Accommodationist defined

June 7, 2011 | By | 7 Replies More

Over at Daylight Atheist, Ebonmuse carefully sets out the meaning of a word that is sometimes hurled by one non-theist at another: accommodationist.

It seems there are some people who don’t know what the word “accommodationist” means. In its original sense, that word was used to describe those who believe that religion and science occupy strictly non-overlapping spheres of thought, and that we must never argue that science disproves any religious belief. It’s since widened somewhat to include those who urge atheists to stop criticizing religious belief or publicly expressing our atheism. But it’s never referred to those who merely express the opinion that mockery and ridicule sometimes aren’t the best strategy. If that’s the definition of accommodationism, then I’m an accommodationist. (But it isn’t, and I’m not.)

Excellent discussion follows the post, focusing on the extent to which ridicule aimed at theists could/should be used by non-theists.

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Category: Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (7)

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  1. Dan Klarmann says:

    Hemant sent a couple of observers to find out What Happens at a Home-Schooling Convention?

    One of the crises they proclaim is that there are too many accommodationists; moderate Christians who try to reconcile their faith that Jesus-is-everything with all the actual science from the last few hundred years.

  2. Erika Price says:

    That definition sounds a great deal like <a> methodological naturalism. It's a very ignostic view- that science can only weigh in on claims relevant to the concrete, empirical, material methods of science. When it comes to something that cannot be tested using scientific methods, science should stay the hell away, because such things cannot be falsified. I think this perspective lends a lot of credence to the 'separate spheres argument', which Ebonmuse also indicates he supports.

    Supernatural claims cannot be disproven. They are not 'wrong' under the purview of science; rather they are 'nonsense'- irrelevant claims entirely perpendicular to the epistemology of the scientific method. Claims of Gods or fairies or ghosts might as well be words in a foreign tongue, as far as science should be concerned.

    But that sword cuts both ways. If supernatural claims are nonscientific, scientific claims are equally meaningless in the fantastical realm where Gods and fairies and dragons and ghosts and witches exist. When the two are kept separate, they can weirdly coexist. A scientist can trust the empirical evidence that tells him humans evolved from apes while maintaining a queer little prayer habit. A doctor can use evidence-based medicine and also go to church.

    But this gets really sticky when a child is being taught science and religion by the same person (as is the case with home-schooled children). And most of the time, I'd venture that religious parents don't preach truly separate spheres.

  3. Ben says:

    In my view, all the knowledge that the science sphere has created over the years does at least flatten or shrink the religious/supernatural sphere.

  4. Ebonmuse says:

    "It’s a very ignostic view- that science can only weigh in on claims relevant to the concrete, empirical, material methods of science. When it comes to something that cannot be tested using scientific methods, science should stay the hell away, because such things cannot be falsified."

    I don't agree with that. In such cases, scientists can and should say that there is no evidence for, and therefore no reason to believe, such claims.

    Science can, in principle, address any empirical question. The only way that something could truly be untestable by the scientific method is if it has absolutely no tangible effect on the world. And if that's the case, then what's the difference between something that has no effect on the world whatsoever, and something that does not exist?

  5. Erika Price says:

    Ebonmuse: You raise a really important distinction, between supernatural claims that have an 'effect' versus totally ineffectual ones. First, I agree that any empirical claim can and should be soundly addressed by science and didn't mean to imply otherwise.

    My point was that supernatural claims that cannot be measured and cannot be falsified are not under the purview of science and should be left alone. My favorite research methods quote on this is from the psychologist Han Eyesenck: "If it cannot be measured, it doesn't exist" as far as science is concerned. Meaning, Gods and ghosts and etc should just be ignored if they are fuzzy, intangible concepts with no measurable essence or effect.

    But there are two kinds of such things. First are utterly ineffectual supernatural things. Things that even believers ascribe no physical causes or effects. This would include a deist God, or an immeasurable spiritual 'energy' that some people claim to believe in. It's a really wishy-washy concept, doesn't bleed into science whatsoever, and its believers make no claims that empirical methods can weigh in on. I think these kinds of supernatural beings are clearly separate sphere-worthy- but let me know if you disagree.

    The other class is dicier. These are supernatural beings that cannot be measured and cannot be disproven, but which have supposed effects on the scientific world (even if these effects are immeasurable). Under this blanket is the omnipotent God who created DNA, gravity, and other measurable things. There are many believers who claim that they believe in a God who created all the natural processes that science observes. Now, most philosophers of science a la Occam's Razor would say we should throw out that God claim, because natural processes are sufficient to explain the phenomena. I agree, but I don't think it is necessary or appropriate for scientists to butt heads too much on the point that a God figure is unnecessary to understand natural phenomena.

    While it is more theoretically sound to assume that our world consists only of its observable, material parts, the claim that there's an additional, phantom being at the heart of it isn't falsifiable and should, like a deist God or a Gaia, be roundly ignored by scientists. Which means people who believe in both should be left to their devices (provided they aren't mucking up the teaching of science).

  6. Erich Vieth says:

    Erika and Ebonmuse: I don't know exactly how this cuts on the "accommodationist" discussion, but I have told theists that they have some "interesting fables." I tell them some of their "fables" are inspirational, but others (e.g., stoning one's obstreperous children) are twisted. This actually gives them a bit of what they seek, yet it draws a big line in the sand. It recognizes that their stories (at least some of them) have moral worth to them, and maybe to me. Consider this Wikipedia definition of fable:

    A fable is a succinct fictional story, in prose or verse, that features animals, mythical creatures, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature which are anthropomorphized (given human qualities), and that illustrates a moral lesson (a "moral"), which may at the end be expressed explicitly in a pithy maxim.

    The line in the sand is that I'm not buying into the facts. I know that this would not be compromise enough for many believers, but it's as far as I can go. Another variation on this theme is to characterize stories of miracles as "poetry."

    In sum, I can sometimes buy the moral sentiment of theists, but I often can't buy their facts. I'm sure that many theists would consider it an insult to call their claims "fables," but they need to step back and recognize that it is not intended to be an insult. Many fables in our culture are venerated, including Aesop's Fables.

  7. Karl says:

    Accomodation and assimiliation can both be reversed, as seen in Jean Luc Piccard. Although many supra-naturalists would call is similar to "demon possession."

    "I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile."

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