It’s not a majority vote issue

James Hannam is confused about accommodationism.

As the battle between creationism and evolution heats up, some atheists, like Jerry Coyne, have been insisting that it is really a battle between religion and science. Coyne resists any accommodation between religious and non-religious scientists…In order for his position to make sense, he needs to show that there is some sort of existential conflict between religion and science. So it is unfortunate for him that the historical record clearly shows that accommodation and even cooperation have been the default positions in the relationship.

No, that’s not right. It would perfectly possible for the historical record to show that and for the accommodation still to be philosophically incoherent. Coyne’s claim is not that accommodation has never happened but that it is not coherent.

True, there are religious scientists and Darwinian churchgoers. But this does not mean that faith and science are compatible, except in the trivial sense that both attitudes can be simultaneously embraced by a single human mind…The real question is whether there is a philosophical incompatibility between religion and science. Does the empirical nature of science contradict the revelatory nature of faith? Are the gaps between them so great that the two institutions must be considered essentially antagonistic?

What has happened in the past is fundamentally irrelevant to what Coyne is arguing, in the same way that a contemporary opinion poll would be. The historical record makes essentially the same claim as an opinion poll could make: lots of people think or have thought that science and religion can be reconciled. Coyne already knows that, and has stipulated that they can be reconciled in the trivial sense that a person can do both. His point is that the reconciliation is not coherent. Majority opinion, now or in the past, can’t decide that question.

Unfortunately for him, Hannam’s entire article rests on this irrelevant claim about the history of the conflict, which just isn’t what Coyne is talking about. Oh well.

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