Accommodationist and Proud of It, Part 6
Intro: This blog post is the sixth entry in a series of excerpts from a recent autobiographical essay by Michael Ruse. The first of these posts can be found here. In this final excerpt, Ruse explains what he means by the term "Accommodationist". As Ruse mentions in his conclusion, the entry is personal and honest, including an upfront explanation of his discomforts with particular faiths. Despite the differences between Ruse's Accommodationism and the theistic belief promoted by BioLogos, we have seen in this series that Ruse shares our conviction that modern science and traditional Christianity are not incompatible. We are grateful for the opportunity to have shared such a personal testimony as has been provided by this series of excerpts.
Let me pull things together and conclude. Am I an Accommodationist? It all depends.
If it means thinking that the Christian religion is true, then I am not. If it means thinking that religion, and Christianity in particular, is a valid way of knowing, and that as such I should not criticize it, then I am not. I think religion is a delusion and that faith is chimerical.
I really do.
However, my form of Accommodationism says that science can only go so far and that after this if religion wants to take over, science as science cannot stop it. You can use other arguments, theological and philosophical, and this I myself would do. But these are not scientific arguments. Note the caveat that my Accommodationism allows only those aspects of religion that do not encroach illicitly on science. So Creationism is ruled out.
Does my Accommodationism mean not criticizing religion as a social phenomenon, either because you should respect the beliefs of others or because it would be politically or socially dangerous to do so? I am not an Accommodationist in this sense either.
I wouldn’t argue that Christians are all bad. Christians, in fact, have done some good. For example, the Quakers and the evangelicals that fought slavery at the end of the eighteenth century and beginning of the nineteenth evidence this.
It is also silly to argue, as does Dawkins in The God Delusion, that the really major evils all come back to Christianity (or some other religion). It is just not true that Hitler was motivated by the Christian faith, or many of the other leaders of the Third Reich either. The same holds for Stalin and Mao.
However, religious believers have been responsible for many evils and I would say that it still works that way. The oppression of women and homosexuals is in large part the fault of religion. And this is without getting into specific things, like the ways in which Catholic priests have used their positions of authority to abuse children sexually. Not to mention the Church hierarchy fighting tooth and nail to avoid responsibility. That is wicked and “Christians” had a role in all of this.
Now, here is a difficult question. If I believe that religion is false, does my form of Accommodationism require or allow me to respect Christians as Christians? I think I really do respect Christians. I tell my children that I give them my love, but they have to earn my respect. The same is true of Christians and some do earn my respect –– not despite, but because of, their Christianity. I think they are honest people trying to make real sense of a bewildering universe. They are often moved to action in good ways because of this. I am with Immanuel Kant on this. It is the good will that counts above all else.
Having said this, understand that I do not extend my respect to every Christian, however sincere. If I sense that people are not taking seriously arguments that they should take seriously – especially those about science – then my respect diminishes. This does worry me a bit. The people I respect are those that are socially respectable – the Episcopalians, the Lutherans, the Calvinists, and so forth.
What about the others? Am I letting my prejudices show? I really find it very difficult to respect the Mormons. The whole thing seems to me to absolutely ludicrous, from wearing silly underwear to not drinking tea and coffee, to all of that stuff about golden plates, not to mention the already-mentioned lost tribes of Israel, now supposedly alive and well and living on reservations out West. Why do I not feel the same way about Christianity? Is turning water into wine any more stupid than thinking Joseph Smith got special insights in upstate New York? Is it simply that one is older and I grew up with it? Is wearing a fancy pair of knickers anything different from wearing your collar backwards?
I am not sure that the answer lies simply in the reliability of the Bible either. I think the reason I can legitimately separate your basic Anglican or Roman Catholic from a Mormon rests on the fact that traditional Christianity (this may also be true of Judaism and other religions) has worked hard at what I will call philosophical theology. I came to appreciate this while working on Science and Spirituality, a book that goes much more deeply into theological questions than my earlier writings. Such Christianity has labored to give philosophical meaning to the claims, say, about the nature of a necessary God and so forth. I think this also holds in areas like ethics, where (to name one branch of Christianity) Catholics have tried to give some meaning to natural law and so forth. (Protestants have done similar things, as I know full well from my own background.) So as a philosopher I can appreciate the efforts to try to answer the basic metaphysical questions.
If you can show me that the Mormons actually do the same and show the same level of conceptual sophistication, then I guess I will need to do some rethinking about my prejudices.
I would also say that I can and do enjoy Bible stories as literature and feel they are often deeply insightful into human nature. The story of Ruth is, for me, one of the most moving and profound works that I know. I personally think the Noah story is pretty good also, not as an exercise in shipbuilding and navigation, but because of the bit at the end, where Noah is found drunk in the tent and his kid makes fun of him. To me, the whole story shows that simplistic solutions – let’s wipe out humankind and start again – just don’t work. I am not sure that the stories of the Mormons qualify in this respect, and I am quite certain that the stories of the Scientologists do not. Perhaps, however, in the other great faiths one does find work of comparable worth.
I come to an end. As always, whenever I write anything I write first to make things clear to myself. This is certainly true of this piece. I am sure that the New Atheists will read it with scorn. Whether others will find anything of value as they make their journey through life is for them to find out. My story has been personal, but then these things are personal.
Michael Ruse is an author and philosopher of biology well known for his works on the creationism and evolution debate. Though not a believer in God, he takes the position that Christianity and evolution are not incompatible. Ruse's latest book, Science and Spirituality: Making Room for Faith in the Age of Science, published by Cambridge University Press, argues against the extremes of both creationism and "new atheism".