Allow me to recap. Jerry Coyne set a few people on fire with a post arguing that national science organizations have gone to far in blithely conceding the compatibility of science and religion. He strongly suggests that they stick to complete neutrality on the topic, something they all promise to do, but then ignore what they say to tout a philosophical accommodation that doesn’t really exist. He does not argue that they should go the other way and advance an atheistic position (even though we know that that is the only correct stance), but wants them to back off on the misleading happy religion stuff.
Richard Hoppe fired back with a claim that nuh-uh, they aren’t pushing a particular religious view, and besides, we need concessions to religion in order to get along politically…and then he threw in a lot of tactless and politically self-destructive accusations about how ivory tower atheists don’t know a thing about politics or tact.
Of course I responded to that, pointing out in the NCSE’s defense that they are an indispensable element in protecting our classrooms, but that the US is currently deadlocked in the evolution/creationism struggle, and has been for a long time…and that central to the stalemate is our constant abasement to religion. It’s time to stop, and the atheists are the ones who are working to break that logjam. At the same time, I agree that the NCSE, to be politically useful, needs to be neutral on the issue of religion. The problem is that they are not.
Then there was lots of piling on. Check out Russell Blackford’s take, or Wilkins’ mild disagreement. Taner Edis takes a strange position: the incompatiblists are completely right, but we can’t say so. You can guess that Larry Moran didn’t waffle. Unfortunately, Chris Mooney gets it all completely wrong, accusing Coyne of claiming that the national organizations are “too moderate on the extremely divisive subject of religion”, when what he and I are actually saying is the exact opposite — that they aren’t moderate enough, and have drifted too far towards appeasing religious views. I shall repeat myself: no one is demanding that the NCSE and NAS go all rabidly atheist, and we can even agree that a neutral position is more productive towards achieving their goals. The problems arise when they get so entangled with the people they should be arguing with that they start adopting some of their views, and suddenly the science is being compromised to achieve a political end.
Now to make it even more interesting, Richard Hoppe has put up a partial retraction. He concedes that in some cases the NCSE has drifted too far into promoting a particular religious view.
In its Faith Project, then, I think that NCSE has gone beyond its remit and past where it can be effective. I now think — in agreement with Coyne, PZ, and others — that it should back off from describing particular ways of reconciling science and religion. Pointing to religious people and organizations who have made their peace with science and evolution is appropriate, but going past that to describing particular ways of making that peace is a mistake. NCSE ought not wade into theological swamps.
It’s good to see some progress in the argument (and Jerry Coyne sends his regards, too). The ultimate point, I think, is that we all think the NCSE is a marvelous organization — you should join if you haven’t already — but that does not mean it is above criticism, and some of us are seeing signs of the incipient Templetonization of the group, something we’d rather not see happen. If it is to be useful to both the religious and the infidels, it can’t wander too far to one side or the other.