Accommodating the Evolution/Creationist Spectrum.

I recently discovered that I am an accommodationist. This is the dirty word atheist use to describe someone who thinks evolution is true, but who is not a member of the atheist religion. The one thing both hard core evolutionists and creationists have in common is their denial of any position in the middle. This is disingenuous as the middle position, termed either accomodationist or theological evolution, is probably where most classify themselves when it comes to attitudes towards evolution.

The spectrum of “belief” in evolution is not as black and white as the extremists would have one believe. At one end are the literal creationists. These people believe as a matter of faith that their creation myth is true. These include the two different stories in Genesis, native American mythology and many others. Intelligent design also begins with the fundemenatalist Christian stance that the Bible is the last word on the matter. Theological evolutionists are those who might only accept parts of the theory of evolution and or have some personal interpretation that does not preclude their God. This can range from those deceived by intelligent design arguments, to those who accept only micro-evolution, to complete acceptance of all the theory of evolution but with a God passively in existence. The other extreme are the athiests who deny the existence of God or any other supernatural beings and take a purely mechanistic view of the world.

It is important to understand two facts about the spectrum of the points of view. First, creationism is not scientific. Creationism requires a leap of faith and is not supported by any logical or scientific arguments or evidence. All of their pseudo–scientific arguments, including intelligent design are easily refuted and wise biologists don’t waste much time on them. Second, you do not have to be an atheist to think evolution is true. The assumption behind science is that there are no supernatural effects. This does not mean there is no God. Science asks, what happens when God or spirits or any other supernatural entities are not having an effect on what you are studying. Newton showed how the motion of the stars can be explained without God actively moving them. Darwin showed how all life including humans could come about without God lifting a finger. The assumption of no God is an unnecessary extra choice that scientists are free to choose or not choose. The caveat is that if there is a God, one must accept that he, she or it is not interfering in anyway with what is being studied in a detectable way. Thus, it takes just as much of a leap of faith to be an atheist does to be a creationist. Agnosticism with understanding of the assumption is the only real objective stance. And don’t be fooled by the argument that science must be right because it explains so much. Science explains everything under its guiding assumption that there are no supernatural effects. Creationists also believe that their system explains everything under their starting assumptions. There is absolutely no difference. Under the scientific world view, any real miracles would either be wrongly explained or will be set aside to be explained later. Science is willingly blind to any acts of God. The strength of science is that it explores all of the power that God might have left to humans.

Understanding where teachers and students fall on this spectrum is especially important. Teachers must always assume they are facing a classroom consisting of the full spectrum. The important question is how a teacher should maintain their own integrity while teaching the facts and theory of evolution. The goal is to help each student understand as much of the theory as the student’s belief system will allow. Ideally, a good teacher might get a student to question their beliefs, but deliberately trying to change a student’s religious belief to that of the teacher is not an ethical learning objective. If we must respect our students’ religious beliefs then those at the atheist and creationists ends of the spectrum who are trying to convert students are misbehaving. The only ethical and non-faith based stance for teacher is then that of an agnostic accomodationist. Thus neither Dawkins nor Behe should ever be allowed in a classroom to teach evolution.


  1. One might also consider not just one spectrum, but two orthogonal spectra: one is the axis of belief system from creationism on one end to evolution on the other, as you have described. Perpendicular to this axis would be an axis representing the kind of belief from open-minded agnosticism on one end to arrogant fundamentalism on the other. People could then be anywhere in this two-dimensional space, depending on their belief system and the degree to which they are fundamentalists in regard to it.

  2. Interesting idea. One prediction would be a correlation for lay people on a diagonal (athiest/evolution to fundamentalist/creationism)and maybe a couple of clusters or another line where evolutionary biologists or well taught biologist might fall. This might be an informative thing to do for anyone doing a study on the subject. A before and after version to see how attitudes might have shifted for a class for example.

  3. Interesting post but I disagree on one key point. I does not take "as much of a leap of faith" to not believe in god. It is easy to believe in the absence of something for which there is no evidence. Most atheists are also agnostics in the true definition - it is not uncertainty about whether god exists or not but rather the belief that the existence of god can never be proven nor disproven. Scientists never 100% believe anything because nothing is ever proven but we still give words to want we currently believe with some (but not absolute) certainty. I believe evolution happened. I believe there is no god. Neither requires faith. Both are based on evidence. Both beliefs could be overturned in the face of new evidence. (In both cases that evidence would have to be quite major given the size of the claim.)

    Also, the argument is not that science *must* be right because it explains so much. The argument is that, given the choice, do you subscribe to a system that demonstrably works and gives tangible results - such as the iPad I am using now - or one that has does not? No one has ever prayed technology into existence. No religious people truly behave as if faith is the only important thing and that the rules that govern science do not also govern their daily lives. Again, it is not the *same* leap of faith - one is in line with evidence and experience, one is largely contrary. (Or diluted in power to the point of being meaningless - homeopathic religion, if you like.)

    Dawkins can teach my (future?!) kids evolution but he should stick to the science were he to do so. He *should not* teach atheism in science class. Behe *cannot* teach science without religion even if he wanted to, so I think it is unfair to equate the two. They should both be allowed to teach in Religious Education, though!

  4. We try to keep an eye on the Creationists here in the UK - and we are religious neutral.

    That means we get abuse from both sides :-)


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