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Richards Dawkins is an Accommodationist, but Richard Dawkins is not an Accommodationist

I noticed Chris Mooney’s enthusiastic post earlier this week where he relayed some Accommodationist sounding words from Richard Dawkins. I expected that it would draw some return fire, and now it has.

See, Dawkins made these statements that express one of the important notions of accommodationism:

No, I don’t think they’re incompatible if only because there are many intelligent evolutionary scientists who also believe in God–to name only Francis Collins as an outstanding example.[...]

This book [of Dawkins'] more or less begins by accepting that there is that compatibility.

Accommodationism, or compatibilism, as I define it, consists of two notions:
1) It is possible to really believe in the supernatural (and/or other non-scientific claims about the world) and at the same time truly understand science and use it to obtain rational belief.
2) It is not necessarily unreasonable to do both: in other words, it is possible to hold a world view that is internally consistent and has room for both types of belief. It’s important to note that this doesn’t imply of accommodationism that it holds religious belief to be reasonable – I am an accommodationist and do not hold religious belief to be reasonable. It merely remains respectfully agnostic on the question of whether religious belief is countra-reasonable, and insists that religious belief can be held in a consistent world view that also has room for complete belief in and acceptance of science.

There is a third criterion that is important to Dawkins and Coyne, but not to me: their view of accommodationism is that it should hold that religious belief is compatible as a system of knowledge with scientific belief… in other words that the two can be integrated seamlessly. If I felt that consideration were an important part of the definition of accommodationism, I would not be an accommodationist. It is doubtful that any of the major blogospheric players in the debate would be, since it is trivial and obvious that religious belief uses a set of rules contrary to the rules of science.

This is the source of confusion. Because Dawkins out and said he accepts the first criterion of accommodationism, and by referring to Collins and others as “intelligent”, implying that he understands and accepts the second, Dawkins identifies himself as an Accommodationist by the standards important to Chris Mooney, Josh Rosenau, and my own humble self. Yet, he has the right to define the term his own way and to accept or reject the label at his leisure. And, by his definition – which apparently is important to him – he is not.

A simple solution, since there is controversy over how to define the word, is to throw out the term “Accommodationist”, and make other labels. One would include the two criteria we all endorse – call it “Gouldism” maybe – and the other would include only the third criterion that no one endorses – call it “Synonism”, since to accept it would effectively make science and religion into the same endeavor. But then what would we all have to argue about?

1 comment to Richards Dawkins is an Accommodationist, but Richard Dawkins is not an Accommodationist

  • Anthony McCarthy

    You could also figure that the arguments surrounding “accomodationism” are of no knowable validity due to the impossibility of knowing what, if any, limits there are to the supernatural, if it exists.

    That fact renders anything that could be said about the range of possible compatibility or incompatibility between science and the supernatural of entirely unknowable reliability.

    I don’t think you have to worry about what we’ll argue about as long as the supply of dishonesty holds out, and it doesn’t seem to be a rare commodity.

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