I've now noticed two things about The Greatest Show on Earth--and I admit I'm mostly just sitting and petting it so far (I love all the pictures, charts, and enticing section headings). First, when you pet the book, it doesn't purr, but it does squeak. The cover is made out of some sort of special paper that makes the butterflies shimmer. Really, it squeaks. Second, if you turn to page 6, Dawkins writes....
Let's first have some background, or it won't seem all that exciting what he writes. The story starts with a post that Josh Rosenau wrote about how Dawkins seems to be getting more "accommodationist." What this term denotes is a certain conciliatory outlook on the part of some non-believers. Accommodating atheists don't disapprove of people who accept 99% of evolution, with a little bit of religion thrown in. They're just thankful for the 99%. Perhaps they go further and really approve. Maybe they think religion and evolution really are logically compatible. Or maybe they just think a lot of supersmart people are in that 99% state of mind, and don't care to tangle with them. Maybe it's just a pragmatic stance. But the key thing is that accommodationists are satisfied with 99%. In fact, they're even willing to sell evolution to religious people with the explicit message that 99% is enough.
Then there's the other team, the unaccommodating atheists. For them, 99% is not enough. They think accepting evolution should be a stepping stone to giving up all of religion. In fact, they note, that's the way things often work. Young people take science classes, decide they've got to choose between science and religion, and choose science. This is a natural sequence of events, according to the unaccommodating atheists, because science and religion really are deep down logically incompatible, they think. They see accommodationists as agents of conservatism, holding people back from making the final leap to religion-free thinking. In their eyes, "accommodationist" is pretty much a dirty word. It's a lot like "appeaser" or "reactionary" or "Republican". (That was a joke.)
So getting back to Josh Rosenau's post. When he suggested that Dawkins had gone over from UA to AA in his new book, the UAs naturally found that very, very annoying. And when Chris Mooney piled on, they found that very, very, very annoying--presumably because Chris gets his ideas out to a larger audience (as in here). And so some not very nice things have been said lately about them. To cut to the chase, PZ Myers here says that the two of them are suffering from "traumatic brain damage." He accuses them of "masturbatory wacking away at a straw man." Indeed, he goes further (children, look away). He says Chris has been "fellating a straw man." (Good heavens!) And then here, Ophelia Benson wonders "why Mooney apparently hates overt atheists so much" and calls him a "scapegoater and marginalizer and shunner and minority-punisher." Sheesh!
Jerry Coyne pulled an "I know Richard Dawkins" (simultaneously channeling Woody Allen and Lloyd Bentsen) and posted words from the man himself, apparently conveyed in person and in an email message. Dawkins says "Hell no" and that seemed to be the end of it. But hold on. Can we all get out our squeaky, brand new copies of The Greatest Show on Earth? Because I think Dawkins forgot what he wrote on pg. 6. Here goes--the quote you've been waiting for.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has no problem with evolution, nor does the Pope (give or take the odd wobble over the precise palaeontological juncture when the human soul was injected), nor do educated priests and professors of theology. The Greatest Show on Earth is a book about the positive evidence that evolution is a fact. It is not intended as an antireligious book. I’ve done that, it’s another T-shirt, this is not the place to wear it again. Bishops and theologians who have attended to the evidence for evolution have given up the struggle against it. Some may do so reluctantly, some, like Richard Harries, enthusiastically, but all except the woefully uninformed are forced to accept the fact of evolution.
They may think God had a hand in starting the process off, and perhaps didn’t stay his hand in guiding its future progress. They probably think God cranked the Universe up in the first place, and solemnised its birth with a harmonious set of laws and physical constants calculated to fulfil some inscrutable purpose in which we were eventually to play a role.
But, grudgingly in some cases, happily in others, thoughtful and rational churchmen and women accept the evidence for evolution.
What we must not do is complacently assume that, because bishops and educated clergy accept evolution, so do their congregations.
And then he goes on to say that "thoughtful and rational churchmen and women" who accept evolution ought to get their congregations to accept it too. (You can read an extract from chapter 1 here.)
I'll have to read further to see what Dawkins says about the logical compatibility of religion and evolution, if he ever delves into the matter more deeply. But calling evolution-accepting religious people "thoughtful and rational" is pretty high praise. This is not stuff from an unaccommodationist playbook. Effectively, Dawkins is giving readers permission to be 99% about evolution. He's not holding his breath, waiting for every religious person to leap from evolution to atheism.
I really have to wonder what all that stuff about fellating strawmen and "I know Richard Dawkins" can possibly be about. I know Jerry Coyne read the new book, because he has an endorsement on the back of it. Surely PZ Myers has read it too. "Thoughtful and rational churchmen and women." You think that's unaccommodating? I don't think so.
Last but not least: what about that Barack Obama!!!
Update: When I have time I'll watch this video (which starts off amusingly). Maybe it sheds some light on the issues of this post (and maybe not).