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Religious accommodationism at Evolution 2010

Amongst evolutionary biologists, there are differing opinions on how to communicate science to the public and increase acceptance of evolution. One of these opinions is religious accommodationism, which attracts much ire from more outspoken activists such as PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne. While I happen to agree with them, I do understand not everyone does. There are those who believe science and religion are totally compatible, that theistic evolution is good enough, and that we need to mince our words lest we offend liberal theists who could be on our side.
However, I was surprised to find a whole 2 hour symposium at the Evolution 2010 conference devoted to accommodationism. It was the Communicating Science Symposium, which started with a talk by Robert T. Pennock on Communication Evolution, focusing on audience and message. You all know my love for evolution and communicating it to others, so I was initially very excited for this talk. It definitely had good parts, especially about carefully choosing our wording as to not confuse others (Don’t say you “believe” in evolution, don’t call it “Darwinism,” don’t say you have “faith” in science, etc).

But it quickly went downhill. Much of the talk was about distancing support of evolution with atheistic views – that we need to stress that religion and science is compatible so people in the “middle” can still accept theistic evolution. That people are more willing to accept evolution if they hear it from their pastor. He lauded Francis Collins and the BioLogos foundation for being pro-evolution…even though BioLogos just had a piece trying to reconcile Biblical Adam and Eve with evolution.

That’s why there’s a problem with accommodationism. It’s more about winning numbers for your cause than truly communicating and educating people about evolution. Are people truly supporters of evolution if they’re not accepting it as a natural process? Do people really understand natural selection if they think God is zapping in mutations or had a plan for humans to eventually evolve? Why is it that our tactic involves people preserving their religious beliefs (which are based on faith), but molding science (which is based on facts) to fit their world view? If anything, it should be the other way around. Religion should have to accommodate science.

The reason why people feel compelled to do this is because religion holds a special status in our society where it can’t be criticized, even when it’s blatantly wrong. This really came out in the second part of the symposium, which was by a woman from AAAS (I unfortunately missed her name). She said there’s no use in including creationists or atheists in the discussion because we’re extremists who won’t change our minds.

Yep – we don’t want to potentially alienate theistic allies, but it’s totally okay to ignore those atheist extremists. Why is theism worth accommodation, but secular opinions are not? I commented on this in the Q&A, saying if they’re accommodating religion they should also accommodate secular opinions, but all I received was an awkward “Okay” and the Q&A ended – where every other question got a long reply.

I guess it’s just disappointing seeing such a one sided representation of “communication” at a large conference. Should have spent my morning going to the research based talks.