion of other believers who disagree with them theologically. Was there ever a Southern Baptist who accepted infant baptism because of the authority of the Pope? Wars have been started over much smaller disagreements than creation/evolution WITHIN Christianity.
In my case, as I was toward the end of the process of emerging from faith, I started reading “outside” my comfort zone . . . science magazines and books, philosophy, liberal theology . . . and I distinctly remember being hit between the eyes by a column Ben Bova wrote for OMNI magazine in the early 1980s: “Creationist’s Equal Time.” It’s like he turned the lens around so that I could look at myself, asking: if creationists are so keen on giving “equal time” to their views in the science class, shouldn’t they also welcome a lecture on evolution by a scientist from their own pulpit, or a chapter from Origin of the Species inserted between Genesis and Exodus? (We got to interview Ben on Freethought Radio, and he was thrilled to hear me mention how that column affected my life.)
I agree 100% with you that there is no fruitful overlap between religion and science.
During my debates on morality I point out that all of the good teachings in the world religions (which show up in all of them) are really HUMAN values: peace, love, cooperation, and so on. Those values transcend religion, and are in fact the values we use when we are judging from the outside whether we think a particular religion is good or not. (So they must not originate from within religion.) When you factor out the common teachings shared by all religions (the good stuff, the humanistic stuff), what you are left with are NOT good teachings. The so-called “religious values” that Christians, Jew, Muslims and other groups hold are divisive, idiosyncratic, and unproductive to moral discourse: what day of the week you should worship, how women should dress, what foods are permitted, whose beards can be shaved, who is allowed to be married, and so on. Thinking of it like that, there is actually no overlap between “human values” (informed by science) and “religious values” (derived from holy scripture).
Here’s an equation:
Religion + Good Works = Good Works
Solve for Religion.
I love the last equation!